A little over a month into 2013, and one thing is absolutely certain: Anti-choice legislators aren’t going to let the damage that their war on women did to their fellow conservative politicians’ electoral prospects slow them down from competing with each other to show who can concoct the most vile schemes to undermine women’s rights. Now Iowa Republicans are flexing their muscles, trying to show that they hate the ladies even more than the forced-transvaginal-ultrasound folks in Michigan, Texas, and Virginia, or the women-can’t-think-on-weekends-and-holidays nuts in South Dakota.
707.1 Murder defined.
1. A person who kills another person with malice aforethought either express or implied commits murder.
2. “Person”, when referring to the victim of a murder, means an individual human being, without regard to age of development, from the moment of conception, when a zygote is formed, until natural death.
Murder includes killing another person through any means that terminates the life of the other person including but not limited to the use of abortion-inducing drugs. For the purposes of this section, “abortion-inducing drug” means a medicine, drug, or any other substance prescribed or dispensed with the intent of terminating the clinically diagnosable pregnancy of a woman, with knowledge that the drug will with reasonable likelihood cause the termination of the pregnancy. “Abortion-inducing drug” includes the off-label use of drugs known to have abortion-inducing properties, which are prescribed specifically with the intent of causing an abortion, but does not include drugs that may be known to cause an abortion, but which are prescribed for other medical indications.
The point of this bill is, simply put, to throw women in jail for “murder” for deliberately ending pregnancies—and quite possibly for trying to prevent them, as many anti-choicers continue to insist, despite the evidence against them, that the pill and emergency contraception work by “killing” fertilized eggs. (They work by suppressing ovulation and preventing fertilization.) The language of this is quite expansive. They’re not only counting women who reach out to legal providers for abortion as “murderers,” but also women who go online and buy drugs for this purpose. The broadness of this suggests that they may even try to snag women for “murder” for taking common rue, a herbal medication women use to kick start their period (and potentially end an unwanted pregnancy) if they’re late.
This is a dramatic shift in the traditional anti-choice approach to discussing the issue of how to handle women who seek abortion. While I personally have no doubt that many to most anti-choicers fully intend and have always intended to get to a place where women are being jailed for abortion, the official stance of anti-choice legislators and activists is generally to deny believing that nearly a third of American women should go to jail for “murder.” Maintaining the illusion of disinterest in punishing women for abortion with jail is so important that after Rep. Cathrynn Brown of New Mexico was caught proposing jail for rape victims who get abortion, she rewrote the bill specifically to avoid the accusation.
Claiming they don’t believe that women who get abortions are murderers even while calling abortion “murder” has been a huge part of the anti-choice movement for years. (See discussions about it from 2006, 2007, and 2010, for instance. There’s also this fun video that makes the rounds periodically that demonstrates how inane this little dance really is.) This giant failure of logic stems from a couple of things, but mainly because it’s well-understood that anti-choicers don’t actually think abortion is murder, and just want to punish women for sex. And jail time for sex is just going to strike most people as inhumane in the extreme. So they’ve split the difference and said they intend to jail doctors but not women—a position, that while illogical in its rationale at least made them seem slightly less malevolent towards women.
So what’s changed that some anti-choicers, in Iowa at least, are coming out and not only admitting they want a third of women to go to jail for abortion, but are aggressively pushing for it? A huge chunk of it is the result of the overall shift rightward amongst conservatives in the past few years, a shift that is increasing extremism on many fronts, such as more overt racism and, as we’ve seen in recent weeks, an absolutist stance against gun control that resists even the most common sense measures.
But it’s probably also partially a reaction to the changing landscape of abortion. The growing popularity of medication abortion plus an abundance of illegal pharmacies selling all manner of drugs online and the increasing restrictions on legal abortion have created a situation where everyone believes—even though hard evidence is elusive—that more women are taking matters into their own hands when it comes to abortion. As Ada Calhoun of the New Republic explained:
Online, however, these drugs are readily available, often via suspicious-sounding sites that make claims like: “The Affordable Abortion Pill Will Safely, Quickly Terminate Your Undeveloped Fetus In The Privacy Of Your Home, Save You Time And Hundreds Of Dollars. It Is 100% Clinically Safe, Very Effective And The Most Affordable Abortion Pill You Will Get Your Hands On For Now!!!”
Determining how many American women have had home abortions is exceedingly difficult: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not track illegal abortions. There is no blood test for drugs like Cytotec, and so such an abortion is indistinguishable from a natural miscarriage, even to a doctor. However, the proliferation of online dispensers suggests a rising demand. There are thousands of websites selling Cytotec for as little as $45 to $75 (compared with $300 to $800 for a legal medicated abortion in a clinic). Some claim to offer the harder-to-come-by Mifeprex, but may in fact be peddling Cytotec, or aspirin, or nothing at all. (Possible sources for the drugs include Mexico, where Cytotec is available over the counter, or even the United States, since it’s also prescribed here as an ulcer medication.)
The traditional anti-choice stance of blaming the provider while pretending the patient is a mindless baby machine and not a choice-making person is harder to maintain in the face of women acting as their own providers. It’s common for anti-choicers to paint an image of an abortion patient as a woman who simply hasn’t thought about it—this also helps justify waiting periods to “think” it over—and who is a victim of greedy doctors and evil feminists who are somehow tricking women (who they clearly imagine are very, very stupid) into getting abortions. But even anti-choicers with the most active imaginations have to struggle with explaining how a woman can fire up a computer, search around for black market abortion-inducing drugs, and order them without being capable of making a decision and therefore being held accountable to the laws regarding that decision.
So this is where we’re at: Iowan anti-choicers admitting they want to throw women in jail for abortion. It’s an unpopular stance precisely because it lays bare the misogyny of the anti-choice movement. Instead of dithering around with more waiting periods and humiliating mandatory ultrasounds, I sort of hope more anti-choicers start demanding jail time for a third of American women. That sort of thing can offer clarity for people who had any doubt left that the anti-choice movement is, indeed, nothing but a war on women.