So Much for Constitutional Protections

There have been all sorts of recent issues about women’s reproductive rights in the news lately, and I’m feeling decidedly discouraged.

When simplified down, it seems to come to:

  1. Slowly chip away at the legal protections from the landmark Roe v. Wade decision establishing constitutional protections for a medical service.
  2. Decrease reproductive services access for women all across the country while simultaneously removing comprehensive sex education from public schools, and passing “conscience clause” legislation that renders women unable to get easy access to contraception.
  3. Allow abortion clinics to be targeted by extremist protesters that eventually use tactics such as inciting to murder (no surprise when those murders then take place).  Continue passing legislation that are “message” bills, aimed in word at eliminating the use of public funds for abortion services, but effectively discouraging the private sector from covering abortion services.
  4. Once access is almost negligible, introduce legislation that will put the last nail in the coffin of providers willing to provide a legal medical service by excusing murder under the law if done to protect a fetus.
  5. ???
  6. Profit!

Now, any sane person would come to the conclusion that # 5 will be filled in with more unwanted pregnancies, increased complications during pregnancy including maternal mortality, unsafe “back alley” abortion practices such as have been more or less unheard of in my lifetime, “septic wards”, unwanted children in poverty, child abuse, and an entire class of less wealthy people will have fewer and fewer options governing their own bodies.

The problem with the way this political/policy issue is handled in the United States is that the two sides are attempting to engage in one of the greatest cross-values debates of our time.  The positions generally come from such a different basic framework of the world and this country that they are fundamentally incompatible regardless of how much talk is attempted.

What is so maddening about the cross values contest between the pro-choice and “pro-life” advocates is that one side believes that we live in a country governed by secular policies that respect individual autonomy while the other side believes that no one has the right to disagree with their personal moral stance and want it codified into law.  Whether or not you personally agree with an individual’s decision to have an abortion (the choice in pro-choice), the fact of the matter is that abortion is legal and if it were not legal and regulated, very, very bad things would happen.  Keeping abortion legal and available (not the same thing and not true in many parts of our nation) serves a legitimate public good by considering the total welfare and needs of our country.  I have never known someone who is pro-choice who believes that a pregnant woman with health complications, conception from rape/abuse, extreme poverty, in an abusive relationship, who is a teenager, whatever etc. should get an abortion, only that she should have the option if it is what she decides is necessary.  Every single pro-choice person I have ever met believes that if you are personally morally opposed to abortion, you are entitled to that opinion and the decision to carry the pregnancy to term.  I know of no pro-choice person who thinks that abortion is or should be a woman’s primary method of birth control (a common twist from anti-abortion advocates is that those who seek abortion primarily do so for “selfish” reasons and shouldn’t have been dirty sluts to get pregnant in the first place).

Every woman facing the choice of terminating a pregnancy has a unique set of circumstances and no one story will be the same, but I find myself touched by the recent speeches of Wyoming State Representative Shepperson (and her colleagues), who dared to stand up and say that her decision and experience was between herself, her husband and doctor, not a government body.  It’s one of the few encouraging areas I’ve seen lately and I find it admirable that there are elements within even conservative bodies using conservative arguments for privacy and lack of government intrusion in medical decisions.  I would dearly love to see women’s reproductive freedoms become more of a non-partisan issue; all too often it gets swallowed in a monolith of values politics that brook no debate or consideration.  We allow these sorts of values politics to put restrictions on this medical service that we put on no other.

And make no mistake, the decision to have an abortion is a medical one.  For all the information that women are required to hear as they wait to have procedures done about the dangers, risks and potential side effects of abortion, carrying a pregnancy to term is much more dangerous statistically.  In fact, pregnancy is one of the more dangerous things a woman can do, given all the strains placed on the body; it is no mistake that maternal mortality has historically been such a major killer of women.  When you look at countries with less equality and minimal access to contraception, you find all sorts of horrors associated with childbirth (e.g. fistulas).  Abortion is unique among medical procedures (two kinds actually, one invasive and surgical, the other involves taking medication that induces a miscarriage) in that we allow greater governmental interference and hurdles to obtain a legal medical service than any other nationwide.

The reason for these barriers is obvious, of course.  Because the anti-abortion movement can’t get legal traction in banning the practice wholesale on the argument that fetuses are actual legal human beings instead of potential human beings, they resort to tactics of increasing difficulties, hoping that one day it will be so difficult that eventually women will just give up.  (Unfortunately, evidence has shown that they sometimes just get desperate.)

The other tactics they use are far uglier, and stem from the fringe that Rachel Maddow discussed recently as being on the other side of the clear line of intimidation and terrorism.  When women’s clinics began appearing, they were independent of other medical practices to offer easy access to contraceptives, reproductive health services (particularly in low-income areas where they serve as the primary source of contraception and medical screenings) as well as abortion.  However, the very fact of their separateness from hospitals now makes them particularly vulnerable to violent tactics and intimidation, because it is known that all staff members are potentially involved and are therefore targets.  In areas where there is a strong religious objection to abortion rights, you find that women’s clinics are literally under siege every day.  Protesters armed with grisly images of late-term aborted fetuses (that bear no relation to the majority of abortions performed now: early medical abortions) clog the public rights of way ringing property and attempt to prevent anyone staff or patient from entering.  These individuals do their best to harass individuals without any regard for their circumstances, dignity or even the slightest modicum of respect.

This sort of intimidation would be bad enough even if it wasn’t often coupled with intimidation, threats, stalking and actual violence against the practitioners themselves.  Anti-abortion groups in these areas are not content with merely becoming a barrier to the clinic itself, they find out home addresses, phone numbers, business associates, neighbors and ensure that daily life is at best, difficult and uncomfortable.  They surround the homes of individual doctors to intimidate them out of continuing to offer their medical services.  They put out fucking wanted posters describing doctors and support staff as evil monsters, covered in the blood of innocents.  Anyone who believes that these groups don’t know they are inciting unbalanced individuals to commit acts of violence and murder is self-deluded.  These groups support murders and attempted murderers when they are in prison, and praise them for their integrity; they brag when murder removes abortion availability at conferences.  They are guilty in their implicitly threatening behavior, constant harassment and inciting to violence of domestic terrorism.  This is unacceptable in the United States.

The way we counter these tactics is two pronged, I think.  We ensure legal protections and encouragement rather than allow individuals like Kansas’s Attorney General to pursue a personal crusade and we encourage abortion services to be reintegrated into greater medical practices to make it harder for violent fringe individuals to target providers.  It is significantly more difficult for fringe intimidation activists to attack those providing abortion services if they have to pick them out from the entire hospital staff.

This brings me more particularly to South Dakota.  Until now, I admit I knew very little* about South Dakota or its politics.  Now I would be fucking terrified to live there.  It’s taken me a decent amount of time to write-up this post, so events may outpace me, but there are now two bills being put forward in the state legislature that are so anti-woman it makes my head spin.  The first I mention is actually newer the other, and aims to increase the wait time for a woman to get an abortion to 72 hours, during which time she must be subjected to the anti-abortion, questionable science “counseling” at a “Pregnancy Crisis Center.”  The second is now being pithily referred to as the “assassination bill.”  I think that’s as good a description as any, because although it is deliberately inflammatory, the nature of the language is such that it can’t but encourage violence against abortion practitioners.  This bill (despite claims to the contrary) allows for the legal defense of justifiable homicide to be used in the murder of any individual that may act to “harm the unborn child of such person in a manner and to a degree likely to result in the death of the unborn child” provided that the person is committing the murder to prevent the termination of a fetus that is related by “any person in the lawful defense of such person, or of his or her husband, wife, parent, child, master, mistress, or servant, or the unborn child of any such enumerated person[.]”  This clearly would provide a path for murderers of abortion providers to defend their actions as justifiable homicide (a common tactic) and escape punishment under the law.  The Republic lawmaker proposing the bill insists that it is intended and written to cover only illegal actions such as beating the stomach of a pregnant woman, but this just doesn’t hold water.  For one thing, a woman being beaten already has a defense because of the physical assault being committed on her person, and the fact that this crime has less weight than the attempt at ending the pregnancy is telling and very disturbing.  For another, nothing in the language proposed distinguishes between the legal termination of a fetus in South Dakota and any other action.  As written, an abuse husband in the middle of divorce could murder the doctor of his pregnant wife if sought an abortion with impunity.  Have we really gotten to the point that the state can implicitly excuse murder?  Moreover, the confusion in language can only serve as an attempt by the State of South Dakota to intimidate the last abortion providers out of business (as I understand it now, the only practitioners are actually flow in from Minnesota to serve the clinic).

So I ask the same question that Rachel Maddow did on her show not long ago, how do we as a country react when a vocal minority uses domestic terror tactics to get what it wants it politics?  I would like to think that we are a country that respects the rule of law and the political process to determine how our nation operates.  I still want to be an optimist.

*One of the really creepy gems in what I’ve recently picked up about the political climate of South Dakota includes the following quote:

Hickey once told The Washington Post that South Dakota was chosen by God to challenge Roe v. Wade. He also rejoiced in the 2009 assassination of Dr. George Tiller, a reproductive-health doctor gunned down in his church.

Update: it looks like Georgia has decided to take Utah’s last stupid, failed foray into criminal miscarriage a step farther into insanity and establish a literal policing of women’s uteruses.  That’s just fucking fantastic.

Edit: I meant to link this and forgot.  If you care about reproductive health for all individuals (you know, cancer screenings, STI tests, contraception, etc.) please sign the open letter regarding the U.S. House of Representative’s stupid vote to defund Planned Parenthood.

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