Fetus In Peril? Batten Down the Hatches!

Amanda Marcotte

The main purpose of of Oklahoma's proposed self-defense bill for pregnant women is to create a long trail of laws that define a fetus as an "unborn child" that deserves state protection.

Fetus worship and self-defense fantasies (preferably with
guns) compete with each for the rank of most favorite right-wing fantasy of all.
As fantasies, they have a lot in common, since both are rooted in an
anxious masculinity that’s always about proving male power, either
over women’s bodies or through violence, especially with an unsubtle
phallic symbol.  But it took the imaginative Oklahoma legislature
to figure out a way to
put the two fantasies together.
 
Ladies and gentlemen, I present a brand new level of wingnuttery, the Use of Force for
the Protection of the Unborn Act
.   

At first glance, the title
would incline you to think Oklahoma is legalizing violence against workers
at women’s clinics that provide abortion, but actually, it’s a law
making it legal for pregnant women to defend themselves with fatal force
against attackers out to get their pregnancy.  The law should raise
a number of red flags, not the least being the redundancy–Oklahoma
already gives its citizens strong self-defense rights, including the
right to shoot first and ask questions later if someone is trespassing
on your property.  The law is supposedly in response to an incident
that happened in Michigan, where a pregnant woman killed her boyfriend
when he punched her in the stomach, and got jail time for it.   

Conservatives have become absolute
experts in the art of crafting disingenuous legislation that nominally
addresses women’s health and safety concerns while actually attacking
women’s reproductive rights.  This bill is no different; right out front, the bill references the depressing reality that is domestic
violence against pregnant women.  It’s true that pregnant women
are more likely to experience domestic violence than non-pregnant women,
and it’s true that the violence is often aimed directly at causing
the woman to miscarry, or at least fear it.  Domestic violence
is more about breaking someone down psychologically than anything else,
and scaring a woman with the potential of a horrible miscarriage is
just too juicy a target for many abusive men to ignore.   

But reading this bill, you
get the strong impression that the people who wrote it can’t bring
themselves to care about violence towards women, pregnant or not, because
it hurts women.  But if a fetus is in danger, pull out all the
stops!  If they actually cared about reducing the rate of domestic
violence experienced by pregnant women, they’d do a lot more than
offer women the right to protect their fetuses with gunfire.  We
know what works, especially after years of seeing the Violence Against
Women Act in action–pregnant women who fear violence need services,
the community needs public education programs, and the police need to
be trained to deal with the specifics of violence against pregnant women.

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Of course, the main purpose
of this bill and others like it is to create a long trail of laws that
define a fetus as an "unborn child" that deserves state protection
equal and usually greater than that offered to real children.  
As a strategy, I’m not entirely sure that it’s as great as anti-choicers
seem to think it is.  It’s almost as if they hope that once a
certain number of laws with the words "unborn" in them are on the
books, some mystic scale will tilt and Roe v. Wade will be reversed. 
But so far, it appears that the strategy isn’t really working as planned
at all. 

Which doesn’t mean we shouldn’t
worry about it.  As a legal strategy, this may not work, but as
a cultural strategy, it’s effective in sending the message that women
don’t count nearly as much as the contents of our wombs.  There’s
not a lot of moral grand-standing from the right about protecting women
from domestic violence because women are human beings who deserve that
kind of protection.  But if a fetus is imperiled, batten down the
hatches!  This kind of erasing of women’s lives and concerns
is so ham-fisted that one would hope it would backfire, but unfortunately,
it doesn’t.  It’s incredibly effective at slowly erasing women’s
rights to be treated as full human beings. 

To make it worse, the whole
thing dumbs down the discourse on what real pro-woman activism should
look like.  If feminists criticize the legislation, right wingers
get to grandstand about how they’re the only people who care about
women’s right not to get beaten during pregnancy, which is obviously
untrue.  (I dare say that women have a right not to be beaten regardless
of their reproductive status.)  But legislation like this–or
legislation that purports to be protecting women by making them suffer
through a bunch of needless scripts and agitprop ultrasounds to get
an abortion, or moralizing lectures if they want contraception–instead
is about stereotyping women at best, and at worst, separating them into
categories of who does and doesn’t deserve basic protection against
violence and coercion.  The fierce mother bear protecting her pregnancy
gets state protection, but the supposed slutty woman who wants to protect
herself from unintended pregnancy (and her family from the consequences
of having more members than resources) gets nothing but obstacles and
harassment.   

Will the bill pass?  I’d
actually be surprised, though if something that springs so obviously
from the fevered wingnut imagination was going to pass any legislature,
it’ll probably be Oklahoma’s.  It’s tempting to say that
if the state wants a reputation as Crazytown, they can have it, but
unfortunately the direct victims are the women of the state who don’t
have an available path to move to places that are more accepting of
women’s basic rights.

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