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June 15, 2014 12:29 PM Rick Scott and the religious right decide to play God

By David Atkins

Conservatives hate the notion of mankind “playing God.” They constantly warn of the dangers of playing in the divine domain, and talk about the arrogance of man presuming to control matters of body, life and death.

So it’s oddly compelling that Rick Scott and Republicans in Florida are so extreme in their anti-choice stance that they are essentially forcing doctors to guess at the impossible and play God:

Under a new law, abortions will be illegal in Florida at any point in a woman’s pregnancy if her doctor determines that the fetus could survive outside the womb. Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill Friday that redefines that state’s current third trimester abortion ban.
Current law prohibits abortions after 24 weeks of pregnancy unless the mother’s life is at risk. The new law will require women to have a doctor determine whether a fetus is viable before having an abortion. It also removes the exception of psychological trouble as an exception.

Let’s not even get into the misogyny and mental health stigma involved in barring mental health consequences as a condition for terminating a pregnancy. Republicans would apparently rather that an expectant adult woman commit suicide than endanger the “life” of a fetus. For them, women are less people than incubating vessels.

But the provision that a doctor must attempt to verify fetal viability is crazy. It puts doctors in the position of attempting to determine the often very vague boundary of when viability begins, in addition to opening the medical profession to enormous legal liability. I thought Republicans were trying to reduce the liability burden on doctors?

Democrats opposed the legislation throughout the committee process and during the 2014 session. Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda, D-Tallahassee, is worried that doctors could be open to criminal prosecution and said different physicians can have different determinations.
“It is commonplace for people to get second and third opinions sometimes when they’re dealing with something very important,” Rehwinkel Vasilinda said. “And we know that physicians do have differences of opinion. “It’s just … something that we shouldn’t have done.” Former Senator Nan Rich is running for the Democratic nomination in the race for Governor this fall. She said in a written statement that Scott’s signing is “an outrage.”

What would the standard for viability even be? If a fetus is born extremely prematurely and has a 50% chance of survival outside the womb, is that viable? What about 30%? If the fetus is severely deformed or diseased and isn’t likely to survive longer than a year outside the womb, is that viable? Are fetuses with anencephaly viable? If a mother with a history of drug and mental health problems is pregnant with a fetus with a rare and crippling disorder, is it best for her, society or even the fetus to bring it to term?

Will we now prosecute women who self-induce abortion or miscarriage for murder based on a doctor’s post-facto determination of viability? What happens when two doctors disagree on fetal viability?

One would think that conservatives obsessed with “freedom” would rather that people make these sorts of difficult choices in consultation with their physicians, instead of forcing physicians to play God, making capricious and ideological decisions with profound consequences for the lives of their patients.

But that’s not what this is about for conservatives. The conservative obsession with abortion has never been about the fetus. It’s about controlling the sexual and reproductive lives of women. It’s about forcing women into the role of incubating vessel, and about valuing the potential human inside them more than the real human in front of them.

And if they have to force doctors to play God at massive risk and liability to themselves, well, that’s all the price of re-litigating the 1960s and winning the culture war against women’s reproductive and sexual freedoms.

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