Tags: Feminism • Politics
The anti-choice movement in the United States is one that seeks to outlaw abortion. This is not only morally abhorrent in terms of denying women bodily autonomy, but also incredibly poorly crafted public policy. Very few of its proponents can explain how this prohibition would work. The pro-choice movement would do well to understand exactly how weak this position is from a practical standpoint.
There was a long period of American history when legal abortion was not available. Leslie J Regan’s book When Abortion Was Crime: Women, Medicine, and Law in the United States, 1867 – 1973 documents the history of the era well. Often, doctors would perform abortions in secret and with varying degrees of safety. Women died of infections, and were often refused medical treatment in hospitals unless they would reveal the name of their doctor. The Story of Jane: The Legendary Underground Feminist Abortion Service by Laura Kaplan tells the story of the secret group of women who provided abortions in Chicago in the late 60′s and early 70′s. The book tells the stories of the women who took great personal risk to get the abortions they needed and of the women who organized the illegal abortions to make them as safe as possible. From these books and other historical documents we can see that even when abortion was illegal, women still sought them out. Even in the present, abortion rates are generally the same, regardless of the legality of the procedure.
Although it was only 41 years ago that these laws were in place, the anti-choice movement seems to have a very short term memory as to how the law used to be – and a surprising difficulty in articulating what exactly the law should say if they were in charge.
Anti-choice protesters can’t explain whether or not a woman who gets an abortion should go to jail and why.
Rick Berg (R-ND) won’t say whether or not a rape victim who gets an abortion should go to jail.
Even if we concede that anti-choicers would eventually decide on legal punishments for doctors and/or women involved in abortion, as they had done in this country in the past, it is also important to ask questions about how this law would be enforced. Would the tactics of the past be used? Would we codify that women admitted into emergency rooms for complications due to an illegal abortion be refused treatment unless they reveal the name of their doctor? Would a woman caught attempting to abort her pregnancy be placed in jail until she gives birth? Would we look to the models in place in other countries?
In communist Romania:
Monthly gynecological examinations for all women of childbearing age were instituted, even for pubescent girls, to identify pregnancies in the earliest stages and to monitor pregnant women to ensure that their pregnancies came to term.
This is a horrific violation of human rights. But it is robust public policy. This type of draconian enforcement is necessary to actually eradicate abortion, instead of just making it more difficult or more dangerous as was the case in America’s past.
In fact, this same policy is used in China to force women to get abortions in order to uphold their one child policy:
In El Salvador, women who go to the hospital for miscarriages are investigated because they are suspected of procuring an abortion. Would American anti-choicers go this far? What would constitute probable cause that a woman had an abortion? A late period? A miscarriage? An infection? Who would keep track of all American womens’ bodies?
Whenever a person declares that abortion should be illegal in the United States, these are the facts we must present them. These are the questions we must ask. They must know the logical conclusion to the policy they are proposing. Even if they think they are speaking of religion or morality – they in fact suggesting a radical change to our laws and to our way of life. This must be made clear. That they have not thought it out this far suggests an ignorance as to how government works, and fantastical belief that simply declaring something to be wrong means that it will stop happening.
For further reading – How Would A Rape Exception Work?