Over the past few weeks, something curious as been happening in the world of reproductive rights. First in Virginia, then in Oklahoma, then in Georgia, female senators have responded to anti-abortion bills by offering up amendments that would affect men’s reproductive health decisions, in a kind of political tit-for-tat.
It all started in January, when Virginia lawmakers introduced a bill that would force pregnant women to get an ultrasound and be afforded the “opportunity” to see it, and to hear the fetal heartbeat, before they could get an abortion. In response, state Senator Janet Howell (D- Fairfax) formally suggested that men should be required to get a rectal exam and a cardiac stress test before they could obtain medicine for erectile dysfunction.
A week later, Oklahoma state Senator Constance Johnson (D) followed suit. In response to a bill called the Personhood Act, which defines life as beginning at conception and thus assigns full protection of the law to zygotes, Johnson proposed that the only place men should be allowed to ejaculate is into vaginas, and that if their spunk lands anywhere else, ever, it should be considered “an action against an unborn child.”
And then last week, a bill called HB 954 was introduced to the Georgia general assembly. Under HB 954, the outer limit on abortion would be lowered from 24 weeks to 20 weeks, and a woman would only be able to get an abortion if her life was in danger or she was at risk for “substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function.”
To be clear about who can and can’t terminate their pregnancy, HB 954 specifically says that a woman would not be able to get an abortion if her health or mental health is threatened, or, notably, if carrying the pregnancy will likely make her commit suicide: “No abortion is authorized or shall be performed…[if] the pregnant woman will purposefully engage in conduct which she intends to result in her death.”
I find that particularly horrible, and so, apparently, does Rep. Yasmin Neal (D-Riverdale). In response to HB 954, she suggested an amendment that would ban men from getting vasectomies. “It is patently unfair,” she said in a statement, “that men can avoid unwanted fatherhood by presuming that their judgment over such matters is more valid than the judgment of the General Assembly, while women’s ability to decide is constantly up for debate throughout the United States.”
So, here’s the takeaway: first of all, there are some scary things happening out there in regards to women’s health. And second of all, introducing amendments that inject some gender equality into this conversation is becoming a trend — and that is fucking awesome.
Here’s why. First of all, when we talk about abortion, we get so caught up in the politics of it, as well as the philosophical questions it brings up (questions that would be better addressed in a house of worship or a college class than on a Senate floor, for the record), that we tend to lose sight of one important fact: abortion is a medical procedure.
In that sense, legislating against it is just as fucked up as, say, legislating against heart surgery. Or prostate cancer surgery. Or…vasectomies.
While that may seem obvious, the problem is that we’re so used to anti-choicers slowly eradicating our access to abortion that by now, it seems downright normal. So when the Howells and Johnsons and Neals of the world write amendments like these, it puts the idea of politicians interfering in people’s medical decisions in the context it always should be in: that of the utterly absurd. [tagbox tag="Reproductive Rights"]
Another reason that this trend is so awesome (to me, anyway) is that these amendments are reminiscent of whimsical bloggers’ ideas, but brought to life. I’m not saying that anyone else can take credit for what these three women have done, but it’s the kind of thing you see regularly pondered on feminist and/or progressive websites – “what if we did this to men?”
Well, it would be something like this. People would react with shock and awe, the story would go national, and it would generate all kinds of online response. Because it’s actually high time that someone fought back against anti-abortion laws in such a blunt and bold way. After all, the lovely folks who work daily towards reproductive freedom have already tried opposing these bills, reasoning with the people who write them, changing the public’s mind, protesting, rallying – and it hasn’t made the same impact as these amendments.
As Johnson told her fellow senators, “A lot of people thought that I was being facetious with my amendment in committee, and it was humorous and it has gotten international response, but I was serious as a heart attack. It wasn’t until I used the biological and scientific references to those functions that somebody heard it.”
Before we come to the end, here, I’d like to give a shout-out to the fact that these bills were downright funny. A mandatory rectal exam? No ejaculating except into a vagina? That is comedic gold. So not only are these ladies making a clear, coherent point about how unjust and immoral it is for politicians to step into women’s decisions about their health, they’re simultaneously proving that women can be funny. About abortion. It’s like “Bridesmaids 2″ up in here — two birds, one majestic stone.