On Tuesday of this week, Texas state senator Wendy Davis filibustered for 11 hours to delay a vote on a bill that would restrict abortion rights in her state. Governor Rick Perry - the guy who ran for the 2012 Republican nomination for President until he found himself unable to remember things like his own platform - has responded by summoning the Texas Legislature back to work for a 30-day, special session devoted entirely to the passage of the controversial bill.
Senator Davis’ little “stunt” appears to have done more than frustrate the abortion bill’s sponsors. It appears to have dislodged an angry hornet’s nest with a shoulder-fired missile. The bill’s proponents – Governor Perry chief among them – have responded with a war of words that has transformed a political fight into, well, one of those demonstrations of penis size we analogize to in fights of the more street-or-playing-field context.
Governor Perry has chided Senator Davis for arguing against restrictive abortion laws, citing her own upbringing by a single mother and her teenaged pregnancy. Then he actually said, of the pro-choice movement, “the louder they scream, the more we know that we are getting something done.”
Oh, for crying out loud. (Pun intended? Not sure.)
Governor Perry? The fact that Senator Davis attended Harvard is not an argument against abortion. The fact that Senator Davis elected to become a teenage mother does not mean every teenager has to make the same choice. And the fact that your policies are making people shout in protest does not mean the underlying policy is good, or that all those no’s really mean yes. (It does mean, though, that your appreciation for the pain you’re causing is evidence of some deeply misogynistic perspectives on discourse, as well as a callous willingness to speak with undertones of sexual assault).
This is not a pissing contest, Governor Perry. You are not being emasculated because one woman, representing scores of other women, disagrees with you. If you want to fight, do it with the space your brain is supposed to occupy, not the zippered area in your midsection.
Elevating the conversation to facts and figures, here’s what’s going on:
The Texas House has already passed a bill that would:
- Outlaw abortions after 20 weeks;
- Prohibit abortions from being performed in anywhere but “ambulatory care centers”;
- Require that doctors performing abortions have credentials at a hospital within thirty miles of where they perform the abortion; and
- Increase restrictions on abortion-inducing drugs.
Now the bill has to pass the Texas Senate – the hurdle that sparked the events summarized above. The practical effect of the proposed bill would be to close the majority of abortion clinics in Texas, and to drastically reduce the number of abortions performed in the state. The bill’s proponents say the measure is necessary to protect the unborn fetus, based on “scientific evidence” that a fetus can start to feel pain after 20 weeks of gestation, and to protect Texas women from the “low health and safety standards currently found in abortion clinics.”
If only the law and the facts were on their side….
As a matter of federal constitutional law, a woman has the right to obtain an abortion up until the time the unborn fetus is “viable.” For forty years, scientists have agreed that viability occurs after 24 weeks of gestation, so a 20-week cut-off would be unconstitutional. Moreover, states cannot impose “undue burdens” that would get in the way of a woman’s exercise of this right. If there’s one way to throw up an obstacle to a woman getting in abortion, it’s closing the place where that abortion could be performed.
Equally significant, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (aka “doctors”) insists that ambulatory care centers and hospital privileges are not necessary for abortions, which do not require high levels of anesthesia and which result in complications requiring surgery in less than 1% of all cases. The ACOG compares having an abortion to having a colonoscopy, in terms of the medical risks involved – a similarity the ACOG uses to highlight the transparency of the Texas legislature’s fundamental motivation: simply shutting down abortion clinics.
Being at odds with reality has not deterred Texas politicians, or their brethren in other states and the national Congress. In fact, efforts to chip away at abortion rights are gaining steam, as officials across the country strategize to bring the fight back to the Supreme Court. Ohio is considering a buffet of options, including a bill that would outlaw abortions as soon as a heartbeat could be detected (usually 6-8 weeks into a pregnancy, before many women even know they’re pregnant). North Dakota and Arkansas have already enacted laws with that very demarcation.
And in the U.S. House of Representatives, the 23 male Republican members of the House Judiciary Committee pushed through a bill that would ban abortions after 20 weeks of gestation, voting down amendments that would, for example, allow for exceptions for women in cases of rape or incest. One of the committee members who voted against a rape-or-incest amendment (Trent Franks, R-Ariz.) said such an exception was unnecessary, because “the incidence of rape resulting in pregnancy are very low.” The House of Representatives went on to pass the bill. In the House version, there is a rape-or-incest exception . . . if the woman reported the crime to the police.
I don’t understand any of this. I don’t understand why a coalition of politicians – predominantly male – put such a priority on regulating the reproductive choices of women. I don’t understand why they feel so unencumbered when they legislate things like forced vaginal ultrasounds. I don’t understand why they feel so threatened about a woman’s decision-making process. I don’t understand how studies at the Todd Akin School of Reproductive and Rape Sciences qualifies a politician for anything other than defeat.
I don’t understand how they can justify an intrusion into the vaginal tract and up into the uterus, and fallopian tubes, and the aching heart and agonized mind of a women they have never met, much less bedded and impregnated. I especially cannot fathom what that justification could be when many of those same men respond with immediate and righteous indignation when the government so much sniffs at their closet full of guns. To quote Governor Perry:
They’re so focused on the wrong issue. They’re trying to make law-abiding people jump through more hoops. And I think that a lot of this is those on the left, they just want something so they can say we won a battle here.
Exactly, Governor Perry. Exactly. Cross out your reference to “the left,” insert “the conservative right,” and change the context from your discussion of gun rights to my discussion of abortion rights, and voila! We are seeing eye to eye.
75% of the women who get abortions are under 30; 18% are teenagers. 64% of the women who get abortions are minorities. 42% have incomes below 100% of the federal poverty level.
I’ll say it again: I don’t understand why old, privileged white males are so frantically, maniacally, single-mindedly committed to making sure these young, minority, poor women do what the guys they probably didn’t vote for tell them to do.
Trust me, guys. None of us are trying to come after, or even imply anything about, your penis by asserting rights to our womanhood. Please, for the love of your God who you cite so often, leave our lady parts alone.
Featured image via Huffington Post.