The July 9 broadcast of Now with Alex Wagner wouldn’t be complete without a panel discussing Texas State Senator Wendy Davis – and the abortion battle in Texas. Yet, it reached a new level with New York Times op-ed contributor Beth Matusoff Merfish declaring that she was “proud” her mother underwent an abortion since “she had the wisdom and the courage to know that her own potential would be cut short by a pregnancy and to terminate that pregnancy and I think many of our mothers have similar stories and it is really important to talk about that.”
The MSNBC network is known for two things: A lack of dissent and touting the official Obama line. So, it's not surprising that the show's panel included Ben LaBolt, a former press secretary from Obama’s 2012 campaign, and Karen Finney, former DNC Communications Director and board member of NARAL Pro-Choice America.
There was not one mention that SB 5, the Texas abortion law currently pending passage in the legislature, is supported by 62 percent of Texans. The fact that 50 percent of women and 52 percent of Millennials support banning abortions at 20-weeks was also omitted. Instead, MSNBC presented the usual conservatives “demonize” women and "Texas will-go blue" rhetoric from LaBolt and Finney, respectively.
Finney lamented how conservative politicians use abortion to consolidate their “bona fides” with the right, but she ignores Wendy Davis’ hijacking of the issue to propel her into the national spotlight – and that of the Democratic Party.
The only saving grace was that the panel kept their fawning of Wendy Davis – and her possible bid for governor – to themselves.
ALEX WAGNER: The battle lines are drawn in Texas, as the state legislature today resumed consideration of one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country. Republicans in the Lone Star State seek to ban abortion at 20 weeks, and put in place regulatory burdens designed to force 37 of the state's 42 abortion providers to close their doors. For the past two days, abortion rights supporters, clad in orange, have demonstrated outside the capitol where they have faced off against anti-choice advocates dressed in blue, as well as prominent voices in the pro-life movement.
The bill, an attempt to dramatically reduce reproductive freedoms for the 13 million women of Texas gained national attention after State Senator Wendy Davis’ eleven-hour filibuster last month, which forced this week’s special legislative session. But Davis and her supporters’ display of democracy in action was dismissed by Governor Perry as something else entirely.
GOV. RICK PERRY: People have relayed to me that never in the history of Texas have they seen that type of a mob rule come in and discombobulate a legislative session. I think anyone who watched that would consider that to be mob rule.
WAGNER: Despite this outbreak of "mob rule," the bill is expected to be approved by the Republican-controlled House today and by the senate later this week, after which Governor Perry will sign it into law. It will make Texas the 13th state to ban abortion at 20 weeks. North Dakota’s ban, the strictest in the country at six weeks, will go into an effect in August. But Texas isn't the only state where conservatives have rolled back a woman's right to choose. In Ohio, Governor John Kasich, flanked by an all-male audience, signed a budget bill that also made Ohio’s abortion laws some of the strictest in the nation and in Wisconsin, a federal judge issued a temporary restraining order yesterday after Governor Scott Walker signed a bill into law aimed at shutting down abortion clinics an mandating ultra sounds. Walker quietly signed the bill during a private ceremony over the July 4th weekend. Afterwards he had to say – “this bill improves a woman's ability to make an informed choice that will protect her physical and mental health, now and in the future."
But to Walker and his brethren, choice has nothing to do with freedom or in fact settled law. The governor himself cleared up any confusion specifying later—“women have a choice as to the ultrasound they receive.” Joining me today, "Washington Post" political editor sorry – political editor and White House Correspondent for the Huffington Post and MSNBC contributor Sam Stein. Former DNC Communications Director and host of MSNBC’s "Disrupt," Karen Finney. Business columnist and culture reporter for the New York Times David Carr, and former national press secretary for the Obama campaign, Ben La Bolt. Also joining us is New York Times" op-ed contributor Beth Matusoff Merfish. We should note also that Karen Finney serves on the board of NARAL Pro-Choice America. Beth, I want to go you first. You were actually in the gallery in Texas when Wendy Davis did her 11-hour filibuster and wrote a really moving op-ed in the New York Times about your mother’s very difficult choice to have an abortion. And one of the things – one of the biggest takeaways of that piece was your urging women, who have had to make this difficult decision, to come out and talk about it. Tell us more about why you think that’s important at this moment.
BETH MATUSOFF MERFISH, NYT: You know more women than we would like to know -- or than we think have had abortions. The Guattmacher Institute estimates that 22% of pregnancies in the United States are terminated – and that of the women that terminate, 61% of those women are already mothers. I think such shame permeates our discussion about abortion. And in fact that is so contradictory to how I feel about my mother's abortion. I am incredibly proud of her. At the age of 20 years old she had the wisdom and the courage to know that her own potential would be cut short by a pregnancy and to terminate that pregnancy and I think many of our mothers have similar stories and it is really important to talk about that.
WAGNER: You know, I want to open it up to our panel here in New York, Karen. The choice is really hard and I think that so much of this has been oversimplified into good and bad --
KAREN FINNEY: Absolutely.
WAGNER: And the notion that women should be ashamed into choices about their bodies and their reproductive life is really I think a bastardization of the argument at large. I like to get your thoughts on what's happening in Texas, and actually what’s happening across the country because there is movement forward on this issue, and it not in the direction of progress.
FINNEY: Well, I mean look -- I think it is very clearly a cheap – I view it as cheap -- as somebody who is pro-choice way. I mean, look at Marco Rubio is thinking now the far right is mad at him – oh I know, I’ll get on -- jump on the abortion bill. This is an issue that’s consistently being used – now, that's not to say there aren't people who – for whom they feel very strongly about this issue, but a lot of politicians use this issue as a way to sort of firm up their bona fides with the far right. One things with Texas in particular – and a lot of these state is – you know there was talk about the mental health – there was a study in the "New York Times" that pointed out it is not women's mental health, it is their physical and economic health that tends to suffer when they are forced to have a child that they’re not prepared to have and when in a lot of instances, as you just pointed out, they already have a child so a state like Texas, there are no supports for women who are low-income and then forced to have a child. And that's to me a part of what's so disgusting about this. You know, they demonize women. They demonize the choices, but then cut all of the programs that are designed – and demonize people who may need to rely on some of these programs to help them be better parents. Like Head Start, as Sam writes about, or like SNAP, some of these programs that – so you are demonizing women in low-income families on both ends of the spectrum and saying it is your fault, you got to step up to the plate, but you know you got to do it on your own – and you're a bad parent.
SAM STEIN: You know what strikes me about it though is they're not necessarily trying to limit the choice that the woman makes, what they’re trying to create so much burden on the woman after she’s made her choice that she reverses it and so you have these things like the forced ultrasound issue or just simply closing down abortion clinics so that it’s such a long process to get there…
WAGNER: Or a dangerous process.
STEIN: Correct, but that doesn’t – that doesn’t – again, what ends up happening is that the mother makes a choice that she wants to terminate the pregnancy, and then has to go through all these additional loopholes. I think that's sort of an insidious way to go about this politically.
FINNEY: Wait a second. Your body is violated by a probe that you may not want -- that is not a choice.
STEIN: No, I'm saying they already decided they want the abortion, now you add additional burdens to the process to almost convince them not to do it.
WAGNER: But David here’s what I don’t understand. Culturally speaking, what is the rationale here? When you – and I think Walker is a really interesting case. Cause here he signs this bill, sort of – I wouldn’t say secretly, but certainly without a lot of klieg lights around him on the July 4th weekend. But -- which would seem to be -- I guess -- a way of mitigating a disastrous choice in my mind. Then at the same time you have a rising star like Marco Rubio who I think, as Karen Said, is trying to get some bona fides with the conservative community, perhaps because he's gone out there on immigration reform. Does that work on the national stage? I mean Obama won women by 11 points, I believe in the 2012 exit polls?
DAVID CARR: I think abortion is a pretty complicated political instrument. If you look at the democrats in Texas right now trying to reach out to Latinos, this probably isn’t the issue that they would have chosen because it –
WAGNER: in Texas –
CARR: Yeah, In Texas, amongst the Latino community, there is a real complicated relationship with abortion. I think part of what happens is the more subtle nuanced approach. For instance, if you wipe out out more than half of the installed base of clinics in Texas, all the family planning goes with it. And so end up with people who are often getting pregnant at higher rates because you have taken out other options short of – I do think that it’s an argument that calls for an incredible amount of nuance. It never gets it.
BEN LABOLT: But politically this is the opposite of what the Republican autopsy report of 2012 recommended. There were supposed to be a more inclusive party and you've seen this movement in states across the country over the past 20 weeks. Now, Ohio and North Carolina are coming on to the map I mean nobody has done more to keep independent women in play for Democrats than these laws -- this is truly unbelievable. And now that they are adding them to the equation in Texas – we thought Texas would be in play for Democrats because of the growing Hispanic population, but imagine if independent women are now in play. We've been talking about 2020 maybe this moves the timetable up.
WAGNER: I just don’t understand – I mean also if you're going to be signing draconian abortion bills into law, maybe you don’t do it in a room full of men. I mean like literally politics optics 101. We have to leave it there.