Thursday, August 23, 2012

Flake vs. Carmona on Abortion Rights

Posted By on Thu, Aug 23, 2012 at 2:30 PM


Missouri Republican Senate candidate Todd Akin’s comments about "legtimate rape" and abortion have thrust the topic into the center of the nation’s political debate just one week before the Republican National Convention.

Congressman Jeff Flake, who is the odds-on favorite to win the GOP primary next week, has urged Akin to get out of the race.

After a speech Tuesday afternoon at the Pima County Republican Club, Flake said that while he believes abortion should be illegal in most cases, he supports an exemption for rape, incest and the life of the mother.

“I have always, throughout my career, said that there should be exceptions for rape, for incest and for life of the mother, “ Flake said. “I’ve received a lot of criticism from groups on the right because my position wasn’t as they wanted it to be, but that’s been my position and I’m sticking with it.”

But the Arizona Democratic Party is reminding voters that Flake was one of 227 co-sponsors on the bill that Akin was discussing when he got into trouble this week.

That bill, H.R. 3, was designed to narrow the circumstances under which federal dollars could be used to pay for an abortion. Among other changes in federal law, it would have redefined “rape” to “forcible rape” in regards to an exemption to the Hyde amendment, which blocks the use of federal funding to terminate a pregnancy.

The Christian Science Monitor has a good run-down of the controversy regarding the bill here. The CSM noted:

The term “forcible rape” was never explicitly defined, but pro-abortion-rights forces presumed the bill would preclude federal funding for abortions of pregnancies resulting from a variety of rapes where force may not be involved, including date rape, statutory rape, the rape of a woman who had been drugged, and the rape of a mentally incompetent woman. The bill also restricts abortions in cases of incest to females who are minors.

Flake said Tuesday that he makes “no distinctions” between different forms of rape.

“’Forcible rape’ seems redundant to me,” Flake said.

He pointed out that the language regarding “forcible rape” was changed before the bill was passed in the House of Representatives. Flake voted in favor of the bill, which passed the House on May 4, 2011.

The bill, which failed in the Senate, had a number of other provisions that concerned supporters of abortion rights, according to the CSM:

“I would caution against saying this is a victory, because the other provisions in H.R. 3 are so bad,” says Ted Miller, communications director for NARAL Pro-Choice America.

In addition to banning federal funding for abortion, the bill would eliminate tax breaks for health insurance premiums on policies that cover abortion-related expenses. It would also prevent women from paying for an abortion out of a health savings account.

Democrat Richard Carmona, who will face Flake in November (barring an unlikely GOP upset next week), sent out a lengthy statement regarding Akin’s remarks:

Congressman Todd Akin's suggestion that a “legitimate rape” is less likely to cause a pregnancy is a stunning display of ignorance. Akin's divisive and ideologically-driven attempt to define a “legitimate rape” is absolutely outrageous and makes it nearly impossible to have an honest debate about women's health care.

It's unfathomable to believe statements like Congressman Akin's and other tightly held ideological beliefs inspire legislation, but they do. Just last year, Congressman Akin and five members of Arizona's congressional delegation were original cosponsors of legislation that would have legally redefined rape for victims of statutory rape and incest with the intent of limiting women's access to comprehensive health care and reproductive choice, including abortion.

From my time as Surgeon General, I know that ideological ignorance and politicization of science isn't new with certain individuals elected to represent us. But the fact is, 32,000 pregnancies every year are the result of rape, according to the CDC. Any attempt to create barriers to women for health care, including reproductive health issues, will result in higher health cost due to poorer health outcomes.

It's horrifying to think these offensive statements could inspire laws. And yet, that's what we've seen from the chronic ideologically-driven politicians in Washington. We should be crafting policy based on the best science, not a total disregard of it.

Carmona discussed his positions on abortion and contraception with the Weekly in June. An excerpt:

It’s a decision that should be made between a woman and her physician. Period. We should not have elected officials, on either side of the aisle, telling a woman how she should practice her reproductive health care. That just doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. The discussion should take place between the patient in need and the expert in the field, who is the physician or the nurse practitioner. A health professional who provides the care. So that’s my feeling. And again, if we politicize this issue, which is what’s happening now—pro-life, pro-choice—those are all artificial terms. They really don’t get to the crux of the issue. If you really want to solve the problem—which is unwanted pregnancies that result in abortions—then if you increase access to health care for women, what happens? The amount of unwanted pregnancies goes down and the question of abortion becomes moot. Shouldn’t we all be working for that endpoint? Each side looks at differently, but ultimately, no woman wants an unwanted pregnancy. And there’s a whole host of reasons why that happens. But if we ensure that everyone has access to unrestricted reproductive health care, every epidemiologist, every health professional will tell you, over time, the expected outcome would be that unwanted pregnancies will drop, and therefore abortions will drop and ultimately become moot.

While Republicans are trying to distance themselves from Akin’s comments, the controversy continues because Republican Party officials have ratified a plank in its national platform that calls for a banning of abortion without exceptions for rape, incest or to save the life of the mother, although there's some disagreement over the details. The Huffington Post reports here that more than 40 GOP candidates nationwide, including vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan, support prohibiting abortion even in cases of rape or incest.

At his talk Tuesday, Flake expressed hope that economic issues rather than the abortion debate would dominate the national conversation.

“Regardless of what’s happened in the last few days, where other issues are being talked about, believe me, by the time November rolls around, the discussion will be, ‘Are you better off than you were four years ago?’ and which party has a plan to get this country back on track,” Flake said.

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