The Tightening Noose Around Women’s Rights

In the past several weeks the Alabama state legislature has proposed and passed ever stricter laws surrounding issues of a woman’s right to govern the trajectory of her own health.   In rapid succession, the following bills moved forward:  HB 31 which allows medical personnel to refuse treatment of a woman having an abortion if it violates their religious convictions; HB490 makes it illegal to terminate a pregnancy if a fetal heartbeat is present; HB493 requires that perinatal hospice care be offered if there is a lethal fetal anomaly with doctor paying a penalty if not; HB494 requires an in-person, written notarized consent for abortion by a minor under 19.

All of these bills make it harder for a woman to choose the fate of her body. These bills are geared towards shaming the woman regardless of the reason for her decision for the abortion.  Imagine being impregnated through rape and having the nurse tell you she will not treat you because you chose to abort the baby and that violates her religious convictions.  This is legalizing stigmatization and no woman should face that kind of shaming.

The problem with such a stance is that it goes against the heart of most religious thought of compassion and mercy.  The Christian texts state to judge not, lest you be judged.  Yet, to refuse to offer treatment to a woman having an abortion is a judgement of condemnation.  Such a law is against that core teaching.  Such a law legalizes such social condemnation as a just behavior when it is rarely justified.

Life is not a simple trajectory from birth to death.  There are complications layered with complications along the way that make decisions to direct our path harrowing.  We do not know the experiences–emotional, mental, spiritual, physical–that each of us have that lead us to our current state of life. Each circumstance might lead to a different scenario, we simply do not know what we might decide given a different set of parameters of events.

Or imagine the pain and heartache of finding out that your pregnancy is going to end in death because of a lethal fetal anomaly.  Is it even humane to force that pregnancy to term when that is the outcome? It has been noted that women who abort such a fetus fair better mentally than when they bring the fetus to term only to have the baby die a few hours, a few days later.  But there are also cases where the fetus develops without the brain and the body lives a few years but without any awareness of its surroundings.  Imagine the emotional pain and suffering this will inflict on the family, not to mention the medical costs to keep the body comfortable.  I am using the term body deliberately because anencephaly cases have no ability to develop sentience.  Is this really a condition that we want the government, a cold, unfeeling, bureaucratic monster of an institution to determine what this woman can and can not do with her body?

HB 490 makes it illegal to terminate a pregnancy if a fetal heartbeat is detected.  When does the heartbeat begin?  Around 6 weeks after conception.  When do most women discover they are pregnant?  Somewhere between the 4th and 8th week.  This means that the ability to make the decision is very very small if there even is a window period for deciding.

Requiring an in-person, written and notarized consent for a minor to have an abortion is another roadblock.  Imagine that the minor has been emancipated, she is not going to be able to make the decision for an abortion. Imagine that the minor is pregnant because of sexual abuse in the family. What minor is going to be able to tell the parent the truth to their pregnancy? In those situations, it is hard enough to tell another person what is going on let alone a parent.

But all of these bills even as they progress now to the Senate for a vote are eclipsed by this last bill that has just been introduced.  SB414 is the Personhood bill that would define a fertilized egg, either through sexual intercourse or through in vitro fertilization as person.  This bill would not only make abortions illegal, it would make all decisions made by the woman subject to the fetus.  There have already been cases where the woman was charged with murder because her child was stillborn.

A person by implication is someone who has agency an ability to self-direct their actions.  A fetus does not have this ability. It is totally dependent on the host for its existence.  By declaring the fetus a person with full rights  is also declaring that the woman body is nothing more than a vessel, a breeding mechanism that has no right to direct and defend her own well being.

The attached video looks at the larger implications of the proposed personhood bill, implications that this legislature has not considered when presenting this bill.  It is important that we explore to the best of our abilities the consequences of our actions and not just look at the quick and dirty solutions to ease our religious convictions.