Rick Perry's Pious Hypocrisy

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I saw a piece the other day about the ever-ongoing debate about the legal status of abortion that quoted a statement issued earlier this year by Texas Governor Rick Perry:

"Last session the governor signed a law requiring physicians to perform a sonogram before performing an abortion, ensuring women deserve to all the information before making such a life-ending decision."

Yeah, that seems to be a little garbled. "Gov. Oops" and all that. But it's exactly what it says on his website. And despite the tossed-word salad, it clearly includes a phrase I've seen used frequently by opponents of abortion rights: "All the information."

For some reason, this time the phrase made me imagine a visit to an obstetrician's office in a parallel universe Texas.

Dr. Smith: Hello, Mrs. Jones. I understand that you and your husband want a child and are ready for me to deactivate your government-mandated birth control.

Mrs. Jones: Yes, doctor. We've talked about it and prayed about it and we're sure we're ready to have a baby.

Dr. Smith: This is a very serious decision, so our state laws require that I provide you with all the information about the risks of parenthood.

I am required to tell you that approximately three percent of babies are born with a serious and immediately apparent birth defect and that birth defects are the leading cause of infant death. I am required to show you these photos of some of the more serious defects.

Mrs. Jones: Oh! Oh!

Dr. Smith: You aren't required to look, but I have to show them. And I'm required to show you this video of these parents caring for their severely disabled child. I'm also required to tell you that approximately 13 percent of students demonstrate some sort of learning disability. And that almost five percent of juveniles between the ages of 10 and 17 were arrested last year alone.

Mrs. Jones: My husband and I have talked about the challenges we might face...

Dr. Smith: How about the financial challenges? Some estimates for how much it costs to raise one healthy child in a reasonably comfortable environment easily top more than a quarter of a million dollars. The cost of college gets added on top of that.

Mrs. Jones: (A bit angrily) Yes. We've discussed this. My husband and I make enough money.

Dr. Smith: I'm required to point out that more than a third of all marriages end in divorce. Are you personally prepared for the potential emotional and financial strains of single motherhood?

Mrs. Jones: Children strengthen marriages, doctor! Parents are happier because they have children.

Dr. Smith: This is why these laws were passed. I can tell you something you didn't know. Several surveys have shown that people say they are less happy when children come along. See this chart? And their happiness doesn't rebound until the last child has left home. Here's a quote from a few years ago, in Newsweek:

"Parents experience lower levels of emotional well-being, less frequent positive emotions and more frequent negative emotions than their childless peers," says Florida State University's Robin Simon, a sociology professor who's conducted several recent parenting studies, the most thorough of which came out in 2005 and looked at data gathered from 13,000 Americans by the National Survey of Families and Households. "In fact, no group of parents-married, single, step or even empty nest-reported significantly greater emotional well-being than people who never had children."

Mrs. Jones: Yes, yes. But my husband and I love each other and have always wanted children. We've planned and prepared and are ready. Anything else?

Dr. Smith: There's the risk to your life. Almost nine births in every 100,000 ends with the death of the mother. That's 14 times the mortality rate of, for instance, getting an abortion.

Mrs. Jones: An abortion! This is insane! Why is my wish to have a child any of your business or the business of the government?

Dr. Smith: Gov. Perry explained it all when he signed that law. He said that women deserve to get "all the information" before making such a life-changing decision.

Mrs. Jones: Is that all? Can you deactivate the birth control, now?

Dr. Smith: Almost. I have to give you a physical exam, so you'll know exactly what shape your body is in. Lean back so I can do this intravaginal sonogram. I'm required to tell you exactly what I see.

(We avert our fictional eyes for a few minutes.).

Dr. Smith: All finished.

Mrs. Jones. Thank goodness. Now can you do what I came here for?

Dr. Smith: Hahahha. Of course not. Did you forget about the mandatory 24-hour waiting period? If you still decide you want a child, I'll see you tomorrow. Please pay your bill on the way out.

Who would possibly be in favor of such a law? Crazy, no? But Dr. Smith's information is not crazy. It's all real -- some gleaned from government sources, some from peer-reviewed research, some from other kinds of surveys.

I have tremendous respect for many people I've met who oppose abortion, most of them for religious reasons. If they believe the Creator of the universe has defined abortion as murder, I have no trouble understanding their passion for their cause.

I have less patience for pious hypocrisy. For people who believe that aborting a one-cell fertilized egg is murder, to focus on the sound of a heartbeat makes less sense. For people who believe that a miniscule human embryo indistinguishable to the untrained eye from that of a starfish is a person, to then parade graphic photos of late-term abortions seems to contradict their own deepest beliefs.

For them, neither the sound nor the appearance have anything to do with their opposition to abortion. So why do they trot out sounds and pictures? Make your arguments based on what you actually believe and let the marketplace of ideas work its magic. In the United States, such arguments and conflicting beliefs eventually nudge public policy.

And for someone with a faith-based opposition to abortion to claim his only interest is for the woman to have "all the information?" I'd take that more seriously if "all the information" were something more like all the information.

Jeffrey Weiss is a Dallas-based religion writer. Follow him on Twitter @WeissFaithWrite.

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