Why birth activists should care about anti-abortion laws

The reproductive rights community has been in an uproar about recent attempts at restricting abortion nationally. It seems to be priority number one for the GOP nationally–despite the fact that these types of laws are symbolic nods to the Christian Right at best, and horrific violations of pregnant women’s bodily autonomy at worst.

All of the typical players are up in arms at the new legislative attempts, which are covered pretty extensively here.

But I realize that folks who read this blog may think that the reason I care about this legislation is because I work with women having abortions. What we often don’t talk about is how legislation that attempts to restrict abortion by emphasizing the “rights” of the fetus (or, as Lynn Paltrow want us to call it, fetal separatism) have big impacts on the rights of pregnant women who actually carry their pregnancies to term.

That’s right: anti-choice laws don’t just impact women seeking abortions, they impact birthing women as well.

How so?

Here is a post I wrote for Feministing about the proposed South Dakota law that would possibly allow for the murder of abortion providers (which has now been shelved):

From Mother Jones:

A law under consideration in South Dakota would expand the definition of “justifiable homicide” to include killings that are intended to prevent harm to a fetus—a move that could make it legal to kill doctors who perform abortions. The Republican-backed legislation, House Bill 1171, has passed out of committee on a nine-to-three party-line vote, and is expected to face a floor vote in the state’s GOP-dominated House of Representatives soon.

It’s clear this bill likely has the goal of inciting violence–murder–of abortion providers. But I think this logic can actually be taken a step further, to include the murder of a pregnant woman herself.

Often one connection between anti-choice legislation that isn’t talked about is how it affects the rights of pregnant women who do want to parent. I’m talking about the rights of pregnant women to decide what kind of medical treatment they will seek–and not necessarily abortion.

There is an incredible battle going on around the country about the rights of pregnant women to refuse certain types of medical care (as the rest of us are legally entitled to do). In numerous cases, women have been forced against their will to have c-sections or other medical procedures in the name of the protecting the fetus.

This proposed legislation takes that logic to it’s extreme–not only is it okay to super-cede the autonomy and rights of pregnant women in the name of the fetus–you could actually justifiably murder her in pursuit of this as well. In addition, of course, to doctors performing perfectly legal and constitutionally protected abortions.

Can we agree to stop calling them pro-life now?

The laws that interfere with a woman’s ability to make decisions about terminating her pregnancy also interfere with a woman’s ability to make decisions about what medical care to seek for her birth.

These laws allow providers and lawmakers to force women into c-sections they don’t want, force them into mandatory bed rest, all sorts of other interventions, in the name of protecting the fetus.

This isn’t hypothetical folks. It’s happening around the country.

As birth activists, we know that often the medical claims behind these kinds of decisions to force women into c-sections are bogus. They’re based on shaky science and a medicine that disregards the desires of a pregnant women.

It’s not just pro-choice advocates who need lawmakers out of our wombs. It’s parenting moms too, who want to be trusted to make the medical decisions that are best for them–without fear of state or court intervention.

These battles cannot be seen as distinct. If women aren’t trusted and allowed to make decisions about their medical care for abortions, they won’t be trusted to make decisions about their medical care for pregnancy and birth either.

This is why we need movements where we work together, across issues and across communities. We’re fighting the same fights, with common enemies and common goals.

Let’s work together.


2 thoughts on “Why birth activists should care about anti-abortion laws

  1. Kelley February 17, 2011 / 9:10 pm

    Amen sister. This is exactly why everyone should have a problem with these efforts. This is not an abortion issue-it’s a women’s issue, a family issue, a human issue.

    Thanks for explaining it so clearly.

  2. Susannah February 17, 2011 / 11:51 pm

    I just posted about abortion, actually, because I’m thinking about working with a crisis pregnancy center as part of my community outreach. I didn’t mention HR 358, however, because I hadn’t checked my news feed and didn’t know. But I emailed every representative I could justifiably claim and sent my friends to do the same.

    I’m just starting my business in a new location, and I’m a little leery of talking about abortion politics too openly; likewise, I’m not sure how to go about becoming a full-spectrum doula. I’ve already talked to Planned Parenthood and plan to discuss it further with them, but I worry about how to frame it on my website and in my business. What has your experience been? Do you find that working with women having abortions alienates you from other doulas?

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