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It’s not every day you get to watch a doctor explain to a room full of Republican men that much of what they think about abortion is wrong: demented, strange, and, most importantly, profoundly unscientific. But a viral video of diagnostic radiologist and Kentucky State Senator Karen Berg provided many of us with the moment we have long wanted to see. Berg was commenting on Kentucky’s S.B. 321, a bill that would create a 15-week abortion ban in the state. There already are 15-week abortion bans in Mississippi and Louisiana, though neither has taken effect, and Texas has a super-restrictive law, S.B. 8, that limits abortion to the first six weeks of pregnancy, or two weeks after one missed period. Some of these bills are “heartbeat bills,” and some are even more restrictive. Heartbeat bills typically define a heartbeat as the moment a fetus has any cardiac activity, though cardiac activity does not mean a fetus has a heart. They are in part the influence of a far-right homophobic birther named Janet Porter, who, according to The Guardian, has suggested that “gay marriage caused Noah’s floods.”
Like so many ideas now floating around the GOP ecosystem, these bills originated on the far-right fringe. But as Trumpism has driven Republicans closer to that fringe, support for concepts like these bills and “permitless carry” have become conservative litmus tests. And like school boards and public libraries, women’s bodies are now, more than ever, Republican battlegrounds.
I asked Dr. Berg about H.B. 3, another Kentucky bill that imposes extensive restrictions on abortions and has passed the House. “What we are seeing in Kentucky and all over the country is willful ignorance by GOP legislators—mostly men—about medical reality in order to undermine choice,” she told me. “It is deeply frustrating to sit in committee as the only woman and the only health-care professional and watch as these men so cavalierly pass legislation that continues to chip away at Roe. Now they are upping the ante with the horrific H.B. 3, which will be heard in committee this week and will, in effect, end legal abortion in Kentucky by making it impossible for people to access essential, time-sensitive care. These politicians hide behind emotionally charged rhetoric in order to ignore facts, science, and the real-world implications of banning choice. Kentucky has some of the highest childhood poverty and abuse rates in the country. We have real problems to fix, and they are making it worse.”