Conservatives are Preparing for the First Post-Roe Death
Someone is going to die and they're fine-tuning talking points
In the few months since Roe was overturned, countless tragic stories have emerged from states with abortion bans—patients left bleeding for days, raped children forced to travel hundreds of miles for care, people denied vital medications, and women forced to carry dead and dying fetuses. And these are just the experiences of those who felt comfortable enough talking to reporters; we have no idea how many lives have been put at risk, or just how much suffering abortion bans have already caused.
What we do know is that it’s only a matter of time before someone dies.
Faced with this barrage of horror stories and the knowledge that women’s lives are in imminent and acute danger, have Republicans sprung into action to amend their legislation? Have they rushed to speak to medical boards, or to meet with hospital legal teams to assure them providing life-saving care won’t get their doctors sent to prison? Of course not.
But they sure are focused on getting their talking points straight. That’s right, in the middle of a national health crisis, conservatives are launching a preemptive PR campaign to prepare for the first death-by-abortion-ban.
To protect themselves for when that first inevitable death happens (or, more accurately, when the first reported death happens), conservative politicians, activists and pundits have all started to float the idea that abortion bans don’t stop doctors from providing care. Instead, they say, any harm that comes to women is the fault of pro-choicers who have frightened medical professionals and their lawyers into misreading the state laws.
In other words, they set the world on fire and want to blame the people pointing out that it’s burning.
Last week, for example, the policy director of the conservative group Independent Women’s Forum argued that “abortion alarmism” is to blame for delayed and denied medical care post-Roe, not Republican laws. Hadley Heath Manning says new abortion laws have clear health and life exceptions, and that it’s the “baseless fears” of pro-choicers influencing doctors that put women’s lives at risk.
After a Louisiana woman was denied an abortion despite a fatal abnormality in which her fetus was missing part of its head and skull, state Sen. Katrina Jackson, who wrote the state ban, said the hospital “grossly misinterpreted” the law. When miscarrying women in his state were denied care, the president of Texas Right to Life claimed it was “a failure of our medical associations,” and “a breakdown in communication of the law, not the law itself.” And conservative columnist Ross Douthat claims the problem is “hospitals' decision-making” and “activist-journalist misrepresentation.”
It’s kind of genius, really. Because conservatives aren’t just shirking blame, but offloading it onto their biggest threats, the very people who make them look bad: Feminists shining a light on the very real human toll of these laws, and doctors desperate to save their patients’ lives. The former I’ve come to expect, but the latter is particularly cruel—after all, doctors are also being victimized by abortion bans.
Republicans’ deliberately vague “health and life” exceptions have put physicians in the impossible position of deciding—in an already-fraught moment of medical urgency—just how close to dying someone needs to be before their condition warrants an abortion. And, horrifically, forcing them to weigh that possibility against their medical licenses and very freedom.
To blame doctors and hospitals is callous, but not thoughtless. I don’t believe it’s a coincidence that Republicans are leaning so hard into blaming physicians so soon after Covid-era misinformation targeted medical professionals. The same is true for pointing a finger at the media that exposes stories of abortion ban cruelty; ‘fake news’ is a much simpler and more popular message than ‘we’re willing to accept women’s deaths in order to keep our political win.’
What will be harder to explain away is how Republicans can claim to support health and life exceptions while suing the federal government so that hospitals can deny women life-saving abortions, as Texas is doing. Or how they argue doctors shouldn’t worry about being prosecuted for performing life-saving abortions when doing so is punishable by 15 years in prison unless you can affirmatively prove to a court the procedure was medically necessary, as is the case in Tennessee.
If Republicans want to save women’s lives and let doctors do their jobs, why are their laws crafted to prevent both?
Conservatives want Americans to believe that doctors and lawyers—professionals with years and education and experience—either don’t understand abortion laws or are being brow-beaten into fearing them. The simpler (and truer) answer, of course, is that the laws have been written exactly as they were meant to be, that the people reading them understand perfectly what they mean, and that women are going to die as a result.
Republicans know that it’s a matter of when, not if, a woman dies because of their legislation. Everything they’ve been saying since Roe was overturned has been framed by that horrific and completely predictable truth. So when that day comes, remember what Republicans spent these last few months doing—not helping, not making things better, not trying to save women’s lives, but spinning.
Not all of us will be around to hold them accountable for it—those of us who are better make it count.
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