Yesterday we had a big national discussion about the choices women make in their lives. Ann Romney at one point said right-out, “We need to respect the choices that women make.”
At the end of yesterday, Arizona’s female Governor, Jan Brewer, signed a bill banning abortions after 18 weeks and creating a new definition of “pregnant.”
Despite its name, critics derided the Women’s Health and Safety Act that Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed into law today as cruel, dangerous, and hostile to women—likely to deter many Arizona women from seeking an abortion, and to distress those who nonetheless go through with one.
Life starts earliest in Arizona, which now defines gestational age as beginning on the first day of a woman’s last period, rather than at fertilization. In practice, that means the state has banned abortions after about 18 weeks (20 weeks from the last menstruation) except in the case of medical emergencies. While that provision has been much discussed, abortions after that point account for only about 1 percent of the procedures currently performed.
The stipulation likely to be most widely felt is what experts are calling an effective shutdown of medication abortions. These nonsurgical abortions are usually performed within the first nine weeks of pregnancy, and account for between 17 and 20 percent of all abortions, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive-rights advocacy group. While women often take the pills at clinics and in their homes, the bill now mandates that a medical provider must have hospital privileges within 30 miles of where the procedure takes place. Many times clinics or homes are not within 30 miles of hospitals, and the distance prevents providers from other cities or even states from caring for women, says Elizabeth Nash of the Guttmacher Institute. Another factor that could contribute to what Nash called a “shutdown” of medication abortions is that the law requires abortion pills to be administered using outdated protocols, confusing providers and obscuring proper use of the drugs.
There will be no sense of irony around this, that the national discussion around women’s choices came from the exact same party that promotes restricting women’s medical choices. Everyone will just keep having the stupid season discussion they were having.
Incidentally, the anti-abortion measures signed into law by Brewer yesterday include a mandatory ultrasound, a 24-hour waiting period, forced education in public schools around adoption and birth, forced advertising in abortion clinics about the dangers of “coercion,” parental notification and mandatory counseling. It’s the smorgasbord of abortion bills.
It’s the new definition of gestational age, where a woman can now be considered pregnant by the state of Arizona before ever having sex, that threw me. This completely upends the justification of a “fetal pain” bill, because it draws the line before the arbitrary point accepted by anti-choicers of when the fetus can feel pain. There’s no reason for this provision to be determined in this way except to just chip away at the law a little more. It’s almost like someone from an anti-choice group threw it out in a meeting, and everyone laughed, but then they figured, “let’s give it a shot anyway, and see what happens.”
But remember, “We need to respect the choices that women make.”