A lot of folks of Conservative disposition, and perhaps pro-life people more generally, take exception to the idea that the recent nation-wide expansion of policies which restrict the reproductive choices of women amount to a “War on Women.” They feel that it’s an overwrought appeal to emotion that cannot be fairly quantified, and obscures legitimate moral choices in the language of aggression.
On past occasions, I’ve done my part to address this objection by quantifying the injuries and unintended consequences of these laws. I think it is important to make people understand why it is fair to describe the unprecedented proliferation of legal restrictions on reproductive rights in the past 2 years as a “War” on those affected by those restrictions. Womens’ health and lives are being put in very real danger by these policies. Anti-choice policies have repercussions in a massive number of areas involving women’s health and welfare, including in vitro fertilization, chronic pain relief, cancer treatment, teen pregnancy, and criminal law. Women are being forced to give birth to non-viable fetuses only to watch them die in their parents’ arms. Lack of access to birth control infamously led to a woman from Georgetown Law requiring surgery to have a cyst-ridden ovary removed, which may in turn have caused her body to shift into early menopause, meaning ironically, that because she didn’t have access to birth control, she may never be able to have children. These restrictions affect even pro-life women who quietly seek abortions when they have unplanned pregnancies.
But most importantly, restricting access to abortion means, without question, that women will die. I repeat: women will die. And it is here that we achieve the crucial quantification: any policy whose predictable effect is to cause the death of a person can fairly be called a “war” on that person. That is what makes the “War on Women” label a fair moniker.
Yet despite all these unintended (and in some cases, intended) consequences for the safety and health of women, the War continues. PZ Myers takes note of the remarks of a state legislator from Mississippi, Bubba Carpenter, who is proud of the fact that he and his peers ran the last abortion provider out of Mississippi:
We have literally stopped abortion in the state of Mississippi. Three blocks from the Capitol sits the only abortion clinic in the state of Mississippi. A bill was drafted. It said, if you would perform an abortion in the state of Mississippi, you must be a certified OB/GYN and you must have admitting privileges to a hospital. Anybody here in the medical field knows how hard it is to get admitting privileges to a hospital…
Carpenter appears to be aware of the negative consequences that his legislation will have on Mississippi women, but he is absolutely unmoved:
[O]f course, there you have the other side. They’re like, ‘Well, the poor pitiful women that can’t afford to go out of state are just going to start doing them at home with a coat hanger.’ That’s what we’ve heard over and over and over.
But hey, you have to have moral values.
It’s not just coathangers. Poor women will also use clorox, turpentine, quinine, misoprostol, and back-alley butchers. They’ll bleed out, they’ll have perforated bowels, they’ll suffer unbearable agony, they’ll die. These are “moral values” at work. And note that [Carpenter] even acknowledges the other inequity: if they’re wealthy enough to go out of state (read: Republican), they won’t have to worry about the coathanger. This is open warfare on both women and the poor.
And there you have it. Bubba Carpenter understands that restricting access to abortion in Mississippi won’t stop abortions from happening. He is fully aware of the fact that his bill has no practical effect but to restrict access to safe abortion procedures for poor women. And he is also aware that by doing so, he’s putting them into the unenviable position of using extremely dangerous methods to terminate their pregnancies when doing otherwise would result in an untenable burden on them and their families.
But he doesn’t care. He doesn’t care that he’s passed legislation that incentivizes women to put their own lives in danger in order to be able to control their reproductive health, and to plan for their families. He doesn’t care that, on top of the deeply personal, emotional, and stressful decision that every woman considering an abortion endures, he has heaped upon those same women a cruel indignity. As Ruth Bader Ginsburg put it nearly 20 years ago:
The decision whether or not to bear a child is central to a woman’s life, to her well-being and dignity. It is a decision she must make for herself. When Government controls that decision for her, she is being treated as less than a fully adult human responsible for her own choices.
But of course, Bubba Carpenter knows better than Mississippi women what is good for their well-being and dignity. Nothing shows a deeper respect for human dignity than forcing poor women to perform back-alley abortions on themselves, subjecting themselves to potentially serious injury and death.
And there lies the rub. Women are being subject to injury and death as a result of laws like the one Carpenter and his peers passed in Mississippi. It is no coincidence that Mississippi, whose state has long been barren of abortion access for women, has the highest maternal mortality rate in the country. But that’s what you get when you declare war on women’s health. Women die.
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