*Disclaimer: this post contains a good deal of profanity and some e-shouting.
A year ago this month, talk show host and political commentator Jon Stewart referred to Arizona as a “meth lab of democracy” in the wake of our state legislature’s passage of three preposterous bills: the “birther bill,” which requires that presidential candidates provide their birth certificates to the State of Arizona in order to get on the ballot; the infamous SB1070, which makes it a statutory crime to be in the state illegally (even though immigration is under federal jurisdiction); and a bill allowing gun owners to carry concealed weapons without a permit. I mean…really. I was angry then, but I’m even angrier now.
Sadly, things haven’t gotten any better with this legislative session; in fact, we are hip deep in a cesspool of ignorance. Over the past few weeks, the legislature and the governor have passed several laws that are not only designed to restrict a woman’s access to abortion services but also to convince the rest of the country that those of us who live and vote in Arizona are blithering idiots who don’t understand how the world works. Let me explain.
First, the legislature passed and Governor Brewer signed a bill that makes it a crime for doctors to provide abortions if the mother’s decision is based on the sex or race of the fetus. Which is preposterous on any number of levels. First of all, according to many legal experts, the law might be unconstitutional because requiring women to go into detailed descriptions for – and a defense of – their reasons for choosing an abortion could be considered an undue burden. Secondly, there is no evidence to support the idea that women choose abortions based on the sex or race of a fetus. Basically, this was a law passed to create an issue THAT DOESN’T ALREADY EXIST in order to give a bunch of conservative legislators a chance to reaffirm to their constituencies just how anti-choice they really are. Good use of time and money, folks. Moving on.
Our state, in its infinite wisdom, then passed a bill that does two things. Firstly, it prohibits doctors from providing medical abortions through “telemedicine,” where a doctor appears on a video screen while a registered nurse or nurse practitioner at a licensed clinic gives a supervised does of FDA-approved medication. This might not seem so unreasonable until you consider the reality that we live in a state that has incredibly rural areas where underprivileged women only have access to clinics, not doctors, and without the telemedicine option will not be able to receive safe, legal abortions. This is just a de facto way of making abortion illegal to poor rural women and to a large percentage of the Native American population. Oh, sexist AND racist, a twofer, way to go.
Secondly, the bill “guarantees every woman considering an abortion is provided with an ultrasound, sees the results and hears the heartbeat, if audible.” Basically, this bill legalizes the emotional manipulation of women on what, for some, is already the most traumatic day of their lives. It assumes that women don’t realize just what abortion means and how it can affect them; it forces them to undergo what will undoubtedly be a profoundly distressing experience. To start with, this assumes that women have not thought through their decision to abort, that women who make this choice are somehow doing so from a place of ignorance and not a place of deep reflection after and already heartbreaking decision-making process. As though these girls and women show up at the clinic getting ready to have a great day, asking friends to take a picture of them outside the doors of the facility so they can post them on Facebook and show everyone how they spent their Saturday. As though this kind of forced “reality check” (their words, not mine) will make a woman truly understand the weight of her choices and consider her decision in a way she hasn’t before. I call bullshit! This isn’t ever an easy decision and always involves great reflection and soul-searching and for the vast, vast majority of people is not taken lightly. How dare you assume that because I or any other woman is having an abortion we are ignorant morons who haven’t deliberated, and debated, and agonized over our decisions? By the time a woman has made this choice – a choice which the United States Supreme Court assures me is still legal, dammit – she’s already gone through a whole host of variables in her head, considered her future, considered her family, considered her future family, cried, and agonized. It’s not like picking a breakfast cereal and we don’t treat it as such, you idiots.
Additionally, I would like to pre-empt the anti-choice folks out there who will surely say: “well, if hearing the heartbeat is so devastating, then maybe a woman should realize that this is a life and not have an abortion,” and so on and so forth. Here are some statistics: a fetus’ heartbeat can sometimes be heard as early as 6 or 7 weeks. That is way before we even get to the debate threshold about fetal sensation (commonly assumed to occur at 20 weeks), and MONTHS BEFORE THE FETUS IS VIABLE OUTSIDE OF A WOMAN’S BODY. I’m sorry. If the only way this collection of cells can exist is by utilizing all of my bodily functions to multiply and divide then it is part of MY body, NOT yours, and I – and all the other women out there – get to choose what the hell happens to it. Keep your goddamn hands off my body and I’ll pretend that you’re not a bunch of sexist, racist assholes with a political agenda that has nothing to do with the real sensitivities and sensibilities of this decision.
Now, we come to the third part of our Ignorance Trifecta, the bill that is currently sitting on Jan Brewer’s desk. This bill also strikes at two areas: it will prohibit receipt of tax credits for money donated to any (federally recognized, people!) non-profit that “provides, promotes, pays for or gives referrals for abortions,” and it will also ban state schools from using state monies OR tuition OR fees to train students to perform abortions.
Oh. My. God.
I’m not even going to tackle the absurdity of a state essentially invalidating a non-profit’s federally recognized tax status in an economic end-run around federal abortion laws. I can’t with that right now. I’m going to just talk about the second part of the bill and how incredibly stupid it is. We are telling the state medical schools that they can’t train their students in how to perform abortions – a procedure that is at times medically necessary to preserve the life of a mother and sometimes even her future reproductive health. Basically, in Arizona, it’s about to be illegal to train doctors to become doctors. Are you fucking kidding me?
According to Steven Goldschmid, dean of the University of Arizona College of Medicine in Tucson (and a doctor himself), “If enacted, this proposed legislation will certainly jeopardize the accreditation of our obstetrics-gynecology residency program.” So you’re telling me that the elected political leadership of this state is willing to risk the prestigious accreditation of part of it’s medical college – and presumably risk losing the 200 students currently enrolled, students whose tuition helps to perpetuate the University’s existence and helps to feed state coffers – in a push to not just make abortions illegal but to restrict doctors from learning about procedures that could save a woman’s life. That’s what you’re saying. That’s what you’re doing. Who are you people? What gives you the right, on your high horses in Phoenix, to determine any of this, much less what medical students should be taught as part of their training to become doctors? For all of the anti-choice movement’s talk about the importance of life, they seem to not really care, since they’re willing to let thousands of Arizona trained doctors run around with holes in their education that could directly lead to the death of women since those doctors were never instructed in techniques that would be used to save their lives. This is criminal stupidity and bootstrap aggrandizing at its worst. People will die as a result of this legislation. I guess there’s nothing left to say but: “congratulations.”
And why the congratulations? Because let’s be honest: the right-wing is winning, and when it comes to issues like abortion, it’s all our fault. The left in this country is really great at starting a movement, like ones about women’s rights and access to choice, and then letting them go once we assume that the momentum of what we believe to be right will carry us on a forward path. But that simply isn’t true. We’ve seen, time and time again, that the other side is tenacious and has no plans to back down, and that reality has led to states throughout America – not just in Arizona, but in places like Indiana, South Dakota, Florida, Mississippi – restricting women’s access to their federally guaranteed right to choose. This is a battle we’re losing and we’re letting it happen. Why are we not out in the streets protesting? Why are we not shutting down the government in Phoenix? Why am I just sitting here typing this blog post and yelling and shouting but not agitating for change beyond this digital forum? Why are you just sitting there reading it? What has happened to our activist spirit, our desire for change, our feminist (I did it, I said the dirty word) roots, our desire to fight the fights that our collective mothers fought when they strove for equality and safety and the right to own their own bodies and their own lives? What the hell has become of us, and at this rate, where the hell are we going to end up?
In some ways, the worst part of all of these bills is how they infantilize women, degrade our intelligence, and invalidate the choices we make. If only we could see ultrasound pictures, we’d grow to understand the process of conception, gestation, and birth. If only you remind us that practicing eugenics is immoral, we’d stop aborting fetuses based on race and gender. If only we were smarter, more informed, better educated, we would see the light and stop believing that our bodies and our destinies are our own. This is the debate that is out there. This is what the other side is saying with their bills and their new laws and their slippery slope toward criminalizing a woman’s right to choose. They’re telling us we’re stupid. They’re telling us we don’t understand. They’re telling us we can’t make choices on our own. Our country is again at a philosophical crossroads about the validity and equality of women. We’ve been here before and we’ll be here again but this is a crisis point and we have to acknowledge that reality and do what we can to turn back the tide of sexism and gender bias that licks at our doorstep, threatening to overwhelm our political and social structure. The time to speak has come. The time to act is now.