In this era of fetuses being called to testify in court and anti-choicers trying to strip away funding for cancer screening and condoms, it does feel for pro-choicers like we’ve slipped down the rabbit hole, but instead of finding ourselves in a fun Wonderland, we’re instead in the madhouse of Wingnutland. With that in mind, I have to tip my hat to the pro-choice members of the Texas legislature, who decided to fight absurdity with absurdity last Thursday during the debate over a law that will require any woman who wants an abortion to get an ultrasound, go home to “think” about it, and only then come back for her abortion. It’s unclear yet if she’ll be required to sit in her room and write, “I will not be a dirty slut,” 100 times over in her best handwriting and be denied her cartoons for a week. Perhaps legislators will be holding on to that for the next legislative session.
Furious at the sexist paternalism and anti-choice nuttery behind this bill—but unable to do anything to stop it—pro-choice Texas legislators instead decided to engage in a bit of performance art to draw attention to the hostility towards women and short-sightedness inherent in these ultrasound bills that condescendingly masquerade as caring. Houston state representative Harold Dutton got the most coverage for repeatedly making the point that “pro-lifers” drop all pretense of caring about life the second it can’t be used to punish sexually active women. In rapid order, he introduced three amendments that were tabled by the majority, who really didn’t want to address the issue of the wellbeing of actual children when potential children matter so much more to them. All three amendments addressed what should happen if a woman looks at a sonogram and decides not to have abortion. The first amendment would have required the state to pay for the child’s college tuition, the second required the state to pay for the child’s health care until age 18, and the third required the state to pay for the child’s health care until age six.
No one was surprised that the anti-choice coalition was able to successfully block these amendments, but Dutton’s point was amply made: anti-choice sentimentality about children is just a ruse to force childbirth to punish sexually active women, and they don’t care one whit about the care and feeding of actual children once they’re born and have served the woman-punishing purpose.
Dutton had allies in this move to use the amendment process to draw attention to the hypocrisy, sexism, and sadism of those who push anti-choice legislation. Rep. Joaquin Castro of San Antonio also neatly proved that anti-choicers don’t care about fetal life one bit, by offering an amendment that would require clinics providing abortion to offer medically accurate advice about contraception, with the aim of preventing future unwanted pregnancies and therefore abortions. The supposed lovers of fetal life shot this amendment down, doing as anti-choicers generally do, and choosing woman-punishing over abortion-prevention.
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What makes this all even more hilarious is that most abortion clinics already provide medically accurate information about contraception. The anti-choice coalition could have allowed Castro’s amendment without creating any material change on the ground. But the hostility to even the appearance of endorsing health care for sexually active women drove the anti-choice coalition to vote this amendment down.
Castro’s amendment requiring the state to expedite the Medicaid application process for women who get sonograms was unsurprisingly tabled by the pro-life-until-birth coalition. And as a last shot across the bow to demonstrate where anti-choice priorities lie, Castro offered an amendment that would require the state to protect abortion patients from stalking, harassment, and violence from anti-choice protesters. People advocating ultrasound laws always strike a pose of concern for women, who they paint as too dumb to know what they’re doing when they get an abortion. But that concern for women doesn’t extend to actually protecting women from actual harassment and violence, of course.
But while all these amendments warmed my feminist heart, I had a special appreciation for the amendment offered by Rep. Marisa Marquez, representing District 77 in El Paso. Marquez chose to use her amendment to highlight the double standard of anti-choicers, who focus most to all of their attention on controlling the reproductive systems of women, and leave men—at least straight men—completely alone.
Her amendment deserves to be quoted directly:
Sec.A171.057.AAMANDATORY VASECTOMY. On an application under Section 171.056, a court shall order a man to undergo a vasectomy if it is shown that:
(1) the man is the father of the pregnant woman’s child outside of marriage; and
(2) previous to the date of application, the man was a father to two or more other children by two or more other women outside of marriage.
In other words, the law would allow women that are forced by the state to undergo paternalistic, condescending, invasive procedures would allow women so violated to deliver a similar violation to the men that impregnated them. Unsurprisingly, anti-choicers did not feel what was good for the goose was good for the gander, and the amendment was tabled.
Obviously, the ultrasound measure was passed, and just as obviously, without any of these amendments attached. In an ideal world, a law whose purpose is merely to harass women who get abortions wouldn’t pass at all, but without the benefit of being able to block it, pro-choicers have to take the next step, and that’s expose laws like these for what they are. Ultrasound laws are invariably defended as somehow being good for the victims of them, and anti-choicers invariably pose as people concerned about children and women. These amendments demonstrated beyond a shadow of a doubt that the anti-choicers offering this bill don’t care about women, children, or even fetuses really. Once stripped of their excuses, all that’s left is the unvarnished truth: anti-choice legislators are wasting the taxpayer’s money and everyone’s time with laws solely designed to harass women making private sexual health choices they disapprove of for reasons of sexism and anti-sex hysteria.