If you're lucky enough, you may have seen one of the ads from the Texas Senate Republican Caucus on Facebook. Accompanied by the image of a white, blue-eyed little boy is a plea from the caucus for the person reading the ad to support Senate Bill 23, the "Texas Born-Alive Infant Protection Act," which, to hear Texas Republicans tell it, would help end the plague of infanticide that's sweeping across the United States.
SB 23 would require doctors to "[exercise] the same degree of professional skill, care, and diligence to preserve the life and health of the child" that survives an abortion as they would a child born outside of an abortion procedure. Doctors who break the law would be subject to a $100,000 civil penalty.
It's a bill filed with little surprise, given President Donald Trump's accusation that Democrats support "executing babies." Its merits are dubious, to say the least, but let's get into that later. First, the spat between Texas Senate Republicans and Facebook that broke out over the ad is worth taking a look at.
Over the weekend, Facebook informed the administrators for the Texas Senate Republican Caucus Facebook page that their ad was being penalized. Naturally, tweets about the social media company's apparent bias began to flow.
Why did @facebook flag and limit this pro-life post/picture for possibly causing a "negative experience"?!? There is absolutely nothing distasteful about this post! #txlege #sb23 @SenCreighton @SenBryanHughes @AngelaPaxtonTX @loiskolkhorst pic.twitter.com/P8BqZk64jp— Team Bettencourt (@TeamBettencourt) March 15, 2019
A Facebook spokesperson tells the Observer that the ad wasn't flagged because of reports from Facebook users. Instead, the Senate Republicans' ad was downgraded because the company has increased its efforts to limit "engagement bait" on the platform, not because of the policy it pushed.
Whoever wrote the ad messed up when they added, “Share if you care about protecting those who can't protect themselves!” to the bottom of the post. A second version of the ad omitting the line about sharing is on Facebook without a penalty, the company says.
If the ad in question was about something genuinely worthy of debate, like Texas' ongoing legislative fight over property taxes or school finance reform, one might be tempted to say "no harm, no foul" and think that the way things ended was probably for the best. Viewpoint discrimination and clickbait — unless the Observer is the one doing the baiting — are both bad things, after all.
When it comes to the specific policy proposal being pushed in this case, however, some context is necessary.
SB 23 is a solution in search of a problem. Based on the American Medical Association's code of ethics, the Neonatal Resuscitation Program recommends that resuscitation should be withheld from any infant born after a gestation of less than 23 weeks because of the child's likely inability to survive long. A 2013 Texas law already bans abortion at 20 weeks, except in the case of a severe fetal abnormality or a life-threatening medical condition for the mother. In 2015, the latest year for which complete statistics are available, only 95 of 55,287 abortions performed in the state occurred more than 20 weeks after gestation — less than 1/5 of 1 percent.
A similar bill is filed in the Senate and both "prove to us that the extremist lawmakers are hellbent on using abortion as a political wedge issue, even if it means promoting lies," NARAL Pro-Choice Texas executive director Aimee Arrambide said in a statement after the bills were filed. "Its true intent is to intimidate abortion providers, interfere in the patient-doctor relationship, and create an even more hostile environment for doctors to provide care in."
In 2002, then-President George W. Bush signed the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act, which grants full legal rights to any baby born at any point in development. The big difference between the federal law and the one being pushed by Texas Republicans is that the federal law doesn't single out abortion, nor does it threaten doctors with legal action should they run afoul of the law.
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