It’s not about the babies

Betty BeanKnox Scene

The never-ending argument over when life begins is central to the issue of abortion. Anti-abortion absolutists like the ones who control Tennessee government (and most Southern states) say that life begins at conception, and that God wants them to save all the babies, not just the ones capable of living once they are born.

I do not suggest that this observation is a news flash. This crowd has always claimed that God is on their side, and now that the United States Supreme Court is with them, too – that’s what they elected Donald Trump for – it’s their earthly duty to do the Lord’s work by opposing any deviation from the No Exceptions abortion ban.

Got a 10-year-old girl who is pregnant by weird Uncle Homer, or because she was raped on her way home from band practice? Tough toenails. Rape and/or incest are not significant enough to justify terminating a pregnancy, no matter the age or health of the victim.

It didn’t used to be this way.

Remember when right-wing hacks used to lose elections for mouthing  pseudo-science claptrap? (see Todd Aiken, Missouri 2012). But that was when Roe v Wade was the law of the land. Now they don’t have to pretend to be scientists anymore, thanks to the Supreme Court’s Dobbs ruling, and states are free to get about the business of saving the babies – all the babies, including those who will never take an independent breath.

A couple of months ago I wrote a column about the hypocrisy of a state government that is indifferent to the suffering of children in state custody while claiming to be all about the business of caring about babies. I was referring, of course, to the Department of Children’s Services mess that has kids who are wards of the state sleeping on the floors of DCS offices – a situation our governor and majority party legislators don’t consider enough of an emergency to get serious about.

I failed to mention a class of pre-borns (remember – life, according to Tennessee Republicans, begins when sperm meets egg) that the state of Tennessee has chosen to ignore – frozen embryos, like the ones Mary Sue and Junior Davis of Maryville went to court over back in the ’80s. They had seven tiny embryos stashed in a fertility clinic freezer before they decided to get a divorce. Mary Sue wanted custody because she thought she might like to try for motherhood again someday. She contended that life begins with fertilization, and that her former husband had no right to destroy those pre-babies.

The trial judge ruled for Mary Sue, but Junior said he shouldn’t be forced into fatherhood against his will and appealed the decision. The appellate court ultimately ruled in his favor, but the case ground on for years, got international attention and inevitably highlighted the abortion issue. Evidently there are a lot of embryos out there biding their time in freezers around the world.

Maybe this is what state Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti had in mind when he opined that the state has no jurisdiction over the fate of frozen embryos until they are successfully implanted into a woman’s womb. Or maybe not.

Maybe there are just too many of the little buggers to fool with. Maybe the AG figures we’ve got enough problems without opening up new fronts in the abortion wars.

Maybe this opinion suggests that this argument isn’t really about babies after all.

Maybe our legislators don’t really care so much about saving human life unless it’s tethered to a woman.

So maybe the fight isn’t really about saving human lives.

Maybe it’s about controlling women.

Betty Bean writes a Thursday opinion column for

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