We have had our attention divided in the news as of late. Arizona grabbed us first with divisive immigration action that seems more like racial profiling than actual reform. Then came the oil spill, a catastrophe in itself, 11 lives lost and a huge threat to the livelihoods of fishers and drillers alike. We watch more closely each day as the slick pollutant threatens the shores of an already devastated state. And then an attempted terrorist attack in NYC. The glory of catching a suspect quickly and in a flash the headlines go back to Louisiana and the gulf shores.
My attention has been divided by another story, or maybe the lack of reporting on another story. Oklahoma recently passed two new abortion laws. They are the most stringent a state has put in to place yet and, while a month ago they would have grabbed national attention from women’s groups and leftist hippies alike, they are getting a pass because there is so much going on already. I have spoken to friends who have stood on the front lines of choice rallies and women’s rights protests, and almost all of them have not even heard a word about Oklahoma.
The first measure passed mandates that all women seeking an abortion must first have an ultrasound of their “baby”, and it is “their baby” not “the fetus”. Now while several states have passed similar regulations Oklahoma has upped the ante requiring the doctor to set up the ultra sound equipment so that the woman can see the image on the screen. The doctor is also required to describe the limbs and organs of the baby.
In an even more dramatic step Oklahoma specifically did not include exemptions for women who are victims of rape or incest. This would be the main reason sited for governor Brad Henry’s veto of the measure which was overrode by the state legislatures vote.
The second provision makes it illegal to sue a doctor for withholding information about birth defects while the baby is in utero. Which is to say that if your child is born with down syndrome and the doctor knew four months before the birth, you cannot sue the doctor for not providing all the information s/he knew about your child.
Supporters of the bill say that this is to keep women who would abort a child because of birth defects from suing their doctors after. I would say that it provides shelter for doctors to withhold and mislead patients and opens the door to many scarier scenarios.
To me, a Christian woman who has never faced the scary choice of an unwanted pregnancy, these laws seem like cruel and unusual punishment to the women who are put into that terrible situation. A girl, of 15 is raped, on the street by a stranger or in her own home by a family member, and before she can wrap her head around what has happened to her a doctor puts a monitor in front of her and describes in the most detail possible what thing is beginning to form in her womb. It strips her of dignity, it wares down her coping and defense mechanism, she is left more traumatized than she was moments ago, compounding the lasting damage of an already horrific event. This is what we have come to.
I know the argument, life begins at conception and God knew me in the womb (Jermiah1:5). But I also recognize that not everyone holds the values that I do and that I am instructed not to judge them for any choice they make. Which, I believe, is to say not punish them for any choice they make. We are told to love, unconditionally and completely.
Iris is a guest blogger who works in Southeast on human rights issues. She is an Episcopalian and lives in a sustainable community with other community activists.
Update: It is important to note that the Attorney General for Oklahoma has put a 45 day hold on both of these new laws while the state retains council due to a pending suit from The Center for Reproductive Rights. A similar law passed in Oklahoma in 2008 was deemed unconstitutional.