SD governor signs bill requiring women to wait 72 hours for abortion, longest wait in nation
And while I've honestly been too tired/distracted/depressed by the predictability of the whole thing to blog about it, it did get me thinking about the common thread that runs through our cultural approach to childbirth and abortion and female decision-making altogether.
Proponents of legislation like this always yammer on about how they're trying to help women make better decisions. They're trying to prevent coercion. Get that? On the one hand if you were contemplating an abortion but decide not to do it after spending three days being shamed and harangued by the anti-choice folks who run crisis pregnancy centers, then that wasn't a coerced decision in this view. On the other hand, if you go ahead with the abortion after the three day wait and the forced visit to
So what does it really mean to make a "better" decision, and why do women need so much more help than men to make good decisions?
First we should note here that this legislation assumes that women who come in to get an abortion haven't already thought about this decision for three days, or possibly even longer. In the imaginations of the men who write legislation like this, what actual women in this situation do is
- take a pregnancy test
- grab their jacket and car keys
- head straight to the abortion clinic.
So ... obviously there's just going to be this fundamental disagreement on what counts as women making good decisions concerning their reproductive life. But I still think it's an important question. Maybe this is the better question: what are the cultural conditions that would allow for truly uncoerced reproductive choices? For instance, what if women were neither economically penalized for becoming mothers nor shamed for choosing abortion or a child-free life? What if teens had access to both reliable birth control and open and honest conversations about sex and sexual relationships and pregnancy with adults who were neither squicked out by nor turned on by the reality of their developing sexuality, instead of the pathetic mess of mixed and contradictory messages they currently receive from abstinence-only sex ed and the media? What if we moved away from our cultural commitment to the socially and economically isolated nuclear family and instead encouraged networks of friends and extended family members who shared in both the work and the rewards of raising children?
And thinking about the cultural conditions of mothering makes me realize the parallels between the rhetoric surrounding abortion and the rhetoric surrounding childbirth. Your OB tells you "you think you can just read up on the current research on birthing practices and then be prepared to make informed choices about how your birth will go, but you can't. Because I am the doctor and you are the patient and therefore I will tell you what's right for your body, and you will shut up and be a good (by which I mean passive and docile) patient." Legislators tell you "you think you understand pregnancy and conception, but really you don't, so you will shut up while I tell you what's happening inside your body and make you have unnecessary ultrasounds and listen to anti-choice rhetoric and withstand three days of shaming to make the choice you've already made, because you're not smart/mature/responsible enough to handle a choice like this on your own."
And beyond that, there's another deeply troubling feature of this latest legislation that few are talking about. And that has to do with the time and energy and economic resources it takes to access an abortion in most parts of a state like SD to begin with. If SD is like Wyoming in this regard, I'd bet that abortion clinics are already few and far between. Which means that if you don't live in the biggest city in SD (or possibly one of the cities), accessing abortion services involves traveling some distance. That means taking time off school or work, paying for gas, or finding someone to pay for gas, or finding someone who has a car who can help you out ... and driving to the clinic, however far away that may be. Then once you get there you have to undergo hours of counseling and have your ultrasound and make your trip to the crisis pregnancy center, etc. etc. etc., and then drive back home, however many hours that might take, and then three days later turn around and do it all again to get the actual abortion. And as you can see, this all works to place a clever series of obstacles in the paths of the women and girls who probably need an abortion the most. I mean, if you can't afford the gas money and lack supportive friends or family members and don't have sick leave to travel back and forth repeatedly and waste hours and hours of your time getting "counseling" how can you afford to have a baby? But as more and more obstacles are erected in the abortion path, these are the women and girls who will be having more unwanted babies.
You want to talk about choices and coercion? Let's do it. But let's drop the Orwellian doublespeak. War is not peace. Coercion is not free choice. If you want to claim that you stand for free choice and personal autonomy, then drop the condescending manipulative paternalistic bullshit, and let's start talking about the conditions of autonomy and good decision-making and supported choices. The catch is, before you can make that move, you have to alter your worldview to one in which women are capable of making informed decisions. And that's something I suspect you are incapable of. Prove me wrong.