It’s a discussion/argument/shouting match that America and Americans have had ad infinitum and ad nauseum in the 44-plus years since Roe v. Wade established the law of the land on abortion and roiled the lay of the political landscape on that perennial issue.
The recent Roe v. Wade-related battle of Alvarado v. Schaefer was a concise, 6-minute Texas House floor reminder of where we are on abortion, which is about the same place we’ve been since Jan. 22, 1973, when the U.S. Supreme Court legalized it.
Alvarado is Rep. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston.
During a 2011 floor debate on a bill to make sonograms at least 24 hours in advance mandatory for women seeking abortions, she displayed a transvaginal ultrasound wand to make a point about the intrusiveness of the procedure.
Schaefer is Rep. Matt Schaefer, R-Tyler.
In 2015, he pushed a measure to require a woman to carry a pregnancy, after 20 weeks, to term even if there was no chance the fetus would survive.
The political and personal paths of Alvarado and Schaefer crossed at 2 p.m. during the May 11 marathon House session, producing an as-if-needed reminder of how the two sides on abortion can talk past each other.
Schaefer was on the front microphone and Alvarado was on the back one as he pushed an amendment concerning more frequent reporting of complications resulting from abortions.
Alvarado reprised the debate America has been having for generations over abortions by asking if Schaefer’s measure would “put people’s lives at stake” via a provision that would put abortion providers’ names in reports.
“I’m also concerned about the people who are affected by abortion. And that’s the mother and the child that dies. OK?” Schaefer said, staking out abortion-as-murder ground.
Alvarado moved quickly to stake out the abortion-as-women’s-health-issue ground: “You know,” she told Schaefer, “I’m always very suspicious, especially when a male brings a bill or an amendment that affects women’s health. Y’all seem to be so obsessed with women’s health. I wish that you would apply that equally and be equally concerned with men’s health.”
Schaefer stepped on Alvarado’s final few words and said, “I wish you would apply it equally to age, because pre-born women …”
“What about men’s health?” Alvarado said.
Schaefer: “What about boys and girls in the womb?”
Alvarado: “What about procedures that men have?”
Schaefer: “What about little pre-born women in the womb?”
Alvarado: “Why are you just choosing to focus on women’s health?”
Schaefer: “Why are you only concerned about women’s health after they’re born?”
Alvarado: “I’m concerned about everyone’s health.”
Schaefer: “Well, you’re not because you discriminate based on age.”
Alvarado: “I don’t discriminate.”
Schaefer: “You do.”
Alvarado: “I do not.”
Schaefer: “Then you would be concerned about them before they’re born.”
Then both were warned by Rep. Craig Goldman, R-Fort Worth, who was standing in for House Speaker Joe Straus, to keep their remarks related to the measure being debated.
Alvarado said abortions have a “99 percent safety record” and other procedures carry 14 times more likelihood of major complications. That was an invitation to Schaefer’s core argument about abortion.
“Rep. Alvarado,” he said, “abortions are not at all safe for the pre-born babies. In fact, abortions are fatal.”
Alvarado: “I’m sorry. I don’t recall hearing any reports of this. Has it been in the news? Has someone been investigated?”
Schaefer: “Are you not aware that abortion terminates a life?”
Alvarado: “I’m asking you to point out the facts and these are the facts that it is 99 percent safe.”
Schaefer: “It is not safe for the baby. It is 100 percent fatal. This cannot be compared to a tonsillectomy or vasectomy. The purpose of a tonsillectomy or vasectomy is not to take someone’s life. The purpose of an abortion is to take someone’s life. That’s why we take it so seriously.”
Then there was some more back and forth about vasectomies.
And it wound toward this conclusion when Rep. Cindy Burkett, R-Sunnyvale, moved that time for the debate had expired, but not before Schaefer spoke of the need for more frequent reporting of instances of abortion complications.
“We have a lack of good data on this procedure,” he said. “We need to modernize it. We need to bring it into the 21st century …”
And that was an opening for Alvarado.
“I think you need to come into the 21st century,” she said as the speaker’s gavel ended the debate on the amendment but not on abortion.
Ken Herman is a columnist for the Austin American-Statesman.