The latest in a long line of recently proposed anti-choice legislation in Michigan, HB 4799 takes yet another new approach in attacking abortion: the bill, if passed, would specifically prohibit coercing a woman into an abortion. In addition to prohibiting any threats of violence, HB 4799 would impose fines on husbands who threaten their wives with divorce unless they abort a pregnancy, or on parents who similarly threaten the withdrawal of financial support. Fines for attempting to coerce a woman into having an abortion would be up to $5000, or up to $10,000 if the woman is a minor or if the perpetrator of the coercion is the father of the fetus in question.
At first glance, it’s easy to read this as reasonable. No one, obviously, ever wants to see a woman pressured and coerced into an abortion she does not want. The catch, of course, is that anyone truly concerned with protecting women–not fetuses–from coercive forces would be equally interested in preventing women from being coerced into any reproductive choice, including the choice to continue a pregnancy against one’s will. As far as HB 4799 is concerned, threatening to divorce your wife unless she gets an abortion has a $10,000 price tag. Threatening to divorce her if she gets an abortion, however, is perfectly acceptable. In fact, the state itself is perfectly willing to participate in coercion against abortion; the same lawmakers behind this bill are ironically also the lawmakers trying to force Michigan women to view the most clear and accurate ultrasound images possible before obtaining an abortion.
And to take the hypocrisy even further, Michigan happens to be a state with strict parental notification laws for minors seeking abortion. So while it could soon become illegal for parents to attempt to pressure their daughters into having abortions, it is well within parents’ legal rights to force their daughters to continue an unwanted pregnancy. This type of tactic seems to be a hot trend right now in anti-choice legislation: nationwide, we’ve seen proposed laws claiming to provide women with greater ability to make informed decisions, to ensure increased safety of clinics, to prevent abortions due to the race or gender of the fetus. They are the kind of laws that sound almost inarguable, unless we look at them in a larger context. When one specific action or procedure is the subject of intense legal scrutiny, that scrutiny reflects a bias.
Where are the laws precisely dictating the kind of information a patient must be given before undergoing less-controversial medical procedures? Where are the fines for husbands who would threaten divorce in order to coerce their wives into specific sexual acts, or for the parents who would cut off all support for kids who come out of the closet? Coercion is bad, we can all agree. But we can’t allow this “we’re trying to protect women!” rhetoric to cloud our judgment. HB 4799 is not about protecting women from coercion, it’s about finding one more new path by which to vilify abortion. And no legislators who attempt to block our access to safe and legal abortion can ever claim to be acting in defense of women.