Apparently it’s no longer enough for Republicans to try to stop women from getting abortions. Now they want to stop us from writing about them, too.
Missouri state senator Kurt Schaefer is trying to block University of Missouri doctoral student Lindsay Ruhr from researching her dissertation because she’s studying the impact of a state law that mandates a 72-hour waiting period before being able to obtain an abortion. Free speech? What free speech?
Schaefer, chairman of the state’s temporary Committee on the Sanctity of Life, is claiming that Ruhr’s research is illegal – he sent a letter to the university chancellor late last month citing the ban on public funds, which includes monies at public universities, being used to help women obtain abortions.
Maybe Schaefer just doesn’t want to know about the ways anti-choice laws hurt women. Ruhr, who is a research coordinator at Planned Parenthood of the St Louis Region and Southwest Missouri , told Al Jazeera reporter Massoud Hayoun last week that “the whole point of my research is to understand how this policy affects women.”
We already have a pretty good idea. Research has already found that waiting periods – which generally come in tandem with mandatory in-person counseling sessions that aim to dissuade women from going through with an abortion – increase the number of abortions obtained out of state and obtained later. Waiting periods don’t stop women from getting abortions; they just make it harder and more dangerous for them. But solid research saying as much about Missouri’s law in particular wouldn’t reflect well on the laws the state senator is trying to protect.
Beyond Schaefer, who even asked the university chancellor to provide him copies of materials pertaining to the research and its approval, at broader issue is the chilling effect this kind of attack has on academic freedom and speech. Ruhr is not receiving any scholarship or grant money from the university for the research. Are we really going to ban anyone who works for reproductive rights organizations from writing about their work? From studying?
We’ve already seen the impact that stifling speech around abortion has abroad: the Global Gag Rule, repealed by President Obama but still being bandied about by politicians , prevented organizations for decades that received US funding from talking to women about abortion, even if the procedure was legal in that country. This was happening during a time when millions of women worldwide had unsafe abortions and tens of thousands died from them.
But the way we find out crucial information about women’s health needs is through research, and through talking. Studying abortion doesn’t promote the procedure, but it will help us understand how to best help women.
Yes, abortion is controversial – but it’s also legal. And while people may disagree strongly about the procedure, academic freedom and free speech trumps politicians’ discomfort with the idea that women have reproductive rights.
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