The Anti-Choice Suffering Agenda
[Trigger Warning: discussion of women dying for deliberate withholding of medical care]
The stories about the Pitts bill, HR 358, broke last week. (See TPM, Kos diary, Feministe.) Bearing the Orwellian name “Protect Life Act”, and bill literally allows hospital personnel to stand idly by while a woman dies. The supporters believe that medical personnel should be allowed to let women die — and I couldn’t make this up if I tried — for reasons of conscience.
In the last week, plenty has been written about the bill and I won’t try to summarize or repeat. I just want to drill down on one aspect, which is that this bill and many of the other proposals that have become popular are most consistent with an agenda to make sure that women who are sexual in unapproved says suffer. That’s the common thread that binds these things together.
Here’s one scenario where the Pitts Bill would come into play: a woman gets rushed to a hospital with abdominal pain. She doesn’t know what it is, it could be a lot of things. A pregnancy test is almost the first thing the hospital would run, and it comes back positive, but examination reveals that the pregnancy is ectopic: the zygote attached in the wrong place. It’s in the fallopian tube.
There’s nothing that can be done except terminate the pregnancy. There’s no technology that would allow the zygote to grow to term and survive; it’s going to die. Further, letting it expand until the fallopian tube bursts merely delays the inevitable: the fetus will still end up dead before birth, before it is ever independent of the woman’s bodily organs. But the pregnant woman would then also suffer a severe abdominal injury that could kill her and that, even if it doesn’t, would leave her with organ damage, affecting her fertility and her long-term health.
Who could possibly look at that situation and think, “what we really ought to do here is wait until the fallopian tube bursts!” The fact is, that’s precisely what this bill allows. Indeed, in some pretty similar circumstances, waiting until the pregnant patient has already suffered serious damage or died is Catholic doctrine. (The nun involved was excommunicated.) I’m not saying it’s specific to Catholics, there are other folks who profess a religious reason to withhold lifesaving treatment. I won’t play theologian — no amount of explaining that sort of a view will make it make any sense to someone who doesn’t take the underlying precepts on faith anyway.
There are countries where such unbending doctrines holds sway over law. In much of the Americas, abortion is completely outlawed or severely restricted, and the result is that women die in these situations, and in the situations that prevailed in the pre-Roe era in the US, where back-alley abortions were dangerous and killed women, but where the reality of women’s lives were that some needed to terminate so badly that they took that risk.
The bill isn’t really about an individual doctor’s or nurse’s morality, either. One practitioner can often step aside and let another do a procedure. This bill, however, allows the whole hospital to refuse to treat. And worse, it allows the whole hospital to refuse to refer to someone who will. A woman in such a circumstance probably can’t simply walk out and hail a cab to another hospital, even if there is another one nearby. She might be on a stretcher, dazed and in pain, wearing a paper gown, while doctors and nurses dispassionately discuss the hospital’s rule that they can’t do anything to save her until in might be too late, and they can’t ship her to someone who will.
The name implies and its supporters state that the goal is to protect lives. The bill actually provides, however, to protect a hospital that refuses to terminate a pregnancy, even when necessary to protect the life of the pregnant patient. If the goal were to maximize the number of lives saved, and assuming that a fetus is a separate life (which I don’t), then the bill would simply say that a hospital was permitted to refuse care that would be more likely to result in more deaths than refusing treatment. That would solve the problem of refusing care when such refusal would result in at least the loss of the fetus and possibly also the patient. (That leaves aside what we know empirically, which is that sex education and free contraception reduces the abortion rate).
Since the stated goal is at odds with what the bill actually does, the real purpose must be something else. The real purpose is to forward the tacit punishment agenda, the agenda that is consistent across the spectrum of anti-contraception, anti-choice, even rape apologist ideology, which is that women should be punished for having a sexuality of their own.
That’s a consistent explanation for bills to limit employers’ ability to provide abortion coverage with their health insurance benefits, and even to bar women from using tax advantaged health savings accounts to pay for abortions: if women abort, the anti-choicers seek to make the women suffer, financially in other ways.
That is a consistent explanation for the bills that require women to view ultrasounds of fetuses before terminating: there isn’t actual evidence that women who set up a termination change their minds after seeing the ultrasound, but it gives the antichoicers warm fuzzies that they’re at least guilt-tripping the patients. The Onion’s joke about a law requiring women to paint a nursery before an abortion is right on the money. (In fact, the anti-choicers are so attached to the idea that women who abort suffer emotionally that they’ve convinced themselves that it’s true when the evidence shows it isn’t. I think they tell themselves that women suffer from abortion because it makes them feel good to believe that. That would also provide an explanation for why anti-choicers believe that women who terminate get breast cancer or some other such shit, for which there is no evidence. It makes them feel good to believe that women who do a thing they disapprove of suffer.) And it is consistent with crowing that the safest procedures have been limited, subjecting women to procedures with greater likelyhood of painful and damaging complications.
The anti-choice agenda is driven, “morally”, by a belief in punishment. This bill is designed to punish women for needing an abortion. When someone says that they need to watch someone suffer and die for reasons of “conscience,” we call that bloodlust, and dismiss such a person as evil.