GOP House candidates back stringent Ala. abortion law

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Dr. Greg Murphy


By Jon Hawley
Staff Writer

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Both Republicans running for the 3rd Congressional District back the abortion ban enacted in Alabama – a deeply controversial law aimed at upending abortion rights nationwide.

In interviews with The Daily Advance this week, state Rep. Greg Murphy, R-Pitt, also a physician, and Dr. Joan Perry, of Kinston, both offered their support for Alabama's law. Murphy and Perry were the top finishers in last month's Republican primary, and will face off in a second primary on July 9. The victor will face Democratic candidate Allen Thomas, of Greenville, and third-party candidates to see who will finish the term of late House Rep. Walter Jones, R-Farmville.

While Murphy and Perry have both long described themselves as pro-life, not all pro-life politicians completely support Alabama's law. The law is divisive not only for banning abortion – which would be a felony for a physician to perform – but for not including exceptions for victims of rape or incest to terminate any resulting pregnancy.

Some pro-life lawmakers, as well as some advocacy groups for victims of sexual violence, defend abortions in cases or rape or incest. Such groups say that carrying an attacker’s child to term can greatly worsen a victim’s trauma.

The Alabama law allows only an exception when a woman needs an abortion to “avert her death or to avert serious risk of substantial impairment of a major bodily function”; the exception explicitly excludes mental illness.

That goes further than even Republican President Donald Trump seems to favor, as Trump wrote in a statement last week he favored exceptions for rape, incest, and the life of the mother – “the same position taken by Ronald Reagan,” he noted.

Both Perry and Murphy said they supported Alabama's law.

“Each life is sacred and ordained by God,” Murphy said, adding he opposed abortion “without exception.”

Murphy's position of no exceptions suggests a doctor should decline to terminate a pregnancy even when it could greatly harm or kill the mother. Asked about that exception, Murphy said such a circumstance is “exceedingly rare,” and the physician involved would have to make that decision.

Perry similarly commented, “abortion restrictions on any level are good,” and supported Alabama's law. She also acknowledged it's aimed at drawing a legal challenge and ultimately forcing the U.S. Supreme Court to reconsider its ruling in Roe v. Wade. In that major ruling in 1973, justices ruled that abortions fall within constitutional privacy rights, particularly those done early in pregnancies. Pro-life lawmakers in Alabama and elsewhere instead consider it to be murder.

“As a scientist and a Christian, I believe life begins at conception,” she said.

She further argued that the Supreme Court's rationale of abortion as a privacy right is contradicted by governmental goals of valuing life and the “general welfare,” as described in the Declaration of Independence and Constitution.

Arguing that a fetus – and earlier stages of pregnancy – is legally a person has far-reaching social and legal implications. For one, it could be argued a woman who seeks to end her pregnancy is attempting to commit murder; Alabama's law states a woman who gets an abortion will not be held criminally liable, but opponents of an abortion bill in Georgia argue it does leave women open to prosecution, according to published reports.

Perry opposed prosecuting women who seek or get abortions.

Additionally, were abortion outlawed, it also seems likely there would be many more births nationwide. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that, in 2015, about 638,000 abortions were performed, or about 12 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15-44. The CDC also noted those numbers are down from 2006 by around 20 percent.

Research from the Guttmacher Institute further explains that, based on 2014 data, 46 percent of abortion patients were not cohabiting, 59 percent already had at least one child, and 75 percent were poor or low-income.

Were abortion banned, the data suggest many women might give birth with little or no means to care for the child; it's possible some would also seek to illicitly terminate their pregnancies.

Perry acknowledged those concerns, and argued the nation needs to better support mothers, not just the unborn.

“We have to talk about coming alongside mothers,” she said. She continued that many churches and others in the pro-life movement do offer help for mothers, and those efforts should be built upon.

However, asked if she favored more spending on health care, pre-, peri- and post-natal, she said no. The country should improve its use of existing resources and better educate women on the resources available and alternatives to abortion.

Asked about accommodating the increased births that might result from an abortion ban, Murphy said there were safety net programs in place to serve them. Asked if those programs had enough funding and resources to handle an increase in births, Murphy explained that's an issue lawmakers would work through if and when it arises.

Murphy also acknowledged mothers seek abortions because they may not feel financially able to raise a child, but argued financial considerations aren't a justification for terminating a pregnancy.

Through a spokesman, Thomas declined to be interviewed for this story.