On Monday, the Oklahoma House of Representatives passed a resolution declaring that abortion is the “murder of unborn children” and “directing every public official in Oklahoma to exercise their authority” to stop it. The resolution accuses the U.S. Supreme Court of having “overstepped its authority and jurisdiction” by issuing decisions in Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey and calls for the Oklahoma Supreme Court to stop interfering with state-passed abortion legislation. It also reminds sheriffs, district attorneys, and judges that abortion is already a criminal offense under two currently unenforceable state laws and claims that “God’s law” also prohibits abortion.
Practically, the resolution doesn’t mean anything. It’s not a bill and has no legal implications; it didn’t even get any floor debate. But its passage establishes a nice statement of purpose for a legislative body that has proposed some of the country’s most extreme punishments for abortion in recent months. Earlier this year, Republican Rep. Justin Humphrey made national news for proposing a bill that would require abortion-seeking women to get written permission from the “father of the fetus” before terminating her pregnancy. His justification for the bill was, let’s say, illuminating. “I understand that they feel like that is their body,” he said of pregnant women. “I feel like it is a separate—what I call them is, is you’re a ‘host.’ And you know when you enter into a relationship you’re going to be that host and so, you know, if you pre-know that then take all precautions and don’t get pregnant.”
Some recent comparisons of current abortion-rights legislation to The Handmaid’s Tale may seem hyperbolic, but Humphrey’s “women are fetus-hosts, and men must control them” bill comes the closest to deserving its own dystopian Hulu treatment.
Another instructive example of where Oklahoma’s Republicans are at these days was state Sen. Joseph Silk’s recent proposal to charge all abortion providers with first-degree murder. “Just like if you killed a 1-year-old child, it’s murder. It’s first-degree murder. It should be the same as unborn child, as well,” he said in the bill’s defense. He said it again, in clearer terms: “A 4-week-old fetus in the womb is no different than a 1-year-old child. … It’s just the intentional premeditated murder of a human being.”
Any person with an elementary grasp of logic can see that a 4-week-old fetus is extremely different from a 1-year-old child. The former cannot think, feel, or survive in the world. It has never met its parents or even developed the capacity to “meet” anything. It has no brain, heart, bones, or any organs at all. It’s technically not even a fetus yet, but a poppy seed–sized embryo. The pregnant woman in whom it exists is very likely to not even know it’s there. To insist that a miniscule clump of tissue is of equivalent substance and value to a child who has been born, nurtured, and loved is to gravely insult any parent and her actual children.
Still, the mainstream anti-abortion movement is hell bent on equating embryos with children and abortion with premeditated murder, as if the two actions cause equal harm. Proponents of this ideology would have moderates believe that their arguments are made in good faith, that any moral person must at least respect their belief that fetuses are the same as children, even if she disagrees with it. But it’s not a good-faith argument—it’s a cynical and manipulative one. Fetuses are not the same as babies, and the consequences of abortion—on the fetus, the pregnant woman, and the community—are not the same as the consequences of murder. Pretending that they are gives anti-abortion activists the power to shame and stigmatize a woman for a personal choice she shouldn’t have to justify to anyone: not any man she slept with, not her representatives in the state legislature, and certainly not grown adults who make-believe that terminating a pregnancy is the same thing as killing a living, breathing child.
Silk’s proposed legislation was inspired in part by an anti-abortion petition organized by the Abolitionist Society of Norman, a chapter of the national Abolish Human Abortion organization. AHA is pushing other similar laws, including a Florida ballot initiative, elsewhere in the country, trying to make abortion punishable as first-degree murder. The organization wants to get lawmakers to pass laws that may shock more moderate observers but accurately represent the logical endpoint of arguments made by the anti-abortion mainstream. These groups often claim to want to imprison doctors who perform abortions, not abortion-seeking women, who they characterize as victims. But an Oklahoma state law that’s currently moot under Roe already states that women should serve up to a year in jail or pay up to a $1,000 fine if they even try to get abortion care. There is no way to call abortion murder without calling abortion-seeking women murderers. An ideology that rests on the former will beget punishments informed by the latter.