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Why “civil disobedience” isn’t the answer in this case

By Amanda Marcotte
Thursday, March 22, 2012 13:56 EDT
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This post by an anonymous doctor suggesting “civil disobedience” from doctors in response to mandatory ultrasound laws is making the rounds, mainly being forwarded by people who are rightfully outraged by these laws, but—and I hate to say this—don’t really understand the issue very well. Both actual abortion providers (using their actual names) and I tried very hard in comments to explain that this post is just missing the point, but alas, we were basically ignored. There’s no indication that the doctor who wrote the post is an abortion provider, and in fact good reason to think he/she is not, and so it seems more than a little condescending to act like you have all the answers for solving the abortion crisis that the right is inducing with these laws. If you’re a doctor and you really want to fight back against the right on abortion, why not start by providing abortion? Sure, that would mean that anonymity for your political views is stripped from you, but if you’re going to scold others to break the law and put themselves in danger, the least you can do is set a good example by being public and providing abortion. 

The anon doctor suggests that abortion providers reject the mandatory ultrasound law by refusing to do it, and doctoring patient files to make it look it was done, if necessary. This is characterized as “civil disobedience”, but it’s really not in the same way that getting arrested at protests for moral but illegal trespassing is. Civil disobedience works best if it has a public component, to draw attention to your issues in hopes of changing the law. Privately doctoring files doesn’t accomplish that. 

While it’s always theoretically possible that doctors who do this will get away with it, the result if they get caught will not be that they generate outrage in a complacent public and get the law changed. No, they’re probably just going to get their license stripped, and be unable to perform legal abortions. Which is what anti-choicers want. They would be delighted if doctors refused to obey the law, and could be stripped of their licenses. Giving the oppressor what they want most in the world isn’t effective action. It is, in a word, counterproducitive. The reason anti-choicers pass laws like this is, I believe, they know that women will jump through any hoop to get rid of an unwanted pregnancy, and they want to maximize the pain and suffering of the whole ordeal. Pro-choicers should take that knowledge and realize that depriving women of safe, legal providers is about the worst possible thing you could do under these circumstances. Yes, a non-consensual procedure is a horrible thing, but if you look at the choices women make, not being able to get a safe, legal abortion is more horrible. 

I pointed this out on Twitter, and some folks asked how doctors would get caught. Which points to another reason that a little knowledge is a bad thing. Someone on the outside probably assumes, for obvious reasons, that women getting abortions are pro-choice and would therefore be complicit in this subterfuge. I don’t blame someone for having this assumption, but I do blame them for working off it without doing a little research first. The reality is that anti-choice women seek abortion all the time. They tend to justify it by saying that they’re not like those other women—those sluts, you know—who are getting abortions. But because of this, a doctor can’t trust that a patient in their office won’t use them for the abortion, and then run to the police and squeal about law breaking they witnessed. Depressing, but a reality that people on the inside have learned they have to accept. 

So please, don’t keep forwarding this piece. I realize it feels good and makes the reader feel they can exert control in a situation that’s been set up to make everyone helpless and victimized, but it’s an illusion. 

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
 
 
 
 
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