Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.) and Chris Smith (R-N.J.) are two politicians who act like religious patriarchs. They see their special flocks as consisting of all those wayward women who just don't make the right choices about abortion:
Pregnant women in South and Latin America who contract Zika, a rapidly spreading mosquito-borne virus linked to severe birth defects and deformities in babies, should not have access to abortion, Republican House leaders said Wednesday.
"This push for more abortion access is heartbreaking, especially since there are different degrees of microcephaly," Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, said at a hearing about the virus.
House Republicans running the Zika virus hearing avoided the issue of contraception and family planning access for women in endemic countries and instead urged women to welcome babies born with microcephaly. Duncan acknowledged that "many women do not have the luxury of simply choosing to wait" to get pregnant, but added that abortion access is not the answer, because many babies born with microcephaly "go on to lead very normal lives."
"Each child is made in the image of God and has inherent worth," he said.
Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) said the U.S. needs to work harder to "ensure that any child born with with disabilities from this or any other infection is welcomed, loved and gets the care that he or she needs." To back up his point, he highlighted the headline of a BBC article published earlier this month: "Microcephaly: 'It's not the end of the world.'"
Talk is cheap, and at rock-bottom prices when it is about something neither of these gentlemen will ever have to contemplate facing. They cannot get pregnant, and neither are they poor women probably living in a country where getting the care a child with severe microcephaly needs is very unlikely.
That lack of care is not the case with the woman who wrote the BBC article Chris Smith (R-Forced-Birth) mentions.
There are varying extremes of the condition - Laney is towards the end where her brain has a lot more problems, but doesn't make her value any less.
She doesn't walk or talk, and she can't feed herself.
She has a g-button or gastrostomy button directed into her stomach. She is nourished through a feeding machine or a pump we use by hand and she gets all her medications that way too.
Laney's mother has found spiritual rewards and lessons in the care of her very-much-loved daughter, and that is wonderful. But Rep. Smith appears to use the case as a general ethics lesson, equally applicable to all women, wherever they live and whatever resources they might be able to harness.
This smacks a lot of the stories the Catholic Church uses to praise women who it deems sufficiently saintly, women who refuse a life-saving abortion for the sake of the fetus and then die, leaving their other children motherless and possibly taking the fetus with them to the land of death. But at least they were saintly.
I always found those stories frightening, because they seemed to tell me what that church expected of "good women." Connect those images with the ban on women in any position of power in the Catholic Church, and it's hard to avoid thinking that all this is based on an ulterior motive not that far removed from misogyny. Or at least the complete control of women's fertility.
I smell something similar in the statements of those two Republican gentlemen. It may well be that many babies with microcephaly go on to lead fairly normal lives, but many will not. And the people whose own lives will drastically change with the birth of a child with microcephaly are the women who give birth to them, not Mr. Duncan or Mr. Smith.