It's always a little strange to pick up a newspaper and find that 163 people have been discussing just what to do about my uterus. But that is what the members of the Missouri House of Representatives were doing last week.
An abortion-related bill was passed by a vote of 115-41 (7 abstained), much of the legislation relating to the myriad things a physician would have to tell the Missourian uterus-owner in question before an abortion takes place. Though this pedagogy is ostensibly done in the name of "informed consent," the reality is that most of the requisite “informing” (e.g. about any distinguishable physical characteristics Little Johnny Fetus might have) is part of an overwrought scheme to guilt-trip and vilify the woman until she decides not to have the procedure.
Unsurprisingly, the House is trying to keep everyone's attention on another part of the bill that seems much more noble in purpose. The headline referencing the bill under the "House News" heading on their Web site reads, "House Gives First-Round Approval to Bill Criminalizing Coerced Abortions." Underneath is a vague mention to the manipulative "informed consent" portions of the bill that make up more than half the near-4,000 word count of the document.
The great irony of this bill is that the portion relating to coerced abortion contains this clause: "All information shall be presented in an objective, unbiased manner designed to convey only accurate scientific and medical information." Unbiased, they say.
Meanwhile, the bill also stipulates that a physician give any woman who wants an abortion either written or visual materials that "prominently display" this statement: "It is the public policy of the state of Missouri that the life of each human being begins at conception, and that unborn children have protectable interests in life, health, and well-being." So while representatives are outlawing coerced abortion, they're essentially mandating that the physician try to coerce the woman into giving birth — and hardly in a scientific manner.
Scientists rarely use the emotionally loaded term "unborn child" instead of "fetus." And last time I checked, there was no absolute "medical" consensus on when life starts. It's absurd that a state can have made a public policy about such a philosophical question. (Has Missouri based its environmental policy on decisions about whether a tree makes a sound if it falls in a forest when no one is around?) And it's downright hypocritical to demand unbiased behavior in one portion of an abortion bill and then force medical professionals to harass patients with entirely subjective material in another.
There is also the question of privacy to consider. The protection of privacy was the linchpin in Roe v. Wade, after being established as constitutionally protected in the Supreme Court case of Griswold v. Connecticut in 1965. In the latter case, the court ruled against Connecticut legislators who were attempting to outlaw the use or supply of contraception for anyone, husbands and wives included, and upheld a couple’s autonomy in the “sacred precincts” of the bedroom.
In Roe v. Wade, those “sacred precincts” were extended to include a person’s insides. But somehow, though women are exercising a legal right when they decide whether to have an abortion, the Missouri representatives backing this bill are trying to deny women the same autonomy in that decision-making process. The state legislature is publicly discussing and deciding exactly how the "private" consultation between a woman and doctor will go.
The decision in Roe v. Wade also makes stipulations about when states can regulate abortions. In summarizing that case on its Web site, the anti-abortion Missouri Right to Life coalition is forced to plainly come to it: “Abortion cannot be regulated in any way which does not enhance a woman's health.”
Certainly outlawing "coerced" abortion is a healthy practice (though concentrating on that portion of the bill is to give great limelight to a relatively rare and dramatic occurrence). The parts of the bill which mandate that a woman is told about medical risks associated with an abortion also satisfy this requirement.
But how does hearing Missouri's philosophical musings on the birth of the human soul enhance a woman's health? How does watching the bill's requisite video of the development of a fetus from conception to birth (presumably with a mawkish scene of familial dedication at the end) make a woman healthier?
In fact, blood pressures (certainly including mine) across the state might significantly decrease if those 115 legislators would put a hold on their hypocrisy and respect women's right to make a private decision instead of hounding them with bully tactics.
Katy Steinmetz is a columnist and reporter for the Missourian. She moved to Columbia after spending two years teaching in Winchester, England, and one year in Edinburgh, Scotland. She has freelanced for a variety of publications, including 417 Magazine in Springfield, Mo., and the Guardian in London. Katy plans to complete her MU master's degree in 2010.