by Louise Melling
April 15, 2012
For nearly two years, legislatures across the country have proposed and passed an unprecedented number of laws aimed at restricting a woman’s access to critical reproductive health services. All too often, anti-choice state politicians claim they only want to ensure that women are making informed choices. But if they were honest, they would have to admit their real goal is to restrict access to abortion, contraception and more — no matter the consequences to women’s lives.
They would also have to admit that their real goal is to infantilize women and stigmatize abortion. They press for three-day waiting periods for women seeking abortions — because we presumably can’t be trusted to know that we have made a decision; they press for ultrasounds that must then be described to us — because we presumably don’t know what’s involved in a pregnancy; and they press for laws requiring us to go to counseling at organizations that oppose abortion — because the proper role of women is presumably to be mothers. And so it goes, in legislature after legislature across the country.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the dark ages. Women across the country started demanding that these laws be seen for the patronizing falsehoods that they are. They said enough is enough. Through the power of public protest, they succeeded in blocking or changing some of the most offensive measures otherwise coming our way.
An early sign that the tide was turning happened in the die-hard conservative state of Mississippi. Last November, voters there resoundingly defeated an initiative that would have effectively banned abortion. While some had all but written off this Bible Belt state, others made sure Mississippians knew how extreme the so-called personhood measure was. As a result, voters said no.
Then, there was the very public shaming of once-vice-presidential hopeful Gov. George McDonnell, who had invited Virginia’s lawmakers to pass a now-infamous “transvaginal ultrasound bill.” After a groundswell of protest sparked a national debate and turned the governor and legislature into a “Saturday Night Live” punchline, lawmakers modified the bill. Soon after, a number of other abortion restrictions that had been proposed in Virginia were shelved.
The Virginia outcry was so pronounced that other states, like Pennsylvania, quickly scuttled similar bills for fear of facing the same kind of backlash. Even in states like Oklahoma, Georgia and Idaho, where victories for women’s health are hard to come by, crowds of women rallied outside the statehouses to protest the legislation. Women lawmakers also joined in, demanding an end to the madness.
Still, some politicians continue to push outrageous measures. Kansas lawmakers were seeking to pass a measure that would do the unthinkable — give immunity to doctors who lie to women about the results of their prenatal tests, all to keep them from getting an abortion. With state legislatures like these, it’s hard not to spend most every day feeling as if you are mysteriously starring at the “Weekend Update” routine “Really?”
Those who would oppose a woman’s right to make her own medical decisions continue to overplay their hands in the states, but they should be wary of the consequences. Women are showing lawmakers that real empowerment doesn’t come from submitting to a state-mandated ultrasound, but from exercising the right to protest. The legislatures have a nation of women to answer to.
Louise Melling is a deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union. She oversees the organizations Reproductive Freedom Project, Women’s Rights Project, LGBT Project and Program for the Freedom of Religion and Belief.
Also see “Fighting Back with Sperm Personhood and Viagra Limitations” by Ann Rose in the Cafe of this edition of On The Issues Magazine.
See “Gone Too Far? Reproductive Politics in the Time of Obama” by Carole Joffe in this edition of On The Issues Magazine.