Rick Santorum Wants To Ban All Abortions — With One Exception

There is one circumstance in which Rick Santorum supports a woman’s right to an abortion — and it’s not rape or incest (emphasis is mine):

Rick Santorum, former Pennsylvania senator and likely presidential candidate, wants all abortions outlawed. He has even said that abortion providers should be “criminally charged.” Clearly, his compassion for zygotes, fetuses, and other squishy, jelly-like substances not fully alive is without question. When it comes to actual human beings, however, there is some doubt. He voted to cut every social and welfare program that came before him as senator, and not just those helping women and girls, but those helping the poor, immigrants, children in general, and, of course, education.

Mr. Santorum doesn’t hate all people, however. As a Republican, he loves rich people, white people, business people, and Christians. The real Americans, he calls them. There’s one other person he loves, too: his wife, Karen Santorum.

He loves her so much, in fact, that in 1997 when she became seriously ill during the 2nd trimester of her pregnancy, he didn’t want her to die.

In the 19th week of her pregnancy, Karen discovered during a routine exam that the fetus she was carrying had a fatal defect and was going to die inside of her. A long-shot surgery was performed that required cutting directly into the womb. It carried a high risk of infection and was performed not to save the fetus, but to reduce Karen’s complications while she attempted to go full term.

Two days later, she became severely feverish. She was rushed to the hospital and placed on intravenous antibiotics, which reduced her fever and bought her some time, but could not eliminate the source of infection: the fetus.

Karen was going to die if her pregnancy was not ended, if the fetus was not removed from her body. So, at 20 weeks, one month before what doctors consider ‘viability’, labor was artificially induced and the infected fetus was delivered. It died shortly thereafter.

When I read this article, since I had not seen it anywhere else, I did some checking to be reasonably sure it was accurate. As it turns out, labor was not induced — but only because it did not become necessary. Here is an account of what happened, from a 1997 article in the Philadelphia Inquirer (emphasis is mine):

Karen was in her 19th week of pregnancy. Husband and wife were in a suburban Virginia office for a routine sonogram when a radiologist told them that the fetus Karen was carrying had a fatal defect and was going to die.

After consulting with specialists, who offered several options including abortion, the Santorums decided on long-shot intrauterine surgery to correct an obstruction of the urinary tract called posterior urethral valve syndrome.

A few days later, rare “bladder shunt” surgery was performed at Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia. The incision in the womb carried a high risk of infection.

Two days later, at home in the Pittsburgh suburb of Verona, Karen Santorum became feverish. Her Philadelphia doctors instructed her to hurry to Pittsburgh’s Magee-Women’s Hospital, which has a unit specializing in high-risk pregnancies.

After examining Karen, who was nearly incoherent with a 105-degree fever, a doctor at Magee led Santorum into the hallway outside her room and said that she had an intrauterine infection and some type of medical intervention was necessary. Unless the source of the infection, the fetus, was removed from Karen’s body, she would likely die.

At minimum, the doctor said, Karen had to be given antibiotics intravenously or she might go into septic shock and die.
[…]
‘The doctors said they were talking about a matter of hours or a day or two before risking sepsis and both of them might die,” Santorum said. “Obviously, if it was a choice of whether both Karen and the child are going to die or just the child is going to die, I mean it’s a pretty easy call.”

Shivering under heated blankets in Magee’s labor and delivery unit as her body tried to reject the source of the infection, Karen felt cramping from early labor.

Santorum agreed to start his wife on intravenous antibiotics “to buy her some time,” he said.

The antibiotics brought Karen’s fever down. The doctor suggested a drug to accelerate her labor.

“The cramps were labor, and she was going to get into more active labor,” Santorum said. “Karen said, ‘We’re not inducing labor, that’s an abortion. No way. That isn’t going to happen. I don’t care what happens.’ ”

As her fever subsided, Karen – a former neonatal intensive-care nurse – asked for something to stop the labor. Her doctors refused, Santorum recalled, citing malpractice concerns.

Santorum said her labor proceeded without having to induce an abortion.

Karen, a soft-spoken red-haired 37-year-old, said that “ultimately” she would have agreed to intervention for the sake of her other children.

If the physician came to me and said if we don’t deliver your baby in one hour you will be dead, yeah, I would have to do it,” she said. “But for me, it was at the very end. I would never make a decision like that until all other means had been thoroughly exhausted.”
[…]
The labor “was just as painful as the others,” said Karen, “and emotionally I can’t begin to tell you how painful it was.

Doctors later told her that she very nearly waited too long to accept antibiotics.

Although in the end she was spared having to make the decision to induce labor, one can certainly admire Karen Santorum’s personal courage and determination to remain faithful to her own beliefs, even when her own life hung in the balance. No one should have to make such a heartbreaking decision, and no one should minimize or deny how seriously Karen and Rick Santorum treated this kind of decision when they were faced with it. How could any feeling person tell Rick Santorum that he did not have the right to save the life of the woman he loves, even if that meant killing the fetus? Or tell Karen Santorum that her fetus’s right to be born outweighed her children’s right to a mother?

But, of course, this is exactly the point — because the fact is, Karen and Rick Santorum DID have the right to make that decision for themselves, even as both of them (but most relevantly, Rick Santorum, since he is the lawmaker) would deny that right to every other woman and every other family in this country. The irony of Karen Santorum telling the Philadelphia Inquirer that “for me, it [the decision to have an abortion by inducing labor] was at the very end. I would never make a decision like that until all other means had been thoroughly exhausted” is thick and rich. “For ME,” she said. “For ME, I would never make a decision like that until all other means had been thoroughly exhausted.” But for others, she and her husband would deny that same right to make a decision that was right for them. It boggles the mind.

If this personal experience had changed Rick Santorum’s thinking about abortion — if it had given him any new and greater understanding of how difficult it can be to make such a decision — emotionally and medically — then I would not be writing about it to illustrate how hypocritical and how cruel Santorum’s opposition to abortion is. But Santorum has not used his and his wife’s personal experience to question his own moral certitude about the evils of abortion or his smugness about the need for women to have access to safe, legal abortion to protect their own health and lives. All he has done with this experience is carve out an exception for his wife, for his family, for his children’s emotional needs, for his ‘selfish’ desire that his wife should not die. For others, in Rick Santorum’s mind, those concerns either do not exist or are of no importance.

Indeed, Santorum’s crusade to ban abortion has only become more inflexible since he almost lost his own wife to a crisis pregnancy. Back then, he supported rape, incest, and the life of the mother as exceptions to legislation banning abortion. Now, he has kicked off his presidential campaign by telling audiences he opposes rape or incest, and health, exceptions to a complete abortion ban. A week ago, in Iowa, he said that health exceptions were “phony.” And on the June 12 edition of Meet the Press, he told David Gregory that abortions to end a pregnancy that results from rape or incest should be included in a ban, and that doctors who perform abortions for that reason or any other should face criminal charges (emphasis is in original):

QUESTION: Do you believe that there should be any legal exceptions for rape or incest when it comes to abortion?

SANTORUM: I believe that life begins at conception, and that that life should be guaranteed under the Constitution. That is a person.

QUESTION: So even in the case of rape or incest, that would be taking a life?

SANTORUM: That would be taking a life, and I believe that any doctor that performs an abortion, I would advocate that any doctor that performs an abortion, should be criminally charged for doing so.

So yeah, Rick Santorum is a zealot. He’s a fanatic. He’s Inspector Javert — relentless, unbending, and cruel. Personal experience — which usually increases a person’s empathy for others in the same or similar situations — in his case, has no larger meaning at all.

 

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