At Abortion Hearing, Congressmen Compare Women Of Color To Dogs
Yesterday morning, two separate congressmen used the image of a dog with a litter of puppies as a metaphor for low-income women of color seeking abortion care.
When I sat down to watch the “Ultimate Civil Right: Examining the Hyde Amendment and the ‘Born Alive’ Infants Protection Act” hearing in the House Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice, I knew I was in for some assholery and false narrative spewing. It was run by the chairman, Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ), and of the three witnesses scheduled to testify, only one was from a reproductive justice/pro-choice organization.
Franks and his cohorts were utilizing imprisoned former doctor Kermit Gosnell’s practice of preying on desperate pregnant people in Philadelphia who couldn’t access safe abortion care to justify additional restrictions. The “Born Alive” Infants Protection Act would supposedly prevent the already illegal murder of babies who anti-choicers swear are being delivered and then killed on the regular. The Hyde Amendment — which has prevented federal funds from providing abortion care for 40 years as of next Friday — was tacked on for good measure so that anti-choicers could swear up and down under oath that forcing one in four low-income people with unwanted pregnancies to carry to term against their will is a life-saving policy.
At 8 a.m., an hour before it began, I was already here:
But even after several years covering reproductive rights and health as well as standing on sidewalks between screaming picketers and patients as an abortion clinic escort, I wasn’t prepared for what transpired on the record in our nation’s capitol.
Ostensibly, the members of the committee that convened a hearing to force a vote on the “Born-Alive” Abortion Survivors Protection Act before the 114th Congress times out in December are supposed to spend their time investigating serious civil rights violations. The official website says:
“The Committee on the Judiciary has been called the lawyer for the House of Representatives because of its jurisdiction over matters relating to the administration of justice in federal courts, administrative bodies, and law enforcement agencies.”
Instead, the Republican leaders of the committee orchestrated an almost breathtaking display of White Supremacy, poverty shaming, convenient historical revision of our country’s founding, faux concern for people of color, and utter lack of understanding of science, fact, or what’s happening right now in our country’s streets to the people they ineffectively and condescendingly pandered to.
“I ask this morning that all of us here just open our hearts to the truth,” Rep. Franks asked at the open.
Only individuals can know their own hearts, but it was rather challenging to see any of the majority member’s hearts as open when they stacked the witness list with three people opposed to abortion and just one reproductive health advocate. Condescension abounded, but racism was the feature of the follow-ups to the opening statements.
The most egregious remarks, accompanied below by gifs, came from Rep. Steve “Cantaloupe Calves” King (R-IA). (If you imbibe, this would be where you pour yourself a stiff one.)
In reference to the opening remarks of Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN), who said “women have an undisputed right to abortion,” King responded, “That caught my ear because I dispute that.”
King continued: “One of the rebuttals that I would offer for such a thing [the Roe v. Wade decision decriminalizing abortion in 1973] is that we know this: America was founded on the concept that our rights come from god. And when our rights come from god, how would it be possible that those rights would confer the right to kill a baby?”
King then turned to senior policy analyst Genevieve Plaster from the anti-choice organization Charlotte Lozier Institute — who is not Black — for some support. (The Charlotte Lozier Institute claims “that the insights available through the best science, sociology, and psychology cannot help but demonstrate that each and every human is not only ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’ but blessed to be born at this time in human history.”)
“Of the roughly 60 million abortions that have been committed in this country since Roe v. Wade,” King asked, “what percentage of those abortions were black babies?”
Plaster explained that African Americans are “overrepresented” in their need for abortion care. Of course, this is because low-income people — disproportionately people of color in our country, thanks to the living legacy of slavery and oppression — have less access to reproductive health care and education overall, thanks to policies like Hyde.
“Would you have any idea why that’s not being called genocide by the Black community?”
If the word “genocide” caught you off guard, Cynthia Greenlee’s “What You MUST Know About Planned Parenthood and Black Women” at Ebony will fill you in on the history and usage of faux concern for Black babies and children to enact additional state control on Black women’s bodies. Later, Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) would compound the misinformation by referencing a trope long hurled at Planned Parenthood’s founder to discredit the entire 100-year-old organization. Clearly, Gohmert missed Rewire News senior legal correspondent Imani Gandy’s thorough takedown of the way Sanger’s quotes have been misattributed and fabricated in last year’s “How False Narratives of Margaret Sanger Are Being Used to Shame Black Women.”
“Mr. Chairman, I won’t be cheering today or clapping,” Gohmert said in a pained voice. “When I hear that basically the propaganda campaign that Margaret Sanger started — cuz she believed, she knew in her heart, we’ll be better off if women who are poor, women of color are encouraged, pushed to have abortions, basically convinced them to have genocide — it’s worked. Of course it disproportionately affects women of color and poor women; that’s the design of abortion. That’s the design of eugenics.”
Reps. King and Gohmert didn’t invent this notion of “genocide.” But during the hearing, King took it to a new level by ditching the dog whistle and just coming right out with it. After turning to the only Black witness — Kierra Johnson, executive director of URGE: Unite for Reproductive and Gender Equity and steering committee member of the All* Above All campaign to end coverage bans on abortion — he said, stuttering:
“Miss Johnson, if one were to um . . . If one were to be there at the delivery of a litter of puppies, and, uh, as a puppy was partially delivered, um, took a device and either partially crushed the skull or sucked the brains out of that baby puppy, would you be committing a crime in most states?”
Johnson calmly reached up, pulled the microphone to her mouth, and paused before responding: “I couldn’t speak to . . . what’s considered a crime . . . with puppies.”
When she didn’t indulge his metaphor, King’s voice got louder, cracking when she didn’t offer to bring the committee stats on laws about puppies. Johnson did, however, make a counter offer:
“I could also talk to you about the research and the anecdotal information I have about Black communities and — ”
King wasn’t interested, cutting her off. As she finished, insisting that she’s available to talk about real issues affecting Black communities, he repeatedly said “I’ve asked you . . . I’ve asked you . . . I’ve asked you . . . ” until answering the question himself concerning “baby puppies” and the law. He got flustered enough to knock the microphone around a bit. He grabbed hold of it to double down on the metaphor.
“As it stands . . . you cannot do to a puppy what is now currently legal to do in America to a baby created in the image of god. And that’s the center of this topic here today.”
King wasn’t the only member of the subcommittee to equate Black children with dogs. At the end of his second round of Sanger bashing, Gohmert graphically and colossally incorrectly described an “abortion” technique to illustrate its repulsiveness. He quickly transitioned to a callback to King’s metaphor:
“As Mr. King was trying to point out, anybody does those things to a puppy, everybody in the country would be demanding they go to prison. But we have elevated this procedure to such a high level that the highest court in the land could say, ‘Hey, that baby’s your property, you can do whatever you want with it.’”
It seems, in addition to not knowing the history of our country’s participation in controlling the bodies of Black women long past the days of Reconstruction and the Dred Scott case he erroneously referenced, he isn’t aware that we have laws regarding child welfare.
Though the hearing was dominated by such outrageous moments, there were some highlights. Among them were the aforementioned opening statement of Rep. Steve Cohen, who provided a rather concise, yet complete, history of abortion in this country from pre-Roe v. Wade through Whole Womans Health v. Hellerstedt, and talked of his co-sponsorship of the Equal Access to Abortion Coverage in Health Insurance Act (EACH Woman Act). Then, during the post-prepared statement portion of the hearing, he yielded the majority of his time to Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA) by pointing out that she was the only woman on the congressional committee’s side of the panel.
“It is true, the majority of Americans support the lifting of abortion bans, including the Hyde Amendment,” Chu said. “And they support that Medicaid cover a full range of pregnancy options, including abortion services. When women have access to abortion — when they can afford abortion — the quality of life of women and families improves; studies are showing that.”
Last year’s Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health (ANSIRH) study titled “The effect of abortion on having and achieving aspirational one-year plans” overwhelmingly supports Chu’s contention that having abortion available and accessible is good for individuals and society as a whole.
But mostly, the hearing was filled with congressmen unable to consistently apply the “logic” they were using to attack abortion access — even within the same sentence or point.
Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) was just sure economics was the key to getting everyone on the same page.
“If there’s something that you don’t like and you tax it, you get less of it,” said DeSantis, referencing the downtick in cigarette smoking. “If you then subsidize something, you get more of it.”
When he posed this scenario to Johnson and asked her to agree that allowing federal funding for abortion care would increase desire for abortion, she made several attempts to directly answer his question without success.
“What I agree with is that women choose abortion services, and abortion — ” she started, before DeSantis interrupted.
“That’s not what I asked, though. I asked that by providing taxpayer subsidies for something you’re likely to get more of that, correct?” he interjected.
She gave it another try and was again interrupted. And then again after that.
“Women choose abortion as part of their health care — ”
DeSantis jumped in at the word “part,” getting louder and more aggressive.
“But that’s a different question than whether the taxpayers should subsidize it,” he talk-yelled. “YES, people have the ability to choose one way or another — people have the ability to choose to do other things in other aspects of life. The question is by putting the weight of the taxpayer behind something, you WILL inevitably lead to increases in aBORtions, will you not?”
“The American public is in support of Medicaid covering a full range of policy options — ”
INTERRUPTED AGAIN. Johnson did manage to counter his talking point with the only complete sentence he allowed her: “We need to increase the ability for women to make the decisions that they want to make.”
Then, after saying that increasing funding for a service would inevitably result in the service being utilized more, he declared: “Well, the ability’s there; the question is whether you’re going to apply the taxpayers’ use of tax dollars. And I think by not answering the question, you have answered it.”
Rep. DeSantis, you can’t convincingly argue that funding will increase demand if you acquiesce (however incorrectly) that everyone has access already. If everyone had the ability, sir, none of us would be arguing — either for or against — about coverage bans and their effect on access.
Lives have meaning too — whether or not our legislators acknowledge that certain people matter. As Ijeoma Oluo, editor-at-large of The Establishment, wrote in “Every Day A Funeral” following the murder of Terence Crutcher this week, the Black community is forced to mourn without end as every day brings yet another execution.
“Our babies, our brothers, our husbands, wives, and fathers — they are lying in the streets now and society doesn’t care,” she wrote. “We don’t have wealth, we don’t have power, we don’t have status, we don’t have safety. All we have is each other, and we are being taken from each other one by one. And we grieve each loss because we love each person — and my black brothers and sisters: I love you so very much.”
The House Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice, which has jurisdiction over the law enforcement agencies allowing Black people to be gunned down simply for existing adjacent to a cop with a gun has a responsibility to address this epidemic. Instead, they’re fixated on ways to make infanticide double extra illegal while denying poor women of color necessary health care.
If, like me, the contrast between the way legislators are spending their time and what the people of this country actually need has you in a white hot rage haze, feel free to tell Rep. Franks what you think about his panel. I’ll get you started . . .
Then, double check that you’re registered to vote — CanIVote.org — because EVERYONE on that subcommittee that said enraging things is up for reelection in six weeks.
Lead image: flickr/Oona Räisänen