The Chaos is the Point
Inconsistent enforcement keeps people afraid. That's why it's a hallmark of authoritarianism.
Post-Roe America is somehow even worse than many feminists anticipated. We all knew there would be disastrous consequences: Women ill and injured; raped children forced into motherhood; pregnant people suffering unnecessarily; people desperate to end pregnancies going to extreme lengths and extraordinary means to do so; contraception and LGBT rights the next frontier of conservative attack.
Many of us just didn’t think it would happen quite this fast.
What’s particularly terrifying about this moment is the degree to which the anti-abortion movement has leaned into some of history’s ugliest and most dangerous authoritarian tactics. They have successfully created a culture of fear that results in doctors, healthcare workers, hospital administrators, lawyers, and others involved in maternity care providing substandard care for pregnant women, because they are understandably afraid of prosecution and total personal ruin. Anti-abortion prosecutors largely haven’t had to haul doctors up on criminal charges, because doctors are simply not performing abortions when they otherwise would, even where medically necessary. But doctors still live with a gun to their heads: In Texas, for example, any doctor who reports a life-saving abortion to the state has to worry that some abortion opponent will decide to file a lawsuit, and they will wind up in court having to prove to a Texas jury that their decision to end a person’s pregnancy was justified. If they lose, they stand to lose everything.
When you write laws that are overly-broad, institute a harsh enforcement mechanism, enforce those laws inconsistently, and empower a vast network of civilian snitches and spies, you create a climate of paranoia and fear. You don’t need consistent enforcement, because people police themselves — and because the law is vague and the stakes so high, they over-police.
This is a hallmark of authoritarian regimes. It is intentional. The anti-abortion movement is using it because they are pathetic little authoritarians, and because authoritarianism works to keep people in line.
The End of the “Life” Exception
One upside of a more-connected world and a more diverse media economy is that more of these stories of “pro-life” damage and destruction are being told. What we’re hearing is just a few drops in a vast ocean of suffering, but at least we are hearing from brave women and doctors who are willing to speak out and tell us about the women put in the ICU, put on breathing machines, forced to wait until they had a severe infection with retch-inducing discharge before they could get medical care; we are hearing about the child who was raped by an adult she thought she could trust, only to be used and abused by other adults who also wanted total say over her body.
And now, we are hearing the anti-abortion defense: The claim that all of these providers, and all of the lawyers and ethicists and hospital administrators they are consulting, are wrong about the merits of the law; that the problem lies not with vague, misogynist laws penned by men who know nothing of reproductive medicine, but rather with abortion rights advocates who have muddied the waters. This really is the anti-abortion line: That all of the people suffering because of “pro-life” laws are only suffering because pro-choicers have confused things, and not because of any problem with the laws themselves.