Earlier this week, I drove through miles of farmland east of Cleveland to give an evening talk at the public library in Jefferson, Ohio. Population 3,115, give or take a few.
It was standing room only, and my payment was a gracious audience and two dozen fresh eggs from the library director’s farm. Lovely eggs, ranging in color from pale white to the softest blue, almost too pretty to eat.
I share this with you so that you understand why I was a bit surprised when the Q-and-A portion of our program turned so quickly to women’s reproductive rights, as in: Why are Republicans still screwing around with them?
I expect such spirited discussions in big cities and even midsize towns, but until recently, I wasn’t on the receiving end of this righteous indignation in places such as rural Ohio. Jefferson, the county seat, is only 9.74 miles from my childhood home. I’ve known these good people all my life, and it’s been fascinating to watch some traditional Republicans turn into Democrats right before my eyes.
It’s not that they’re all suddenly pro-choice; it’s more that they’re feeling forced to declare themselves pro-woman.
Despite the election defeats in 2012, the majority of Republican legislators apparently still think it’s a good idea to rally the worst among us – they call them their “base” – by trafficking in superstition, misogyny and outright lies to endanger the lives of our daughters. Hence, we have the U.S. House of Representatives’ latest, most extreme anti-abortion bill – called, in the absence of scientific proof, the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act – which is bound to go nowhere.
The bill’s author, Arizona Republican Rep. Trent Franks, had to recuse himself from the floor debate after he declared, during a committee markup, “The incidence of rape resulting in pregnancy [is] very low.”
Not to be outdone in the fact-free fight category, Texas Republican Rep. Michael C. Burgess insisted that in his years as an obstetrician, he witnessed the masturbatory prowess of male fetuses.
“They have movements that are purposeful,” Burgess said during a House Rules Committee meeting Monday. “They stroke their face. If they’re a male baby, they may have their hand between their legs. I mean, they feel pleasure. Why is it so hard to think that they could feel pain?”
As U.S. News & World Report’s Elizabeth Flock pointed out, most doctors say Burgess’ argument isn’t based in science – doctors such as Jeanne Conry, who is president of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
“We certainly can see a movement of a fetus during that time, but in terms of any knowledge about pleasure or pain – there are no data to assess,” Conry told Flock. “We don’t know enough about the biology and the science.”
Conry added, “For whatever reason in our country, when it comes to abortion we make statements based not on the science but based on observations and on emotion.”
In Ohio, a new Republican bill would force women who seek an abortion to wait longer, submit to an ultrasound and listen to a doctor spew the known falsehood that she is increasing her risk of breast cancer. As the American Cancer Society states, unequivocally, “scientific research studies have not found a cause-and-effect relationship between abortion and breast cancer.”
Two more facts to keep in mind, courtesy of the Guttmacher Institute: In the U.S., 88 percent of abortions are done in the first 12 weeks. Less than 1 percent are in the third trimester.
During this week’s library talk, a woman in the audience asked why Republicans continue to spew nonsense about abortion. “They don’t really believe this stuff, do they?” another woman said.
I responded by sharing a story from 1979, when I was editor of my college newspaper, the Daily Kent Stater. Shortly before the fall semester began, we found out that an administrator had derailed plans to distribute a brochure about birth control methods during freshman orientation.
We dedicated several front pages to the topic. It was a birth control extravaganza, complete with diagrams, photographs and detailed instructions on how to prevent unplanned pregnancies. For weeks, we were inundated with phone calls and letters, many from outraged parents who apparently believed that their children planned to spend their four years of college holed up like monks in their dorm rooms.
Thirty-four years later, I still recall one particular father’s call. “You listen here, young lady,” he shouted into the phone. “I will never let my daughter stick an IUD up her rectum.”
“Good for you,” I said, “’cause that’s not where it goes.”
In 1979, that father sounded like an uninformed loon. Today, he could be a Republican member of Congress.
• Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and an essayist for Parade magazine. She is the author of two books, including “...and His Lovely Wife,” which chronicled the successful race of her husband, Sherrod Brown, for the U.S. Senate.