No Rick Perry, Texas’ Anti-Abortion Law Would Not Have Saved Joan Rivers

Rick Perry seems to think that Joan Rivers would still be alive if her doctor had hospital admitting privileges, the kind Texas now requires of abortion providers. Oh, wait. He did.

At the Texas Tribune Festival last weekend, Gov. Rick Perry theorized that if New York regulated abortion providers the way Texas does now, comedian Joan Rivers might not have died from complications after having throat surgery in New York City.

When discussing HB 2, his state’s new omnibus anti-abortion law, Perry proposed, “It was interesting that when Joan Rivers, and the procedure that she had done, where she died—that was a clinic. It’s a curious thought that if they had that type of regulations in place, whether or not that individual would still be alive.”

Let me run that by you again. The man who holds the highest public office in Texas said that an anti-abortion law like the ones in his state could have saved the life of an 81-year-old woman who died in an endoscopy clinic 1,500 miles away.

Of course, Rick Perry isn’t really saying he truly thinks an abortion law like Texas’ actually might have saved Joan Rivers’ life. Even Rick Perry is smarter than to say something like that out loud.

All he’s saying is that if Joan Rivers had had the benefit of the kinds of regulations Texas has imposed on all abortion facilities at the place when she was getting her procedure done—say, if Rivers had her surgery in a clinic that adhered to the minimum standards of ambulatory surgical centers, or if Rivers’ doctor had admitting privileges at a nearby hospital—she would still be alive today.

That’s all, y’all. Just ole’ Gov Perry speakin’ metaphorically, like. Makin’ intellectual connections between seemingly unrelated issues.

It’s just that—and I’m sorry to have to point this out—Joan Rivers did have her operation in an ambulatory surgical center, and her doctor did have the ability to admit her to Mount Sinai Hospital.

The circumstances of Rivers’ death continue to be the subject of some dispute, but what seems clear at this point is that ambulatory surgical centers and hospital admitting privileges are not absolute guarantees of total medical safety, whatever Texas lawmakers may have claimed last summer while railroading HB 2 through in two special legislative sessions.

Admitting privileges, for example, are a business arrangement between doctors and hospitals. Hospital boards grant them to doctors who will bring business to their hospital, not those who perform procedures with almost negligible complication rates. And again, they do not ensure that every operation will be infallibly safe.

Indeed, hospital admitting privileges did little to prevent a drug-abusing North Texas surgeon named Christopher Duntsch from killing two of his patients and paralyzing four more. But somehow, for all Gov. Perry’s posturing about how an anti-abortion law could have saved Joan Rivers’ life, he just plain failed to mention that curious case.

Sort of gives you the impression that Perry was more concerned about playing politics than about intellectual honesty. Sort of makes you wonder if Perry was using Rivers’ death to advance his own anti-choice agenda.

What’s bizarre, though, is that Perry’s claim that HB 2-style regulations could have saved Rivers’ life illustrates precisely the opposite of what he’s trying to prove. If anything, Rivers’ death after an operation performed by a hospital-credentialed doctor in an ambulatory surgical center shows, very simply, that medical procedures can sometimes be dangerous, and that the practice of medicine is inherently risky. As Texas House Rep. Dawnna Dukes (D) pointed out at a later Tribune Fest panel, people die and are injured while undergoing all manner of operations—the particular example she used was the death of Kanye West’s mother while she obtained cosmetic surgery.

But anti-choice folks don’t seem to be particularly concerned about passing laws that increase the “health and safety” of people who get rhinoplasties, colonoscopies, or vasectomies; they are instead uniquely focused on regulating one of the absolute safest, and most common, outpatient medical procedures that doctors perform.

Rick Perry—or Jill Stanek, or your right-wing uncle with his finger perpetually on the CAPS LOCK key, or any other anti-choice drum-beater out there—can suggest that Rivers might be alive if New York had stricter regulations until the cows come all the way home, but it doesn’t change the facts: Rivers’ surgery was done in an ambulatory surgical clinic by a doctor who had admitting privileges.

Targeted regulations of abortion providers are never, and have never been, about patient safety. The only thing Rick Perry cares about sustaining the health and safety of is his own political career.

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