In the warped mind of MSNBC's Chris Matthews, efforts to regulate the practice of abortion are morally equivalent to literacy tests in the South that were aimed at preventing African-Americans from voting.
The "Hardball" host made that puzzling and arguably insulting comparison on the June 30 program in a segment titled "What's the Matter with Kansas?"
[video posted below page break]
"Kansas may be on track to become the first state in the country to put an end to abortion," Matthews told his audience yesterday, explaining that:
A new law requires the state's abortion providers to comply with strict new regulations that set equipment, temperature and space requirements, and the Associated Press reports that as of today, only one of the state's three clinics met those requirements. Two others were denied permission to operate, effectively shutting them down [when the law takes effect] tomorrow.
Before the commercial break, Matthews had promised "both sides" of the debate, but in truth supplied only one side, interviewing a left-leaning reporter and then an abortion rights activist.
Matthews began his interview of D.C.-based Huffington Post reporter Laura Bassett by asking (emphasis mine):
Laura, give us a sense, is that true, is this basically setting a whole bunch of conditions like they used to do with literacy tests in the South to keep blacks from voting. Is this a bunch of regulations that basically kill any chance of having an abortion legally in Kansas?
An objective reporter might have been taken aback by Matthews incredibly asinine comparison with the Jim Crow south, but Bassett had no problem with Matthews' comparison:
That's what they seem to be and that's what they've done. Actually, I just heard word that the third clinic has been denied a license as well, which means that a woman can no longer get an abortion in Kansas because of these impossible regulations that they were given two weeks to comply with.
For a set of impossible regulations, however, one Planned Parenthood clinic WAS able yesterday, during the 5 p.m. Eastern "Hardball" broadcast to secure a license to continue abortions.
Reports the Kansas City Star this morning:
Shortly after 4 p.m. Thursday, state health officials notified Planned Parenthood that it would be the only abortion clinic to get a license under controversial new rules that take effect today.
A denial would have made Kansas the only state without an abortion provider.
The state’s two other abortion clinics — Aid for Women in Kansas City, Kan., and the Center for Women’s Health in Overland Park — are without licenses and unable to provide abortions.
Both will be in federal court at 3 p.m. today to challenge the new rules. Neither clinic had any abortion appointments scheduled for today.
After Bassett described some of the regulations, Matthews doubled down on his "literacy test" comparison (emphases mine):
MATTHEWS: No, this is like literacy tests in the South.
MATTHEWS: It's not exactly parallel, but it's the kind of game you set. Now, my question is, are they admitting that this is a game, a strategy to kill abortion rights in Kansas?
BASSETT: Republicans are not admitting it. They're saying it's to protect women's health. They're saying it's to protect women's safety that these clinics aren't safe. But doctors are saying that these regulations aren't even being used for hospitals and surgery centers and an abortion procedure is much less invasive than many other surgical procedures that don't have these same regulations and so it raises a few questions.
MATTHEWS: So they never break their game face. They never admit, c'mon, we know what we're doing here?
MATTHEWS: But are the people who backed these regulations really hard pro-lifers?
BASSETT: They are.
Following his chat with Bassett, Matthews turned to Nancy Northup of the Center for Reproductive Rights, lobbing a softball right over the middle of the plate:
It looks to me like this is an attempt to outlaw abortion effectively. Is that how you see it in the state of Kansas?
After Northup opened with her predictable talking points, Matthews continued to help along Northup by echoing pro-choice talking points, even as he pretended to be objective (emphases mine):
MATTHEWS: So what happens? I mean, I'm not going to make the argument here, let you make the argument, you're the advocate, but it seems to me it puts women who want to have an abortion in a two-choice, a double-choice situation: Travel out of state or go to someone who does it illegally.
NORTHUP: Well, absolutely. The--
MATTHEWS: That's effectively where it's going to come to, isn't it?
NORTHUP: The harm of these laws is that they hurt women.
A few minutes later Matthews flatly interjected, "I don't like the law being used this way," adding that he foresees that "if this works" there would be "copycatting" in other states:
MATTHEWS: If you can just start drawing up the most onerous regulations in the world, make the room have to be 1,000 square feet, make it 2,000 square feet, say you have to have a toilet that's 500 feet high in the air.
You can make any rule you want if your goal is to outlaw abortion. What stops it, this direction? What would stop it?
NORTHUP: Well, what needs to stop it is for the court--
MATTHEWS, interrupting: What could, I'm sorry, go ahead.
NORTHUP: We need the court to step in and protect women's constitutional rights and protect the rights of these doctors who are providing services for their patients.
I mean, it is so important to us to remember how critical our Bill of Rights is. And that we need the court -- I mean, your analogy to voting rights was excellent. We need the Court when majorities trample over the rights of citizens...
As Matthews wrapped up the segment, he reiterated his complaint that the Kansas abortion regulations were "a game here, this is not honest lawmaking, it seems to me."
"Whatever side [of the abortion debate] you're on, this is not the way to decide this issue. It should be decided on the principle of a right or not a right," Matthews lectured his audience.