What’s Up With the New Abortion Laws Regarding ‘Fetal Pain’?

What’s Up With the New Abortion Laws Regarding ‘Fetal Pain’?

Beginning this May, any Utah woman who chooses to have an abortion the 20th and 22nd weeks of her pregnancy will have to be put under anesthesia.

No matter what her reasoning, medical history, or doctor’s recommendations, she will have to be put under if she wants to undergo an abortion at this stage of gestation. This new requirement, which is part of a bill that passed this March, is the latest in a string of recent laws claiming to ensure against “fetal pain.”

Just last week, The Daily Beast reported on the tragic story of Texas couple Taylor and Dylan Mahaffey who, when it became clear Taylor’s cervix was dilating too early and that their unborn son would not survive, came up against state laws restricting a pregnant woman’s options, especially this late-term. Since Mahaffey’s life was not in danger, and because she had carried her baby almost entirely to term, they were told an inducement would be considered an abortion and couldn’t be performed. Instead, they had to wait while their son struggled in utero, and Mahaffey ultimately went through full labor before delivering her stillborn son.

Over the last several months, “fetal pain” bills have passed in several states. The laws, which claim to defend and protect fetuses from feeling pain or from being harmed, can be added to an ever-growing list of restrictions barring women from making their own, unfettered decisions about their bodies and their medical care.

I am not pro-abortion. I would argue very, very few people actually are. I am a fervent supporter of a world in which women are the sole authorities of their fates and where we are granted autonomy over our bodies, our voices, and our lives. The stories – like those of women in Utah and Texas – are abundant, and they show us just how dangerous it is when a woman’s decisions are taken out of her hands. The stories are those of women who are forced to fight against arbitrary, unjust, one-sided legislation and who are stripped of their control and autonomy. The stories are not about abortion. They are about power and freedom.

Women’s healthcare legislation has little to do with who is pro-life and who is pro-choice. In reality, it has a lot to do with politicians and legislators and policy-makers who decide that they are somehow more qualified to make decisions about a woman’s body than she herself would be. It’s about a society that feels so entitled to police the female body – especially pregnancy – that we accept that somehow what a woman does with her womb is up for public debate.

We believe it’s our right to touch a pregnant woman’s stomach, to tell her (even if she’s a complete stranger) what she should be eating and drinking and doing and wearing. We bombard new mothers; they are simultaneously praised and chastised for their decisions to stay home or work and to breast- or bottle-feed. We feel, as a culture, as if because women are responsible for bringing up our children, we are welcome to comment freely on how they choose to do it – beginning at conception.

The way we–as a nation–feel about abortion, and about women’s healthcare in general, is inextricably tied to the way we feel entitled to control women in general. Laws that bar women from making their own choices can only exist in a society that doesn’t trust women to be worthy of autonomy. It’s time we change our perspective, because the cost of this distrust is too high.


Cover image courtesy of Shutterstock.