Unprecedented bill curtails women’s choice

April 12, 2012

In the latest development in the red-state onslaught against women’s reproductive rights, Arizona is on the verge of passing one of the most egregious anti-choice bills yet. Unprecedented in scope, the bill would ban all abortions after 20 weeks, and require women to receive an ultrasound 24 hours before an abortion. In keeping with the theme of other personhood bills springing up across the country, this bill seeks to undermine Roe v. Wade, which guarantees women the right to an abortion up until the point when the fetus is viable outside the womb. However, this bill goes to great lengths to undermine women’s choice, while shaming the women who attempt to exercise their reproductive rights.

Late-term abortion bans are based on the claim that fetuses at this developmental stage can feel pain. However, this bill goes farther than others of its ilk, pegging the moment of conception to the first day of the woman’s last period. Determining the actual moment of conception—largely accepted to be when the sperm and egg implant in the womb—is more difficult than such a definition of conception would imply. Since women can ovulate up to two weeks after the last day of their period, this bill starts the clock up to two weeks before conception occurs, effectively banning abortion after 18 weeks.

Banning all late-term abortions is a drastic attempt to impose right-wing values on Arizona women, and it disregards the realities of the situation. Only 1.5 percent of abortions occur after 20 weeks, and for the most part these are drastic situations, when the mother’s life is in danger or the fetus is found to have a life-threatening condition. Although the bill does include exceptions to protect a woman’s life, these exceptions do not extend to instances when the fetus would likely not survive birth. Furthermore, such an extreme ban would render most tests for the fetus’s viability moot, as most are inconclusive until this point. Given the rare circumstances under which women receive late-term abortions, the Arizona bill is nothing more than a moralizing attempt to impinge upon women’s choice, regardless of the emotional or physical consequences.

Although it remains unclear how the bill’s unusual and wildly inappropriate definition of conception could be deployed for future policies, reproductive rights advocates worry that this bill could be more restrictive than others of its kind. Besides the draconian policy implications, the crux of the personhood bill debate is about stigmatization and shame politics. All of the features of the legislation—from criminalizing late-term abortions to requiring emotionally manipulative ultrasounds—contribute to an environment that demeans female sexuality and stigmatizes even legal abortions. Overturning Roe v. Wade, the end goal of anti-choice legislators, would be extremely damaging. The proliferation of personhood bills like the one up for debate in Arizona create similar environments in their respective states, and all serve to curtail the control women have over their own bodies.

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This is wonderful news! I’m glad to hear that there are strides to protect the nascent life in the womb. It’s not a “choice,” it’s a child. I’m also very glad that this bill is strongly protecting women in these situations. Kudos to the AZ legislature!