The XX Factor

Bachmann Slips Up on Late Term Abortion

Michele Bachmann speaks at the Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition Presidential Forum on Oct. 22

Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

Michele Bachmann noticed Herman Cain’s surging poll numbers and decided she wanted a little bit of the ol’ Cain magic. The Cain-owned territory she intends to poach? Incoherent babbling on abortion rights! The conventional wisdom is that constantly shifting around, directly contradicting yourself, and hedging your bets on abortion rights is a political misfire, but I disagree with the conventional wisdom on this. Logical consistency on an issue that’s dictated by a mish-mash of paranoia about female sexuality and 8th-grade-style existential crisis is way overrated. Still, Bachmann may have stepped in it this time by seeming a tad cavalier on an issue she’s made central to her campaign.

Bachmann claimed in Iowa to be a “leave it to the states” anti-choicer, which tends to fly in the face of her previous stances and actions supporting federal restrictions on abortion, including her introduction of a federal bill that would force women seeking abortion to undergo a medically unnecessary vaginal probe ultrasound. Worse for her, she embraced this states-should-decide argument on late term abortion, anti-choice protesters’ very favorite kind of abortion to freak out over, even though they are exponentially more likely than early term abortions to be medically indicated. She even said that it’s up to the states on video, making it hard for her to walk back from it, though she’s certainly trying.

Part of me suspects that conservatives like Bachmann and Cain get all muddled up on the details of what abortion bans would actually look like because they really aren’t as invested as their most hardcore followers in a national ban that’s strongly enforced. There’s a reason why the holy grail of the anti-choice movement has been an overturn of Roe v. Wade and not a constitutional amendment banning abortion. Sure, pretty much every anti-choice candidate out there supports a constitutional amendment banning abortion, but that support has mostly been symbolic. The lion’s share of money and time has been spent on grooming a Supreme Court that will overturn Roe. Should that happen, abortion will be legal in much of the country, but not all of it. For instance, my state of New York actually legalized abortion prior to Roe, and would continue to have relatively liberal abortion laws even without Roe in place forcing the issue. This means that the family members of wealthy red state politicians, such as Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain, would have all the access they could want to legal, safe abortion. It’s just those of you who can’t scrape together the money for a plane ticket, hotel, and medical expenses at a moment’s notice that would be up a creek if facing an unintended pregnancy. Poor people make awesome scapegoats for our national anxieties about female sexuality, but the daughters of the privileged, not so much.

This just goes double for the late term abortions that Bachmann was discussing when she allowed that states should have a right to legalize them. Only 1.5 percent of abortions are performed after the 21st week of pregnancy, and most of those are done because of fetal indicators or maternal health problems. I’m completely unsurprised that even those Republican politicians who pose as hardcore anti-choicers are really willing to make it impossible for their loved ones to access safe abortion services in the case of fetal abnormalities or potentially fatal problems such as eclampsia that can only be corrected by terminating the pregnancy. As long as it’s legal in more liberal states, only the poor have to endure pregnancies gone horribly wrong while those who have comfortable bank accounts can be on the first plane to New York City.