The Onward March of the Fetal Pain Movement

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
June 19 2013 11:49 AM

The Onward March of the Fetal Pain Movement

Last night, as the House wrapped up its controversialized debate over a new abortion restriction law, I wrote this piece explaining 1) how it got so messy and 2) why Republicans were mostly satisified with having had the debate. Why? Will Saletan explained that.

First you draw the line at viability. Then you draw it at pain capacity. Then you draw it at thumbsucking. Then you draw it at hearing. Then you draw it at kicking. Then you draw it at heartbeats. Pro-lifers aren’t sure where these lines fall. Michele Bachmann says the heartbeat begins eight weeks after conception. Rep. Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, says it starts at six weeks. Wagner says it starts at three. The lines are fuzzy because the baby’s systems form slowly, allowing you to backdate your interpretation to the earliest function that looks like a heartbeat, kick, or cringe.

The goal is to keep passing these bills (though this one will fade away for now, as the Senate won't pick it up) until a lower court rules that one of the laws is valid. Then the goal is to win a new abortion rights case at SCOTUS. The long-term plan suffers somewhat if Barack Obama is able to appoint one more justice, but that's why it's a long-term plan.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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