Musings on an Oklahoma Abortion Law Veto
This week, Governor Henry of Oklahoma vetoed a piece of abortion legislation; HB 2780, as the Governor’s office’s press release stated, “would have forced women to undergo an ultrasound and listen to a detailed description of it before they could obtain an abortion.”
I think this bill deserved to be vetoed, and had a high likelihood of being overturned in court, so I think it was correct that it would have resulted in costly legal battles for the state. However, I take issue with the explanation of one other primary rationale as listed in the press release (and expressed in the veto statement):
In his veto message, Gov. Henry reiterated his support for reasonable restrictions on abortion, but said HB 2780 had several flaws, including the lack of an exemption for rape and incest victims.
“By forcing the victims of such horrific acts to undergo an ultrasound and listen to a detailed description of the procedure after they have faced the unspeakable trauma of rape or incest, the state victimizes the victim for a second time. It would be unconscionable to subject rape and incest victims to such treatment,” said the governor.
Let’s think about the implication of that statement: it leaves room for the notion that women who consent to sex, should they get pregnant and seek abortions, somehow deserve to be forced to have an object inserted into their vaginas (regardless of medical need or consent) in order to obtain that legal procedure. Or, if they don’t “deserve” it, it doesn’t really matter, it’s no big deal. It would be “unconscionable” to subject immediate-past rape victims to such an act, but women who haven’t already suffered through rape, whose own experiences of sexual assault may be in the more distant past, who consented to sex, well, it’s the dildo cam for them!
I’ve said before that I don’t think abortion exceptions for rape and incest make any sense from a purely pro-life, “every life is sacred” position. If every life is sacred, it doesn’t matter how it arrived. Those exceptions do, however, make perfect sense from a position that pregnancy and childbirth is the proper punishment for sex. That position seems to go: “Make abortion harder to obtain for most women? Fine. Make abortion harder for women who have just been raped? Poor dears have suffered enough.” Women who dared consent to sex and accidentally got pregnant? Well, we can make sure they feel the consequences of their (perfectly human and exceedingly common) actions.
I’m sympathetic to the position that it’s unseemly to take a woman who is pregnant as a result of rape or incest, and force her to have something (transvaginal ultrasound, or a “dildo cam,” necessary to be of any use in early pregnancy when most abortions occur*) shoved in her vagina whether or not there’s a medical need, and force her to listen to a description thereof. It seems like an added violation that just isn’t necessary. Poor dears have suffered enough. My position, however, it that’s it’s unseemly, unethical, unnecessary, paternalistic, and just plain wrong to force any woman to undergo a medical procedure at the discretion of the state for the purposes of influencing her decision-making, superceding the judgment of the patient and provider together about consent and medical need. How about we just agree it’s not okay to force medical procedures/stuff in vagina on anyone, rape victim or not? What exactly does a woman become once she’s been forced to have something in her vagina and to listen to a description of that act, if not a kind of rape victim?
The governor himself seems to agree with that position, having gone on to say:
“HB 2780 represents an unconstitutional attempt by the Oklahoma Legislature to insert government into the private lives and decisions of its citizens. State policymakers should never mandate that a citizen be forced to undergo any medical procedure against his or her will, especially when such a procedure could cause physical or mental trauma. To do so amounts to an unconstitutional invasion of privacy,”
However, none of this needed to be couched in the rape/incest language for the appeasement of proponents of the measure. The violation represented by this proposal didn’t need to be the “finally” part – it was absolutely all that was necessary. Don’t get me wrong, I deeply appreciate that the Governor for vetoed the law. However, if we can’t agree and block legislation – and stand up to those who don’t agree – solely on the basis that forcing any woman to have an object shoved in her vagina for the purposes of furthering a political and/or religious agenda is wrong, wrong, wrong, we have a long way to go indeed.
Oklahoma readers, 87 of your state House members approved this bill (only 7 voted no); see who they are. Pro-Choice Oklahoma also has a reminder about a couple of other bills (incluing that awful data one) and is asking people to contact the Governor about a veto.
*Note: the bill doesn’t explicitly require the transvaginal approach, so I suppose technically a provider could do a transabdominal ultrasound and call the requirement met. It’s also possible that these legislators have no clue that early ultrasounds require an approach different from what you see in pregnancy on tv. In which case they probably should take the time to actually learn something about what they’re legislating.
[This post owes a debt to Aunt B. Soundtrack provided by the Daily Show Tabernacle Choir.]