The Texas state legislature is debating a provision that wouldnt just outlaw abortion, but legally qualify it as homicide. The repercussions are chilling
Do pro-life advocates care about life or do they care about punishment? The latest abortion debate out of Texas gives a clear answer: the goal is to hurt women, not defend life.
The Texas state legislature is debating a provision that wouldnt just outlaw abortion, but legally qualify it as homicide. For context of how extreme that is, even in the United States before Roe v Wade made abortion broadly legal, the procedure was outlawed in most states but was not considered murder abortion was its own crime. Texas in 2019 wants to be even more barbaric than that, and turn women who end their pregnancies into felons, killers, and even death row inmates.
Thats right: Texas, supposedly so concerned with the right to life, continues to execute its own citizens. And some members of the state legislature want to execute women, too, if those women end their pregnancies.
I think its important to remember that if a drunk driver kills a pregnant woman, they get charged twice, said the state representative Tony Tinderholt, a Republican from Arlington, according to Fox 4 News. If you murder a pregnant woman, you get charged twice. So Im not specifically criminalizing women. What Im doing is equalizing the law.
This, incidentally, is exactly what pro-choice advocates warned about when they said that a law passed in the George W Bush era, the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, as well as the related state laws, could eventually be used to criminalize abortion. We were told we were being hysterical and not adequately defending pregnant women.
In the Trump era, abortion rights opponents have grown more emboldened, and seem to be moving from a longstanding strategy of chipping away at abortion rights to full-on assaults. This Texas law is just one example. Iowa passed a near-total ban on abortion with a law that would make it illegal for a woman to have an abortion six weeks after her last period before most women even realize theyre pregnant.
Louisiana and Mississippi passed similar laws, but drawing the line at 15 weeks. All of these laws are in violation of Roe v Wade, but it seems one goal is to take advantage of an increasingly conservative US supreme court and see if Roe could be overturned, or at least rendered meaningless.
The Texas legislators who want to jail or execute women who end pregnancies would say they are just being consistent: abortion is murder, and so women who have abortions should be treated like murderers. Its terrifying, but on some level, the honesty is refreshing. The more general pro-life line is that unscrupulous doctors prey on vulnerable women, none of whom, apparently, would seek out abortions without that wicked influence. This view conveniently disregards the fact that women all over the world go to great lengths to end unwanted pregnancies, and outlawing abortion doesnt have any effect on how often women actually get abortions it only affects how safe the procedures are (very safe where its legal; potentially very dangerous where its not).
So if outlawing abortion and even jailing women doesnt actually decrease abortion rates, what does? The answers are very obvious: access to affordable and reliable contraception; a generous social safety net so women can choose to have children they want; and a culture where sex isnt stigmatized, where women are equal, and where reproductive rights arent up for debate.
Unfortunately, the American pro-life movement stands against all of this.
Take the latest anti-abortion drama over Title X funds. These funds are supposed to pay for family planning tools for low-income women. But thanks to pro-life influence, money has been slashed from actual healthcare centers places that offer things like IUDs, the birth control pill, tubal ligations, and other reliable methods to prevent pregnancy and diverted to religious groups that do not offer real medical services.
Several religious anti-abortion organizations that dont offer contraception are currently up in arms because, despite great efforts, they didnt receive Title X family planning funds. Thats right: theyre mad because they wanted federal dollars that have been earmarked for contraception, despite not offering contraception.
But theres more: these organizations are additionally incensed because one pro-life group did receive more than $5m in Title X funds, a move which technically requires it to at least refer women to where they can find reliable family planning tools. This organization, Obria, says its a Christian group that wont give women birth control (although it will teach natural family planning, which is a fancier and slightly more involved version of the rhythm method, which itself is in practice a synonym for unplanned pregnancy). It further says it wont refer women for contraception. In either case, its getting $5m in federal tax dollars meant for contraception and it doesnt actually offer any. It may not even tell women where they can get it.
And that is exactly what pro-life groups say they want. We know that contraception prevents unwanted pregnancies; that in turn decreases the number of abortions. So why dont any national pro-life organizations push for contraception to be free and widely available? Why dont pro-life health centers that bill themselves as anti-abortion alternatives to Planned Parenthood provide birth control?
Because its not actually about decreasing abortion. If it were, these groups would support a slew of feminist proposals, from family planning to parental leave to generous social welfare benefits. Nor is it about life more generally. If it was, pro-life legislators in Texas wouldnt suggest executing women.
It is simply about misogyny and control. The ultimate goal is a system in which men are at the head of the family, women are subservient, sex is a male prerogative, and pregnancy a womans burden. Making it harder for women to plan their pregnancies, and criminalizing ending them, means women have far less control over the rest of our lives: the ability to go to school, to work, to marry who we want (or not marry at all), to walk down whatever path we choose.
When abortion is outlawed, women suffer. We are forced to have children we cannot support. We are injured and sometimes killed by clandestine procedures. We go to jail. And if some legislators in Texas had their way, we would be executed by the very people who claim to defend life.
Jill Filipovic is the author of the The H-Spot: The Feminist Pursuit of Happiness
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