Rick Santorum Has Worked Hard at Denying You the Medical Options He Was Ready To Use

What Women Really Think
Jan. 5 2012 1:00 PM

Santorum Fights Against Freedom He's Used

Rick Santorum
Rick Santorum holds up raffle money won and donated to his campaign at a Rotary Club breakfast in Manchester, N.H. on Thursday

Matthew Cavanaugh/Getty Images.

Most of us, when we suffer from a traumatic situation, find that it increases our empathy with others in similar circumstances, and many of us are driven to become activists fighting to make life easier for people in similiar situations. But for Rick Santorum, trauma drove him in the other direction: It decreased his empathy for others in similiar situations, and caused him to want to increase their pain and suffering. That's the lesson to be drawn from this profile of Santorum in the New York Times, which explains that after his wife, Karen, got very sick at 20 weeks of pregnancy and was spared by a spontaneous abortion/early delivery (the distinction is more cultural than biological), Santorum got busy making sure other couples in the same situation could never have the options and speedy medical care that helped save Karen's life.

As reported in the Philadelphia Inquirer in 1997, the Santorum family was preparing to abort the pregnancy that was making Karen very ill and threatening to take her life. The surgical abortion was unnecessary, because Karen's body went into action and saved her by pushing out the fetus. Because of this, they were fortunate enough to have an intact body to name and bury, which they felt was an important part of the grieving process. After that trauma, Santorum went on to fight for a ban on "partial-birth abortion," which is actually called a D&X. It's an abortion technique that was developed by doctors for later term pregnancies that allowed them to remove the fetus in one piece with minimal damage to the woman's body. (The other option is to dismember the fetus inside the womb, which is more dangerous.) As the Santorums can attest, taking the fetus out in one piece is an act of mercy for the parents losing a very often wanted pregnancy gone horribly wrong, allowing them to have a body to grieve over, if that's what they wish. By pushing the ban on D&X, Santorum helped deprive other couples of the grieving process he and his wife were able to take advantage of.

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Additionally, Santorum has fought hard to keep other couples from being able to work with doctors during a medical emergency to best decide the course that's the best fit for them. Because doctors in Pennsylvania are allowed to perform abortions at 20 weeks without having to demonstrate that not doing so would kill or cripple the woman involved, the Santorums didn't have to face doctors who were afraid to do the abortion because they weren't 100 percent they could defend that choice in court, have a medical board examine the situation to see if it passes muster, or hire a lawyer to advocate for Karen's rights. Anyone who knows bureaucracy knows that trying to get your ducks in a row like that can take time, and with the speed with which the disease that gripped Karen was progessing, many women in her shoes would die if they had to jump through those hoops.

But Santorum wants to not only overturn the laws that allowed him and his wife to make their medical decisions freely, he wants to tighten up the exceptions to add even more red tape than those who need abortions after 23 weeks endure now. Santorum claims that health exemptions are "phony." I'm sure he feels he's not a hypocrite for this, because the abortion he and his wife were contemplating was to save her life, not "merely" to prevent the pregnancy from crippling her. But the problem with that is that if you're a doctor working to save someone's life in a legal structure that assumes that abortions for health reasons are "phony," good luck trying to parse out the difference between saving a life and saving someone's health. Doctors in these situations work to a wellness standard, not a "keep her alive, if you must, but just barely" standard. If one doctor thinks that a condition has a 40 percent chance of killing a woman and another thinks it has a 60 percent chance of killing her, what then? I fail to see how the lawyers can't get involved, unless the government is willing to let it basically go as long as the proper paperwork is filed. But since these laws are being passed by rabid anti-choicers who claim that the threat of being crippled is not enough to let you have an abortion, the chance of that happening is pretty low.

Abortion providers often joke about their anti-abortion patients, saying they believe in exceptions for "health, rape, and me." Well, in this era, there are increasing numbers of Santorum-style anti-choicers who want that exception narrowed to "me." The problem for golden children like Santorum who believe there will always be an exception for them is that the law has no way to establish what these special snowflakes believe about themselves, that they are mysteriously special and should always be given a break that others clearly don't deserve for reasons unarticulated.

Amanda Marcotte is a Brooklyn-based writer and DoubleX contributor. She also writes regularly for the Daily Beast, AlterNet, and USA Today. Follow her on Twitter.