States once again extend unethical control over women’s bodies

Bernadette Bruu, Arts Editor

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The news cycle has moved away from coverage of the Russia investigation and we are finally privy to other political catastrophes that would have previously been lost to the algorithm. Most notably, last Tuesday saw Georgia’s state legislature pass its own version of a “heartbeat bill” — abortions will be punishable by legal action if a doctor can detect a heartbeat in the womb. The catch: first heartbeats most commonly occur around six weeks of pregnancy, a stage at which most women are unaware they’re even pregnant. The measure has sparked considerable outrage as one of the strictest abortion laws in the United States, joining three other states who have passed similar laws in the past year.

This renewed push to regulate abortions to the point of prohibition was then intensified this week, when Alabama’s House of Representatives passed a bill with restrictions beyond anything Americans have seen in the post “Roe v. Wade” era. This bill would ban abortions outright, maintaining the single exception of an immediate threat to the mother’s life and removing the standard allowances for rape and incest. The Alabama Senate will hold a vote for it next week, and it is expected to advance to the governor’s desk. Consider it passed.

What is clear but not obvious is that these states are not just restricting abortion, they’re criminalizing it. Individuals found to be performing abortions could face prison time and there will be unknown, but definite consequences for women seeking abortions after a fetal presence is detected. In the past, most lawmakers opposed prosecuting those who underwent or attempted to undergo the procedure, but that may change. In Georgia’s case, every other state law has included a provision against prosecution of this kind — the new heartbeat bill contains no such protection. Women receiving or inducing abortions will be subject to charges like conspiracy to commit murder, punishable by ten years in prison. It’s hard to Lean In while wearing an ankle monitor.

A sinister phenomenon is emerging underneath these constant threats to reproductive rights: Governments in the United States are finally mustering up the courage to admit they don’t care about women’s freedom whatsoever. Civil liberties and human rights alike appear to be vestiges of the Obama era and even then they were far from sufficiently just. At least then most of the U.S. was united in the hope that future generations would be freer and more prosperous than any of us living in 2015 could dream of. Never again will we be so naive.

Ideals aside, states’ actions against abortion are becoming national debates overnight. Outcry over the news about Georgia came to a head when Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted what so many women were thinking: Six weeks is a normal amount of time to wait for a period and that the men enacting these bans are out of touch with real women and their health needs. The statement mobilized her devotees, many of whom come from blue states and rarely come face-to-face with threats to their reproductive rights. They are no longer rebels without a fight.

At the same time, more and more anti-abortion groups are gaining interstate influence. Prominent “pro-family network” Faith2Action drafted the legislative model on which heartbeat bills are based. Part of their mission is the belief that the first sign of a heartbeat is the “universally recognized indicator of life” — but a fact-check will tell you that the layman’s idea of a detected “fetal heartbeat” is actually cardiac activity from tissue called the fetal pole. The medical technicality these anti-abortion groups hold up as evidence of a fetus’ undeniable humanity is a farce. Forget about rationality, these politicians can’t even apply modern scientific knowledge to the issue. A message is delivered, albeit subliminally, to young girls everywhere: it doesn’t matter if you pursue the humanities or STEM, or if and how you find your voice. At the end of the day, no one is listening.

Let’s get more dismal. Pro-choice Americans have clung to “Roe v. Wade” as its only defense against conservative administrations since 1973, but there’s good reason to believe that shield is in grave danger. More than a dozen cases that could overturn Roe are one step away from coming before the Supreme Court. President Trump’s two judicial appointments have transformed the possibility of a post “Roe” era into a strong likelihood, deterring abortion rights activists from trying to sue states over their effective bans. We have no choice but to wait silently, motionlessly, while reproductive rights hang in the balance.

Darker still: activists say anti-abortion lawmakers don’t fear lawsuits either way. They are seasoned from many years of actively keeping unjust laws in effect, and will take all available steps to trap such suits in the endlessly convoluted court system. In the meantime, the states will enforce their heartbeat bills as though post “Roe” were already here and maybe it is. If we no longer live in a country that provides us access to all the reproductive health services we would expect from a global superpower, do the courts matter at all? Is there any tangible benefit to faith in institutions based almost entirely on the civil barbarism of the founding fathers? In institutions of any kind? The center of power is somehow always shifting and yet still stationary after hundreds of years. Perhaps we will never find it anyhow, and speculation is useless.

Through the haze, some organizations and individuals have moved quickly to protect abortion access, in preparation for the worst. The Center for Reproductive Rights recently defended Jackson Women’s Health Organization, Mississippi’s only abortion clinic, in hopes of preserving what is the last hope for thousands of women. Planned Parenthood Southeast Advocates and NARAL Pro-Choice America have teamed up for the #ReclaimGeorgia campaign, intended to educate the public and gather widespread support from activists. Online and real-life communities remain abuzz with strategies for resistance.

A firm belief of mine is that idealism must be rooted in an educated skepticism for it to produce a legitimate result. To know and abhor the status quo is a prerequisite for developing mechanisms to fight it. You may not know when to take up arms, but millions of women now risk losing their reproductive freedom — there has never been a better moment for you to ratify your outrage.