Clarence Thomas sent a message about abortion. Here’s what it means for Pa. | Wednesday Morning Coffee

May 29, 2019 7:21 am

Good Wednesday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

Just as supporters of restrictive abortion bans in Alabama, Missouri and elsewhere are looking to a conservative U.S. Supreme Court to take a weed whacker to Roe v. Wade, there are now clear signals that anti-choice activists in Pennsylvania may be looking to at least one member of the high court for similar reassurances.

In a 20-page opinion issued Tuesday, Justice Clarence Thomas, an ardent abortion opponent, compared women who obtain abortions to eugenicists, Slate and other outlets reported.

Abortion “is an act rife with the potential for eugenic manipulation.” Thomas wrote.

WASHINGTON, DC – NOVEMBER 30: United States Supreme Court Associate Justice Clarence Thomas poses for the court’s official portrait in the East Conference Room at the Supreme Court building November 30, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

And thanks to “today’s prenatal screening tests and other technologies, abortion can easily be used to eliminate children,” he continued. As Slate points out, Thomas’ opinion pushes a “a pro-life narrative that seeks to intertwine abortion and eugenics while ignoring history.”

Thomas’ opinion was a dissent from the high court’s decision to punt on a lower court ruling staying an Indiana law that banned abortions based on the sex, race, or disability of the fetus. His colleagues might not have been prepared to rule.

But Thomas clearly was. And here’s why Pennsylvania needs to pay attention to that.

Earlier this year, as they trotted out a bill banning abortion on the basis of a Down syndrome diagnosis, Republicans in the state House and Senate made an apocalyptic argument: Namely, that allowing such abortions to take place was tantamount to eugenics.

And if you allowed abortions based on a Down syndrome diagnosis, then abortions because hair color, autism, or any other theoretically undesirable trait, they breathlessly argued, would be next.

Sound familiar?

Pa. House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny (“Friends of Mike Turzai” / WikiMedia Commons)

For evidence, these lawmakers pointed to Iceland, where the birth defect has nearly been eliminated because the vast majority of the Scandinavian nation’s women have chosen to terminate their pregnancies after prenatal screening confirms a Down syndrome diagnosis, CBS News reported in 2017.

The CBS story also pointed out that, at the time, the United States had an estimated termination rate of 67 percent (based on 1995-2011 data).

(Existing Pennsylvania state law, via Planned Parenthood v. Casey, already bans abortions based on the sex of the fetus.)

Sen. Scott Martin, R-Lancasterthe prime sponsor of the Senate’s version of the ban bill, has argued that his proposal isn’t “about the legal and ethical debate regarding abortion,” even though it certainly has that dimension.

Rather, he said, “it is about eugenics – the heavily criticized practice of discarding children if they do not have certain ‘desirable’ traits.'”

Again, sound familiar?

That same argument spooled out last month in the majority-Republican state House, where GOP lawmakers, joined by some Democrats, approved the House’s version of the bill, co-sponsored by GOP Rep. Kate Klunk, of York County, and House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny.

Looking at court decisions in other states staying similar ban laws, opponents of the Pennsylvania proposal argued, persuasively, that it was almost certainly unconstitutional because of the undue burden it put on a woman pre-viability, and definitely unenforceable because of its intrusion on doctor/patient confidentiality.

Turzai made a similar argument in April. Speaking to the anti-abortion group, Real Alternatives, which has received tens of millions of dollars in taxpayer money to effectively scare women out of abortion, he compared ban opponents to “the Nazi regime,” and similarly raised the specter of eugenics.

And in a statement issued Tuesday, the anti-abortion Liberty Counsel, in Washington D.C., hailed Thomas’ dissent.

“While today’s SCOTUS decision to prohibit selective abortion is abhorrent, I applaud Justice Clarence Thomas for using this opportunity to expose Planned Parenthood’s undeniable eugenic history,” Liberty Counsel founder and chairman Mat Staver said. “Planned Parenthood continues [founder] Margaret Sanger’s legacy of murdering unborn children based on their race, sex, or level of disability. We must continue to fight to protect every precious life and make the womb a safe place again in America.

So the playbook is out there, folks.

And now that Thomas has opened the door to a eugenics argument, anti-abortion activists in Pennsylvania likely now think the terrain has changed suitably enough for them to pursue litigation.

Perhaps all the way to the Supreme Court.

The rest of the country may not be paying attention to Pennsylvania’s version of the abortion wars. But that could soon change.

Our Stuff:
Elizabeth Hardison
 has the details on a Chesapeake Bay Foundation report concluding that Pennsylvania is the weakest link in keeping the watershed — and the bay — clean.

Washington Bureau Chief Robin Bravender has a pair of stories. One finds U.S. Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon protesting the lone Republican member of Congress who’s holding up a badly needed disaster relief package. The other delves into the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision not to hear a challenge to a Pennsylvania school district’s rules dictating bathroom use by trans students.

And on our Commentary Page, Opinion contributor Mark O’Keefe concludes that, while Pennsylvania’s system for picking judges is clearly insane, an alternative floated by one Republican lawmaker would make it even worse.

Harrisburg teachers are prepping for a walkoutPennLive reports.
In a $67 million verdict, a federal jury has found that Bucks County ‘willfully’ violated the criminal-records actThe Inquirer reports.
Zelionople, in western Pennsylvania, has declared a state of emergency because of damage caused by heavy storms on Tuesday, The Post-Gazette reports.
State gaming regulators are set to vote on the $1.3 billion sale of the Sands Casino in Bethlehem today, The Morning Call reports

Here’s your #Pittsburgh Instagram of the Day.

Adults on Medicaid are having a hard time getting dental careWHYY-FM reports.
The first trial in the Penn State Hazing Death will center on security camera footageWPSU-FM reports.
BillyPenn runs down the convenience store wars in Philly between WaWa and 7-Eleven.
The Incline wants your nominees for Pittsburgh’s new, young tech stars. 
D.Raja is stepping down as Allegheny County GOP chair, PoliticsPa reports.
A new Trump administration rule will make it harder for homecare workers to pay union reports.
Politico looks at House Republicans’ messaging headache in the wake of the Alabama abortion law.
U.S. Senate Democrats are looking to force a vote on the use of force in IranRoll Call reports.

What Goes On.
12 p.m., Soldiers & Sailors Grove:
 Performance celebrating Asian Pacific Heritage Month.
1:30 p.m., Media Center: The Wolf administration announces a statewide suicide prevention program. It comes in response to the growing prevalence of suicide in Pennsylvania.

Gov. Tom Wolf 
starts his day with a 10 a.m. event in Altoona, where he’ll detail his plans to help the city battle blight. Do what you want, Wolf. Leave Jethro’s alone.
And at 2:15 p.m., Wolf heads to Clearfield, Pa., where he’ll talk about broadband expansion.

What Goes On (Nakedly Political Edition).
5:30 p.m.: 
Reception for U.S. Rep. John Joyce, Orchard’s Restaurant, Chambersburg. Admission runs $250 to $1,000.
5:30 p.m.: Reception for Dauphin County Controller Timothy DeFoor, Rooftop at 1500, Harrisburg. Admission runs $100 to $500.

You Say It’s Your Birthday Dept.
Best wishes go out this morning to longtime Friend O’the BlogCharlie Gerow, of Harrisburg, who celebrates today. Congrats and enjoy the day, sir.

Heavy Rotation.
Because sometimes you just have to start your day with some insane French pop, that’s why. Here’s a remix of ‘Alors en Danse,’ by Stromae. Dancing is actively encouraged.

Wednesday’s Gratuitous Baseball Link.
The Tigers blanked Baltimore 3-0 on Tuesday because, we guess, it’s a day that ends in ‘Y.’ Sigh

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.