Clementine Ford: Men Will Never Be Subjected To The Barbarism Of The Abortion Laws They're Enacting
This week, Georgia became the sixth state in America to pass a bill that effectively outlaws abortion and criminalises those who seek to obtain or provide one.
The Living Infants Fairness and Equality (LIFE) Act -- also known as HB 481 -- was signed on Tuesday by Governor Brian Kemp, a cisgender man who will never be able to become pregnant and consequently will never have to be subjected to the barbarism of the law he’s enacting. Indeed, the vast majority of Kemp’s colleagues supporting the bill are also cisgender men for whom this decision will never have personal impact. #meritocracy
HB 481 will make it illegal for pregnancies to be terminated after a foetal heartbeat is detected, which typically happens at around five or six weeks when the foetus is roughly the size of a pea. Most healthcare providers won’t terminate pregnancies before this time because it’s too difficult to determine if the pregnancy is intrauterine or ectopic, literally because the foetus is too small to be seen on an ultrasound.
To add to this, Georgia imposes a mandatory 24-48-hour waiting period between a first consultation and the actual procedure. And when you consider the fact that pregnancies are dated back to the start of a last menstrual period, most women won’t realise they’re pregnant until well beyond this time.
In basic terms, HB 481 is designed to make it impossible for anyone to end a pregnancy without facing severe criminal punishments. But because anti-choice legislation considers the welfare of actual born children outside of its responsibility, it’s also a bill focused solely on forced birth rather than the human rights that come after it.
But as VICE pointed out, HB 481 is more than just a heartbeat bill. It’s also a foetal personhood bill, with the law specifically stating “it shall be the policy of the State of Georgia to recognise unborn children as natural persons.”
And as Mark Joseph Stern wrote at Slate:
Once it takes effect, a woman who self-terminates will have, as a matter of law, killed a human -- thereby committing murder. The penalty for that crime in Georgia is life imprisonment or capital punishment.
Those who’ve endured miscarriages could be investigated and charged with murder. Miscarriages are a naturally occurring event that affects one in three pregnancies, but if the state decides it was ‘caused’ by something the mother did, she could be punished to the full extent of the law.
This is a bill that will primarily impact poor and marginalised women, while turning the morally correct and ethical provision of healthcare into a crime. It is not only monstrous, it also confirms that the largely patriarchal legislative bodies making these decisions have f**k all idea about what it ACTUALLY means to become pregnant, to remain pregnant and to become a goddamn mother.
This is something I think is often missing in the conversation about reproductive healthcare. It isn’t just about self-determination and the rights of people to decide when and how they become parents, although of course that’s central to the argument. It’s also about what is being physically demanded of people on whom the state wants to force pregnancy and childbirth. Men who drive legislation like this seem to think that pregnancy occurs externally, the foetus growing in a private flesh room that just happens to rest on the front of a woman.
READ MORE: A Woman Is Not A Container For A Man's Baby
In fact, pregnancy can be extremely dangerous. The maternal mortality rate in the United States doubled between 2000 and 2014, with black women, Native American women and Alaskan Native women three times more likely to die than white women. While the vast majority may survive, it is likely they’ll do so with some form of damage to their pelvic floor. One in three women experience incontinence after birth, and around half of those who’ve given birth vaginally will suffer a pelvic prolapse after menopause, and the risk of this increases with each birth.
Financially, women suffer after having children with a projected lifetime wages loss of between $49,000 for “low-skilled women” and $230,000 for “high-skilled women”. You’ll be shocked, I’m sure, to learn that men’s wages suffer no loss after children. Maternal mental health is a huge problem, with perinatal anxiety and depression crucially misunderstood and supported by wider society.
Basically, forced birth legislation demands that women be incubators for the state with absolutely zero regard for their health and well-being, or the health and well-being for the foetuses they carry who will at some stage become viable, autonomous humans. As someone who’s had two abortions and went on to have a living, breathing child who would not be here if I had been forced to give birth at a different point in my life, all I can say is this -- f**k every last person who thinks they have the right to decide what any person of childbearing capacity does with their body and with their future.
The state of Georgia might be a long way from Australia, but there are more than a few people here in positions of power who would like to see similar laws instituted.
State legislation determines access to reproductive healthcare, and abortion is still listed on the criminal code in New South Wales. It was only decriminalised in Queensland in late 2018, and South Australia requires pregnant people to have the consent of two doctors to make their abortion ‘lawful’.
Maintaining our rights to access comprehensive reproductive healthcare requires constant vigilance, and it’s imperative that we are aware of that.