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The Birth Police—Rights of Pregnant Women and Their Families

| April 19, 2011

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In the current wave of state legislature proposals, the threat to a woman's reproductive rights goes far beyond whether or not she can choose abortion, as the founder of Trust Women PAC explains.

When we think of reproductive health and rights, we think of protestors, Roe v. Wade, the struggle for equality, difficult choices, bullets, bombs, bloodshed and abortion. For more than 35 years, the fight for a woman's right to control reproduction has centered on the singular event of abortion. But the realm of reproductive rights is much more than abortion, political talking points and sensationalized headlines. It is about the worth of a woman and the continuum of individual fertility and all aspects of pregnancy.

A case in point is the sheer volume of bills proposed across the country to police women’s pregnancies—more than 300 bills to restrict the decision making of pregnant women. Some of these bills have passed and will be signed into law.

In discussing legislating reproductive rights—whether contraception, birthing rights or abortion—the central question should be this: Does the proposal honor the ability and right of a woman to make her own decision? Unfortunately, far too many pieces of proposed legislation and established laws do not; it’s too often not even a part of our dialogue.

In many states, women can be arrested while in labor and forced into a c-section if a doctor believes she needs one. A woman can be denied the morning after pill or life saving coagulants if a pharmacist has a moral objection to her need for them. Proposed legislation in several states have attempted to grant personhood to human eggs, allow for the murder of abortion providers as “justifiable homicide” and even scrutinize the circumstances of each and every miscarriage, making grieving women the subject of criminal investigations.

The universal theme here is clear; there is no trust in women’s decision-making ability. The worth of a woman seems to disappear the second she becomes, or, even could potentially become, pregnant. We need to closely examine what it truly means to be “pro-life.”

Being “pro-life” should mean respecting and supporting the choices of living human beings, understanding that free will is essential to life. It means recognizing that women are able to make and understand complex decisions and that every child born should be wanted and loved. It means that mothers should be able to labor and deliver in a manner of their own choosing without fear of prosecution or incarceration. To be “pro-choice” is to be “pro-life” in the truest sense of the word because it means trusting in women and families.

No woman gets pregnant for the purpose of obtaining an abortion. No one who believes in choice wants to force a woman to seek an abortion. And yet, once she has made that decision, there are brave men and women across the country who are not only willing to help her and her family, they are committed to helping and trusting these women—even if it means risking their lives. 

Since 1993, eight abortion providers and staff members have been murdered. There have been 17 attempted murders, 153 assaults and three kidnappings, 41 bombings, 173 arsons, 91 attempted bombings and countless threats and incidents of vandalism and trespassing. Abortion isn’t black or white. There are shades of gray. And it is in those shades of gray that people are living their lives, making the most difficult and sometimes heartbreaking decisions. The missing element oftentimes is trust. Do we trust that a family will do what is best for them in their own situation?

What we don’t often realize is the impact that so-called “abortion” laws have on women and families who are simply trying to make the best decisions possible about each and every pregnancy. Across the country, women are being charged with murder after losing a child due to fetal demise or still birth, adding gross insult to the deepest of injuries. In Oklahoma, for example, Theresa Hernandez spent five years in jail for having a still birth. And in Maryland, although the charges were later dropped, Christy Lynn Freeman was held without bail after the still birth of her child. It is shocking to find out how many women trying to have a natural, unassisted birth, such as Laura Pemberton in Florida, have been required to deliver their babies via forced c-section under threat of prosecution or removal of their children by the state. This is happening in America. If you think that so called “abortion” laws don’t affect you, I’m betting none of the pregnant women arrested who were carrying their babies to term thought they would either.

The question that we have to answer collectively as a society is whether or not women are capable of making decisions about their pregnancies, free from retribution by federal and state governments.  Think about who can be trusted. Can you be trusted with these decisions? Can your sister? Your daughter? Your wife? Your mother?

As for myself, I’ll put my trust in women—the givers of life.

The views expressed in this commentary are those of the author alone and do not represent WMC. WMC is a 501(c)(3) organization and does not endorse candidates.

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