In this week’s #FeministFriday, Elle engages in healthy criticism of yet another aspect of the Republican attitude toward women’s rights.
If there is one thing that conservative Republicans are good at, it’s creating friendly sounding euphemisms for their backwards beliefs and legislative attempts. Trying to ban gay marriage isn’t about attempting to deprive people of their basic civil rights, it’s about “protecting religious freedom.” Trying to force educators to showcase Creationism and climate change denial in science classrooms isn’t about supporting junk science in the face of facts, it’s about “allowing scientific controversy.” And then there’s the one that will affect about 1 in every 3 women: depriving women of their reproductive rights isn’t an attempt to enforce draconian and patriarchal control over women’s bodies, it’s about “the health and well-being of the mother.”
Many anti-abortion advocates (I refuse to call them “pro-life” because they seem to give about zero consideration to the life of the mother, let alone the life of the child once it has ceased being a fetus and started being a child) have stopped trying to attack abortion outright and instead have spent the last two decades attacking it piecemeal. Some focus on making smaller and smaller windows in which abortions are legally available, such as the recently passed House bill that bans abortions after 20 weeks under the incredibly disingenuous name of the “Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act.” (For the record, the general consensus in the scientific community is that a fetus can’t feel pain at 20 weeks. The earliest a fetus can begin to feel pain is 24 weeks, which is coincidentally the earliest that a fetus can be considered viable outside of the womb. It’s like there’s science involved in this or something.)
Other anti-abortion lobbyists and legislators have gone with Targeted Regulation of Abortion Provider laws, also known as TRAP laws. Which is just… taking your comic villain acronym game to the next level. I’m kind of impressed with how obviously evil they’re being with the whole name thing. They’re just totally embracing it. “What’s that law?” “It’s a trap!” TRAP laws are where we really get into the mealy-mouthed “wellbeing of the mother” types of legislation. Under the guise of crusading for women’s health, these laws require clinics that perform abortions to meet ridiculously rigorous guidelines. NARAL explains,
Common TRAP regulations include those that: limit the provision of care only to physicians; force practices to convert needlessly into mini-hospitals at great expense; require abortion providers to get admitting privileges; and require facilities to have a transfer agreement with a local hospital (with nothing requiring hospitals to grant such privileges). Further, in many states abortion care is limited to hospitals or other specialized facilities, rather than physicians’ offices.
Again, these are all proposed under the guise of “women’s health.” But any clinic that is performing an abortion is already subject to stringent regulations and safety measures—these laws are meant to put clinics out of business, not protect the health of the mother. And this isn’t even getting into the laws that require unnecessary 24-hour waiting periods, forced counseling sessions, forced ultrasound viewing, or for the doctor to hand out often medically incorrect information about fetal pain, “personhood” beginning at conception, and the supposed psychological after-effects of abortion. They’re doing this for the health of the mother. Really guys, they promise. Really, they’re super serious!
However, as anyone with a brain and a working knowledge of the history of abortion before Roe v. Wade could tell you, making abortion illegal or at least difficult to have doesn’t mean people stop having abortions. It just means that they stop having them safely, under medical supervision. Which brings us to our current state of bizzaro land medical and legal cases. Purvi Patel was sentenced to 20 years in prison for the impossible-to-perform-at-the-same-time charges of “feticide” and “neglect of a dependent” for having a miscarriage. (Prosecutors deny her claim that the child was stillborn, and accused her of taking abortion-inducing drugs, even though no evidence of those drugs were found in her system.) Jennie Lynn McCormack faced up to five years in prison for inducing an abortion. McCormack, a single mother of three children who lives off of the money she receives in child support, had no way of accessing, let alone paying for, the nearest available abortion clinic. The closest clinic is 138 miles away in Salt Lake City, and abortions at that clinic can cost up to $2000. Because she couldn’t access a clinic, McCormack also couldn’t know that her pregnancy was past the point where the abortion drugs that she took were a safe abortion option.
Though McCormack lived through her medically-unadvisable self-induced abortion, many women don’t. This is one of the reasons that maternal mortality is now higher in the United States than in any other “western” country. Randa Morris reports that “Women in the U.S. are ten times more likely to die from pregnancy as women living in Poland or Norway. Compared to women living in Belarus, the country with the lowest rate of maternal deaths, women in the U.S. are twenty times more likely to die before, during, or immediately after childbirth.”
Now, because I went to American public schools, I couldn’t even tell you with any certainty where Belarus is (Europe…. Somewhere?). And, because I’m a woman in America, I am twenty times more likely to die before, during, or after childbirth than someone in Belarus.
Tell me again about how America is the greatest country on Earth, and we have All the Freedom? Largely due to oppressive policies regarding reproductive health (including puritanical ideas regarding contraception in addition to all of the TRAP stuff from before), America is moving in the opposite direction of the rest of the world when it comes to maternal mortality. A woman in America is twice as likely to die during or after pregnancy and childbirth than she would have been fifteen years ago. Meanwhile, maternal mortality rates in the world as a whole have declined by 45% since the 1990s.
As if that wasn’t terrifying enough, these statistics might not even show the whole picture of how terrible our maternal mortality rate even is. Morris writes that up to 38% of pregnancy-related deaths aren’t even reported as pregnancy related deaths, and that about half of maternal deaths are not reported as such under certain conditions, such as the fetus not being delivered. So we literally don’t know how many women are dying as a result of their pregnancies. That’s only mostly incredibly horrifying.
What these statistics do, besides make me want to pre-emptively take out my uterus with a spork, (don’t worry, GOPers, I’m on that ACA thing you hate so much, so our over-inflated medical costs will only haunt me for half of my life instead of all of it—thanks Obama) is prove that two decades of increasingly harsh reproductive restrictions have not made women any healthier. If the people who pushed TRAP laws and their ilk had any actual concerns about women’s health, they would stop pursuing TRAP laws. They would do everything they could to make sure that abortions were safe, available options for the women who want and/or need them. They would stop trying to restrict access to contraception, they would stop advocating abstinence-only education, and they would stop acting like a fetus has more rights than its mother, and certainly more rights than its future self as a child that might need social welfare programs.
A woman’s purpose in life does not begin and end at motherhood, and we should do everything we can to ensure that motherhood is never the reason that a woman loses her life.
Elle Irise is a regular contributor to This Week in Tomorrow. When she’s not trying to repel stupidity of this magnitude, she studies gender in popular culture.