Parental notification. Waiting periods. Mandatory ultrasounds. Zoning laws specifying closet size. Databases listing identifying data about women who seek abortions. The slow erosion of a woman’s right to choose and gain access to her choice has been going on for years, just under the radar of the mainstream media, because abortion is something everyone manages to believe happens to somebody else — somebody who deserves a little hassle, at least, for making a wrong turn a few weeks back.
And yet abortion is the most common medical procedure in the United States — 1.3 million women have an abortion each year in the United States, and 40 percent of women will have an abortion in their reproductive years. And more than half of women seeking an abortion report having used contraception when they got pregnant. But anti-abortion rhetoric and human nature have led many people to believe that the women that seek abortion are some distant “other,” which makes it easy to ignore laws that make her life more difficult or impossible, and easier to believe that she deserves it.
That’s because in the wake of Roe v. Wade, anti-abortion groups got smart: public support for safe, legal abortion was high, public perception of its bloody-fetus-sign-carrying opponents was low. They re-christened themselves “pro-life” and instead of attacking the women who sought abortions, they went after the providers who performed them and the clinics who provided them. They sought policies that chipped away at abortion rights little by little but which, to the average American, sounded sort of reasonable. Of course you would want your daughter to come to you if she was pregnant, of course you think women should not get pressured into have an abortion they don’t want to have, of course you want clinics performing abortions to be safe for the women having them.
And all their marketing worked: the new “pro-life” groups shared legislation and tactics state-to-state, pushed for “partial-birth abortion bans” at the federal level (even if they couldn’t exactly show where the brutal procedures they described were being used), and slowly but surely chipped away at women’s rights and women’s access while the number of people who identified as “pro-life” climbed. And nobody noticed as the restrictions got more restrictive, more humiliating, more infantilizing and more expensive for the millions of American women who choose to have abortions every year.
And then suddenly, Americans woke up and looked around and the state of Virginia was trying to mandate sticking phallic-looking instruments into women’s most private areas whether those women wanted or needed them there or not. Did your reaction take them by surprise? Of course it did — the anti-abortion groups had already pushed through such mandates in two states (Texas and Oklahoma) before Virginia with little fanfare and less concerted opposition. Personhood amendments? Colorado had a ballot initiative on that in 2008, almost 4 full years ago, and it nearly passed. Almost everything that’s been on the docket in 2012 and shocked people with its mean-spiritedness, intent to humiliate and desire to legislate away a woman’s ability to get an abortion has already passed quietly somewhere else, and almost no one was paying attention.
So now you know: they’re here, they’re been successful at eroding women’s rights and access, and they’re not about to stop because of a couple of months of bad publicity. They hope — and have every reason to believe, given the standard news cycle — that by the time most state legislatures start up again next January, you’ll have forgotten that this is an issue. And if that happens, they figure, by next summer another woman will be sobbing on a sonogram table, twisting away from a doctor’s state-mandated lecture… and that if they can’t keep her from having an abortion by forcing that ordeal upon her, they’ll hopefully be able to deter someone else.
They’re in it for the long haul. And if the folks who made their voices heard against this legislation aren’t, they’ll just rack up more wins later.
[Guy And A Girl Pointing Two Guns on Shutterstock]