Yesterday, 207 members of the House and Senate filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court requesting them to reconsider the constitutionality of Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the two landmark cases that enshrined a pregnant person’s constitutional right to seek an abortion without undue government restriction. The definition of “undue burden” is one of the issues before the Court when they hear oral arguments in spring over June Medical Services LLC v. Gee, the text of which is identical in all but location to Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstedt, a case the Court already heard and struck down as unconstitutionally restrictive in 2016.
But that was before Brett Kavanaugh’s performative aggro blubbering landed him a spot on what was already the most conservative Supreme Court in recent memory. If the Court overturns 40 years of precedent, they would end the federal guarantee to legal abortion and leave the matter to the states. They would also, in effect, privilege the rights of a blastocyst over those of an adult living human whose womb is required to keep the little spark of heaven alive.
For anyone paying attention these last few years, there has been a concerted, organized, far-reaching attack on reproductive freedom in this country, including (but not remotely limited to):
- TRAP laws: bad-faith, burdensome, medically unnecessary attacks on abortion providers couched in concern for women’s health
- “Crisis Pregnancy Centers“: misinformation boutiques disguised as health clinics offering pregnancy “counseling” from non-medical professionals that steers “patients” away from abortion. “Literally.”
- The GOP Long Game to Remake the Judiciary
- The Conservative Right-Wing State-by-State Legislative Strategy to chip away reproductive rights.
Until women started getting elected to local and national legislatures in greater numbers, many of these laws were passed without much pushback. In response to Virginia’s 2012 Transvaginal Ultrasound Law, for instance, state Senator Janet Howell (D-Obviously) introduced the pointed-yet-whimsical legislation suggesting that maybe men seeking Viagra should have to get a rectal exam before the government pays for their meds. The following year Texas state senator Wendy Davis held a Capra-esque filibuster to protest that state’s restrictive omnibus abortion bill before it was ultimately passed. Women in power are responding.
My most recent hero is Senator Mia McLeod, human woman, who introduced the South Carolina Pro-Birth Accountability Act just this month in response to her state’s proposed six-week abortion ban. McLeod’s bill highlights the very problem with defining anti-abortion measures as “pro-life:” If the state requires a pregnant person, by law, to carry a baby to term that they would otherwise not do, then the state is obligated to compensate that person for services rendered. The bill goes on to enumerate other budgetary, medical, emotional, caregiving, and educational expenses inherent in raising and caring for a child. McLeod reminds us that it is unconstitutional for South Carolina or any other state to take a person’s property without just compensation; and a womb is pretty personal property.
Why, you may ask, does this issue give you, a nominally Jewish, menopausal lesbian, an aneurysm every single time it comes up? For starters, I used to work for Catholic Charities, and while we were lock step on all matters death penalty and economic justice, we were never going to be together on abortion; however, what I did learn from the experience is that internally consistent arguments made in good faith deserve attention and respect. For all its faults, the Catholic Church (hoo-boy) recognizes, through its tenets of social teaching at least, that the sanctity and dignity of a child’s life — and that of its family — may sometimes require support beyond birth.
Apart from the blatant bad-faith assertions that “women’s health and safety” are what motivates these “informed consent,” forced-birth bills, what galls me to the core is the presumption that a person who seeks an abortion just hasn’t heard the “good news” or isn’t aware that mighty oaks from little acorns grow, or whatever.
BREAKING: We know. We’ve known since we were in 7th grade and every month thereafter for FORTY YEARS or so, that a little proto-acorn that doesn’t run into a tadpole knocks you on your ass with cramps for three days. We also know that letting every single acorn in your yard grow into a tree is both unmanageable and really bad for the plumbing. The kinds of people who promote informed consent bills either don’t have reproductive systems, don’t understand how they work, or never have conversations with people who do; or they simply don’t want anyone using theirs for fun.
For me, the most rage-inducing element of these relentless, hypocritical, ignorant attacks on reproductive justice is the claim that it’s all about the unborn child. “What about the CHILDREN?” I see a lot of “It’s a child, not a choice” license plates on cars around here and would pay good money if my horn could beep out the names of every child in foster care whenever one cuts me off. If it were truly about the child, as Sen. McLeod’s bill lays out, the state wouldn’t squawk about funding Medicare, SNAP, TANF, a living wage, paid maternity leave — all the programs these so-called “pro-lifers” deride as liberal socialist giveaways for the mooching class.
They design these draconian, forced-birth bills as if they will only affect some “other” group of “takers” to teach them a hard lesson about personal responsibility, because surely none of their daughters or sisters or wives (or mothers) would ever find themselves in such a position. Oh, honeys.
My mother, for example, was nineteen when she got pregnant by a boy she met in college. Her father was a doctor, and, as was ever thus for middle-class white women, he offered to arrange for her not to have the baby. Since this was more than a decade before Roe, doing so would have put my grandfather’s medical license at risk. My mother didn’t want to be responsible for that, so she opted* to marry my dad instead. By the time my sister was born, it was clear that the marriage wasn’t going to last. She might have made a quicker getaway too, had she not got pregnant with me. Grandpa repeated his offer, which my mother seriously considered (a weird thing for me to know) then ultimately, obviously rejected.
Growing up in a single parent household before it was fashionable was no picnic. I don’t mean to imply that my childhood was a Dickensian hell-scape of unrelenting strife, but I won’t deny that being the object of my mother’s anger was scary, unsettling, and formative. But at least she was there. My father did the weekend thing for a couple of years, got married again, got divorced again, then disappeared for a while. As far as I know, he never paid child support and rarely looked back.
He did find Jesus (who, turns out, was in New Mexico), married for a third time, and had some very nice, new children and step children. Then he got divorced again. Naturally, he is a family-values, Christian conservative. A thrice-divorced conservative Republican who hasn’t been held accountable for at least one set of his kids? I have a pretty good idea who he voted for in 2016.
Which brings me to a rather obvious question: where are the fathers in these bills? Since everyone seems to be okay with letting the government tinker around with bodily autonomy, would it not be more efficient to give every male baby a reversible vasectomy when they are born rather than force an adult human to go through pregnancy and birth? Also, how come I know how the male reproductive system works, but they think an ectopic pregnancy can be, like, smooshed back up in there?
So here we are. The United States of America is poised to re-criminalize abortion and thereby suborn women’s full rights as citizens to the contents of their wombs. There is not a single legislator advancing a forced-birth agenda who believes it will put an end to abortion in this country. Not one. The point is to relegate it to the shadows; to make it dangerous and illegal, when America was great. The point is to shame. The point is to punish.
As for all these children saved from abortion, they are the gift of righteous punishment. And boy are they never going to forget it.
* This was but one of many factors my mother considered and should not be construed to be the only reason my sister and I are here today. The point is that a pregnant person weighs many, many things before choosing whether it is time to start a family.