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Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Earlier this week, I drove through miles of farmland east of Cleveland to give an evening talk at the public library in Jefferson, Ohio. Population 3,115, give or take a few.

It was standing room only, and my payment was a gracious audience and two dozen fresh eggs from the library director’s farm. Lovely eggs, ranging in color from pale white to the softest blue, almost too pretty to eat.

I share this with you so that you understand why I was a bit surprised when the Q & A portion of our program turned so quickly to women’s reproductive rights, as in: Why are Republicans still screwing around with them?

I expect such spirited discussions in big cities and even midsize towns, but until recently, I wasn’t on the receiving end of this righteous indignation in places such as rural Ohio. Jefferson, the county seat, is only 9.74 miles from my childhood home. I’ve known these good people all my life, and it’s been fascinating to watch some traditional Republicans turn into Democrats right before my eyes.

It’s not that they’re all suddenly pro-choice; it’s more that they’re feeling forced to declare themselves pro-woman. Despite the election defeats in 2012, the majority of Republican legislators apparently still think it’s a good idea to rally the worst among us — they call them their “base” — by trafficking in superstition, misogyny and outright lies to endanger the lives of our daughters. Hence, we have the U.S. House of Representatives’ latest, most extreme anti-abortion bill — called, in the absence of scientific proof, the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act — which is bound to go nowhere.

The bill’s author, Arizona Republican Trent Franks, had to recuse himself from the floor debate after he declared, during a committee markup, “The incidence of rape resulting in pregnancy (is) very low.”

Not to be outdone in the fact-free fight category, Texas Republican Michael C. Burgess insisted that in his years as an obstetrician, he witnessed the masturbatory prowess of male fetuses.

“They have movements that are purposeful,” Burgess said during a House Rules Committee meeting Monday. “They stroke their face. If they’re a male baby, they may have their hand between their legs. I mean, they feel pleasure. Why is it so hard to think that they could feel pain?”

As U.S. News & World Report’s Elizabeth Flock pointed out, most doctors say Burgess’ argument isn’t based in science — doctors such as Jeanne Conry, who is president of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

“We certainly can see a movement of a fetus during that time, but in terms of any knowledge about pleasure or pain — there are no data to assess,” Conry told Flock. “We don’t know enough about the biology and the science.”

Conry added, “For whatever reason in our country when it comes to abortion we make statements based not on the science but based on observations and on emotion.”