Others apparently have much more active imaginations than I do. The fine folks in South Dakota, for example, who passed a law requiring women seeking abortions to be informed "that the abortion will terminate the life of a whole, separate, unique, living human being." Or the seven judges on the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals who voted, in Planned Parenthood v. Rounds to lift a preliminary injunction that prevented the law from going into effect while the lawsuits challenging it were pending.
As Caitlin Borgmann at the Reproductive Rights Prof Blog points out, the argument that the majority put forth in support of lifting the injunction were not only marvels of twisted logic, they were strangely reminiscent of Anthony Kennedy's rationalizations in Gonzalez v. Carhart:
The law requires doctors to give women seeking abortions a written statement that tells them, among other things, "that the abortion will terminate the life of a whole, separate, unique, living human being."Assuming that women are complete, blithering idiots when it comes to pregnancy, and that after millions of years of viviparous reproduction they've somehow not cottoned onto the most basic fact about pregnancy -- that it produces new human beings if the fetus reaches viability -- seems to be the latest tactic for the forced-birth crowd.
The court admitted that this statement "certainly may be read to make a point in the debate about the ethics of abortion." You think?! Well... you think wrong, actually. The court admonished that the statement must be read in conjunction with a "limiting definition" found elsewhere in the statute. This definition specifies that “human being” means “an individual living member of the species of Homo sapiens . . . during [its] embryonic [or] fetal age.”
This, said the court, transforms what appears to be a moral lecture into nothing more than the imparting of scientific fact. Moreover, the court opined, "this biological information about the fetus is at least as relevant to the patient’s decision to have an abortion as the gestational age of the fetus." I fully agree! Just think of all those scores of women who have flocked to abortion clinics under the sad misimpression that they were carrying developing dolphins. The women of South Dakota can rest safely in the knowledge that, thanks to their wise legislators, they will at last understand the mystery of their pregnancy (but only if they decide to terminate it).
Not surprisingly, the court quoted at length a now-famous passage written by Justice Kennedy in Gonzales v. Carhart, in which the Supreme Court upheld the federal "Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act." (As I wrote after Carhart was issued, "it is almost as if this passage were meant instead to go in an opinion upholding a biased information requirement like the South Dakota law currently under consideration by the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals.") In it, Justice Kennedy described abortion as entailing "a difficult and painful moral decision" that some women would "regret." He warned that "[s]evere depression and loss of esteem can follow," although he admitted that "we find reliable data to measure the phenomenon." That passage seemed to make sense only as a blatant signal to the Eighth Circuit, since it was so misplaced in an opinion that addressed how abortions may be performed, not what kinds of information must be given to women seeking abortions.
If only, the thinking seems to go, if only these women knew THE TROOOOTH, then they'd fart butterflies and poop rainbows and they'd love their babies soooooo much they'd just *have* to keep them! It's just that they don't KNOW! So we must TELL THEM that they're having babies and that they will have bad, bad feelings about aborting the sweet, sweet babies they're carrying (even if we don't actually have any, you know, evidence that's true, but the Supreme Court agrees that abortion is icky so it's okay to make sure women know that THEY'RE GOING TO FEEL REALLY, REALLY BAD ABOUT THIS ONE DAY!!!), and to make doubleextrasuper sure, we're going to force them to have ultrasounds! Because what better way to convince a woman you have her best interests at heart than to treat her like an idiot and shove a probe into her vagina?
It's quite clear that this is an issue of control -- meaning, that the people making these laws do not want women to have it. They are certainly uncomfortable with the idea that women exercise moral agency and have power to run their own lives in a way that other people -- their husbands, say -- would not approve of. So they create these elaborate fictions in which women are simple creatures, ignorant of the consequences of their actions ("consequences" being a term that nearly always pops up in conversations with forced-birthers who try to convince you that really, they have no wish to control women, it's all about the innocent babies, who are SO NOT a punishment for having sex) and heedless of the function of their reproductive organs. Why, it's a simple matter of educating them about the proper moral position -- and then they'd see the light! And if we have to lie to them, so much the better. It's for their own good, the poor dears.
Except that women already know that they will eventually find themselves with a baby at the end of a full-term pregnancy. That's why they get abortions in the first place: because they don't want to have a baby. Whether the reasons are financial, medical, educational or related to the dreaded convenience, they are quite aware that when they terminate a pregnancy, they are terminating a potential human being's existence. You'd think a bunch of well-educated judges might have worked that one out on their own.
H/T Shaker Suzy.