Texas, Women's Rights, and the Elephant in the Womb

It's July in Austin, Texas. The calendar says it's the 21st century, but S.B. 5, the legislation that has just come out of the Texas Capitol, has set women's rights back decades, if not centuries.

First, a disclaimer: I'm not a Texan. I'm a 51-year-old medical librarian who moved to Texas from Boston when I was nine. I'm often told "Well, surely you're a Texan *now*!" - and maybe I should be - but whenever something like this abominable attack on human rights happens here in Texas - and it happens far more frequently than news coverage would indicate - I'm ashamed to admit to being a Texas resident.

When I was a young woman, a college student with a marginal income, I understood the importance of general health, sexual health, and women's health, and I was able to make use of the excellent and affordable services provided by Planned Parenthood. If I were a young woman today, I would have to amend that to say "...and I hope I'm lucky enough to be able to make use of..." those services. And luck should never have to be part of anyone's well care.

The recently approved bill professes to have the best interests of women's health at heart, but reducing the number of clinics in which women can access services - all services - will not improve anything. In fact, this could very well have a devastating effect, returning us to the days of backroom abortions - except, of course, for the female companions of wealthy men who need to take care of their indiscretions.

Now I, personally, never had a need for abortion services. I've never had any children, by my own choice. I feel very strongly that people who want children should endeavour to have them, and those that do not should not be forced either by societal pressures or circumstances to do so. I do, however, know several women - smart, thoughtful, responsible women - whose circumstances brought them to need abortion services.

Proponents of S.B. 5 would have us believe that anyone who gets an abortion, nay, anyone who would even consider an abortion is a baby killer, a godless welfare queen, a slut who uses abortion as birth control. I am astounded that anyone lives in a world that is unequivocally black and white. Not a single woman I know who has been through this experience treated it as anything less than one of the most difficult physical and emotional decisions of her life.

That doesn't mean there aren't women who treat having an abortion dismissively. There are also men who treat it equally dismissively - and this is not an attitude exclusive to "god-hating liberals." There are thoughtless people everywhere.

Further, there are those who would otherwise eschew science claiming that “The baby can feel pain at 20 weeks!” First, very few abortions occur at 20 weeks (fewer than 2%) and those that do are almost all done for the safety of the mother.

And now for a little science lesson: First, it's not a baby yet.

From the time of conception until the 10th week of gestation, it's an embryo. From then until birth, it's a fetus. Once it's born, then it's a baby. Using less than clinical terms may be fine for planning a nursery, but if you're going to talk about science, then using terms designed to elicit an emotional reaction is less than authoritative.

Also, about that pain thing: In a meta-analysis published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers concluded that fetuses are unlikely to feel pain until the third trimester. Research that makes conclusive statements about fetal pain are extrapolating from research on premature babies which, to my mind, makes as much sense as studying fish which live in shallow waters and presuming you've got a handle on deep water fish.

Oh, and why all the screaming about Plan B birth control? I'm astounded by the idiots (no, this is not an ad hominem, this is an accurate assessment of those who embrace ignorance) who insist Plan B is a form of abortion. It's not. Plan B (levonorgestrel) cannot prevent implantation of a fertilized egg. It works by inhibiting ovulation and is used in emergency situations. I've also heard the ranting that anyone of any age can buy this product over the counter. Why yes, that's true. But I would suggest you be more concerned about your nine-year-old daughter buying a large bottle of gummy multivitamins (which are also available over the counter to anyone of any age) and eating them like they're candy than about the remote possibility that she'll grab a Plan B box off the shelf. I can only presume this is yet another effort to control women via a reproductive anchor.

When I hear someone say they'll do whatever it takes to "save even one baby", a great many questions come into my mind. How many children has this person adopted or fostered? Do they support efforts to help children after they're born, such as public education, school lunches, pediatric health care, etc.? Hell, do they help provide support in the form of prenatal care for mothers with less wherewithal while they're pregnant? Why does it seem like the fetus is more valuable than the actual child? Why is the fetus more valuable than the woman who is carrying it?

But, strangely, so many of the people I know who believe the contents of any woman's uterus is their business also scream at the prospect of background checks for guns. They'll do whatever it takes to save even one baby, but if those babies can function out of the womb and happen to be slaughtered by someone exercising their god-given right to firearms then it's all hunky-dory.

The hypocrisy blows my mind.