February 13, 2017; Women’s Health

By a thousand cuts over the last several years, state legislatures across the United States, largely Republican-controlled, have been trying to subvert the federal Constitutional protection, as defined in Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, of the right of pregnant women to have abortions. On Tuesday, an Oklahoma State House Committee continued this trend, voting to bring HB 1441 before the full House, which would require the sire’s (father’s) approval for a woman seeking an abortion, except in cases of rape, incest or abortion. Breeding terminology seems to be apt here, as a chauvinist attitude has resurfaced in government towards women, unleashing an ugly tendency of disregard and dehumanization.

The hearing took about thirty seconds, with a brief introduction by the bill’s author, Rep. Justin Humphrey, and no debate. Humphrey believes women are like the owners of bed & breakfast inns when it comes to bearing a child, calling them “hosts” who alone should have to deal with the consequences of their soi-disant insouciant attitude towards sex. Echoing a contemporary and convenient trend of male politicians wielding power the federal Constitution is supposed to wrest from them, Humphrey stated Wednesday last week, “I understand that [women] feel like that is their body…I feel like it is a separate—what I call them is, is you’re a ‘host.’ And you know when you enter into a relationship you’re going to be that host and so, you know, if you pre-know that then take all precautions and don’t get pregnant.”

Humphrey alleged that his original intention was for HB 1441 to require the man to pay child support from the beginning, but that did not make the final version of the restrictive bill, which on its face ignores the responsibility and burden of the man in procreation and seeks to empower men to exercise greater control of reproductive rights. There are, of course, many female politicians and pro-life citizens who are in favor of restricting abortion rights, but this movement is largely driven by the men who control most, if not all, state legislatures.

NPQ has been keeping close watch on the sweeping movement across the country to chip away at the pro-choice freedom enshrined as constitutional law in the 1973 landmark decision Roe v. Wade, and as modified by subsequent Supreme Court decisions. In December of last year, NPQ reported that the Ohio legislature passed a “heartbeat” abortion bill that would render illegal the abortion of a fetus whose heartbeat is detected, which can happen as early as six weeks into the gestational period. Governor Kasich vetoed that bill later in December, though he did sign into law a 20-week abortion ban. In June of 2016, NPQ reflected on a flurry of anti-abortion bills that may have led to a marked increase in at-home abortion attempts. Evidence of this linkage was the upward tick of Google searches in 2015 seeking instruction on how women can terminate their pregnancies on their own, to over 700,000, relatively more frequent in states with restrictive anti-abortion laws. This article noted an Oklahoma bill that would make performing an abortion a felony, and a contemporary Louisiana bill that would outlaw second trimester abortions utilizing the safest method for that gestational period. Echoing many other press outlets, NPQ stated in this article that “politicians and anti-abortion groups are finding every loophole to prevent women from receiving the abortion services they are entitled to by federal law.”

In spite of our country’s founding documents and subsequent court rulings, rights are proving not to be inalienable and must be fought for, as evidenced by this snowballing momentum of the pro-life movement shepherded by many state governments. As with many other political controversies cleaving our nation in two, abortion is increasingly polarizing the populace, as laws chipping away at abortion rights take effect. The U.S. Supreme Court is waiting in the wings to “refresh” Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, as it is expected the Court will grant certiorari in the next few years to one or more cases challenging these new state anti-abortion laws. With the makeup and the leanings of the inscrutable Supreme Court in flux, the path of legal abortion and the success of its challengers is unpredictable at this heightened moment of tension.—Louis Altman