On Tuesday night, eight people, including six Asian women, were killed in shootings at three Atlanta-area massage parlors. Police have charged a 21-year-old white man, Robert Aaron Long, with their murders. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that Long had bought a gun earlier in the day at a gun shop in Cherokee County, where one of the spas was located.
Georgia requires no waiting period between the purchase of a firearm and its transfer to the buyer. Unlike those in states with stricter gun regulations, lawmakers in Georgia trust that people who buy deadly weapons are responsible enough to decide to buy a gun and receive that gun on the very same day.
They do not have the same confidence in pregnant women. In Georgia, abortion-seeking patients are required to undergo counseling that, according to the Guttmacher Institute, “includes information designed to discourage the patient from having an abortion.” Then they must wait 24 hours before they can receive the procedure. Anti-abortion advocates argue that this kind of waiting period is an essential opt-out period for capricious women who’ve arrived at a decision about their reproductive lives with undue haste. In practice, in states that impose abortion waiting periods, it’s a costly and time-sucking burden for women who must spend extra time talking to a practitioner the day before their procedure (in states like Georgia that allow the counseling to be delivered by phone) or travel to a clinic twice—often from a great distance—and devote two days to medical care that could be delivered in less than one.
The comparison between laws governing firearm purchases and those restricting abortion access has been made many times, by many people, in many different ways. It’s an intuitive connection: Both sets of policies can include waiting periods, they both touch on arguments about “life,” and often the lawmakers who make passionate cases for abortion waiting periods are the same ones blocking similar restrictions on gun access. In order to maintain the fiction that abortion restrictions are not meant to criminalize or burden abortion-seeking women, those lawmakers claim that women need abortion waiting periods to protect them from future regret.
If one takes this patronizing argument at face value, one must also accept that gun buyers, too, are at risk of making impulsive decisions they might regret—hurting other people. But there is an important difference between these two categories of ostensibly regrettable decisions: Only one brings harm to others. One decision leads to the termination of one’s own pregnancy, and the other to the murder of breathing, life-living, outside-the-womb human beings.
There are few clearer statements of a society’s values than this: We place more trust in the self-knowledge and decision-making skills of a would-be mass murderer than we do in a pregnant woman. To put it another way, in Georgia, it is easier for a man to gain the capacity to maim and kill other people’s bodies than for a woman to obtain medical care for her own.
On Wednesday, Cherokee County Sheriff Frank Reynolds said that Long “gave no indicators that this was racially motivated.” Instead, law enforcement officials said, Long claims he is addicted to sex, and the spas were a “temptation he wanted to eliminate.” This attempt to disentangle race from sex and gender, and racism from misogyny, is wrongheaded and futile. The fact that Long targeted Asian-owned spas, and that the majority of his victims were Asian women, is no coincidence; the “temptation” he cites—and his decision to visit violence upon the particular people and places he blamed for it—didn’t come from nowhere. However Long explains himself, the devaluing and hypersexualization of Asian women and their labor are essential context for his crimes.
Here, too, abortion politics provide a useful comparison. Though anti-abortion laws predominantly affect women, and they are the bedrock of political movements that seek to impede women’s access to power, you cannot talk about the gendered impact of abortion restrictions without also talking about race. Wealthy white women will always be able to buy their way around abortion restrictions. Women of color, who face disproportionate barriers to finding the necessary time, transportation, and financial resources, bear the brunt of laws that make abortion care more costly, time-consuming, and harder to find in one’s community. Poor women and women of color are deliberately targeted by laws like the Hyde Amendment, which makes abortion care prohibitively expensive for women on Medicaid. Race, class, immigration status—these are not ancillary factors to the issue of abortion access. They are core to it.
This clarifies why Georgia lawmakers have thought it prudent to protect women from governing their own bodies with more vigor than they protect the rest of society from murderers with guns: Abortion patients are disproportionately Black and female, and gun owners are disproportionately white and male. Wisconsin Republican Sen. Ron Johnson reminded us of the benefit of the doubt granted to gun-toting white people this week, when he said he had no reason to fear the people who rallied at the Capitol on Jan. 6 because they were “people that love this country, that truly respect law enforcement.” On the other hand, he said, if “those were tens of thousands of Black Lives Matter and antifa protesters, I might have been a little concerned.” Georgia’s asymmetrical application of waiting periods is Johnson’s worldview made law. It suggests that a desire for an abortion is more suspect than a desire for a weapon with the power to kill, because a person who wants an abortion is less trustworthy, more capricious, and less deserving of self-determination than a person who wants a gun.
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