Republicans want to control what they don’t understand

The debate surrounding Alabama’s barbaric new abortion legislation showed an almost remarkable degree of willful and proud sexist ignorance:

You don’t have to have a female reproductive system to know how one works. But if you’re going to advance legislation that bars women from making their own decisions about pregnancy and childbirth, you should at least have a working familiarity with the biological processes you’re enshrining in the penal code.

Based on Tuesday evening’s floor debate, Alabama’s GOP senators not only appeared to fall far short of that threshold—they were pleased by it. Sen. Clyde Chambliss, one of the bill’s main supporters, demonstrated a fair bit of confusion about how human reproduction works as he debated Democrats. “I’m not trained medically, so I don’t know all the proper medical terminology and timelines and that sort of thing,” he said, “but from what I’ve read, what I’ve been told, there’s some period of time before you can know that a woman is pregnant. … It takes some time for all those chromosomes and all that.”

This unscientific fumbling would have been pretty funny had it not been the preamble to a vote to strip women of the ability to decide whether or not to bear a child. Chambliss appeared to be confused about the difference between the moment when the chromosomes of the egg and sperm meet—fertilization—and the moment when a pregnancy test, which tests hormones, not chromosomes, shows up positive. Chambliss was unable to answer questions about whether an abortion under the new bill would be legal in the days or weeks between those two events.

Chambliss also drew a blank when asked how he would define an “attempted abortion,” which would be punishable by up to 10 years in prison. He said he didn’t know what an “attempted abortion” was, but that it meant that a fetus somehow remained viable after an abortion procedure. He was likewise stumped when questioned about how doctors would be able to tell a miscarriage from a medication abortion, since the two would present indistinguishably to a doctor. “The burden of proof would be on the prosecution,” he shrugged—implying, as if he’d just considered it for the first time, that all women who miscarry in an Alabama with an abortion ban should be investigated as criminal suspects.

Chambliss’ ignorance about the female body he was so zealously trying to police struck me as moderately disturbing. If a legislator arguing for lower or higher taxes is expected to know how the tax system functions, shouldn’t a legislator legislating about pregnancy and abortion know how pregnancy and abortion work? But for me, the truly galling part of this exchange was the fact that Chambliss seemed utterly unbothered by his own cluelessness. Indeed, he seemed to flaunt it proudly.