It Really Is Just About Misogyny
Anti-abortion laws are rendering women infertile and putting them in the ICU. The "pro-life" movement doesn't care.
Image via WikiCommons.
It’s difficult to take in just how horrific the past few weeks have been for women in America. Abortion rights supporters have long said that outlawing abortion would lead to a series of cruelties we’ve seen elsewhere: Women dying from unsafe procedures, rape victims forced to give birth, girls too young to safely carry a pregnancy legally compelled to be mothers.
It’s only been about a month since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and stripped the fundamental right to abortion from the American people. It’s been less than a year since Texas implemented SB 8, its broad ban on abortions just two weeks after a woman misses a period. And still, we’ve heard some of the most horrifying stories imaginable: A ten-year-old rape victim whose home state would have forced into childbearing, and then a right-wing frenzy when an Indiana doctor helped her end the pregnancy. A woman with a life-threatening ectopic pregnancy in Michigan who was sent home to wait it out and hope her fallopian tube didn’t explode. A woman miscarrying at 16 weeks in Louisiana who was denied swift and appropriate miscarriage management because, even though the the pregnancy was doomed, her fetus still had a heartbeat; instead of being given the abortion she asked for, which would have been no problem under the previous legal framework, she was forced to go through the agony of an hours-long delivery, which she spent in screaming agony and during which she hemorrhaged and lost nearly a liter of blood. The Texas woman who “developed complications, required surgery, lost multiple liters of blood and had to be put on a breathing machine.” The more than two dozen women in Texas whose miscarriages also weren’t treated because of embryonic or fetal heartbeats — while doctors, unable to interfere before a woman’s life was under acute threat, adhered to this new “wait and see” requirement, several of the women wound up hemorrhaging or being admitted to the intensive care unit; one woman’s uterus ruptured, and she had to undergo a hysterectomy.
None of this was unpredictable — indeed, abortion rights advocates predicted it. And abortion opponents could have written their legislation to allow for abortions when a pregnancy threatened a person’s health. Instead, they intentionally stripped out any exceptions for the health of the pregnant woman, and made the “to save the life of the pregnant woman” exception so narrow that a woman has to be in an acute life-threatening emergency before doctors can do anything.
Now, some of abortion opponents are claiming — falsely — that anti-abortion legislation does not in fact prevent the treatment of ectopic pregnancies or miscarriages. But those claims are sneaky ones: If a fertilized egg is given a right to life, you can’t remove it surgically or dissolve it with medication — two common and safe ways to treat an ectopic pregnancy — just because it has implanted outside of the uterus, unless the anti-abortion legislation giving rights to an egg says otherwise. There are ways, of course, to treat an ectopic pregnancy without directly removing or dissolving the fertilized egg: You can take out a woman’s whole fallopian tube, for one. Do that and you’ve just compromised her fertility with a more dangerous and invasive procedure, and yes the fertilized egg dies anyway, but it’s not a direct abortion — this is sometimes what abortion opponents mean when they say that you can treat an ectopic pregnancy even in an anti-abortion legal landscape.
Ditto miscarriage. Typically, when miscarriages are in progress, doctors assess whether they are likely to continue on their own, or whether intervention would either (1) speed the process up, and (2) avoid potentially serious, or even potentially deadly, health complications. The patient might have a choice: Let the miscarriage process naturally or get it over with; or, if the miscarriage is not processing naturally, she may need medical intervention. Anti-abortion laws, though, limit what kind of assistance health care workers can provide, at least as long as there is an embryonic or fetal heartbeat detectable, as is often the case even after a miscarriage is well underway. In that very common scenario, a doctor cannot prescribe drugs that help to cause uterine contractions to expel the embryo or fetus fully; doctors also cannot perform very simple surgical procedures to complete the miscarriage. Instead, they must treat the fetus as equally as important as the pregnant woman — or, in some cases, as more important. Which is how you get women who were begging their doctors for help instead essentially forced into the prolonged pain of labor and delivery of a fetus far too young to survive, or walking around for days with fetal body parts prolapsing into their vaginas.
I’m not trying to gross you out. But this is the reality of reproduction: It is bloody and messy and it is savage and animal, and it is infused with death as much as it is with life.