Over the years, Republican Presidential candidate Rick Santorum has made his stance on abortion clear: he doesn’t believe it should be legal for any reason. Rape? Incest? The mother’s imminent death? Apparently, none of these circumstances warrant the slightest amount of understanding or sympathy. His views are so extreme that he thinks states should have the right to outlaw birth control. What’s really frightening about this lack of empathy is the fact that, in 1997, his own wife nearly died due to complications from her second-trimester pregnancy.
There has been some debate about whether or not the procedure which saved Karen Santorum’s life and resulted in the death of her fetus constitutes an abortion. The short version is this: Rick and Karen learned their child had a fatal birth defect around the 19th week of pregnancy. They opted to attempt surgery to correct the defect in utero, which caused Karen to develop a severe infection.
Doctors warned the Santorums that unless the fetus was aborted, Karen was likely to die. Antibiotics were delivered intravenously, and Karen began to go into premature labor, nearly a month before the fetus would normally be considered viable. Karen survived, but the child died shortly after birth.
What makes the situation really interesting is what the Santorums told Steve Goldstein of the Philadephia Inquirer when he originally reported on the issue:
“The doctors said they were talking about a matter of hours or a day or two before risking sepsis and both of them might die,” Santorum said. “Obviously, if it was a choice of whether both Karen and the child are going to die or just the child is going to die, I mean it’s a pretty easy call.”
“If the physician came to me and said if we don’t deliver your baby in one hour you will be dead, yeah, I would have to do it,” she said. “But for me, it was at the very end. I would never make a decision like that until all other means had been thoroughly exhausted.”
In other words, if she hadn’t gone into labor on her own, they would have eventually decided to have an abortion.
Despite Karen’s near-death experience, Rick Santorum continued pushing the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act, which he authored in 1995. It passed into federal law in 2003. “Partial birth abortion” is a political term – many doctors disagree on which procedures are even banned under the law. Most commonly, it’s thought to apply to D&X, or “dilation and extraction” – a procedure which makes late-term abortions safer for mothers and less likely to cause serious damage to the cervix.
D&X is used to help women who have had miscarriages in the advanced stages of pregnancy, and it’s also used in cases similar to Karen Santorum’s – where a fetus is known to have a severe, fatal defect and will be unable to survive outside the womb. And, as in Karen’s case, it can be used to preserve the health of the mother when the pregnancy goes wrong in the second or third trimester.
How could a man face this kind of crisis – even admitting that his wife’s life was more important to him than maintaining the pregnancy – and then go on to champion legislation that would deny other couples the same rights? How could he advocate for criminal punishment for doctors who perform these procedures, which are only considered in extreme circumstances where the fetus or the mother are not expected to survive or live a normal life? How can he spend so much time and energy attacking other conservatives on their abortion records, when he admits he would have been willing to make that decision himself on behalf of his wife?
The hypocrisy of Santorum’s attitude toward abortion should worry progressives and conservatives alike. Does anyone of any political stripe want a man in the White House who believes that his family is exempt from the same laws he wants to enact on the federal level? What’s next?
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