Republicans have confirmed the absurdities to which they will go if given free rein.

First published in December 2019.

A bill currently under consideration in the General Assembly of Pennsylvania would require that in the case of an “expulsion or extraction of a product of conception,” the fetal remains be either buried or cremated. The terms, “fetus” and “unborn child” are used interchangeably, defined as, “an individual organism of the species homo sapiens from fertilization until expulsion or extraction from its mother.” The healthcare facility would be responsible for the final disposition in compliance with state law, unless the woman wishes to take care of the remains at her own expense. Failure to comply would be a misdemeanor with penalties of between fifty and three hundred dollars or thirty days in jail.

House Bill. / General Assembly of Pennsylvania

This is, of course, designed to make abortion ever more inconvenient, since fetal tissue would have to be treated as if it were a person, rather than medical waste. But the bill also displays the Republican war on science and contempt for the rights of women.

The facts of life – something that the right wing would have the chance to learn if they took the sex education classes that they keep attacking – are unsurprisingly contrary to the claims being made in this bill. Fetus is a term that does not become applicable before nine weeks after conception, and the tests that are available over the counter cannot detect a pregnancy until at least four weeks into the process. In half the cases in which an egg is fertilized, the developing zygote fails to implant in the woman’s uterus and disappears at her next period. The implication of this bill, if enacted into law, would be to make many people criminals without their knowledge and without even the ability of medical science to determine that a crime has taken place.

A law that, in many cases, cannot be obeyed, and a law that defines crimes that often cannot be detected may sound mostly harmless, but it strikes me as a reasonable principle to require that laws ought to be worthy of respect. The ignorance demonstrated in this bill undermines faith in the rationality of the social contract. Society justifies its costs – we pay our taxes and limit our behaviors to maintain it – with the claim that the benefits are greater, but that is only sustained when the structure makes sense.

In fact, this bill does make sense if the goal of its authors is to criminalize women. Disparities between crack and powder cocaine look designed to increase penalties for some communities over others, thereby increasing the number of disenfranchised felons among the target group, and the bill under consideration in Pennsylvania, consciously or not, would put women in a status of having to prove innocence after every sex act. And worse than that, it would imply an argument that women lack the capacity to follow the law and therefore should be limited to a protectorate status.

The Pennsylvania bill is not unique. It is what I have come to expect from the Republican Party at all levels. This raises the question of why women keep voting for Republicans – which is not to say that all women do, for they certainly do not, but a significant percentage continue to support the right wing, enough to keep Republicans in office. In the 2018 midterm election, women generally voted 59 percent Democratic to 40 percent Republican. White women split evenly, 49 to 49. At risk of being called elitist, I will also note that college educated women voted 59 percent to 39 percent in favor of Democrats, while the support went 42 to 56 for Republicans among women who did not attend higher education.

If I may be permitted to make an obvious statement, Republicans only win because they get the votes of some women. But how do they achieve that? Religion plays a big part, since the more participatory a person is in evangelical Christianity, the more likely it is for that person to be politically right wing. This is a repetition of the breakdown in terms of education, and conservative religious belief is on the decline in America, especially among millennials, but older people vote more often, and the demographic victory for the left is similar to fusion reactors: always thirty years in the future.

So what are progressives to do? One piece of good news is that support for Trump is plummeting among all women and even among women who are Republicans. The continued support for Trump among Republicans in the Senate looks likely to give us large gains in national races. To keep that support, we have to make genuine progress not only on returning decency as expected behavior among our politicians, but also in such policies as universal healthcare and education. And if the Democratic Party would adopt as a whole the progressive tactic of explaining things in detail without talking down to voters or being afraid to take a stand, as Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez model, that would help.

Republicans have confirmed the absurdities to which they will go if given free rein. It is up to voters to decide if we want to follow them, in the words of Inherit the Wind, with banners flying and with drums beating to the sixteenth century of burning witches.🔷

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[This is an original piece, first published by the author in on 7 December 2019. | The author writes in a personal capacity.]

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(Cover: Wikimedia/Peabody Essex Museum. - Examination of a witch, by Tompkins Harrison Matteson (1853). / Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.)