by Geralyn Hinton
On January 22nd, 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that restrictive regulations on abortion were unconstitutional. In other words, that abortion during the first trimester was officially decriminalized. After the decision, women were finally free to seek safe and sanctioned abortions without fear of being convicted. It was a huge victory for women like myself.
And then history reversed itself. On May 7th, 2019, a bill was passed in the state of Georgia proposing life in prison or the death penalty for women who’d had abortions after a heartbeat could be detected in the fetus— far before many women even realize they are pregnant.
As expected, the Heartbeat Bill has rekindled the conversation on bodily autonomy and women’s choice. And this time, I'm joining this conversation. To me, this new ‘Heartbeat Bill’ symbolizes a large regression in the progress toward gender equality. Unfortunately though, this is not the first instance of legislation being used as an invasive tool to control the reproductive behaviors of the population. In the early 20th century, men and women deemed ‘habitual criminals’ by the state of Oklahoma were subjected to forced tubal ligations (or ‘tube tying’ procedures) and vasectomies to supposedly reduce the population of criminals in the state. Across the United States, the mentally disabled in particular were targets for laws permitting forced sterilization, as were countless minorities and ethnic groups. Despite the justifications for these actions purportedly being for the ‘better good’, the absence of consent or choice on such a life altering matter for these individuals remained horrendously unethical, much like the issue at hand today.
These are the issues of bodily autonomy that I am choosing to speak up about. They're not easy to confront, and many people are eager to erase those parts about U.S. history. But if reproductive rights don't extend to differently abled people and minorities, who are they for?
For me, a prominent stance against the Heartbeat Bill and other bans on abortion is the argument on what exactly signals life. In regard to a heartbeat, as some have pointed out, comatose patients are legally removed from life support every day despite having a heartbeat, and yet no legislation has been passed to prevent this. This is because it is widely understood that despite breathing and having a pulse, they are not fully alive. This then proves that the matter is not an issue of protecting and preserving life, rather than it is one of being able to exercise power, and impress personal beliefs on others.
Lastly, placing bans on abortion creates the problem of an unwanted child. A child given up for adoption and placed among the near half a million other children currently in foster care, according to a study in 2012, has only a 13% chance of ever being adopted, and the American foster care system is far from the flawless alternative it is made out to be. In addition to this, the amount of downright dangerous abortions being performed will skyrocket, and become a major health risk to women.
To refuse a woman like me the right to a choice on a subject so personal and exclusive to her is the result of nothing but a lack of respect for her and her autonomy. Laws have overstepped their bounds many times throughout the United States’ history and been corrected, yet only time will tell whether the Heartbeat Bill will meet the same fate. The sentiment persists, however, that the choice on whether or not to reproduce should be left to the individual being affected alone, and that only women should legislate on women’s bodies.