Dear Famous Feminists: Please Answer Naomi Wolf

Harriet J

You have names and voices. Please give us somebody else to point to when we are told that we can be raped in the ways Naomi Wolf has decreed are acceptable. Please let us know we are not alone.

This article originally appeared on Fugitivus and is republished here with permission.

Dear Second and Third Wave Feminists With Publicly Recognizable Names:

Some of you, maybe only feminists know who you are, or those who care to crack a book or two. Lots of you have names that have penetrated the mainstream to such a degree that, when mentioned, most people are liable to know that you’ve got something to do with ladies, possibly even the f-word.

You don’t all agree on everything. Who does? Feminism has never been a monolith. We understand this, though the general public is still catching up. But, because your names are known, your words carry a lot of weight, become the assumed standpoint of all feminists. Almost all of you know that already. It’s why you do what you do — to speak for those who can’t speak, or won’t be heard if they do; to shake up the homogeneous, monochrome chamber of voices to which we’ve all become accustomed; to let others know that there are people out there fighting for them, that they, too, can fight.

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You’re also human. You have flaws, and stubborn privileges, and blind spots. You have bad days. You may not have asked to become a mouthpiece for a movement, and cannot always bear up under the immense pressure to speak for more people than yourself — indeed, more people than you have likely ever seen with your own eyes. You may only allow yourself to be a mouthpiece because you know you are good at it while others aren’t, and from each according to their own ability, and all that. No one person is obligated to stand up for all the causes, take the right stance every time, and discuss only that which others have deemed important. Even those who are willing to try to do this sometimes cannot do it all the time.

I am asking you to do it this once.

I do not stand with Naomi Wolf.

I’d like to know if you do.

You are feminists who have fought a long, hard fight. We who are here today — young, in a changed world (though not changed enough), navigating the same old issues and ones you could never have imagined — came here on your shoulders, on your uplifted hands. We know you did the good work to awaken many of us. We know you continue in this. “Young” feminists and “old” feminists may not see eye to eye on many issues, but do believe there is never a moment that young feminists do not know that we are here because of you.

I am speaking as one of the young ones. I grew up calling myself a feminist, but I didn’t understand what that actually meant for a long time. I was lucky enough to go to college, and there, I was lucky enough to learn about the paths that had been beaten down before me. I learned the history of women’s rights, and of the women and men who demanded them, unequivocally. And, too, I learned that we are not monolith. I learned about the “waves”, splits across generations only recognized after-the-fact, created by an evolution in technology, terminology, and tactics. Much of this seemed only natural, and necessary; the world changes rapidly, and there is no movement that can hold doggedly steady as it spins. Some of this seemed shameful; the world changes rapidly, and there is no movement without members who are aggressively terrified of what they do not know and do not control. It was all educational. I could understand the path woven from then to now, why splits had occurred, why “waves” happened, and what they looked like from a distance, as a young person who considers these matters “history.”

That is a form of privilege itself — to view what has come before me as settled history, instead of an active struggle. It’s not a privilege I can shed solely through education, or listening; to end this privilege, I must be willing to wait for age and perspective. That’s not easy. I’m sure you remember.

I believe I have gained some age, and some perspective. I believe I have enough to say that the division between “old” feminists and “young” feminists, between the “third wave” and the fourth, or fifth, is not going to come about solely because of technology, or solely because of intersectionality, or solely because of any given divisive issue. I believe it is going to come because of a refusal to view our work — the work of those of my age and my perspective — as real work. A refusal to view our protests as real protests. A refusal to view our theory as real theory. All young feminists can acknowledge the work undertaken to bring us here today, despite our youth, despite our inexperience; it would hearten me to know that the old guard can acknowledge that we have taken up the torch, and continued forging ahead. It would hearten me to know that the age and perspective I will hopefully gain will include the ability to listen to the young, and take them seriously.

“No means no” took us a long way. To put it simply, but not inaccurately, it took us from a world where no meant yes. That is an incredible gain. But “no means no” has taken us as far as it can. Namely, it has taken us to “yes means yes.” It has taken us to a place where we can recognize, create theory, create terminology, and openly discuss the idea that sexual violence and sexual abuse can happen without a “no” as well as with one. We believe that requiring a “no” is not good enough, not a high enough standard. We require a “yes.”

“No means no” gave a voice to the abused, the raped, the victimized. It created a phrase to describe a phenomenon that men and women knew existed, but were unable to describe in a way that society as a whole took seriously. But it did not end the war on our bodies. It did not end the terrorism that makes us second-guess our clothing, map out our return home, walk with chaperones. It did not end the lifelong aftershocks of guilt and shame, wondering why we let them in, why we trusted them, why we kissed them. It did not lower the statistics that mock our hope that we have justice, or equality. The enemy adapted. The enemy always has. If no means no, why, then, ways will be found to keep us from speaking. Ways will be found to make it seem as if we have said “yes,” or not said “no” enough, or in the right tone of voice, or with the proper inflection, or at the right time. No means no, but only if you are not afraid to say it. No means no, but only if you keep saying it, for a lifetime, hoping it will work before the situation escalates. No means no, but only if you never give up saying it because you are tired, you are hungry, you are frightened, you are alone, you are intimidated, you are convinced that this will happen anyway, and will only get worse for you the longer you go on saying “no.”

We need more than “no means no.”

We have already begun creating the framework for this. There is a great conversation happening across the place the new guard has gathered to share, to organize, to strategize: the internet. We are creating theory. We are creating terminology. We are creating tactics. We are attempting to penetrate social consciousness, as you once did, until we can live in a world where we do not exist in a perpetual state of sexual availability, where we are not solely responsible as the gatekeepers of sex and rape. We are trying to create a world where all people are responsible for ensuring that sex is wanted, sex is safe, sex is sane. We are trying to create a world where the responsibility for stopping rape does not lie with the person who is being raped. And, too, we are trying to create a world where the responsibility for defining rape does not lie with the person being raped.

For many of us, that is what saying “no” during a frightening sexual encounter means; if our partner does not care if we want sex, if our partner does not care how we want sex, if our partner does not care if we are in pain or pleasure, if our partner does not care if we feel safe, if our partner does not care that we are moving away from them, if our partner does not care that we are trying to get to the door, then our partner will not care if we say “no,” and we will be raped. This is not difficult math for us to calculate. The only further calculation is how bad our rape is going to be, how long it will last, and how badly we will be injured. So as long as we keep our mouths shut, it will not be rape, and we will not be victims, and this will be over much sooner. If we say no, it will become rape, because “no” is what creates rape, “no” is what defines consent, not the lack of a “yes”. We are responsible for taking what could just be “bad sex,” over quickly and without too much pain, and turning it into “rape,” because we are responsible for saying “no” and our partners are not responsible for seeking an enthusiastic, mutual “yes.”

The people intent upon raping us know that “no means no” as much as we do. The people intent upon raping us do not want to think of this as a rape, do not want to think of themselves as rapists, do not want to allow the possibility of facing consequences for raping us. They will do everything within their power to make that “no” unbelievable or invisible. Perhaps they will try to make us eventually say “yes,” though we have said “no” twenty times. Perhaps they will threaten consequences that do not amount to force, but amount to our partner threatening consequences, and the implication that they are willing to threaten, to punish, to hurt us to acquire our defeat is not lost upon us. Perhaps they will yell, and cry, and scream. Perhaps they will pretend they did not hear us. Perhaps they will pretend they thought we only meant “no” to this and not that. Perhaps they will ask us to coffee later, or text us sweetly in the morning, or tuck us in afterward, and if we do not scream and cry and flee to the police in a shamble, this will be proof that our “no” could not have been such a “no,” because victims do not have coffee with their rapists, and rapists do not kiss their victims kindly. Or, perhaps, they will hurt us, escalate the rape into something that is now (thanks to your work) more commonly conceived as a rape. We do not wish to go through that. We do not wish to be beaten, threatened, choked, or made to bleed internally as the price for knowing it is not our fault. We will say “yes” rather than go through that. We will say “yes” when we know it is coming to that, and we will do that whether or not we have gained that knowledge through acts or words that are defined as rape in a court of law. We will do that because that is how human beings survive attacks. They do not wait for them to get worse. They do not wait until the legal threshold of allowable violence has been passed. We do this because we must adapt to survive, because we are smart and we are strong and we know that living through this with fewer scars is worth more than the bare glimmer of justice years of harassment from now; we do not do this because we are moral children who do not know better.

We are not trivializing rape by saying this is an attack upon us, anymore than it made rape trivial to believe, during your battle for this, that a “no” was all that was needed to create rape rather than a vicious, deadly beating by a stranger, or a loaded gun to the head. We believe there is no way that rape can be trivialized. We do not believe there is ever a time or a place or a situation in which rape is trivial. We want to live in a world where the wrongness of rape can never be called into question, never be made less, no matter what fool thing is said or done by others. We want to live in a world where “trivializing rape” is no longer a phrase bandied about so easily, because it will be an oxymoron. We want to live in a world where this phrase is recognized for what it is: a silencing tactic when victims become inconvenient.

Here is my fear.

I fear that, a generation from now, there will be a new history for the new generation. It will say that the fourth, fifth, sixth wave of feminism broke away because the second and third wave did not believe that a “yes” was necessary for sex. It will say that we broke away because one wave believed rape could be trivialized, and another did not.

I will be ashamed to be a part of the history of feminism, if that is to be our origin. I will have to question strongly if “feminism” is worthwhile as an organizing principle, if “feminism” can also mean that a “yes” after twenty “no”s is good enough, and that if zie didn’t want it, zie should have kept saying “no” until zhe accepted it (whenever that would be) or raped hir with an escalated degree of force (as that is the price zhe must pay if zhe wishes to be blameless).

I know there are those who do not call themselves “feminists,” not because they don’t understand feminism, but because they understand it too well. I know there are those who distrust me when I say I am a feminist, because to them, that means I may dismiss their experiences with race, with class, with disability, with gender ambiguity, with trans-ness, with a host of other issues that feminism has failed routinely. They distrust me because “feminism” means I may do more than actively dismiss, but shout them down, exclude them, call them the enemy, require they give up what they need to be safe, to be sane, to have dignity and basic human rights, so that they can fight my battle. They distrust me because “feminism” means I may shrug when a people who are not part of a feminist “cause” are being trampled and oppressed, because they are not convenient, or feminist enough, for my concerns, because their freedom gains me nothing. They distrust me because “feminism” means I may quit as soon as my own interests are met, as soon as my own comfort level is reached, as soon as I have toppled my own oppressor and taken their place. I struggle every day to hold on to my own label of feminism, because I do not think the people who distrust feminism are wrong. I think they are keeping me honest, if I am willing to let them.

I do not want, a generation from now, to find that the new wave has dropped the label “feminist” because it became synonymous with defiant rape apologism, because it damaged more people than it served. If I ever stop calling myself a feminist, I want it to be because I found something better, not because feminism got worse.

So here is what I am asking of you.

I ask that you denounce Naomi Wolf’s comments on Assange’s rape charges.

I ask that you denounce that “no means no” is all there is to rape.

I ask that you acknowledge that “yes means yes” is now a part of the feminist lexicon, wherever it might go, however it might evolve from here.

I ask that you acknowledge that “enthusiastic consent” is a theory highly worth pursuing.

I ask you to do this because you have names that people recognize as part of feminism. So does Naomi Wolf. And now we are all experiencing, en masse, the old phenomenon: “I know somebody who is a feminist, and they think this is fine.” A big-name feminist has said, publicly, that initiating sex with a partner who is asleep is not rape. That ripping a woman’s clothes off is not a force, is not a threat, is not violence, has no bearing upon the context of safety. That political targets are incapable of raping, because there can be no reason for them to be accused that is not politically motivated. This has given permission to all those who believe the same to tell us that we are wrong. The new guard, we know each other’s names, but the general public doesn’t know us very well yet. We do not have the weight of years of revolution behind us. When Naomi Wolf says that sleeping women can be raped legally, this becomes public knowledge. When we say, “yes means yes,” the general public does not hear, and the general public does not care. They can now point to Naomi Wolf and say, “You are wrong. You are not feminism. She is. And she says I can do this to you, and you can’t do anything about it.”

You have names. You have voices. Please give us somebody else to point to when we are told that we can be raped in the ways Naomi Wolf has decreed are acceptable. Please let us know that we are not on our own, that we have not already broken away, and did not hear the crack until Naomi Wolf “agreed to disagree” about our bodily autonomy, our safety. Please let us know that, with one arrogant statement, feminists cannot really erase the rapes that have been experienced by countless survivors. Please let us know that you hear us, that you believe we are feminism, too. Please do not let Naomi Wolf become the voice of what is rape, because rapists were listening when she spoke, and judges, and juries, and future victims who will spend their lives believing it was their fault, and they are always saying “yes” if they are not shouting “no.”

Ella Baker said, “You must believe in young people, because they have the courage where we fail.” I believed her when I first read that, at 21. I believed in those words, and I believed that it was worth delving deeper into feminism, believed it was worth dropping the naive belief that all our battles had been fought and solved, that the slogans then were all we needed now. I still believe that. I would like to think you believe it, believe that we have something of worth to add, that we are onto new paths and new battles, that we can be trusted to keep going when you cannot.

Ella Baker also said, “There is also the danger in our culture that because a person is called upon to give public statements and is acclaimed by the establishment, such a person gets to the point of believing that he is the movement.” Surely the public seems to believe this. Do not let Naomi Wolf be the face of our movement. Do not let her define what rape is, and what it isn’t, based on her belief in one man’s guilt or innocence. Do not let her statements on rape and consent go by without comment; I believe you know, through your own battles and sometimes demoralizing work, that silence signals agreement, that silence isolates, permeates, and eventually prevails, if uncontested by those with the power and the will. If you do not speak up now, I will have trouble believing you do not agree; certainly, so will those who are far less interested, far less dedicated, and far less informed about feminism than I am.

I would like to feel that I am part of an evolving movement of which I can be proud. It does not have to be perfect. But it has to be growing. It cannot be stagnant. I do not wish to grow older and point to a time at which I broke with feminism, because it was not interested in preserving my body from attack. Because it was not different enough from that which it opposed.

Please. Say something. We are talking as much as we can. We are pushing as hard as we can. We are doing our part. We would like to feel your hands holding us up, your shoulders beneath us once more.

Germaine Greer, please say something.

Gloria Steinem, please say something.

Susan Brownmiller, please say something.

Readers, please add to this list.

Roundups Politics

Campaign Week in Review: ‘If You Don’t Vote … You Are Trifling’

Ally Boguhn

The chair of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) this week blasted those who sit out on Election Day, and mothers who lost children to gun violence were given a platform at the party's convention.

The chair of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) this week blasted those who sit out on Election Day, and mothers who lost children to gun violence were given a platform at the party’s convention.

DNC Chair Marcia Fudge: “If You Don’t Vote, You Are Ungrateful, You Are Lazy, and You Are Trifling”

The chair of the 2016 Democratic National Convention, Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH), criticized those who choose to sit out the election while speaking on the final day of the convention.

“If you want a decent education for your children, you had better vote,” Fudge told the party’s women’s caucus, which had convened to discuss what is at stake for women and reproductive health and rights this election season.

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“If you want to make sure that hungry children are fed, you had better vote,” said Fudge. “If you want to be sure that all the women who survive solely on Social Security will not go into poverty immediately, you had better vote.”

“And if you don’t vote, let me tell you something, there is no excuse for you. If you don’t vote, you don’t count,” she said.

“So as I leave, I’m just going to say this to you. You tell them I said it, and I’m not hesitant about it. If you don’t vote, you are ungrateful, you are lazy, and you are trifling.”

The congresswoman’s website notes that she represents a state where some legislators have “attempted to suppress voting by certain populations” by pushing voting restrictions that “hit vulnerable communities the hardest.”

Ohio has recently made headlines for enacting changes that would make it harder to vote, including rolling back the state’s early voting period and purging its voter rolls of those who have not voted for six years.

Fudge, however, has worked to expand access to voting by co-sponsoring the federal Voting Rights Amendment Act, which would restore the protections of the Voting Rights Act that were stripped by the Supreme Court in Shelby County v. Holder.

“Mothers of the Movement” Take the National Spotlight

In July 2015, the Waller County Sheriff’s Office released a statement that 28-year-old Sandra Bland had been found dead in her jail cell that morning due to “what appears to be self-asphyxiation.” Though police attempted to paint the death a suicide, Bland’s family has denied that she would have ended her own life given that she had just secured a new job and had not displayed any suicidal tendencies.

Bland’s death sparked national outcry from activists who demanded an investigation, and inspired the hashtag #SayHerName to draw attention to the deaths of Black women who died at the hands of police.

Tuesday night at the DNC, Bland’s mother, Geneva Reed-Veal, and a group of other Black women who have lost children to gun violence, in police custody, or at the hands of police—the “Mothers of the Movement”—told the country why the deaths of their children should matter to voters. They offered their support to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton during a speech at the convention.

“One year ago yesterday, I lived the worst nightmare anyone could imagine. I watched as my daughter was lowered into the ground in a coffin,” said Geneva Reed-Veal.

“Six other women have died in custody that same month: Kindra Chapman, Alexis McGovern, Sarah Lee Circle Bear, Raynette Turner, Ralkina Jones, and Joyce Curnell. So many of our children are gone, but they are not forgotten,” she continued. 

“You don’t stop being a mom when your child dies,” said Lucia McBath, the mother of Jordan Davis. “His life ended the day that he was shot and killed for playing loud music. But my job as his mother didn’t.” 

McBath said that though she had lost her son, she continued to work to protect his legacy. “We’re going to keep telling our children’s stories and we’re urging you to say their names,” she said. “And we’re also going to keep using our voices and our votes to support leaders, like Hillary Clinton, who will help us protect one another so that this club of heartbroken mothers stops growing.” 

Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin, called herself “an unwilling participant in this movement,” noting that she “would not have signed up for this, [nor would] any other mother that’s standing here with me today.” 

“But I am here today for my son, Trayvon Martin, who is in heaven, and … his brother, Jahvaris Fulton, who is still here on Earth,” Fulton said. “I did not want this spotlight. But I will do everything I can to focus some of this light on the pain of a path out of the darkness.”

What Else We’re Reading

Renee Bracey Sherman explained in Glamour why Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine’s position on abortion scares her.

NARAL’s Ilyse Hogue told Cosmopolitan why she shared her abortion story on stage at the DNC.

Lilly Workneh, the Huffington Post’s Black Voices senior editor, explained how the DNC was “powered by a bevy of remarkable black women.”

Rebecca Traister wrote about how Clinton’s historic nomination puts the Democratic nominee “one step closer to making the impossible possible.”

Rewire attended a Democrats for Life of America event while in Philadelphia for the convention and fact-checked the group’s executive director.

A woman may have finally clinched the nomination for a major political party, but Judith Warner in Politico Magazine took on whether the “glass ceiling” has really been cracked for women in politics.

With Clinton’s nomination, “Dozens of other women across the country, in interviews at their offices or alongside their children, also said they felt on the cusp of a major, collective step forward,” reported Jodi Kantor for the New York Times.

According to Philly.com, Philadelphia’s Maternity Care Coalition staffed “eight curtained breast-feeding stalls on site [at the DNC], complete with comfy chairs, side tables, and electrical outlets.” Republicans reportedly offered similar accommodations at their convention the week before.

Analysis Law and Policy

After ‘Whole Woman’s Health’ Decision, Advocates Should Fight Ultrasound Laws With Science

Imani Gandy

A return to data should aid in dismantling other laws ungrounded in any real facts, such as Texas’s onerous "informed consent” law—HB 15—which forces women to get an ultrasound that they may neither need nor afford, and which imposes a 24-hour waiting period.

Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, the landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling striking down two provisions of Texas’ omnibus anti-abortion law, has changed the reproductive rights landscape in ways that will reverberate in courts around the country for years to come. It is no longer acceptable—at least in theory—for a state to announce that a particular restriction advances an interest in women’s health and to expect courts and the public to take them at their word.

In an opinion driven by science and data, Justice Stephen Breyer, writing for the majority in Whole Woman’s Health, weighed the costs and benefits of the two provisions of HB 2 at issue—the admitting privileges and ambulatory surgical center (ASC) requirements—and found them wanting. Texas had breezed through the Fifth Circuit without facing any real pushback on its manufactured claims that the two provisions advanced women’s health. Finally, Justice Breyer whipped out his figurative calculator and determined that those claims didn’t add up. For starters, Texas admitted that it didn’t know of a single instance where the admitting privileges requirement would have helped a woman get better treatment. And as for Texas’ claim that abortion should be performed in an ASC, Breyer pointed out that the state did not require the same of its midwifery clinics, and that childbirth is 14 times more likely to result in death.

So now, as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg pointed out in the case’s concurring opinion, laws that “‘do little or nothing for health, but rather strew impediments to abortion’ cannot survive judicial inspection.” In other words, if a state says a restriction promotes women’s health and safety, that state will now have to prove it to the courts.

With this success under our belts, a similar return to science and data should aid in dismantling other laws ungrounded in any real facts, such as Texas’s onerous “informed consent” law—HB 15—which forces women to get an ultrasound that they may neither need nor afford, and which imposes a 24-hour waiting period.

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In Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld parts of Pennsylvania’s “informed consent” law requiring abortion patients to receive a pamphlet developed by the state department of health, finding that it did not constitute an “undue burden” on the constitutional right to abortion. The basis? Protecting women’s mental health: “[I]n an attempt to ensure that a woman apprehends the full consequences of her decision, the State furthers the legitimate purpose of reducing the risk that a woman may elect an abortion, only to discover later, with devastating psychological consequences, that her decision was not fully informed.”

Texas took up Casey’s informed consent mantle and ran with it. In 2011, the legislature passed a law that forces patients to undergo a medical exam, whether or not their doctor thinks they need it, and that forces them to listen to information that the state wants them to hear, whether or not their doctor thinks that they need to hear it. The purpose of this law—at least in theory—is, again, to protect patients’ “mental health” by dissuading those who may be unsure about procedure.

The ultra-conservative Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the law in 2012, in Texas Medical Providers v. Lakey.

And make no mistake: The exam the law requires is invasive, and in some cases, cruelly so. As Beverly McPhail pointed out in the Houston Chronicle in 2011, transvaginal probes will often be necessary to comply with the law up to 10 to 12 weeks of pregnancy—which is when, according to the Guttmacher Institute, 91 percent of abortions take place. “Because the fetus is so small at this stage, traditional ultrasounds performed through the abdominal wall, ‘jelly on the belly,’ often cannot produce a clear image,” McPhail noted.

Instead, a “probe is inserted into the vagina, sending sound waves to reflect off body structures to produce an image of the fetus. Under this new law, a woman’s vagina will be penetrated without an opportunity for her to refuse due to coercion from the so-called ‘public servants’ who passed and signed this bill into law,” McPhail concluded.

There’s a reason why abortion advocates began decrying these laws as “rape by the state.”

If Texas legislators are concerned about the mental health of their citizens, particularly those who may have been the victims of sexual assault—or any woman who does not want a wand forcibly shoved into her body for no medical reason—they have a funny way of showing it.

They don’t seem terribly concerned about the well-being of the woman who wants desperately to be a mother but who decides to terminate a pregnancy that doctors tell her is not viable. Certainly, forcing that woman to undergo the painful experience of having an ultrasound image described to her—which the law mandates for the vast majority of patients—could be psychologically devastating.

But maybe Texas legislators don’t care that forcing a foreign object into a person’s body is the ultimate undue burden.

After all, if foisting ultrasounds onto women who have decided to terminate a pregnancy saves even one woman from a lifetime of “devastating psychologically damaging consequences,” then it will all have been worth it, right? Liberty and bodily autonomy be damned.

But what if there’s very little risk that a woman who gets an abortion experiences those “devastating psychological consequences”?

What if the information often provided by states in connection with their “informed consent” protocol does not actually lead to consent that is more informed, either because the information offered is outdated, biased, false, or flatly unnecessary given a particular pregnant person’s circumstance? Texas’ latest edition of its “Woman’s Right to Know” pamphlet, for example, contains even more false information than prior versions, including the medically disproven claim that fetuses can feel pain at 20 weeks gestation.

What if studies show—as they have since the American Psychological Association first conducted one to that effect in 1989—that abortion doesn’t increase the risk of mental health issues?

If the purpose of informed consent laws is to weed out women who have been coerced or who haven’t thought it through, then that purpose collapses if women who get abortions are, by and large, perfectly happy with their decision.

And that’s exactly what research has shown.

Scientific studies indicate that the vast majority of women don’t regret their abortions, and therefore are not devastated psychologically. They don’t fall into drug and alcohol addiction or attempt to kill themselves. But that hasn’t kept anti-choice activists from claiming otherwise.

It’s simply not true that abortion sends mentally healthy patients over the edge. In a study report released in 2008, the APA found that the strongest predictor of post-abortion mental health was prior mental health. In other words, if you’re already suffering from mental health issues before getting an abortion, you’re likely to suffer mental health issues afterward. But the studies most frequently cited in courts around the country prove, at best, an association between mental illness and abortion. When the studies controlled for “prior mental health and violence experience,” “no significant relation was found between abortion history and anxiety disorders.”

But what about forced ultrasound laws, specifically?

Science has its part to play in dismantling those, too.

If Whole Woman’s Health requires the weighing of costs and benefits to ensure that there’s a connection between the claimed purpose of an abortion restriction and the law’s effect, then laws that require a woman to get an ultrasound and to hear a description of it certainly fail that cost-benefit analysis. Science tells us forcing patients to view ultrasound images (as opposed to simply offering the opportunity for a woman to view ultrasound images) in order to give them “information” doesn’t dissuade them from having abortions.

Dr. Jen Gunter made this point in a blog post years ago: One 2009 study found that when given the option to view an ultrasound, nearly 73 percent of women chose to view the ultrasound image, and of those who chose to view it, 85 percent of women felt that it was a positive experience. And here’s the kicker: Not a single woman changed her mind about having an abortion.

Again, if women who choose to see ultrasounds don’t change their minds about getting an abortion, a law mandating that ultrasound in order to dissuade at least some women is, at best, useless. At worst, it’s yet another hurdle patients must leap to get care.

And what of the mandatory waiting period? Texas law requires a 24-hour waiting period—and the Court in Casey upheld a 24-hour waiting period—but states like Louisiana and Florida are increasing the waiting period to 72 hours.

There’s no evidence that forcing women into longer waiting periods has a measurable effect on a woman’s decision to get an abortion. One study conducted in Utah found that 86 percent of women had chosen to get the abortion after the waiting period was over. Eight percent of women chose not to get the abortion, but the most common reason given was that they were already conflicted about abortion in the first place. The author of that study recommended that clinics explore options with women seeking abortion and offer additional counseling to the small percentage of women who are conflicted about it, rather than states imposing a burdensome waiting period.

The bottom line is that the majority of women who choose abortion make up their minds and go through with it, irrespective of the many roadblocks placed in their way by overzealous state governments. And we know that those who cannot overcome those roadblocks—for financial or other reasons—are the ones who experience actual negative effects. As we saw in Whole Woman’s Health, those kinds of studies, when admitted as evidence in the court record, can be critical in striking restrictions down.

Of course, the Supreme Court has not always expressed an affinity for scientific data, as Justice Anthony Kennedy demonstrated in Gonzales v. Carhart, when he announced that “some women come to regret their choice to abort the infant life they once created and sustained,” even though he admitted there was “no reliable data to measure the phenomenon.” It was under Gonzales that so many legislators felt equipped to pass laws backed up by no legitimate scientific evidence in the first place.

Whole Woman’s Health offers reproductive rights advocates an opportunity to revisit a host of anti-choice restrictions that states claim are intended to advance one interest or another—whether it’s the state’s interest in fetal life or the state’s purported interest in the psychological well-being of its citizens. But if the laws don’t have their intended effects, and if they simply throw up obstacles in front of people seeking abortion, then perhaps, Whole Woman’s Health and its focus on scientific data will be the death knell of these laws too.