Scott Walker’s Abortion Flimflam Explained! (Maybe.)

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I had almost given up on anyone helping me understand what Scott Walker meant when he explained why he opposed abortion exceptions not just for rape and incest, but also to save the life of the mother. “There are many other alternatives that can also protect the life of that mother,” Walker said during Thursday’s debate. “That’s been consistently proven.”

But then a reader came to my rescue, and it turns out that Jonathan Allen had it right in the first place. It really does derive from the Catholic doctrine of intent in medical care. Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association provides the nickel explanation:

The reality [] is that an abortion is never necessary to save the life of the mother. This is, quite simply, a choice that a mother and her doctor never have to make, and Ms. Kelly has contributed to the already widespread ignorance on this subject.

The nearest circumstance would be what are called ectopic pregnancies, the anomaly in which the fertilized egg attaches to the Fallopian tube and never implants in the womb of the mother. Removal of the Fallopian tube is necessary to preserve the mother’s life and thus is a procedure that indirectly — not directly — causes the death of an unborn child. This technically is not even an abortion, because the procedure is done for the purpose of removing the Fallopian tube, not killing the baby.

As Lauren Enriquez writes, “The abortion procedure is not — ever — necessary to save the life of a mother…[A] true abortion — in which the direct intention is to end the life of a human being — is not a treatment for any type of maternal health risk.

Now this explanation I understand. The key step in this tap dance is to declare that some procedures that terminate a pregnancy aren’t “true” abortions. Even if you know ahead of time that a procedure will abort the fetus, it’s not really an abortion as long as abortion isn’t your intent.

In other words, I just didn’t have my cynicism meter turned up high enough. When Walker said there are always “alternatives” that can protect the life of the mother, he was only talking about true abortions. He wasn’t talking about medical procedures that kill the fetus only as a side effect. Those aren’t true abortions, so they’re not part of the class of procedures for which there are alternatives.

Yeesh. If this is really the explanation, it takes political misdirection to a new level. All that’s left now is to explain what Walker meant by “This has been consistently proven.” That makes it sound very science-y, but this has nothing to do with science. It has to do with the meaning of the word “abortion.” Walker has chosen a specific term-of-art definition that’s quite different from how most people understand the word. This allows him to say something that seems to mean one thing but actually means another.

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It’s really that simple. But if you’d like to read a bit more, our membership lead, Brian Hiatt, has a post for you highlighting some of our newsroom's impressive, impactful work of late—including two big investigations in just one day and covering voting rights the way it needs to be done—that we hope you’ll agree is worth supporting.

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