What the Battle Against Reproductive Rights Is Really About
Across the United States, the news from the reproductive rights front hasn’t been that great lately. Between trying to criminalize miscarriage in Georgia to whatever the hell is going on now in South Dakota (I’ve lost track at this point), the legal right of a woman to have a child when she judges is best to is under more simultaneous attacks than it has been in quite some time.
To me, this is glaringly apparent right now in my home state of Ohio. At the beginning of 2011, we learned the newly-elected state legislative body proposed five different bills that limit abortion rights in the first eight days of the session. Five bills. In eight days. I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty relieved we’ve cleared out of the way every other political issue Ohio currently faces so that we can devote most of our time and energy to introducing bills that infringe on the rights already guaranteed at the federal level to all U.S. women by Roe v. Wade and have a slim chance of making it to law.
The most horrendous of these bills also happens to be the most popular and talked about and it’s what is being referred to as the Heartbeat Bill, which would prohibit a woman from getting an abortion, under any circumstances, after the fetus’s heartbeat is first detected. Let’s break this down. Medically speaking, a fetus’s heartbeat can be detected as soon as four weeks after conception. That means, were this bill to become law, a woman could have as little as four weeks to confirm the pregnancy, undergo necessary medical exams, obtain an abortion appointment, wait the amount of time already required for an abortion procedure, and then actually have the abortion. Factor in the time it naturally takes for a woman to learn she’s pregnant and the variation in individual women’s menstrual cycles–which, for some women, can fluctuate with complete normalcy two or three weeks themselves–and you have made it literally impossible for in many cases, if not the majority of cases, for women to legally make a decision about their pregnancies.
Which, of course, is the point. This is an attempt to prohibit abortion when those attempting it know full well they’re not allowed to actually prohibit it. They feel they can do it anyway, though, in open objection to medical facts, and they’re willing to abuse their power, influence and resources as publicly-elected officials to circumvent the law and rights of citizens to prove it.
Maybe this would be a good time to revisit exactly what the state of the law is on abortion. Here it is in a nutshell, from the Guttmacher Institute:
In the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, the Supreme Court ruled that women, in consultation with their physician, have a constitutionally protected right to have an abortion in the early stages of pregnancy—that is, before viability—free from government interference.
In 1992, the Court reaffirmed the right to abortion in Planned Parenthood v. Casey. However, the ruling significantly weakened the legal protections previously afforded women and physicians by giving states the right to enact restrictions that do not create an “undue burden” for women seeking abortion.
So here we have a bill that not only creates an “undue burden” on women by restricting them to sometimes impossible physical conditions, but is also is a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade that doesn’t have the strength to stand against constitutional rights. Which means there’s very little chance of it getting through. NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio’s Kellie Copeland says, “This bill could entangle Ohio in an expensive legal fight.” Even an Ohio pro-life group, Right To Life, is refusing to support it, saying the bill is unconstitutional and therefore a waste of time.
However, that didn’t stop the bill’s supporters from staging an elaborate sideshow during a legislative hearing by calling pregnant women’s fetuses as a witnesses. I wish I had made that up. Even worse, when the hearing actually took place, of the two pregnant women “testifying” on “behalf” of their fetuses, one of the fetuses’ heartbeats could not be detected. Which is something that woman had to go through in front of a packed courtroom. So all they really accomplished is publicly terrifying a hopeful mother, hopefully unduly, and proving how their own suggested method of handling abortion is medically unreliable and legally unenforceable.
That then begs the question of what is the point in wasting all this time, effort and resources in introducing multiple avenues of legislation, with accompanying dog-and-pony shows to grab headlines, that have virtually no chance of becoming lasting law? It’s a simple answer, and it’s the same one that has always formed the foundation of the anti-choice movement underneath its pageantry and doublespeak – women don’t matter. The point is to promote a scientifically-ignorant, often religiously-biased agenda over the fact that women are autonomous individuals with rights to their own lives. It’s about grandstanding and smug moral superiority in the face of reality. It is not, and has never been, about life.
This has been argued successfully many times before, but it’s worth reminding ourselves, in a discussion about the true motivations of the anti-choice movement, that their actions do not support their premise of caring first and foremost about preserving life and making abortions unnecessary. Were this the truth, their time and energy would be dedicated to those activities that serve to reduce abortion in a logical way – namely, sex education, laws that do not interfere with readily available contraception for both women and men and resources that improve the lives of women who are most at risk for unwanted pregnancies. Instead, they’re waging a war of pomp and circumstance, of bias and irrationality.
And I haven’t even touched on the rights of women whose own lives are put in danger by bringing a fetus to term, women who discover late that their fetuses are not viable or women who are the victims of rape and/or incest.
As it happens, I am the single mother of a five-year-old daughter. As you may know if you’ve been around here long enough, I have also had an abortion. It was after my daughter’s birth and, just like 75% of the women who give their reasons for their abortions, I made that decision in the context of understanding my abilities and responsibilities. I live in Ohio. Had this bill been law then, I would not have been able to make that decision. Just like so many women would not be able to if we don’t keep speaking up against this blatant misuse of medical fact and individual rights. We, all of us, deserve better.