I’ve been thinking about reproductive rights of late. This is neither surprising, nor exclusive to me, given the full-scale attack on them in political arenas. One of these days, I’m going to stop being stunned by the ways in which women’s bodies are held to standards of scrutiny, and surveillance, and regulation that men’s bodies are not. I am. One of these days, my jaw will not drop when I hear about legislation like the fetal ultrasound bill. I’m not going to keep being astounded by inane arguments proliferating, most often among the extreme right, like that of the loosest cannon I’ve seen in a long time, Rick Santorum, who argued recently—and it’s hard to pick which of his inane “arguments” to highlight here because gosh, there are so many—that single mothers are “‘breeding’ criminals.” Hell, while I’m at it, I may even consider not being shocked when those laundry tags sewn into the waists and collars of clothing say , “Give it to your woman. It’s her job,” as in this case reported by NPR yesterday.
Who would have guessed in 1973, or in 1983, or 1993 for that matter, that the right for mothers to make decisions about how to best care for their families and themselves that was ensured by Roe v. Wade would actually be in danger. I still can’t grasp it even as I write it. I know there have been lots of discussions and concerns about this possibility that became particularly concentrated in the last decade, but honestly, I didn’t get pulled into those worries much because I could not fathom that my daughter and son would be living in a world where these rights were revoked. I just really couldn’t believe it. Wouldn’t allow myself to believe it. But fetal ultrasound bills couched in terms like “women’s right to know” are not only a veneer for the more insidious goals of shaming women and disempowering them in family care, they also completely dismiss a woman’s complex process that already has preceded the decision to end a pregnancy. I submit here that women seeking abortions are quite aware of what it is they are doing, intellectually and emotionally. By the time they arrive at the physician’s office for the procedure, they may have gotten to a comfortable place about it or they may be unsettled by the position they are in, but they haven’t not thought about it; they haven’t not gathered information already. I wonder why a man who is having a vasectomy isn’t required to watch videos of lovely children laughing and playing, of men holding babies they coo over, as a way of coercing him to not take control of his reproductive life. Goose and gander and all that.
I find quizzical that this concern for a “woman’s right to know” enters into public dialogue at the point of pregnancy, and at this point in pregnancy more particularly, while no such arguments about women’s rights to information and knowledge surface from politicos in discussions of other issues, like sex education, for example, or broader educational access. The “right to know” argument would be easier to buy if the people slinging the phrase in political arenas and marching behind it in their communities had any record whatsoever of commitment to women’s right to knowledge. But they do not.
Do those who support mandatory pre-abortion ultrasounds also expect that women who change their minds on the ultrasound table will then be given an equally clear picture of how little they will be supported in the raising of the child, either by those politicians or those marching communities? I’m not talking about baby clothes and diapers here, which help through about the first five minutes of motherhood. I’m talking about the two decades of support that a mother will need to bring a child to adulthood. Will they detail what those two decades will look like? Doesn’t she have a “right to know” this? Will they clarify that it won’t be long before both she and her child fade from the memories of those who coerced her into raising it? That she will be blamed for all manner of consequence for her child, consequence over which she has had no control—like the state of healthcare, education, and food justice—but over which those who coerced her and forgot her had full control? Will she be told that workplaces will likely treat her as anathema to their ideal employee profile and that her pay, sick leave, promotion opportunities, and retirement benefits will reflect that? Will they tell her that the ultrasound is actually not remotely designed to provide rational information but rather to stir surface-level emotional guilt that is hardly the foundation for good decision-making of any kind, much less that related to raising a child? No? Really? Gosh. Shocking.