During Tuesday night’s antagonistic Pennsylvania Senate debate, Republican Mehmet Oz was asked to articulate his stance on abortion rights.
When asked about his feelings on a national abortion ban — something that Republican legislators have already introduced and hope to pass should they take control of Congress — Oz tried to sidestep the question. But what he did say was both telling and alarming.
Oz tried to sidestep the question. But what he did say was both telling and alarming.
“As a physician,” he said, “I’ve been in the room when there’s some difficult conversations happening. I don’t want the federal government involved with that, at all. I want women, doctors, local political leaders, letting the democracy that’s always allowed our nation to thrive to put the best ideas forward so states can decide for themselves.”
Women. Doctors. Local political leaders.
Let’s break that down: According to Oz, women (the people predominantly seeking abortion care), doctors (the people qualified to advise about and provide abortion care), and local political leaders (like, say, this guy) should all be involved in the private reproductive health care decisions of individuals. Sure, he isn’t pronouncing his support for a national abortion ban, but Oz is certainly signaling loudly and clearly that he would not object if states continued to ban safe and legal abortion care — including, presumably, his own.
Oz’s position, as stated on Tuesday night, is not particularly coherent. Why would local politicians be any more qualified to restrict medical care for large swaths of the population than national ones? Why, when the majority of Americans support legal abortion, would forcing birth (or death) on women in a patchwork of U.S. states be a function of our democracy’s “best ideas”?
These questions don’t have great answers. As Monica Hesse put it in The Washington Post: “‘Local political leaders’ making health-care laws that impact patients they’ll never meet is a position that can only end up hurting women and doctors.”
But the truth is that it doesn’t matter. All we learned this week is what we already knew: Oz is just more of the same. He’s parroting the same talking points that have dominated the right wing of the Republican Party for decades, and he’s willing to trade patients’ lives for political power.
The Republican Party is not an institution particularly concerned with moral or political consistency. (See: Georgia Senate candidate Herschel Walker, who is publicly an anti-abortion extremist, and privately has allegedly pressured women into terminating pregnancies, which he also allegedly paid for.) Abortion has been used by the most radical wing of the party as a way to whip up its base since the late 1970s, often driven less by a fundamental belief system than by calculated political strategy — a way to access an alleged moral high ground while pursuing an agenda of racial segregation.
As Dartmouth professor Randall Balmer, author of “Bad Faith: Race and the Rise of the Religious Right,” outlined in Politico after Roe v. Wade was overturned, anti-abortion sentiment did not become a central issue for conservative evangelical leaders until after the 1978 midterms, five years after Roe and amidst efforts by the IRS to rescind the tax-exempt status of church-sponsored whites-only segregation academies. Before the late ‘70s, abortion had largely been considered a Catholic issue, and many evangelical leaders even actively supported the legalization of abortion. That changed when a group of men, considered the architects of the religious right, discovered how anti-abortion sentiment could be used to turn out white voters.
Anti-abortion sentiment did not become a central issue for conservative Evangelical leaders until after the 1978 midterms, five years after Roe.
“Opposition to abortion, therefore, was a godsend for leaders of the Religious Right because it allowed them to distract attention from the real genesis of their movement: defense of racial segregation in evangelical institutions,” wrote Balmer. “With a cunning diversion, they were able to conjure righteous fury against legalized abortion and thereby lend a veneer of respectability to their political activism.”
Abortion care — which, again, has a real, material impact on the safety of women and other birthing people — is little more than a cynical tool to right-wing demagogues, utilized to consolidate power.
And notably, Oz is no original thinker. Despite his medical license, he’s a quack, willing to hawk scientifically unproven detoxes and cleanses to make a buck, and espouse false information, like claiming that apple juice contained dangerous levels of arsenic. (It does not.)
He behaves no differently in the political arena. Mehmet Oz will say whatever he believes will allow him a path to potential electoral victory. If the medical care of millions of people is sacrificed as a result, well, that’s just business, baby.