Stances on abortion and women’s healthcare are more than just differing opinions. Either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump WILL become our next president, and that president will appoint not just Scalia’s open Supreme Court seat, but potentially 3 others who will retire during the next term. There are also many federal judge seats that Congress will have to approve, and since most abortion restrictions and fetal personhood laws are made and challenged at the state level, these are also incredibly important. Having a president who doesn’t respect women, doesn’t respect the right to choose, doesn’t believe that women’s healthcare is an issue, and does believe that women should be punished for their decisions about their own bodies is NOT the kind of leader we need. It is the kind of leader we will get if enough people decide to stay home or vote 3rd party on election day though.

The consequences

There’s more than just rhetoric about whether abortion is right or wrong, evil or acceptable, sad but necessary or the downfall of society. For half of the population who are potentially affected by pregnancy, this isn’t simply a debate of competing philosophical ideas. These ideas have some so enraged, ideas like women actually having agency over their own bodies and being able to make their own decisions, that the right is enacting laws to not only restrict but to criminalize those decisions. Ridiculous restrictions like waiting periods treat women like children who just need to go home and calm down and think rationally about their choice (because obviously there’s only one rational decision that every woman should make). Unrealistic and unnecessary requirements like admitting privileges are closing many clinics and making access to abortion an undue burden. Luckily, the Supreme Court agrees, like the recent case in Texas showed, but even that ruling came too late for many shuttered clinics, and many other states are still battling the same issue. 

Even if you don’t choose abortion, simply being pregnant is a legal risk nowadays. “Fetal personhood” laws treat a part of my body as if it’s a separate entity with separate rights to the rest of me. It’s like if a lawyer were to advocate for the kidney I wanted to donate. This happened to Alicia Beltran when she was arrested for a drug addiction she had before she got pregnant. Her fetus had legal representation at the hearing and she was forced into rehab, but she was denied counsel. 

This is becoming more and more of a concern and fear for pregnant women. 38 states have feticide laws, meant to protect a pregnant woman from abusive partners and dangerous, unlicensed abortion providers, but they have begun to backfire on the pregnant women themselves. Those laws in 23 states even apply to the very early stages of pregnancy.

One terrifying example is Purvi Patel, a 33-year-old woman in Indiana who was convicted early last year and sentenced to 20 years in prison for having a stillbirth. Recently, the conviction was overturned, but not before a lengthy legal battle and a scary precedent to use feticide laws against a pregnant woman.

Also take the case of Bei Bei Shuai, another Indiana resident who was charged with feticide.  She became depressed during her pregnancy after her boyfriend abandoned her and refused to help raise the child. She attempted suicide by taking rat poison. At the hospital, doctors were able to save her but not the fetus, and she was arrested.

There are countless other stories of pregnant women’s civil rights being taken away. Some examples from this NY Times piece

“Based on the belief that he had an obligation to give a fetus a chance for life, a judge in Washington, D.C., ordered a critically ill 27-year-old woman who was 26 weeks pregnant to undergo a cesarean section, which he understood might kill her. Neither the woman nor her baby survived.

In Utah, a woman gave birth to twins; one was stillborn. Health care providers believed that the stillbirth was the result of the woman’s decision to delay having a cesarean. She was arrested on charges of fetal homicide.” -Lynn M Paltrow and Jeannie Flavin

Pregnancy dystopia

My high school English class read Aldous Huxley’s A Brave New World, and afterwards we had to write our own short story dystopia as an assignment. I remember that I wrote one in which pregnant women were locked up for the entire 9 months on strict diets and daily regimes, separated from the dangerous outside world but also from their lives and loved ones. These pregnancy prisons were billed to the public as spas meant to protect and pamper women and their fetuses, but the reality was that the women were captives with no rights of their own. Many lost their jobs upon re-entering the world (something that is not uncommon with just regular maternity leave, if one is even offered by the employer). Pregnant women were punished for breaking the rules, causing stress to mother and fetus that those running the centers clearly didn’t care about. Many women tried to break out or commit suicide. Outside, women tried to hide their pregnancies for as long as possible before the police came and hauled them away. The emotional disregard for these women resulted in poor physical health and severe mental problems, as well as many medical complications and deaths of the babies, for which the women were of course blamed.

This came from the mind of an imaginative 14-year-old, but it’s really not that far fetched. Pregnant women are already so criticized, when does that criticism cross over into being controlling? When pregnant women can’t even be trusted to take care of themselves and their fetus, when does the state just take over? We already see cases where pregnant women who admit to taking even safe drugs are arrested if their babies are completely healthy.  Women are strapped down and forced to have c-sections against their will. Child protective services can be called and the child taken away if a laboring woman doesn’t agree to a c-section in some cases. 

These abuses of our civil rights are done in the name of saving babies, except it doesn’t actually happen that way. For example, 32% of women in the US undergo a c-section, and some specific hospitals have even higher rates. Most are allegedly for medical emergencies, and have in fact been a great medical advance that have saved countless mothers and babies. But studies show that a c-section rate of up to 19% is optimal, but the US’s rate has increased 50% in the last 15 years. An entire third of births do not require them. “Better safe than sorry,” some say, “doctors just have the best interest of mother and baby in mind.” If that were so, you’d think that we’d be really good saving the lives of mothers and babies, when in fact the US has one of the highest infant and maternal mortality rates of any developed country.  A lot of this has to do with insurance and liability, doctors trying to cover their asses in case something were to happen, at least they can say “well we tried something.It cannot be denied that ripping open a woman’s body solely for convenience and saving face is an utterly dehumanizing disregard for these patients’ well beings.

Solutions

I can certainly commend the theory of trying to enact laws to protect pregnant women, especially since murder is the number one cause of death among pregnant women. Not the number one non-medical cause of death or non-pregnancy related death. Number one. Period. Statistically, I am more likely to be killed by my husband than I am to die of preeclampsia or childbirth. The way to help though is not to give rights to a fetus and treat it like a separate, autonomous being, but to make pregnant women themselves a protected class, so that crimes against them are treated more seriously and prosecuted more severely. When an abusive partner comes after a pregnant women, he’s not trying to hurt the fetus and leave his partner out of harm’s way. He’s angry at her and wants to hurt her, but all right wing lawmakers seem to care about is the fetus inside of her. The laws should reflect the crime, that of trying to hurt the pregnant woman. That way, pregnant women themselves aren’t faced with prosecution.

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