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Anti-Abortion Politics Blocks Research On COVID-19 Vaccine

Donald Trump is angling for a cure to the coronavirus outbreak, but thanks to his hardline anti-abortion stance, he’s not interested enough to allow government researchers to use fetal tissue to help fight the virus.

Fetal tissue is obtained with the consent of people who have abortions, making it a frequent target of anti-abortion politicians.

A government immunologist at a National Institutes of Health laboratory has been asking the NIH to lift the ban on fetal tissue research during the pandemic. The Trump administration imposed that ban last year, despite the fact that fetal tissue research is vital.

Trump is very eager to show the world that the United States has a vaccine for the coronavirus. He reportedly tried to get a German company to make a vaccine for America only, an effort the German government wholeheartedly rejected.

On Thursday, he did a press conference where he bragged about a potential vaccine, a claim the FDA had to immediately rebut, noting that it hasn’t approved the drug for that use.

But the one thing he won’t do, apparently, is allow a promising line of research to continue because it relies on fetal tissue.

Researchers who spoke to the Washington Post explained that nongovernmental scientists have made significant strides using fetal tissue in research on coronaviruses similar to COVID-19. Those researchers have offered to work with the NIH to infect to run experiments on potential treatments.

However, none of that can happen because one of Trump’s key goals is appeasing anti-abortion hardliners. That was evident from his choice of Mike Pence as his running mate, and together he and Pence have decimated abortion access,  including barring Title X federal funds going to any organization that even discusses abortion with patients.

High-profile anti-abortion groups such as the Susan B. Anthony List have gotten unprecedented access to the White House to push a radical anti-abortion agenda. This underpins the recent campaign by Trump and Republican lawmakers to promote lies about later abortions being akin to “infanticide,” along with the recent flurry of “abortion survivor protection” bills meant to threaten doctors who perform the procedure.

In actuality, fetal tissue research is highly regulated. The National Institutes of Health provides guidance on how fetal tissue may be obtained and used. There are federal laws that specifically prohibit acquiring or transferring any fetal tissue for profit. Anyone that supplies fetal tissue has to show that informed consent was obtained when the tissue is collected.

Using fetal tissue a new idea. Researchers have used it since the 1930s and fetal tissue led to developing a polio vaccine. It’s also been used to test the efficacy of the German measles vaccine.

In an ironic twist, fetal tissue is also used to help understand fetal development, and may ultimately result in a decrease in miscarriages. Fetal tissue has been used in research to help treat immune system mismatches between the mother and fetus, detect genetic and metabolic diseases in the fetus, and to help develop techniques to treat hypertension and heart disease in mothers.

However, in June of last year, the Health and Human Services Department abruptly ended the ability of scientists to use fetal tissue in medical research. Those researchers were looking into diseases like cancer, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s — diseases that affect millions of Americans.

Now, Trump’s anti-abortion obsession is blocking research into a cure for a deadly pandemic.

The Dark Logic Behind Alabama’s Abortion Ban

A gaffe is not when a politician tells a lie, according to a famous adage by journalist Michael Kinsley. “A gaffe,” he explained, “is when a politician tells the truth — some obvious truth he isn’t supposed to say.”

When Alabama, Ohio and Missouri enacted broad abortion bans with no exception for cases of rape and incest, they made the same sort of mistake. Their measures gave the public an accurate but alarming picture of how many “pro-life” advocates see the issue. By showing how far they would take their logic, they dramatized the weakness of their case.

In signing the bill, Republican Gov. Kay Ivey cited “Alabamians’ deeply held belief that every life is precious & that every life is a sacred gift from God.” If every life is a sacred gift from God, how it came into being — by consensual sex or by rape — shouldn’t matter. In either case, the fetus is not to blame and is entitled to protection.

This may sound like a radical position. But it’s more common than you might realize. Last year, a Gallup Poll found that 43 percent of Americans who call themselves “pro-life” don’t favor exceptions for rape or incest.

The Republican Party’s national 2016 platform asserts, “The unborn child has a fundamental right to life which cannot be infringed,” with no mention of exceptions. The Texas Republican Party leaves no wiggle room when it says it wants to “completely abolish legal abortion.” Officials of several organizations have signed a letter urging the Republican Party to ban all abortions.

The absolutists have a point. If the life of the fetus is the sole consideration, other factors don’t matter. What matters least of all are the interests of pregnant women. By rejecting any exceptions, anti-abortion advocates starkly reveal their belief that each uterus belongs to everyone except the person in whom it resides.

If a fetus conceived in rape were granted all the rights of personhood at conception, the pregnant woman would forfeit control over her body, compelled to carry a fetus created without her consent. A vicious criminal could enslave her to bear his offspring — and to endure the lasting consequences of becoming a mother.

Or suppose that a child needs a liver transplant. “Even if, because of tissue type, only her father can provide a segment of liver that her body will not reject, our laws have never required any such sacrifice of him,” wrote Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe in his book, “Abortion: The Clash of Absolutes.”

The fact that the father chose to conceive the child makes no difference. His willingness to engage in behavior that leads to a pregnancy and birth does not obligate him to make such a sacrifice.

The logic of “pro-lifers,” however, would justify even greater violations. Thirteen people die every day in this country awaiting kidney transplants, according to the National Kidney Foundation. We could prevent those deaths by requiring kidney donations to those in need, from anyone whose organs would be suitable. But we don’t.

And we’d all agree that if someone needing a kidney tried to extract one from someone without her consent, she would be justified in using force in self-defense, including deadly force.

That’s not because we put no value on the lives of those who would be saved. It’s because we put a higher value on the personal freedom and bodily integrity of those who would be compelled to save them.

Someone impregnated through consensual sex, of course, would be subject to the same constraints. The difference, significant to some, is that she can be said to have incurred the obligation by her own choices.

But compulsory birth in the case of rape is only slightly more objectionable than in other cases. In either, the woman has to surrender her basic physical autonomy for the benefit of someone else, against her own will.

Under other comparable circumstances we would never impose such onerous obligations. Suppose that a man has defective sperm that are certain to produce only fetuses with horrific conditions that will cause death in utero. We could avert these grim outcomes by forcing him to get a vasectomy. But the intrusion on his body and the burden on his freedom would be too radical to accept.

To force women to go through pregnancy and give birth is a violation of the most severe and intimate kind. It’s not an affirmation of life. It’s a denial of the humanity of women.

 

 

Georgia District Attorneys Vow Not To Bring Cases Under New Abortion Law

Georgia Republicans passed a law that would let women be prosecuted and jailed for abortion or even miscarriage — but prosecutors in the Atlanta area are saying they will refuse to take those cases to court.

“As a matter of law (as opposed to politics) this office will not be prosecuting any women under the new law as long as I’m district attorney,” Danny Porter, Gwinnett County District Attorney, said in a statement.

A spokesperson for Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that Howard “has no intention of ever prosecuting a woman under this new law.” The spokesperson added that Howard would also refuse prosecute abortion providers.

“As District Attorney with charging discretion, I will not prosecute individuals pursuant to HB 481 given its ambiguity and constitutional concerns,” Sherry Boston, district attorney of DeKalb County, said in a statement. “As a woman and mother, I am concerned about the passage and attempted passage of laws such as this one in Georgia, Alabama, and other states.”

The law makes abortion a crime after the sixth week of pregnancy — or just two weeks after a missed period, before many women know they’re pregnant — and threatens up to 10 years in jail for both doctors performing the procedure and the women getting it. Because it’s difficult to tell an early abortion from a natural miscarriage, this would inevitably expose people who have miscarriages to prosecution. And because the law gives “personhood” rights to fetuses, it’s also possible that people who have abortions could be prosecuted for murder.

The extremist attempt to make health care a crime is clearly not sitting well with those in charge of deciding whether and how to take criminal cases to court.

Georgia’s far-right Republican governor, Brian Kemp, is already facing national blowback from signing the bill into law. Several A-list Hollywood actors have signed a petition to boycott working in Georgia because of the new law. And Kemp skipped a scheduled trip to Hollywood out of fears that protests would further harm Georgia’s $9 billion film and entertainment industry.

Georgia is one of six states just this year to pass similarly extreme laws criminalizing women’s health care. Because the laws violate women’s constitutional rights, courts have either blocked them from going into effect already or will very likely do so in the coming months.

But the Republican-led governments of all six states are hoping that these legal challenges will make their way to the Supreme Court — where the extremist anti-choice Trump appointees Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch could provide the votes necessary to uphold the attacks on women and health care, and end the nationwide legal abortion rights guaranteed under Roe v. Wade.

But at the local level, at least, some prosecutors are making it clear that they will protect pregnant people and doctors.

Published with permission of The American Independent. 

IMAGE: Demonstrators hold signs outside the U.S. Supreme Court as the court was due to decide whether a Republican-backed 2013 Texas law placed an undue burden on women exercising their constitutional right to abortion in Washington, U.S. June 27, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

After Passage Of Anti-Abortion Bill, Film Industry Boycott Looms Over Georgia

Georgia is already feeling the economic fallout from the radical anti-abortion law signed by Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, as several major film and television productions have pulled out of the state in protest.

A film starring Kristin Wiig and The Power, a major television show for Amazon Studios, have already abandoned plans to film in Georgia, according to a Tuesday TIME report.

“We had no problem stopping the entire process instantly,” Reed Morano, an Emmy-winning director working with The Power, told TIME. “There is no way we would ever bring our money to that state by shooting there.”

As movies and television shows pull out, workers in Georgia’s $9 billion-a-year entertainment industry are afraid of the damage that could result thanks to what their state lawmakers have done.

“We’re in panic mode,” Kathy Berry, a location scout who was scheduled to work on The Power before Kemp signed the bill into law, told TIME. “The sky is falling.”

Berry added that she’d heard of at least two more productions postponing plans to begin shooting in Savannah because of the Republican-backed law.

The boycott, spearheaded by actress and activist Alyssa Milano, targeted Georgia after Kemp signed an extreme abortion ban into law earlier this month.

The law criminalizes abortion after the sixth week of pregnancy — or just two weeks after a missed period, before many women know they’re pregnant. The law threatens up to 10 years in jail for both doctors performing the procedure and the women getting it. Because it’s difficult to tell an early abortion from a natural miscarriage, the law will expose people who have miscarriages to potential prosecution.

“I understand that some folks don’t like this new law. I’m fine with that,” Kemp said dismissively at a recent Republican retreat. He said he is proud of his radical anti-woman law “even though that makes C-list celebrities squawk.”

Kemp may try to speak like a tough guy in front of a friendly audience — but he was so afraid of facing film industry representatives and protesters that he canceled a planned trip to Hollywood.

And while Kemp is making light of the boycott, Georgia workers are the ones who will suffer from Kemp’s callous extremism.

“We used to film here in the summertime like crazy,” said Tim Jordan, an experienced cameraman who worked on several major motion pictures. “Now there’s this void. It feels like with this abortion law, they’re going to wait and see what happens.”

Morano, who worked on previous shoots in Georgia, said the hardest part is knowing how the boycott will impact great folks she has worked with. But she stands by her decision.

“I’m sorry if the work moves away from where you live,” she told TIME. “But having this basic fundamental right for women is more important than anything in this moment in time.”

Published with permission of The American Independent.