Thursday, March 24, 2011

Patronizing Women

The creativity of the anti-abortion rights movement is being stretched with restrictive bills promoted in Idaho, Kansas, Alabama, and Ohio.

A common theme, meanwhile, runs through anti-choice proposals in three other states, Michigan, Oklahoma, and Arizona. In Michigan, House Bill 4433 (text, in PDF, here), paternalisticly claiming for the state "an interest in protecting women" (in protecting women, not citizens or the public), mandates "performance of a diagnostic ultrasound examination of the fetus at least two hours before an abortion is performed." Oklahoma has enacted a law which, as in Michigan, mandates the doctor to present the ultrasound and the pregnant woman "to listen to a detailed description of the fetus within an hour of the procedure," even if the abortion resulted from rape or incest.

Arizona, home to the Private Prison Operators Employment Act, would not be upstaged. The East Valley Tribune reports

State senators voted to make race- and gender-based abortions illegal, but not before adding provisions which could send doctors and others involved in these acts to prison.

Monday's 21-5 vote came amid charges and counter-charges about whether girls and blacks are being targeted in the womb. Lawmakers from each side cited figures designed to back their contentions.

The only clear thing is that the bill, which already has been approved in similar fashion by the House, is likely headed to the governor's desk, possibly by the end of the month. And Jan Brewer has signed every measure restricting abortion that has been sent to her.

HB 2443 does more than make criminals out of doctors who terminate a pregnancy knowing the woman's reason is to select the race or gender of the child. It also imposes criminal penalties on anyone who solicits or accepts funds to finance abortions based on race or sex.

Violators would face a presumptive prison term of 3.5 years.

That latter provision is aimed at Planned Parenthood.

Well, of course it is, because there is no better way to reduce abortions than to reduce access to birth control information, as well as to other health services for women. Manipulating statistics of blacks obtaining abortions, Republican State Senator Dan Shooter (thankfully, not from Tucson) contended "No one should be subjected to abortion because they're the wrong sex or race." Women and minorities, apparently, are unable to make their own decisions.

The actions in Michigan, Oklahoma, and Arizona have one thing in common: that paternalistic attitude toward women, the notion that they cannot make decisions themselves. The subtext is, as Dahlia Lithwick described in Supreme Court Justice Kennedy's reasoning in Gonzales v. Carhart (2007), that "if pregnant women only knew how abhorrent the procedure was, they'd always opt to avoid it."

But in Arizona at least, another factor is at play. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker exempted police and firefighters from his anti-middle class union legislation at least in part because he recognized that cracking down on the people who fight crime and fires is highly politically incorrect. In the same vein, clamping down on women who have abortions, charging them for first-degree murder for soliciting the destruction of their baby, just wouldn't fly. It would be even more politically incorrect as the right, which loves denigrating the phrase itself (often ridiculing it as "p.c."), undoubtedly understands. Conservatives (as well as liberals) would find odious placing on trial for a capital offense pregnant women, whom they care so, so very much about. Instead, they hew to the paternalistic approach, refusing to hold "the fair sex" to the value they often extol: responsibility for one's own action.

Anti-abortion rights activists, justifiably fearing a precipitous drop in support for their cause if they dropped their intellectual inconsistency, are loath to face this contradiction. Ban abortion- or threaten to prosecute the professionals who perform it- because it is killing, thereby rendering it murder. Then exempt from prosecution the individual who seeks, pays for, and agrees to participate in, that murder. Cynicism would suggest that, on some level, the opponents of abortion are not convinced abortion is the taking of life. But if Occam's Law/Law of Parsimony applies, it likely is something more simple: cowardice.

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