Rick Perry Suggests Joan Rivers Could've Survived Under Texas' Anti-Abortion Clinic Rules... Wait, What?

Yep, he did it again. Texas Governor Rick Perry is no stranger to awkward moments or impolitic statements — this is the same man, of course, who forgot which federal agencies he wanted to abolish, and for whom "abstinence works" is a self-proving statement — but his recent comment on the death of Joan Rivers was a unique show of bad taste, and bad-faith politics. Speaking at the Texas Tribune Festival in Austin Sunday, Perry suggested Rivers could've survived, if anti-abortion regulations enacted in Texas had applied to the outpatient clinic she died in.

Basically, in prepping himself for a possible 2016 presidential run, Perry is doing the usual media rounds and public appearances, trying to generate buzz and bolster the reputation of his tenure as Governor of Texas. And there's a lot to unpack in his record — despite Texas having a very weak governor's office compared to other U.S. states, Perry is still the longest-serving governor in the state's history, and has left an enormous footprint.

Maybe one of the most consequential examples for low-income women: Under Perry, Texas has approved various so-called TRAP laws, severely threatening the scant number of abortion clinics still operating within the state. TRAP stands for "targeted regulation of abortion providers" — basically. according to critics, forcing clinics to adopt stringent new regulations that most won't be able to, forcing their closures. Those are the regulations Perry invoked Rivers to praise, especially the requirement, as The Guardian details, that all Texas abortion clinics meet the standards of ambulatory surgery centers.

It was interesting that when Joan Rivers, and the procedure that she had done, where she died – that was a clinic. And I’m just – it’s a curious thought that if they had had that type of regulations in place, whether or not that individual would be still alive.
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As you can probably tell, Perry remarks had a sort of speculative bent to them, but all the same, it's deeply problematic. In the first place, whatever your opinions about "respect for the dead," there's something a little seedy about leveraging someone's death in support of a policies they almost surely wouldn't support. While nobody could claim to know exactly how Rivers would've felt about Perry using her memory in this way, she was as much a taboo-breaker in openly addressing abortion as anything. As Time details, she broached the subject in a time when few people were willing to discuss it openly, joking about her friends who would be forced to leave the country for "appendectomies."

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So basically, yes, this is gross enough on its own. But even beyond bringing Rivers into it, Perry's attempt to frame Texas' clinic regulations as supportive of women's health, in theory or in practice, is misleading.

After all, there are loads of theoretical new laws or rules regarding abortion clinics that could be passed to show that genuine interest, and they're not the ones we've been seeing. For example, the state could allocate money to ensure that clinics not measuring up to the new regulations could be funded to do so, or introduce safety oversights on clinics' quality controls that didn't amount to limiting constitutionally-protected rights.

Instead of that, however, Texas has pursued new laws that shift more and more burden onto the women themselves — longer waiting periods, a post 20-week ban, and forcing clinics to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals.

Of course, as The Guardian notes, the other nagging little detail is that the clinic Rivers died in actually is an ambulatory surgery center, or at least that's how it's been described in various other media outlets. And moreover, while the details of what precisely happened to her aren't fundamentally clear just yet, this much is pretty obvious: she didn't die having an abortion. Basically, ss far as half-hearted attempts to tie your policies into topical events go, this one falls especially flat.

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