Does anyone else see the irony in the Republican-controlled North Carolina state legislature adding severe abortion restrictions to a bill that forbids Sharia law in the Tarheel State? Yep, legislation banning the use of Islamic law in family and custody cases was loaded down with abortion politics during the final hours before passage and renamed the "Family, Faith, and Freedom Protection Act of 2013."
Among other rules aimed at closing down the state's legal clinics is the requirement that a doctor be present for the application of any abortion-inducing medication. This means that if you wish to take the abortion pill RU-486 in the privacy of your home, you're going to need a doctor friend to keep you company. The tone-deaf Tea Party Republicans in North Carolina succeeded in banishing Sharia law, only to replace it with a different type of Sharia law, one with a distinct conservative Christian flavor. Governor Pat McCrory rebuked his fellow Republicans for attaching the abortion amendments to the bill and threatened a veto if substantial changes were not made. So the GOP lawmakers changed a noun here and a verb there and reintroduced the abortion laws as amendments to a motorcycle safety bill.
This action followed Texas' passing of the nation's most restrictive abortion legislation. Despite the temporarily successful filibuster by Senator Wendy Davis, presidential wannabe Governor Rick Perry called a special session for his anti-abortion agenda. Texas now requires that all abortions take place in a surgical center and all doctors have hospital admitting privileges; exactly the same legislation that failed in Mississippi earlier this year. The bill's female sponsor, state representative Jodie Laubenberg, claimed no exception was needed for rape because "in the emergency room they have what they call rape kits, where a woman can get cleaned out." And here I thought that "a woman can shut that all down" if it's a "legitimate rape." According to Wendy Davis, the new laws will shutter all but five of the state's 42 clinics.
This year alone, 17 states have enacted 43 new laws that further regulate a woman's access to abortion services, and 120 new laws were passed in the previous two years. This state-rights attempt to once again criminalize abortion is no coincidence.
In Wisconsin, recall survivor Governor Scott Walker signed a bill requiring ultrasounds of all women seeking abortions. In Ohio, Republicans crammed abortion restrictions into the state's budget, stating that "life begins at the moment of conception" and mandating ultrasounds before any procedure. The budget/abortion bill was signed into law by Governor John Kasich, making Ohio the only state where a doctor faces criminal charges for failing to test for a fetal heartbeat and informing the woman of the results. Similar bills have passed or are pending in Arizona, Nebraska, Georgia, and Louisiana.
So, where is the outrage? Forty years ago, women staged mass protests and marches for the right to control their reproductive lives. Why aren't women and their supporters marching in the streets now? Actually, they are. The nation is so focused on Kim and Kanye's baby, however, that it's not being adequately reported. Thousands have rallied in Raleigh, North Carolina, every Monday since April to protest the GOP legislative blitzkrieg, and more than 700 North Carolinians have been arrested in the last two months. Hundreds of people massed in the capitol in Columbus, Ohio, including 20 protesters forcibly removed from the Senate chamber for yelling, "Shame on you." In Austin, thousands have protested and 12 have been arrested. Eight people were arrested in Madison, Wisconsin, for attempting to deliver coat hangers to Republican politicians. So, what's really at work here?
The targeted, state-by-state, anti-abortion strategy has several supporting organizations, including the Susan B. Anthony List and the well-funded National Right To Life Committee, but the major player is the Americans United for Life (AUL). A team of lawyers working for AUL has provided Republican-led state legislatures with pre-written bills, lacking only a sponsor. The AUL has collected its proposed bills in a playbook called "Defending Life" and delivered it to every state, including Tennessee, where legislators are already working on their behalf. One of the AUL's major goals is the banning of abortion after 20 weeks. Perry said that "after 20 weeks we are not going to allow abortion in our state." The 20-week provision is based on disputed research that claims a fetus can feel pain at that point in a pregnancy. There are reasons, usually desperate and life-threatening, for late-term abortions that are beyond the comprehension of the Texas state legislature.
The prolific poet and great 20th-century psychedelic prophet Jimi Hendrix weighed in on the abortion dispute in 1971, with the release of his song "Belly-Button Window," in which he portrays a fetus peering out into the world from his mother's navel. Among other observations, Hendrix proclaimed from the womb:
So if you don't want me now, make up your mind, where or when/If you don't want me now, give or take, you only got two hundred days.
Two hundred days equals, let's see ... six months or so. That comes out to 26 weeks, exactly what the state of Texas allows right now. If Hendrix could figure it out, then why can't Rick Perry? Abortion is a moral and medical decision between a woman and her doctor and should have no place on anyone's legislative agenda. The politicization of the abortion dispute has distracted us for far too long from the important work of restoring our country, and it needs to stop. I can tolerate a certain amount of government intrusion in my life, but stay the hell out of a woman's uterus.
Randy Haspel writes the Born-Again Hippies blog, where a version of this column first appeared.