Food editor Sarah Murrell has kicked off an entirely well-deserved feud with her uncle, Indiana State Senator Travis Holdman, after he recently filed a bill that would make it a felony offense to abort a fetus due to gender or fetal abnormalities. In an editorial, Murell tells her uncle she's horrified by the bill and what it would do to pregnant women and disabled babies alike.
Murell is an editor and columnist at Nuvo, Indianapolis' alt-weekly. Holdman, a Republican who's served in the State Senate since 2010, introduced the bill, SB 334, earlier this month. Here's the bill summary:
Prohibits a person from performing an abortion if the person knows that the pregnant woman is seeking the abortion because of: (1) the sex of the fetus; or (2) a diagnosis or potential diagnosis of the fetus having Down syndrome or any other disability. Makes it a Level 5 felony if a person knowingly or intentionally performs a sex selective abortion or an abortion conducted because of a diagnosis of Down syndrome or any other disability.
The bill specifies that disabilities can include "a physical disability, a mental disability or retardation, a physical disfigurement, scoliosis, dwarfism, Down syndrome, albinism, amelia [a rare disorder in which all four limbs fail to develop], a physical or mental abnormality or disease."
Sex-selective abortion bans are often introduced under the guise of combatting gender discrimination, but—surprise—as a study produced by the University of Chicago Law School's International Human Rights Clinic found, the real goal is just restricting access to abortion generally. As for restricting access to abortions based on fetal abnormalities, that's also aimed at restricting abortion, and it's shaping up to be the next big battleground. In 2013, anti-abortion lobbying group Americans United for Life called abortion based on birth defects "a chilling slide towards eugenics."
Holdman's bill, as David Perry at RH Reality Check points out, tries to trade on a purported interest in protecting people with disabilities.
But in her editorial, Murrell, points out that there are a few doctors in the family, along with grandstanding state senators. Her sister works as a physician and has done rotations on the high-risk maternity care unit, where she saw firsthand how devastating fetal abnormalities can be:
One of the hardest things she had to experience was working on the high-risk delivery unit. She came home from work and cried every day. Even on her days off, her eyes would look puffy and heavy with wetness.
Most of the time, she delivered babies that had a high likelihood of dying soon after birth or during delivery. Sometimes she would deliver severely developmentally disabled babies and hand them to their mothers to hold before they sucked their first handful—and last—of breaths. A particularly heartbreaking patient was born with aencephalopathy (being born without a brain). The family was told, many times, that the child simply would not ever develop, as he lacked the organic structures to support a personality and motor function. The family insisted that he would, so he was born and was kept alive in a wheelchair with a feeding tube and a ventilator. He would respond to basic stimuli, but he wasn't a "person" in the same sense that you and I are. There simply was no brain to make a person out of. It bankrupted the child's family, and the complications from his not being able to swallow properly made them frequent hospital patients. Every time, my sister explained that he would not get better. He would not even get much bigger than a child, and, again, he would never be conscious of anything going on around him besides light that came through his eyes (he had rods and cones to pick up light, but no frontal lobe to sort out the images) and pressure on his body by the hands of his caretakers. His 24-hour care expenses are in the tens of thousands of dollars range every year. He has never "recovered" and he never will.
The bill is also unbelievably cruel to pregnant people, Murrell points out:
Another thing that I learned from my sister is that sometimes, developmentally abnormal fetuses "spontaneously self-abort," which is what doctors call a miscarriage. Under Holdman's proposal, some women will have to carry babies to term that will not live much longer past delivery, or up until the die in utero. For some women, that might mean a miscarriage in the first 4 months. Other women will have to deliver full-term dead babies. Some women will have to go through the trauma of delivering a baby that they'll get to meet for a few minutes until it breathes its last, as doctors predicted it would. They'll be forced to go broke to pay for their child's care (because you know a Republican house and senate aren't going to be generous for special needs childcare funds). Thousands of children will endure the special lifelong hell and damage of being raised by parents who cannot properly care for them and resent them for straining the family because the party needs some political capital.
Murrell doesn't mince words, calling the bill "a further weakening of Indiana's abortion policy for the purpose of grandstanding and scoring political points." She adds, "Uncle Trav, for the first time in my life, I'm not just disappointed but ashamed of you. Hardworking Hoosiers deserve more compassion than this."
Holdman hasn't publicly responded to his niece's editorial/thorough public shaming, and he likely won't.
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