Why Write about Anti-Choice Laws?
As I’m writing this, five states have passed extremely restrictive anti-choice laws so far in spring 2019. One, (Missouri) will pass a similar law any day. I decided to take some time out to address the many problems with these laws within the context of how they will affect peoples’ lives. I am talking about uterus-having people here, whether they are cis women, non-binary, or transgender men.
I’m examining the health, mental health, and legal consequences of anti-choice laws. I’ll tackle some of the most persistent myths behind these laws. Finally, I’ll look at some of the ways we can reframe the conversation and hold our representatives in government responsible. Let’s start with my video, where I’m angrily coloring a poster praising women as I try not to sound as angry as I feel about these anti-choice laws. It covers the shorter version of what I’m going to write here.
Health Consequences of Anti-Choice Laws
Some of these things are already happening. They will get worse under the proposed laws. The short version, summing it up, is people will die.
women will attempt unsafe, illegal abortions
Historically, making abortions illegal doesn’t change abortions rates at all. When people are pregnant and don’t want to be, they risk their lives to prevent the consequences of an unplanned or unsafe pregnancy. Note: An “abortifacient” is a substance that can or will cause an abortion or miscarriage.
Some of the ways people attempt unsafe abortions when safe, legal abortions are not available to them include: (per Wikipedia)
- Eating or drinking or swallowing concoctions to kill the fetus, some of which are poisonous to adults. None are proven safe or effective.
- Falling and purposefully injuring themselves, including enlisting others to punch the pregnant person in the stomach.
- Douching with purported abortifacients including Coca-Cola, turpentine, bleach, and lye.
- Yoga and other physical activities rumored to cause abortions.
- Hypothermia — people attempting to freeze their bodies and hyperthermia — people attempting to overheat their bodies
- Inserting foreign objects including coat hangers, knitting and darning needles, sticks, bicycle spokes, and other sharp objects into the uterus from the vagina.
- Some people use the prescription drug misoprostol to self-induce abortions. It is safer than other methods listed but can lead to hemorrhaging, blood pressure drop, and severe birth defects if the fetus survives the attempt.
women will avoid medical attention for natural miscarriages:
It is nearly impossible to tell the difference between a natural miscarriage and an induced abortion. Because of this, if abortions are illegal, many people will avoid getting treatment for natural miscarriages to avoid being charged with a crime. While many miscarriages happen very early in the first trimester, and the parent may not realize they are pregnant, later miscarriages often require medical attention. Complications can include:
- An incomplete miscarriage where fetal tissue remains in the uterus to cause problems.
- Excessive bleeding or hemorrhaging.
- Secondary infection.
- Asherman syndrome where scar tissue develops in the uterus
Some of these folk will die. More will have health problems related to their inability to be treated. Some of these won’t be able to have hildren as a result of these laws.
Doctors will delay life-saving treatment of pregnant people to avoid lawsuits and criminal charges:
This already happens in other countries and in many states and will be made worse in states where abortions are a felony carrying significant sentences for a doctor. Suppose a pregnant patient comes in, perhaps halfway through a miscarriage, hemorrhaging. Because of laws and lawsuits, the doctor won’t treat the parent’s medical needs until they determine that the fetus has no heartbeat, This is true even if the doctor is 100% certain that the fetus will not survive no matter what.
Patients won’t get treatment for depression and anxiety following an illegal abortion
Talking to a therapist is terrifying for many people, even when you’ve never done anything illegal in your life. However, when you’ve done something illegal, talking to a therapist is twice as scary. Will they report me? Can I trust them not to judge me? Will I lose my kids if I tell this therapist about my abortion? And many people mourn their abortions, especially if they had wanted a baby but their life circumstances or the fetus’ or their health made it impossible. So without mental health assistance, we have another casualty of anti-choice laws. Depression and anxiety can cause job loss, relationship loss, loss of home and family, and even death. Not feeling like they have the option to talk to someone about it, many survivors of illegal abortions who had side effects from those will be less functional people than they were before.
Doctors will avoid providing risky pre-natal interventions for the fetus
Again, this is a matter of degree. To some extent doctors often already avoid risky pre-natal procedures in fears of expensive lawsuits. Unfortunately, this will only get worse under laws that prosecute doctors as felons for abortions. This means that if a parent is miscarrying that might be preventable or is carrying a fetus that needs an operation before birth, there will be a smaller selection of doctors willing to do the procedure, and in some areas of the country, there will be no one willing to perform these life-saving procedures.
People who need hormonal birth control for medical reasons may not be able to get it
In several of the states where these anti-choice laws are being passed, they include bans on certain forms of birth control that supporters claim cause abortions. But they do not. Hormonal birth control pills and rods and other forms are often used to treat things other than pregnancy, including problems that cause severe chronic pain for sufferers. Without access to hormonal birth control, some of these people may no longer be able to function well enough to stay in the workforce or lead the life they enjoy.
More people will be trapped in domestic abuse patterns
When people with uteruses can’t control conception and pregnancy, impregnators control uteruses. For instance, domestic abusers use pregnancy and reproduction to control their victims. This includes impregnating people against their will. It also includes using children as levers to force victims to do what they want. It also includes forcing abortion against peoples’ will, including unsafe abortions.
Legal Consequences of Anti-Choice Laws
Legislators who created these laws intended them to punish people those legislators can’t control. The goal of these laws, as demonstrated by the last section, is not to reduce abortions. Study after study shows that the most effective way to reduce abortions is a combination of comprehensive sex education and free and widely available birth control. But these anti-choice laws achieve several goals for their proponents:
- They punish people with uteruses for sexual independence.
- They remind those who fight for their rights that they can be reduced to their uteruses.
- With felony convictions, these laws remove inconvenient voters from the voting pool.
- They pander to so-called evangelical Christians who support Christian religious law as the basis of the United States, again gaining votes.
- Providing a new source of revenue for the private prison industry.
- These “test laws” are deliberately being set up to test and set up various precedents that can be used to restrict liberties in ever larger populations.
Now let’s look at the legal consequences of these laws for people with uteruses.
Health Care providers may be forced to violate HIPAA
In some states, health care providers must report abortions to the authorities in direct violation of privacy laws, including HIPAA. This undermines health care privacy for everyone, setting a very dangerous legal precedent.
both providers and patients may be charged and convicted of felonies
These anti-choice laws are in part designed to benefit the for-profit prison industries. As always, the wives, daughters, and mistresses of rich white men will be able to obtain safe abortions. Everyone else will be a target of law enforcement. Especially black and brown people and poor people of all colors. Women, LGBTQ folk, and people of color largely vote Democratic. If they are imprisoned, the ratio of Republican to Democrat votes shifts in favor of the elephant.
More children will be raised in foster care
At least two separate issues contribute to this problem. First, with their mothers in prison (remember, two-thirds of people who have abortions are already parents), more children will “run out of relatives” and fall to the foster system. Second, more unwanted children will be born, including more children with severe but not deadly birth defects. Our already inadequate and underfunded foster care systems will become even worse.
At least one of the anti-Choice Laws (georgia) defines pregnant people as state property
You might think I’m exaggerating about this. I’m not. The Georgia law not only prosecutes people who get abortions in the state but those who leave the state to get abortions. This can only be defended in a legal sense by declaring that the state has a vested interest in the contents of the uterus. In contrast, someone who smokes pot in Colorado, where it is legal for recreational use, cannot be prosecuted for it when they return home to a state where it is not legal.
Favorable positions in federal court and SCOTUS will establish dangerous precedents
If states define abortion as “murder” that’s one dangerous precedent. Specifically, that sets a precedent that religion trumps science for legal considerations. Second, there’s the idea that states can dictate what residents do when they’re visiting other states. Georgia is claiming sovereignty over its residents even when they’re under another state’s or country’s laws.
Ammunition in Discussions of Anti-Choice Laws
The Bible disagrees with evangelical Christians about abortion
- In Numbers 5: 11-22, the Bible gives (approvingly) a detailed description of how to perform an abortion to prove a wife’s faithfulness
- Exodus: 22-25 describes case law where a woman’s murder merits capital punishment but the loss of her fetus is treated as a property loss.
- Places where the Bible says life begins at birth: Genesis 2:7, Psalms 33:6, Ezekiel 37 9-10, 13-14, Job 34: 14-15
- I do not think we should be basing our secular laws on any religion’s holy book, but if you’re going to pretend to, you need to at least know what it says.
prior to 1800, Abortions in early pregnancy were legal and common
Apothecaries and midwives sold cures that “brought on the menses”. As we know, pregnancy has always killed people, especially before the modern understanding of germs. Like now, many people back then sought abortions to be sure they would be able to care for the children they already have.
Education and contraception prevent abortion far better than anti-choice laws do
The Economist, hardly a leftist magazine, lays out the argument. Essentially, a combination of education and accessible, cheap contraception is far more effective than bans at reducing numbers of abortions.
combat lies about late-term and “post-birth” abortions
First, “post-birth” abortions don’t happen. The rumor that they do is propaganda designed to make pro-choice people into monsters and then incite violence against them. If we’re unreasonable, they don’t have to listen to us or even treat us as humans. Second, the standard that Roe v. Wade set was “viability”. Because of advances in medicine, that has moved somewhat but is generally considered to be about 20 weeks (which is similar to the timing of “quickening”, the standard in pre-1800 abortions). Abortions extremely rarely happen after 20 weeks. When they do happen, it’s because the fetus is dead or dying. If the parent’s life is at risk, doctors try to save the fetus if possible.
Educate people on basic reproductive biology (the birds and bees)
- How hormonal birth control works
- How IUDs work
- Know the difference between a zygote, an embryo, and a fetus.
- Learn that there is no fetus (it’s a zygote or embryo) until 9 weeks
- Know that the 40 weeks of pregnancy start before you conceive (at last menses)
- Know that a heartbeat only measures electrical current in early pregnancy. It doesn’t in any way imply sentience or ability to feel pain.
- It is currently impossible to remove an ectopic pregnancy from where it implanted and re-implant it into the uterus (though it’d be cool if it were possible).
- A person with a penis who “sleeps around” could potentially reproduce 100 times in a year. No one with a uterus can reproduce more than once in that year (though she might have multiples).
push back on attempts to control peoples’ choices about pregnancy
When someone pushes your boundary, they want you to move. If instead, you push back, you make it clear you’re not budging. For instance:
- In the United States, if you explicitly say your organs can’t be donated after your death, no one can force you to donate any organs. However, states challenging Roe v. Wade are forcing women to donate their uteruses. So not only do women have fewer rights than corpses, but fetuses also have more rights than those who have been born.
- Work to pass laws that allow pregnant people to sue their impregnators for damages.
- Pass laws that start child support at conception.
- Promote mandatory vasectomies at 14 after sperm banking. Don’t allow reversal until their partner agrees to bear a child after at least two years in a relationship.
The point of the last idea listed here isn’t to pass it, it’s to point out how extremely intrusive forced pregnancy is by proposing laws just as invasive.
vote in and engage in every election from dog-catcher on up
One strategy of the anti-choice crowd is to have their proponents work their way up from jobs where their views on choice don’t matter (like dog-catcher) to jobs where they do (like judges and lawmakers). Make a point to know as much as you can about every candidate running in your local election, and get the word out. Email, write, and call your representatives at least 3-4 times a year.
don’t allow the label “pro-life” to go unchallenged
Use the script “If you want to be called pro-life you have a lot of work to do”. Then talk about what we do after babies are born:
- Discuss how many children live in or near poverty (in 2019, it’s 15 million or about 21%). Point out that economists generally state that families need at least twice poverty level to meet basic needs, which means approximately 43% of children are not meeting that standard. Ask what their plan for those families is.
- Talk about gun violence. Bring up statistics about children under 18 killed in mass shootings, accidents, suicides, and homicides. Then talk about the fact that every kindergartener in America knows how to slow down a mass shooter to save another classroom’s children. Ask them what they’re doing to stop this trend. (The statistics change daily here. Feel free to research your own).
- Ask what their position is on migrant children living in cages, lying on gravel with mylar blankets for “comfort” due to United States policies. Point out that as of spring 2019, 5 children have died in custody and well over 1000 children have been lost by the system. Point out that the system is inherently traumatic, causing emotional abuse. Show that reports come out almost daily that children are reporting being sexually abused by the hundreds. What are they doing for those lives?
- Point out that those zygotes and embryos and fetuses they want to change sometimes grow up to be criminals (and innocent people) on death row. Ask them if they support the death penalty. Have them support their argument.
tell our personal abortion stories
Our stories are powerful. One by one by one, we counter the stereotypes and propaganda lined up against us. My abortion story is very different from most. It goes like this:
My mother had two sons in the spring of 1965, aged 6 and 4. Her mother had recently been diagnosed with breast cancer, and she’d always wanted a little girl. So she and my dad decided to “try again” for a baby. They succeeded and by late spring/early summer they were pregnant. Coincidentally, in 1965 the US had its last big Rubella epidemic. Rubella is generally a very mild disease, but its impacts on a fetus are devastating. CRS (congenital rubella syndrome) causes miscarriage and stillbirth, and if the fetus survives, severe birth defects, especially if the fetus is affected in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. My mother contracted Rubella almost at the same moment she realized she was pregnant.
Now, Roe v. Wade wasn’t decided until 1973. However, she lived in Vermont, where abortion was legal for medical reasons. My mother wanted this baby. She talked with my father, she talked with her minister and consulted with her doctor. And with the blessing of all three. she aborted the fetus. It was a simple D&C done in the doctor’s office with sterilized equipment.
Her doctor told her to wait six months before conceiving again. But my grandmother was dying, and my mother wanted her to see her granddaughter. So three months later, she successfully conceived again. Nine months later I was born. My mother didn’t get her wish. Her mother died when she was two months pregnant with me.
I literally wouldn’t exist if my mother had not had the opportunity for a safe and legal abortion.
I am sincerely grateful for the support of my family, friends, therapy participants, and Patrons. Let me know how this article has helped, and feel free to share your own stories in the comments. Thank you. (Remember, stay after the credits for the audio file and a couple of shareable memes).
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Finally, I donate half of every dollar I make from videos, podcasts, and writing to my best friend, Katherine Malone. She has a deadly heart condition and needs a heart transplant. Before she can be placed on the transplant list, she must raise $20,000 for anti-rejection drugs. Learn more here and here, and go here to donate directly to her GoFundMe. This will continue until Kathy’s heart is fully funded. After that, I will continue to donate half up to $500 per month to help her pay for her anti-rejection meds.
A final reminder: You are each important and have much to teach, and much to learn.