Imagine standing in line next to a woman who is very clearly expecting. She shifts her weight from one foot to another, absent-mindedly rubs her hand across her growing stomach.
“How far along are you?” you might ask.
She responds. You ask if she knows what she’s having, if she’s having any weird cravings, if she’s excited — you know, all the standard questions we, as a society, lob at mothers-to-be.
You part ways and go on with your day, never to think about the encounter again. She, too, moves on with her day. But the questions didn’t start and certainly won’t end with you. Everywhere she goes it’s the same thing. A bevy of questions and large helping of unsolicited advice. It’s a lot. Now imagine being on the receiving end of that every day with a pregnancy you don’t want.
This year, eight states — Utah, Ohio, Missouri, Kentucky, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia — are forcing this reality onto women as they passed anti-abortion legislation.
According to a New York Times article, “Georgia, Kentucky, Missouri, Mississippi and Ohio stopped short of outright bans, instead passing so-called heartbeat bills that effectively prohibit abortions after six to eight weeks of pregnancy, when doctors can usually start detecting a fetal heartbeat. Utah and Arkansas voted to limit the procedure to the middle of the second trimester.”
As a reminder, in 2018 Iowa passed a heartbeat bill, banning abortions after six weeks. The legislation was struck down by the courts in early 2019, as it was deemed unconstitutional.
Georgia’s legislation, which would become effective Jan. 1, 2020, would only allow exceptions of rape and incest if the woman filed a police report. The legislation does allow the woman to collect child support on the fetus.
Now, I have never been pregnant, but I reached out to friends who have and the responses I received for when they knew they were pregnant varied. Some knew within weeks, others were well past six weeks before they realized they were expecting. Here’s the thing — each woman and each pregnancy is different. And these life-altering, health-related decisions should be discussed and made by the woman and her health care provider. Not a legislator. And certainly not by men who will never have to deal with the ramification of an unwanted pregnancy, much like the panel of 25 white men who wrote Alabama’s anti-abortion legislation. There’s a line from the HBO show “Veep” that I’m reminded of, “If men could get pregnant you could get an abortion at an ATM.” Women should be making reproductive decisions for themselves.
My home state of Missouri passed its heartbeat bill last Friday, making it illegal to have an abortion after eight weeks. The only exception is if the pregnancy creates a life-threatening medical emergency to the woman. Rape and incest are not exceptions.
The Missouri law also states the health care provider to be charged with a felony and face up to 15 years in prison for doing the procedure.
During House debate, Missouri Republican Rep. Barry Hovis claimed most of the sexual assault cases he handled while in law enforcement weren’t strangers “jumping out of the bushes” but instead “date rapes or consensual rapes.”
Let’s be clear, there is no such thing as “consensual rape.” Rape, by definition, is forced sexual intercourse against a person’s will. It’s sad our lawmakers don’t understand that. Hovis has since tried to walk back his statement, saying he misspoke.
Alabama, on the other hand, has effectively banned abortion. Alabama’s exceptions are limited to “avoid a serious health risk to the unborn child’s mother,” if the “unborn child has a lethal anomaly” or if the woman has an ectopic pregnancy. There are no exceptions for rape or incest.
Even within the state law, the woman is not referred to as a woman, she is simply the vessel carrying the unborn child.
The legislation also makes it a federal offense to perform an abortion, putting doctors at risk of spending 10-99 years in prison. In the state of Alabama incest and sexual abuse are considered Class C felonies, which carry up to 10 years in prison if convicted. So what the state of Alabama is telling women is they are secondary to the men who rape them and the fetus they are forced to carry.
Now go back to that scenario at the beginning. Put yourself in the shoes of that woman. A woman who may not want to ever have children or who is not ready right now to have a child, but is being forced by her state legislature to carry the fetus to full term. A woman should have the right to decide when and if she wants to become a mother.
Now imagine you’re that woman, standing in line, being asked over and over and over again, by well-meaning strangers, about your pregnancy that is a consequence of rape.
Not only was your choice, your voice, taken away from you by that man that forced himself onto you, but now your state has taken away your choice not to live with that physical reminder each and every day of what happened to you.
This is an organized and collective assault on woman.
The fact is, one in four women in America will have an abortion by the age of 45, according to a study published by the American Journal of Public Health in 2017. The same study found the rate of abortion fell 25 percent from 2008 to 2014.
And if you don’t think you know someone who has had an abortion, go online and look up the hashtag #youknowme. Women are opening up about their decisions to have an abortion. So before you decide what a woman should be able to do with her body, and the decisions she should be able to make about her health care, read. Put yourself in her shoes.