It's not particularly light reading for a Friday, and for that I apologize. But given the high rates of sexual assault on women with disabilities, I just didn't feel that I could let the week pass without some comments on the new abortion laws introduced in the United States this week.
Let's Start With Virginia
Virginia governor Bob McDonnell signed a new abortion law stating that women undergo an ultrasound procedure before having an abortion. It does not have to be the transvaginal ultrasound that the bill originally proposed, which is extremely invasive and potentially retraumatizing for women who have been assaulted. But, in the name of having all the information possible to allow them to make an informed choice, some sort of ultrasound procedure is now mandatory.
On to Oklahoma
The Oklahoma Senate approved a bill this week that says that doctors can now inform women that they have the right to hear the heartbeat of the fetus before the abortion is performed.
Implications of the New Abortion Laws for Women with Disabilities
I can hear people asking what the problem is with new abortion laws that put in measures that make sure that women are truly sure that they want to have an abortion before it happens.
My problem with the new abortion laws in the context of women with disabilities is two-fold:
My first problem with these new abortion laws is actually the same as the problem that I have with them for all women in general: There's an assumption that when the woman shows up at the clinic that she hasn't already done an amazing amount of thought and soul-searching over her decision and arrived at a painful conclusion that this is the right choice.
If any woman with an intellectual disability that I worked with become pregnant, especially as a result of an assault, I would have explored *all* available options and the pros and cons of each with her, keeping what I would have done in her shoes out of the process. And if she'd chosen abortion, there would have been extensive prep on the implications of her decision, what she could expect, and why some women sometimes change their minds before they go through with the procedure. I would *not* send her in there unprepared and wouldn't think much of any person who would.
My second problem with these new abortion laws is that these tactics are manipulative. I would assist a woman with an intellectual disability who wanted an abortion to truly understand what she was agreeing to before she went in. I would *not* resort to manipulative tactics designed to confuse her at the last minute. That's unfair, particularly to a woman with a disability that's affecting her reasoning or her emotions (like some serious mental conditions).
Let me be clear about this: It's not fair to any woman.
It's another assault on the vulnerable ones.
Abortion is still legal, so quit trying to manipulate women out of it, and reduce it by addressing the problem at its roots - finding ways to lower the phenomenally high rates of sexual assault on women with disabilities would be a good start. Put good, solid sexual education for *everybody* (including students with disabilities) in the schools. Settle this birth control issue once and for all in favour of women and their health.
Oh, if only I ran the world... :)
*Correction: I put this in yesterday, and I don't know why it didn't take. A reader informed me that the Oklahoma law actually *requires* doctors to inform the woman that she has the right to hear the heartbeat (even worse, to my mind). Thank you for pointing out my error, David.