Commentary Abortion

The Latest Attempt to Make Anti-Choice Bullying Into Law

Amanda Marcotte

Legislators in Arizona are proposing a bill that would require doctors to tell abortion patients that the procedure can be "reversed"—the latest in a series of anti-choice efforts to put official government support behind the harassment of women.

We pretty much all learn at an early age that wishing for something doesn’t make it true. Someone needs to tell Republicans that the same principle applies to legislation: Just because you pass a law stating that something is true doesn’t mean that it is true.

The latest attempt by conservatives to try to skew reality would be comical if the ramifications weren’t so serious. In Arizona, anti-choice legislators are trying to pass a law requiring doctors to tell women getting abortions that the procedure can be “reversed,” at least in the case of a medication abortion.

Of course, the fact that anti-choicers lie a lot isn’t some great revelation—indeed, it seems at times like they are incapable of telling the truth—but this particular lie is especially bizarre, as it defies not just known science but common sense. You can’t un-ring a bell, and you can’t re-establish a pregnancy that’s been lost. Even for people who try to claim that contraception is abortion, or who argue that “abstinence” is the answer in a country where 95 percent of people have premarital sex, this feels like taking it to another level in the dishonesty department.

Of course, the proponents of this idea have a hand-waving line of B.S. to justify this silliness. They claim that you can “reverse” a medical abortion after the first of a two-pill regimen is taken by giving a woman a bunch of progesterone to somehow keep her body from rejecting the embryo. However, there is no real scientific evidence that this works. Yes, some women who only take the first pill do not see their pregnancies end. This isn’t because of the progesterone shots, however; it’s more because the first pill on its own isn’t enough to terminate a pregnancy in about 40 percent of cases. Nor can this really be characterized honestly as reversing an abortion so much as not aborting in the first place. If I get in the car, buckle my seatbelt, and start the engine, but then turn the car off before I go anywhere, you wouldn’t say I “reversed” my trip. I just never started it.

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This is not the first time, by a long shot, that conservatives have reached for the law to declare their falsehoods as official “truth.” Anti-choicers have been at this for a long time, whether they’re forcing doctors to deceive patients about the breast cancer risk of abortion; holding up the over-the-counter status of emergency contraception based on false claims that it is abortion-inducing; or banning abortion after 20 weeks based on the debunked science that fetuses can feel pain. Nor are these tactics limited to attacks on reproductive rights: Florida Gov. Rick Scott penalized state officials for speaking the truth about climate change.

But this particular lie exposes how much anti-choicers are trying to use the government as a weapon to harass women. This bill doesn’t just deceive women about biology; it’s an overt attempt to undermine women emotionally, by telling them that some strangers in the Arizona legislature knows how they feel more than they do. Legislators might as well pass a law requiring doctors to pat you on the head and say, “You think you want an abortion, but I know you ladies, and in an hour you’ll be begging me to undo it.” That’s the message they’re conveying with this creepy bill.

It’s one thing to talk over options with a woman to confirm she’s sure about the procedure—something providers in fact do as part of abortion care. It’s another thing entirely to imply, falsely, but with medical authority, that it’s common for women to want to take it back moments after aborting. This bill is effectively making it mandatory for medical professionals, whom you are supposed to trust, to gaslight you. The obvious purpose of doing that is to make a woman feel unsure about herself and her decisions and to wonder, for no reason at all, if she is experiencing the “right” emotions about her abortion.

That’s not the only way the Arizona bill, SB 1318, is eerily reminiscent of the tactics bullies use to manipulate and control, either. As Eric Reuss from the Arizona section of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists explained in a piece for the Arizona Republic, the proposed legislation would also ban insurance plans obtained through the state health-care exchange from covering abortion—and risk the exposure of doctors’ records. “The bill also requires providers to release [their] private information to the Arizona Department of Health Services,” he notes. “This information, including the private addresses of physicians, could then be posted online.” Trying to control someone’s financial resources to manipulate their behavior? Putting them or their acquaintances under surveillance? If you were dating this bill, your friends would tell you to dump him and change your phone number. Unfortunately, you can’t break up with state law, because, you know, you live there.

Whether or not this bill becomes law in Arizona, we should worry, because it’s getting serious play. Plus, we know these kinds of bills are rarely a one-time or single-state affair; rather, they tend to grow and spread across red states.

And the government endorsement of bullying and emotional abuse to punish women for having sex is just getting worse all the time. You see it in the Supreme Court blessing the desire of anti-choicers to get right up in your face and shame you for your private sexual health choices as you walk into an abortion clinic. You see it in the mandatory ultrasound laws that exist for no other reason other than to guilt-trip women about abortion—complete with a physical invasion that doctors may not find medically necessary. Now, the Arizona government wants to force doctors to lay an out-and-out mind game on women, designed to make patients question their own decisions and confuse them by saying abortions are a thing that can be “reversed.” It’s all just a matter of codifying bullying into official policy.

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