There’s an absolutely infuriating article in the NY Times today about the anti-choice brigade embracing a new tactic, emboldened as they’ve been by SCOTUS’ terrible decision regarding late-term abortions.
For many years, the political struggle over abortion was often framed as a starkly binary choice: the interest of the woman, advocated by supporters of abortion rights, versus the interest of the fetus, advocated by opponents of abortion.
But last month’s Supreme Court decision upholding the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act marked a milestone for a different argument advanced by anti-abortion leaders, one they are increasingly making in state legislatures around the country. They say that abortion, as a rule, is not in the best interest of the woman; that women are often misled or ill-informed about its risks to their own physical or emotional health; and that the interests of the pregnant woman and the fetus are, in fact, the same.
The majority opinion in the court’s 5-to-4 decision explicitly acknowledged this argument, galvanizing anti-abortion forces and setting the stage for an intensifying battle over new abortion restrictions in the states.
Well, yeah—the interests of the pregnant woman and the fetus are the same in the best case scenario. In a situation where the pregnancy has been planned or is at least wanted, with the support of a partner (as applicable), where there exists emotional and financial stability, the means to support a(nother) child, and the mother is both psychologically and physiologically healthy during the pregnancy, as is the fetus, then everything’s copasetic with the whole “shared interests” concept. Even failing that perfect intersection by one or two degrees, many women decide to find a way to work an unplanned pregnancy and the resulting child into their lives.
But in some cases, that’s not desirable or possible; the pregnancy just isn’t viable because of the external environment, which ought to matter at least as much as the internal environment of the womb, considering the latter is only pertinent for nine months. And in those cases, the “shared interests” concept is just a load of horseshit. There’s really no kinder way to say it.
Ultimately, the anti-choicers are trying to forcibly legislate a best case scenario into existence—and it doesn’t take a genius (or the soulless void of humanity that is a pro-choice woman) to divine how ludicrously futile that is. Certainly, there are ways to create more best case scenarios in America—comprehensive sex education, better access to affordable birth control, universal healthcare, a significant minimum wage hike, more family-friendly employment laws—but those aren’t the sorts of things that galvanize the anti-choicers. Pictures of American children experiencing “very low food security” don’t make for snazzy billboards and picket signs quite the way aborted fetuses do.
Bearing in mind that abortion is still a legal procedure, imagine for a moment if “pro-abortion” were not just a bit of mendacious framing used against pro-choicers, but were instead an actual movement of people who thought that forced abortions should be legislated in cases where they determined women weren’t fit to be mothers. Imagine if they decided poor women, or single women, or women with a history of being victimized by domestic abuse, or women who are recovering addicts, or women with red hair shouldn’t be mothers, and any and all pregnancies among these women should be terminated against their wills. Imagine if when those women protested, the pro-abortionists said: “We know what’s best for you.” And that was their best argument, and yet it was considered a legitimate position by a large swath of the country.
What, pray tell, would the anti-choicers have to say about that, considering that they want the unilateral right to make decisions on behalf of women based on what’s “good” for them, since they know better?
I mean, really—why should they have all the women-controlling fun?
But according to Wanda Franz, president of the National Right to Life Committee, I’ve got it all wrong; she asserts: “We think of ourselves as very pro-woman. We believe that when you help the woman, you help the baby.”—which might leave one with the impression that they were actually doing something to help pregnant women, like pouring some of the gazillions of dollars they raise every year building low-cost but high-quality childcare centers. You know—something that might actually be of benefit to a woman who chooses to become a mother after an unplanned pregnancy. But that would be wrong.
It is also at the heart of an effort — expected to escalate in next year’s state legislative sessions — to enact new “informed consent” and mandatory counseling laws that critics assert often amount to a not-so-subtle pitch against abortion…
“While we find no reliable data to measure the phenomenon, it seems unexceptionable to conclude some women come to regret their choice to abort the infant life they once created and sustained,” Justice Kennedy wrote, alluding to [a friend-of-the court brief filed by the Justice Foundation which included statements from women “who considered themselves victims of legalized abortion — physically and emotionally”]. “Severe depression and loss of esteem can follow.”
Given those stakes, the justice argued, “The state has an interest in ensuring so grave a choice is well informed.”
Many, on both sides, viewed that as an invitation from a newly conservative court to pass tough new counseling and informed-consent laws intended for women seeking abortions — “a green light for enhanced informed consent,” in the words of Clarke D. Forsythe, president of Americans United for Life, a leader in that legislative effort.
“Counseling and informed-consent laws” include such proposed requirements as mandatory viewing of an ultrasound, mandatory viewing of a sonogram, mandatory advisement that an abortion “will terminate a ‘whole, separate, unique, living human being,’ and that it carries a variety of psychological and physical risks to the woman,” mandatory waiting periods, spousal consent, parental consent, etc.
Because the best way to prepare a woman for motherhood is to treat her like a child. (Or, as Feministe’s Jill notes: “Because respecting women means making all their decisions for them.”)
It’s a peculiar thing, this infantilization of women in our culture, as it’s so curiously selective. Women are woefully, immutably childlike when it comes to making decisions about themselves and their bodies, which is why we need the helpful men and women of the anti-choice movement (and the men of the Supreme Court; Ginsburg dissented) to make our decisions for us. But then there’s the entire rest of our lives…
At home, women in mixed-sex couples still do on average more housework* and hold more child-rearing and elder-care responsibilities than men, even if both work full-time outside the home. The parent described approvingly as just “a big kid” is never Mom, and the spouse who only half-jokingly grouses “I have three kids, including my spouse” is never Dad. At work in many environments (and more so with every increased corporate level of employment), women face an expectation of formalism and humorless professionalism that their male counterparts do not. The zany-eccentric-carefree-adventurer-mad genius-prankster CEO archetype that lands Richard Branson types on the cover of Fortune with regularity doesn’t exist for women; Martha Stewart, with her dour reputation and time served for insider trading, is the unfortunate apotheosis for businesswomen. Men who don’t settle down are admirably incorrigible. Women who don’t are pitiably sad. Of those who do, who tellingly get pronounced “man and wife,” the wife of the immature husband is told he’s still young and he’ll grow up; the husband of the immature wife is told she’s told enough to know better and she ought to be left tout de suite.
Neither sex is imbued with an intrinsically greater capacity for responsibility, but our culture, and our respective narratives, don’t remotely suggest that truth. The notion that men are—and should be—kidlike, that boyhood should stretch long into adulthood as manhood is reduced to a euphemism for one’s dick, while women are—and should be—boringly, self-denyingly grown-up, is promulgated (to our collective detriment) with relentless ferocity in American culture. Until, that is, the time comes for a woman to make a decision about her own body, about her own fate. Then, suddenly and not-so-mysteriously, women—arbiters of American emotional life, nurturers of America’s children, cookers of America’s casseroles—can’t be trusted to make the best decision.
Why is it, I wonder, that a woman who can’t be trusted to make the best decisions for herself and her fetus is immediately bestowed with the trust to make the best decisions for a child the moment it’s born? Must be magic.
Or maybe it has something to do with the fact that the anti-choicers, who quite obviously have no regard for children their advocated policies would yield, don’t have the slightest bloody concern about consistency, as long as women are being forced to do what the anti-choicers want them to do, as long as women are being controlled.
Because they know best. They know better than you.
[Also: Jill at Brilliant at Breakfast, and Digby finds an anti-choicer who “managed to write an entire article about fetuses, pregnancy and abortion without even noting in passing the fully formed sentient human being involved so intimately in this that the whole argument takes place inside her body.”]
* Not me. I’d live in a shitpit if it weren’t for Mr. Shakes. Although I do do the really gross stuff, like scrubbing the toilets and cleaning up cat puke.