Rep. Smith Suggests a New Protected Class: “Immaturity”

Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), a favorite of the religious right in large part for his staunch opposition to reproductive rights, issued a statement today which contained excerpts of his speech at the March for Life in Washington, D.C., in which he referred to abortion as “unacceptable bigotry.”

Last year, the anti-choice activist Lila Rose, notorious for her undercover videos at Planned Parenthood clinics, made the horrifically inappropriate comparison of murdered civil rights activist Emmett Till and a fetus. Just as Till’s mother’s decision to show photographs of her dead son’s battered body ignited the civil rights movement, Rose argued, graphic exposure of abortion would spark a civil rights movement for fetuses.

Smith today added some language that makes quite clear that he’s envisioning fetuses as a protected class, much like age, race, religion, gender, or disability.

From his statement:

[L]ast week, with full and unequivocal support of Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor, more than 165 members of Congress joined Dan Lipinski and I [sic] to introduce the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act (HR3)—a government-wide prohibition on taxpayer subsidization for abortion and conscience protections for health care personnel and institutions. We need your help to get this passed. And let us recommit today to even more persevering prayer, fasting and hard work to ensure the human rights of all, regardless of age, race, religion, sex, disability, immaturity or condition of dependency.

Notice that “immaturity or condition of dependency” added along with “age, race, religion, sex, disability” — classes that are protected under our civil rights laws. Smith is robbing the legacy of the civil rights movement, the women’s rights movement, the disability rights movement (but of course not the LGBT rights movement, whose rights Smith’s conservative cohorts have blocked) to claim that fetuses are merely “immature” or “dependent” people who deserve the protections of the Constitution and our civil rights laws.

Of course no court has read such a Constitutional right, and no legislation exists to create such a protected class — but that’s not for lack of trying by the right. The right has been building this argument, first through advocacy for a Human Life Amendment, which Smith supports, which would declare “the right to life guaranteed by the Constitution is vested in each human being, and is the paramount and most fundamental right of a person.” Through proposed “personhood” amendments at the state level, the right has argued that fetuses are entitled to “pursuit of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness” and that “the Declaration of Independence acknowledges that the right to life is the foundation of all rights.”

Smith’s arguments, though, trounce more directly on women’s rights than merely depriving them of access to reproductive health services — that’s no longer enough for the anti-choice movement. Last week Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Cecile Richards, in pledging to “vigorously oppose” Smith’s bill, said in a statement:

Smith’s bill goes far beyond any other proposal ever introduced in Congress to take health care coverage away from women, would put the lives of women with life-threatening pregnancies in danger, and would not even provide abortion coverage to many women who are raped and become pregnant. 

For these women, the only choice they will have under Congressman Smith’s bill will be to risk their health or risk bankruptcy because Congressman Smith will not allow them insurance coverage for abortion — and that’s morally unacceptable.   The Smith bill even goes as far as to take existing protections away from women whose lives are in danger from serious medical conditions.