The anger that’s pouring out against the Legislature over a new round of draconian anti-abortion rules has actually been building up for several years. Religious fundamentalists, let off the leash by the Texas GOP, have been placing provisions on the books to humiliate and harass women over reproductive choices with relatively little national attention.
Most Texans would favor a ban on late term abortions, but few voters realize what the state has already done to limit abortion rights earlier in a pregnancy. Those provisions are starting to impact Texas women who were otherwise unaware of them. Texas’ tragi-comically punitive abortion rules are beginning to spark a backlash that pro-life forces may come to regret.
The process of seeking an abortion begins with a woman facing the gauntlet of characters who hang out in front of abortion clinics. Any hope she had of retaining some sense of privacy in this unhappy moment goes out the window as these folks loiter around with their offers to “help.”
Sometimes protestors are thoughtful enough to display blood-soaked images from late-term abortions. Imagine for a moment you are about to have a malignant mole removed or perhaps undergo a root canal or a vasectomy. You’re uncomfortable and nervous, but steady. Before you enter the doctor’s office you are confronted by characters holding ten-foot blow-up color banners of rotten gums, infected scrotums, or runaway skin cancer. Wouldn’t that be helpful and informative?
The scene outside may be unsettling, but the real misery begins inside as the clinic is forced to undergo a state-mandated shaming ritual. Pregnancy is not just a way to have children. It is a highly effective means to chasten sexually wayward women. You may be a scared, college-bound valedictorian. You may be trying to leave an abusive husband. You may be a 38-year old married mother of three worried about the physical consequences of another pregnancy. Regardless, in the eyes of Texas, your situation is the fault of your desires. In a perfect world you would be redeemed through childbirth, as the scripture says.
Thanks to a few Godless Yankees on the Supreme Court the Texas Legislature cannot force you to give birth, but they are not going to miss their opportunity to express what they think of women like you. Texas Legislators in 2011 crafted an elaborate liturgy which all abortion providers in the state are forced to perform prior an abortion. The ritual has three steps, a sonogram, a waiting period, and a scripted reading.
Texas requires that a woman be shown a sonogram that accurately displays the developmental stage of the fetus. The technician must describe in detail each of the developmental characteristics of the fetus. The law does not merely mandate that the provider offer this service, the law requires the woman to experience it.
The sonogram must be performed either by the doctor who will perform the procedure or one of their technicians. A sonogram obtained elsewhere will not meet the requirement, thus compounding the unnecessary cost and inconvenience.
For the first ten weeks of pregnancy, this sonogram mandate can only be met by using a ten-inch wand inserted into the vagina. The pregnant woman is legally required to lean back and let the Texas Legislature demonstrate their concern for her in the most intimate way possible.
Victims of rape or incest, or those receiving an abortion because of a fetal medical condition do not have to hear the description of the fetus or listen to the heartbeat, but they still have to endure the procedure (Texas Health and Safety Code Section 171.0122(d)). Mull that over for a moment. In Texas, a pregnant rape victim who seeks an early-term abortion still has to experience the Texas Legislature’s loving, caring, entirely-for-her-benefit, plastic penetration.
The second component of the shaming ritual is the waiting period. Forcing a delay adds costs to the process by adding an unnecessary visit and an unnecessary procedure. It emphasizes to the woman how little the Legislature thinks about her decision-making capacity and the quality of this decision in particular. Finally, it forces her to repeat the perp-walk through the protestors outside the clinic.
But wait, there’s more.
The doctor must also read aloud a sort of semi-secular prayer, carrying the suitably condescending title: “A Woman’s Right to Know.” Women in Texas are blessed with a legislatively mandated right to know several pages worth of information, much of which is deliberately misleading.
Doctors are required to notify women of medical risks from abortion that exist only in the fevered minds of the religious fundamentalists in the Texas Legislature, including a line about breast cancer risk which has no scientific support. The doctor has to give the woman information about fetal pain which is medically false. Throughout this extended liturgy, the woman is described as aborting not a “fetus,” but an “unborn child.”
The woman is read a detailed description and expansive list of potential side effects of every medically sanctioned abortion procedure, not just the one she is undertaking. For good measure, this even includes a gruesome description of so-called “partial birth abortion” which is not performed in Texas and has been illegal for years under Federal law.
The state has taken a remarkably compassionate interest in “disclosing” the “medical risks” a woman faces from an abortion. Strangely though, they left out a few relevant details. For some reason, a “Woman’s Right to Know” does not include a right to be told that abortion is enormously less dangerous to her than delivering a full-term pregnancy. A woman is 14-times less likely to die from abortion complications than from childbirth. And, although the Post-Abortion Syndrome the state warns women about apparently doesn’t exist, post-partum depression is a fiercely real and occasionally lethal issue.
Want to hear about permanent damage from a full-term pregnancy? Ask your mother. Or, if she’s too proper to tell you, listen in while the ladies in your neighborhood Bunko group discuss theirs at length. Have a drink first. Then plan on having several more afterward. There is no drug or procedure that will remove the resulting scar tissue from your brain.
The new legislation passed by the Legislature will add fresh misery to the state’s sadistic pre-abortion hazing ritual by immediately closing down all but five of the state’s clinics. The remaining clinics face serious doubts about their ability to comply with technical requirements specifically tailored to shut them down. The Legislature is attempting an unstated comprehensive abortion ban.
Disciplining Texas women is tough, thankless work. How can Legislators be confident they are doing it right? Rick Perry summed it up nicely in a recent speech, “The louder they scream, the more we know we are getting something done.”