If you've been keeping up with American politics at all in the last few weeks, then you know that reproductive freedom is under attack. Since Roe v. Wade set the legal precedence protecting the right to abortion, most people have had at least some access to abortion within their states, but conservative lawmakers are making aggressive moves to change that.
Nine different state legislatures have approved severe abortion restrictions, including Utah, Arkansas, Kentucky, Georgia, Ohio, Mississippi, Alabama, Missouri, and Louisiana. All but one of these states is led by a Republican governor and conservative legislature. Louisiana's Democratic governor just signed into law their new, similarly strict abortion ban and is already facing heavy criticism from the DNC. Most of these bills outlaw any abortion performed after six to eight weeks with few exceptions for rape, incest, fetal non-viability, or maternal endangerment. Alabama, most notably, offers virtually no exceptions and has the strictest punishments (such as life imprisonment). Though none of these bans have been enacted yet, "all are expected to have lengthy court battles," according to K.K. Rebecca Lai of the New York Times. These new restrictions, in conjunction with a conservative-leaning supreme court, suggest that the constitutional right established in Roe v. Wade may soon be challenged. The stakes are high, to say the least.
Based on the monumental legal ramifications, the people enacting these abortion restrictions clearly have an end-goal. But do they fully understand the laws they are enacting? For one thing, most of the lawmakers approving these restrictions are men. For example, in Alabama all twenty-five of the "yea" votes came from white men, and the only four women in the Alabama House did not vote for the bill (three nay's and one pass). According to MSNBC, based on research by the Center for American Women and American Politics at Rutgers University, the "states passing the most restrictive laws have the lowest rates of women represented in the state's legislatures."
Not only will these men never experience being pregnant (nor any of the ramifications thereafter), many of them don't even seem to understand the underlying biological principles of pregnancy, abortion or women's bodies in general. For example, the wildly popular phrase "fetal heartbeat bill," refers to bills that prohibit abortions as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, supposedly because that is when a "fetal heartbeat" can be detected. At best this is a factual inaccuracy, at worst it is an outright lie. By six weeks, the bundle of cells growing in a uterus isn't even a fetus yet. It is still considered an embryo until eight weeks of development. Furthermore, that so-called "heartbeat" is actually mere "cardiac activity." At that stage in development an actual, beating heart has yet to fully form, in reality it is just "a bit of motion in the thickened side of an embryo's miniscule yolk sac."
Disturbingly, it is not just the politicians who are repeating this false phrase, pro-life groups have also latched onto this inaccurate title as a way to play on people's emotions and better rouse support for their cause.
The power of rhetoric is a sharp tool in the fight for reproductive rights and utilizing the word "heartbeat" is just one arrow in the conservative quiver. While some of these inaccuracies attempt to humanize embryos, others aim to demonize abortion itself. Donald Trump has described late-term abortions as babies being "ripped" out of their mothers and has even compared them to "executions." These may seem like mere exaggerations, but they are simply wrong. And language like this is a way to get people to believe in things without first finding out the facts. Something that many politicians have apparently neglected to do, as well.
Beyond the biology of women's bodies, some politicians don't even understand the logic behind their own bills. For example, when questioned about exceptions for incest victims, former Sen. Chambliss of Georgia responded that yes, there would be exceptions but only "until she knows she's pregnant." And unless he is knowingly recommending that women regularly start getting pre-pregnancy, preventative abortions this man genuinely does not understand how pregnancy, abortions or logic work. Yet Chambliss seems unconcerned by his lack of knowledge, simply describing the process as needing "some time for all the chromosomes and all that." He did however remember to emphasize that the "burden of proof would be on the prosecution." So, someone's going to deal with it, but that isn't his problem.
The falsities that these people are spreading are beginning to stretch beyond the abortion bans, to touch upon every level of the procedure itself. In Ohio, Rep. John Becker introduced a bill that would limit insurance coverage for abortion bans with exceptions for emergency situations to save the woman's life or in the case of an ectopic pregnancy. First and foremost, why ectopic pregnancy is even entering into the abortion debate is beyond me. Ectopic pregnancies occur in one of every fifty pregnancies and can cause intense pain, bleeding and even death when treated improperly; they occur when a fertilized egg is implanted in the fallopian tube. According to Rep. Becker, the bill allows for a procedure that "is intended to reimplant the fertilized ovum into the pregnant woman's uterus," but only after a woman waits until the ectopic pregnancy becomes life-threatening, and in some cases that point may already be too late.
Beyond the fact that the waiting period policy is already a serious danger to women, Becker's assertion that doctors would be able to "re-implant" the ovum is "pure science fiction." That procedure does not, and has never, existed in the history of medical science. The United States already has the "worst rate of maternal deaths in the developed world," and pseudo-science like this only stands to make that worse.
The overly generalized, slanderous and flat-out incorrect information that these politicians are spreading is dangerous in more ways than one. Primarily, these are the people that create the laws that govern women's bodies, whether we like it or not. And their lies are allowing them to make choices that will ruin lives and put women across the country in grave danger. Additionally this misinformation is trickling down to these politicians' supporters. According to a recent poll by Morning Consult, 33% of people actually support the new harsh abortion restrictions. Although it is unclear whether these people know the basic facts of female biology or support the aforementioned politicians, it is safe to say there might be some crossover there.
For actual information regarding abortion and women's health, Planned Parenthood has a massive amount of easy-to-access explanations of all subjects regarding mental, physical and sexual female health. The lies that are being spread by politicians and pro-life groups alike need to be corrected. Abortion is a safe, usually non-invasive procedure that can protect women's lives and freedom. In fact, when performed correctly, abortion is even safer than giving birth in the US. Yet despite this, misinformation continues to spread. We must keep fighting back and sharing the truth to work towards dismantling these laws before they go into effect. In the meantime, the fact is that the future of the right to choose is growing evermore perilous.
WRITTEN BYEmily Jane Hutton