[Leslie Carol Botha: Not sure if you have noticed but abortion and birth control issues always come up during an election year. But this year the skirmish has turned into a full-blown war that has been noticed around the world. What ultimately happens is the women turn against women – weakening our chance to influence the election.]
Why reproductive health is a civil rights issue
Attacks on abortion rights and birth control really are a ‘war on women’: an attempt to roll back half a century of social progress
The recently declared “war on women” or “war on religious freedom” – depending on which side of the political aisle you find yourself – is the most recent issue du jour, but the challenge with focusing on the politics of women’s health is that it tends to mask what’s really going on in America, right now. There is, in fact, a war on women – and it’s not a political question; it’s a civil rights issue.
This is something more than an esoteric issue for me, personally. I am the very lucky father of a baby daughter; but this summer, when my wife and I were expecting, we were hit with a troubling, potentially devastating piece of news: genetic, pre-natal testing had discovered an elevated risk that our child had a genetic disorder – one that in our moral universe would have given us little choice but to consider terminating the pregnancy.
Luckily, everything worked out fine and our daughter is a healthy and happy three-month-old. But what if the news had not been so good; what if, as parents desperate for a child, we had been forced to end the pregnancy. It would have been a horrible and traumatic decision.
In the state of Texas, however, under a law passed last year, it would have been even worse. As the reporter Carolyn Jones wrote about recently in the Texas Observer, we would have been subjected to something akin to emotional torture. Under the provisions of the new law, all women who want to have an abortion are forced to wait 24 hours before they undergo the procedure. No exceptions.
Jones, whose fetus was diagnosed with a genetic disorder and who was terminating her pregnancy, was obliged, under Texas law, to undergo a sonogram, to listen to a doctor describe her afflicted fetus, and to have explained the health dangers of having an abortion. While a woman with an “irreversible abnormality” would be subjected to all the law’s provisions, only in rare circumstances (such as rape and incest, or involving minors) are a doctor’s legal obligations waived. Thus, the vast majority of Texas women, including those without a partner or a support network, and regardless of their reason for seeking an abortion, are to be subjected to these onerous requirements – in order to have a medical procedure that is legal in the United States.
To be sure, since the landmark US supreme court decision in 1973 that legalised abortion, there have been unceasing efforts to restrict the full expression of abortion rights. Abortion providers have been harassed, threatened ands in some cases, murdered. State legislatures have nibbled away at abortion rights – waiting periods here, partial birth bans there – but nothing like what we’ve seen over the past year. The Texas law is very much at pace with these developments.