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Friday, March 25, 2011

Two methods of shaming women out of getting abortions

Let's say you're pregnant, and really don't want to be. Maybe you were raped and conceived as a result, or maybe your birth control just failed. After thinking the matter over, you've decided that an abortion is what you want. It isn't something you take lightly, but you feel that it's the right decision. Once you make it, which would be worse to experience?

1. According to state law, before you can get an abortion you must go to a "pregnancy help center." There you will be given a lecture by a volunteer counselor who may be overtly religious or may not.  This person will not need to have any particular certification or license. Their sole job will be to convince you to keep the pregnancy. By law, they will have to inform you that your abortion would "terminate the life of a whole, separate, unique living human being."

2. According to state law, if you want an abortion you must submit to a sonogram 24 hours before the procedure. It's not terribly unusual to be given a sonogram at some point before an abortion, but in this case it will be mandated by the state for every woman who wants an abortion, because the governor and Congress want you to re-think your decision.  This will be required even if your pregnancy is the result or rape or incest, or if you want the abortion because your fetus has fatal abnormalities. If you are not given the sonogram, your doctor will lose his/her medical license. The procedure is intended to confront you with the fact that your embryo has a heartbeat-- whether it actually does at the time or not-- and resembles a human, although if you wish you can completely disregard both of those by not looking and wearing headphones.

The former is now the case in South Dakota. The latter is legislation that was recently passed by the Texas State House. The Senate passed a slightly milder version, one which allows exceptions for victims of sexual assault, a 2-hour distance from the abortion rather than 24, and would not punish doctors who will not perform the sonogram.Currently they're duking it out about which version will prevail, though Governor Rick Perry has denoted the legislation in general an "emergency" and is eager to sign off on it.

A friend described such requirements as a "modern poll tax," and I can definitely see it. These restrictions do not discriminate amongst women who want abortions-- unless (as is entirely possible) they will need be paid for by her, in which case getting an abortion will become even more costly and poorer women will have an even more difficult time affording one. However, they are created for the express purpose of creating additional obstacles in the way of exercising a freedom that is Constitutionally protected. They perpetuate the myth that women who want abortions are themselves like children, and don't know what they're doing. If they could only be confronted with the truth, they might change their minds-- it would be silly to presume that they have given extensive thought to the decision beforehand, or that they have been advised sufficiently by their own doctors. Not only does the state need to intervene in the physician-client relationship, but it needs to do so using sheer emotional appeal. Because in addition to being ignorant, women are emotional, not rational human beings.

Leslee Unruh, owner of one of South Dakota's pregnancy help centers, taunts asks "What are they so afraid of? That women might change their minds?" No, Leslee. We trust in a woman's ability to make this most private decision regarding her body herself, in consultation with her doctor. That's why we're not trying to get legislation passed which allows us to browbeat women into getting abortions. Believe it or not, abortion providers and those of us who support them aren't out to get every fetus aborted. It isn't about ignorance versus informed decision-making; it's about paternalism versus autonomy. The difference, whether you're pro-choice or pro-life, should be clear as day.

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