As I write this, Floridian women in the second and third trimesters of a pregnancy must submit to a sonogram before procuring an abortion. In Tallahassee on April 20, Rep. Liz Porter of Lake City stumped for a bill that would extend the requirement to women in the first trimester.
As broadcast on WFSU in Northern Florida, Porter's pitch went like this:
If you had a brain tumor, the doctor would perform an MRI. He would show you the results; he would explain it to you. This is the same thing. [Abortion] is currently the only kind of medical procedure where you can just walk into a clinic and with little to no counseling at all request a surgical procedure, walk to the back of the clinic, and have it done without having seen or discussed any of the medical tests performed on you.
It's extraordinary that an elected official could think her constituents so stupid.
Rep. Porter's argument, in summary, is that it is somehow irresponsible for a doctor to perform a surgical procedure without first performing a full battery of tests and sharing the results with the putative patient. She implies, but doesn't quite say, that with unwanted pregnancies as with brain tumors, this must be done to ensure the patient's safety. Rep. Porter doesn't say it because it's obviously untrue. She wants women to see their sonogram results not out of concern for their safety but out of concern for the safety of their fetuses.
There is no one on the planet who believes a tumor has the right to life. When one is shown an image of his brain tumor, it is not to see if perhaps the tumor is worth keeping around -- if its cute little tendrils of malignancy won't awaken some parental compassion in the patient's heart. It is simply politeness on the part of the doctor to show the patient what he's dealing with. Such revelation is not required by law. A patient may elect not to see his brain tumor.
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Porter's conflation of tumors and fetuses is defeated by this fact, and her argument would be better served by honesty. Porter is not irked because abortion providers behave irresponsibly toward their patients; she is irked that abortion providers seem to have so much regard for their patients' feelings. Abortions are never easy things, and forcing a woman to view a sonogram against her will makes it even more difficult. First-trimester fetuses are not people in any sane sense of the word -- their organs cannot function independently, and they possess submammalian levels of cognition, if any. Yet they look vaguely like babies. Adult humans, with our visually oriented neo-cortices, will automatically ascribe them human characteristics. That's an inescapable fact of our biology.
Porter's true goal, then, is to slip a piece of pro-life propaganda into the abortion clinic, to give her side's argument one last pictographic airing before the deed is done. And that's a fine goal. There is a moral argument to be made about the value of objects, such as first-trimester fetuses, with the potential to become people. That argument has been made and will continue to be made. But if it's as strong an argument as Porter thinks it is, then it should stand on its own, without aid from the dissembling of politicians.