If You Get An Abortion In Texas You Could Soon Face The Death Penalty
A Texas State Representative -- Republican Tony Tinderholt -- has proposed a bill that could see women in that state who have an abortion charged with homicide.
A crime that in Texas can carry the death penalty.
This is the second time Tinderholt has proposed such a bill and once again it contains no exceptions -- which I assume means no mercy for rape, incest, foetal abnormality or even threat to the mother’s life. (Well, I suppose that would really be rank hypocrisy, given that Tinderholt’s bill is demonstrably and purposefully a threat to the mother’s life.)
The bill is considered to have little chance of passing, but it has proceeded to debate, which it failed to do when Tinderholt proposed it the first time around. Tinderholt argues that his bill is an attempt to make women ‘more personally responsible’.
Ohio has passed foetal heartbeat legislation, which basically makes abortion illegal, given that the heartbeat is detectable before most women even know they are pregnant. About a dozen other American states have passed or are moving towards similar legislation.
In the rest of the western world, however, the moves seem to be in the other direction.
Earlier this week, the South Korean constitutional court overturned a 66-year ban on abortion. But perhaps the most famous example is the recent repeal of Ireland's eighth amendment, a 1983 addition to the country's constitution which -- according to Irish author Anne Enright -- created a ‘new category of rights holder’ .
Like Tinderholt, who claims his bill gives equal protection to life inside and outside the womb (just not to the owner of said womb), amendment eight acknowledged an equal right to life between the foetus and the mother, consequently transforming the adult woman once pregnant, from an individual into one half of a relationship.
The Irish voted overwhelmingly last year in favour of repeal, perhaps influenced by the horrific death of Savita Halappanavar who died of septicemia in 2012 because Irish doctors refused to remove the foetus she was miscarrying because there was a heartbeat.
Watch out, women in those US states that have foetal heartbeat legislation -- this could be your fate too. In Texas, if Tinderholt and his supporters eventually have their way, the fate of women there could be even worse.
READ MORE: A Woman Is Not A Container For A Man's Baby
Here in Australia, even though abortion remains a crime in NSW, the High Court recently rejected an attempt by anti-abortion advocates to have the safety zones around abortion clinics declared unconstitutional. Protesters must remain a minimum of 150 metres away from the premises. The need for these exclusion zones is because of the vociferous, distressing and personal nature of protests outside abortion clinics, many of which provide a wide range of women’s health services as well as pregnancy terminations.
Sadly, the female body has always been a battleground.
Unlike the male body, which belongs to its owner, control of the female body is contentious.
It is almost as if because we all were once resident in a woman’s body, we seem to feel we continue to have tenant’s rights and so remain entitled to a say about what she may or may not do with the flesh she occupies. Even pregnant women who have chosen to have a baby will have experienced being patted on the stomach by total strangers or been the recipient of disapproving looks if they sip a coffee or -- heaven forfend -- eat soft cheese!
These are relatively benign indicators of how a woman’s body becomes public property when she is pregnant.
The motives that drive those who will go to extreme (even lethal) lengths to prevent women accessing abortion are complex but they are certainly influenced by ideas, often patriarchal religious ideas, about who ‘owns’ a woman’s body. Many believe that the foetus is their God’s creation and so the woman who carries the child has no right to defy a deity.
They are entitled to this view, of course, when it comes to their own body. They are not entitled to impose this view on those who do not accept their faith.
Many other right-to-lifers reveal a moralistic and punitive attitude to women and sexual pleasure. These people seem to see children as a control mechanism, even a punishment. The risk of pregnancy is meant to constrain women from having sex (‘opening their legs’ as I have heard it not-so-charmingly put) and without such -- ahem -- consequences -- women will go wild.
Tinderholt expresses just this when he says fear of the death penalty will make women more responsible. Such an attitude to women is profoundly misogynistic, of course, but don’t even get me started on the attitude to children such a mindset reveals. A baby? As punishment? What an appalling way to start life.
Let me be perfectly clear about my view. A woman’s body always remains her own, whether she is pregnant or not. Women do not give up their human rights when they become pregnant. They are not containers for babies or portals through which other humans enter the world. They are sentient human beings with just as much right to bodily autonomy as anyone else.
To force a woman to gestate and birth a child against her will is to literally colonise her body -- especially if you do it on pain of death.
Abortion is a private medical issue between a woman, her partner if she decides to include him (her body, her choice) and her doctor. It should be safe, affordable and legal.
Because when you make abortion illegal and hard to access, you don’t need to threaten the death penalty -- you’ve already transformed one of the safest medical procedures into a highly risky one and far from saving any lives, women will die.