by Amanda Marcotte, RH Reality Check
April 2, 2012
The past few months, we’ve seen the nation wake up to many anti-choice assaults on women’s basic right to control their fertility, especially with regards to imposing forced ultrasounds and numerous attacks on access to basic contraception. But one of the other favorite anti-choice approaches to maximizing the pain and suffering of women as punishment for sex has largely gone unnoticed by many outside of the pro-choice activist community: bans on abortions after 20 weeks. It’s understandable that it’s hard to whip people up about this particular situation. After all, abortions after 20 weeks are relatively rare. Only 1.5% of abortions occur after the 20th week, and the vast majority of those that do occur are done for medical reasons, or because legal and financial obstacles–like those put in place by lawmakers–caused a delay. While, if they knew their personal stories, most people would certainly sympathize with women in need of post-20 week abortions, a certain amount of reproductive rights fatigue is setting in. There’s only so many hours in the day, and anti-choicers know if they just keep throwing restrictions on access at us, some will slip through the cracks.
But, as exhausting as it is, we need to pay attention to and resist post-20 week bans on abortion. That’s because it’s cruel on its surface, but also because legislators are using 20 week bans in order to smuggle in other items of more importance to them than simply making it harder for a slim minority of women seeking abortions to get them. The most obvious thing they’re trying to do is set anti-science precedent. Since these bans are based on the false, unscientific claim that fetuses at 20 weeks can feel pain, if they’re allowed to stand, it opens the door for more laws based on straight-up lies to be passed. These laws are also being used to challenge the requirement set out in Roe v Wade that a woman’s health and life should trump that of the misogynist desire to keep her pregnant at all costs.
Legislators have had so much success smuggling in ulterior motives with 20-week bans that they’re now looking for ways to expand the amount of hard right anti-choice nonsense they can attach to those bills. The most recent—and extreme—example is Arizona. There, lawmakers are writing a 20-week abortion ban that starts counting off at the first day of a woman’s period. Yes, they’re arguing that you’re “pregnant” while you’re actually getting your period. In fact, as Kate Sheppard at Mother Jones explains, they’re really trying to steal as many weeks as possible away from women seeking abortion:
Most women ovulate about 14 or 15 days after their period starts, and women can usually get pregnant from sexual intercourse that occured anywhere between five days before ovulation and a day after it. Arizona’s law would start the clock at a woman’s last period—which means, in practice, that the law prohibits abortion later than 18 weeks after a woman actually becomes pregnant.