Emotions have run high in Texas since Wendy Davis’s epic filibuster of an abortion bill banning procedures after 20 weeks and imposing new regulations on providers. After the state legislature went ahead and pushed through the measure last week during a raucous special session, conservative pundit Erick Erickson decided to stoke the fire with a particularly tasteless tweet: “Dear Liberals, go bookmark this site now,” he taunted, with a link to an online warehouse selling coat hangers.
Needless to say, the joke (if you can call it that) was not appreciated. Pro-choicers lashed out at what they perceived as crass disregard for the very real danger of illegal abortions, while pro-lifers chastised Erickson for hurting their movement. In an “apology” posted on RedState.com Saturday at 2:16 a.m., Erickson called his opponents “kid killers” and punted, “I forget that feminists and other pro-abortion activists really are as humorless as they are stereotyped to be.”
But as true advocates on both sides know, abortion is no laughing matter. To imply that coat-hanger abortions are funny is to show shockingly little respect for everyone involved in the debate: women, their doctors, and even those pro-lifers in Erickson’s own camp who are at least capable of having a civil conversation on the subject.
On Monday Erickson argued his position again more formally and expressed dismay at the vitriol his tweet incited. But midway through, he digressed into a bizarre rant on how pro-choicers have “indoctrinated an entire generation of young feminists into believing the horrors of back alley abortions,” which, he implied, aren’t really all that bad—only 39 women reportedly died from them in 1972, he said, quoting from Right to Life of Michigan. As if that’s supposed to reassure us that Texan women will be A-OK getting illegal abortions. It’s hard to tell what Erickson’s actual stance is here—his original tweet and muddled follow-up seem to be saying that abortions are bad, unless you get them on the black market, in which case, stop complaining, because they aren’t so dire. (One can only imagine what the authors of the recent fetal-pain movement would say in response to the latter charge.)
Unfortunately, laws like the one in Texas likely will cause women to make fraught decisions like turning to unregulated measures to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. Laws that impose unnecessarily strict regulations on clinics, called Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers, have already proved to be problematic for women in other states. As the Guttmacher Institute has predicted, “if these increasingly burdensome TRAP laws are allowed to stand, they may prove remarkably successful in accomplishing what decades of restrictions, protests and even outright violence failed to do,” namely, close clinics. And when clinics close, women must travel farther distances to receive medical care, often causing them to miss work and lose wages, or else give up—or resort to more desperate measures.
As The New York Times reported this weekend, Texan women are already beginning to cross the Mexican border to purchase the pill misoprostol, which induces miscarriage “about 85 percent of the time,” but can also “cause serious bleeding or a partial abortion.”
As more women lose access to safe clinics, we’ll likely only see a reverse in maternal-mortality statistics. At a medical clinic, the risk of death is less than 0.3 percent. By contrast, in the late 1920s, The Atlantic reports “some 15,000 women a year died from abortions.” Laws like the one in Texas have real consequences for women and their families. No one, particularly those with a public platform, should turn them into fodder for coarse and foolish jokes.