The XX Factor

Oklahoma, Redux

The two new anti-abortion laws just passed in Oklahoma seem on the surface to contradict each other: One is ostensibly about giving a woman an overwhelming amount of information about fetal development in order to improve her decision-making abilities, and the other encourages doctors to withhold information from women about fetal defects in order to prevent women from making what lawmakers consider the wrong choice to abort. But what ties these two laws together is a strong belief among anti-choicers in the profound stupidity of women and the inability of a woman, by her very nature, to make good choices.

To my mind, the main purpose of the ultrasound law is to shame women who seek abortions and maximize their time spent having unpleasant objects shoved in their bodies. There’s a perverted whiff to it, one that makes you wonder if the next step from Oklahoma legislators will be requiring women who have abortions to post pictures of their spread legs and genitalia on the Internet. But the ostensible reason for the law, which is that women need “full information” before choosing abortion, implies an attitude about women that would make the sexists of the Mad Men era recoil in offense. The assumption behind ultrasound laws is that once a woman realizes that she’s pregnant and there’s a fetus in there, then she will naturally realize that she was silly to think abortions were so great and immediately embrace the joys of motherhood. In reality, of course, women are quite aware that they’re pregnant, and terminating that pregnancy is usually the point. In fact, abortion clinics often already do ultrasounds (albeit not the vaginal probe kinds) to determine age of gestation, and many patients often ask to look out of curiosity or to fully own their decision.

The law protecting doctors from lawsuits who lie to patients about fetal abnormalities embodies this same paternalistic belief that women are silly twits who can’t be expected to make a real decision for themselves. Carhart v. Gonzales reflected this belief. Shot through the anti-choice arguments and Kennedy’s decision itself was this belief that women simply can’t be trusted to make decisions, and have to have male authority figures do it for them. No doubt they believe that they’re doing nothing but protecting well-meaning, intelligent doctors from hysterical attacks from stupid women who give birth to children with birth defects. Perhaps they even believe these women will thank them later for taking the decison from them.