Playing Politics with Abortion | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Playing Politics with Abortion

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Laurie Bertram Roberts

Politics is a dirty business. When you involve yourself in activism and politics, it is easy to get discouraged because you learn early on that many of your elected officials don't care about you or any of the people who elected them. They care about votes.

In order to get those votes, they need to maintain their image. In our state, that generally means making sure you look and sound conservative. It doesn't mean you have to believe it, and it doesn't mean that the things one proposes have to actually be productive for the state. It just means you have to look like you are busy promoting conservative things that are supposed to mean something.

This is why we keep seeing abortion bills every year. All our lawmakers don't even believe in outlawing abortion. If you ask them in private, many on both sides of the aisle will say they wish the anti-abortion bills would just go away. Yet, they have images to uphold. They can't appear to promote abortion.

This year, we have a bill going through the Legislature to ban abortion at 20 weeks gestation. Sounds urgent, right? It seems that way if you know nothing about abortion nationally or in Mississippi. The lone clinic in the state doesn't perform procedures past 16 weeks. The handful of abortions performed past 20 weeks in the state in 2013 were done in hospitals more than likely meeting the exemption standards in the bill. That means that pregnancy was a danger to the life of the pregnant woman.

Mississippi has one of the lowest abortion rates in the country, according to the Guttmacher Institute, and abortion rates are at an all-time low nationwide.

It leaves one to wonder why politicians treat abortion as the big issue in Mississippi. It's not the greatest health issue for pregnant women in the state. Our state has some of the worst maternal-health and infant-mortality statistics in the country. In some parts of the state, our infant-mortality rates for black infants are on par with developing countries.

By contrast, abortion in Mississippi has a complication rate of less than 5 percent, according to the Mississippi Department of Health. So maybe lawmakers should focus on making births safer. Expanding Medicaid could help. Otherwise, I can think of a mile-long list of issues for those pregnant in Mississippi, from lack of access to health care to hospital quality, and too much access to abortion isn't one of them.

Our lawmakers are choosing to focus on abortion because it is low-hanging fruit to get political points with their base. It is a wedge issue that causes emotional reactions in people. It is a way to look like they are working for families and children without doing anything real and substantial to help lives being lived in the here and now.

Perhaps they should think about being "pro-life" in all things since I have a news flash: Abortion is not the issue that is holding Mississippians back. Lawmakers pandering for cheap votes instead of working on behalf of the people are.

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