New Spousal Consent Law Epitomizes Sexism in Abortion Politics

At the end of last week, Arkansas’ state legislature announced that it passed a new provision attached to the Final Disposition Rights Act of 2009 — a provision that will render abortion illegal for pregnant women without the consent of the fetus’ father. The fetus’s father could be an abusive partner, an estranged ex, and yes, even her rapist.

The aforementioned 2009 law gives family members related to the deceased person complete say over what happens to the body. This sounds innocent enough, but under the new provision, embryonic or fetal tissue from an abortion would be regarded as a “deceased” family member, and the 2009 law mandates that the pregnant woman and fetus’ father must have equal say over its disposal.

And yet, that being said, they hardly have equal say over whether or not the pregnant woman has an abortion. A no from the fetus’ father — who could, again, be a deranged rapist — is unilateral.

News that this bill recently passed is disturbing on all counts. The bill is harmful to all women, but no one more so that survivors of domestic abuse and rape. It’s certainly a classic case of Republican extremism, yet simultaneously the premise of the bill, from anti-abortion legislators, was predictable at this point. Not only have bills to require consent of male partners been popping up more frequently in the past year, but laws like this also run parallel to the phenomenon of male lawmakers being behind the majority of anti-abortion bills, and writing the vast majority of legislation on an issue that will never directly affect them

In February, Rewire reported on how “of the 167 anti-choice bills introduced in January 2017, 71 percent (119 bills) were sponsored by white Republican men.” And, of course, plenty of nonwhite Republican men are just as ruthless in their opposition to the procedure.

This new bill, awaiting signature from Arkansas’ Republican governor, is sexist and infuriating, but in a political climate in which men are increasingly given more decision-making power over women’s bodies, it’s no surprise. I mean, male politicians are literally policing how women are dressing in 100 degree weather. It’s hard to be shocked by anything at this point.

The brunt of the issue, of course, is that anti-abortion lawmakers perceive women as non-autonomous, second-class citizens who can’t be trusted, let alone legally permitted, to make decisions about their own bodies. Male Christian lawmakers have been believe this is their issue, and as I’ve noted in a previous op-ed, it certainly doesn’t help that media coverage of abortion is dominated by men (and, unsurprisingly, predominantly inaccurate, likely as a result of this). Earlier this year, a Republican state representative from Oklahoma who introduced a similar bill defended his decision by dismissing pregnant women as mere “hosts” of fetuses, and stating that while he “under[stood] that they feel like that is their body,” (how very compassionate), oops, it’s actually not!

As The Mary Sue‘s Marykate Jasper put it, the law is “built for one reason: to let all women, and all people with a womb, know that their bodies are not their own. It’s a monstrosity.”

But of course, the issue of stripping pregnant women of autonomy and decision-making power is rooted in yet another layer of sexism. The brunt of the bill is dedicated to humanizing fetuses and embryos and fertilized eggs, and, contrary to all credible science, falsely portraying abortion as murder. To anti-abortion lawmakers, according the fetus humanity often comes at the cost of the pregnant woman’s. When we perceive pregnant women as mere “hosts,” are we going to give them decision-making power over their bodies, or instead hand this over to men? Are we going to accord pregnant women human rights, or their fetuses?

So, where do we go from here, when the bill goes into effect come July 30? Well, first of all, we can all keep our fingers crossed as the ACLU moves forward moves forward in its pursuit of an injunction.

But if this draconian, legislative mess really does take effect, the result will be utter disaster. When a woman is denied safe, legal abortion because her rapist says no, statistically speaking, it’s likely she’ll find some other way to have the procedure, anyway. If she has the economic means, that could mean traveling out of state — but if she doesn’t, that means an attempted self-termination. And then what? Will she be sued by her rapist, by her abusive husband? Face jail time? A crushing fine? Or will she suffer injury, even death, from her attempted self-termination?

The list of devastating hypotheticals as a result of this law is endless, and I doubt a single one of its Republican sponsors considered these hypotheticals for even a second. But then again, this is coming from the party that spewed out its soul-crushingly disgusting “legitimate rape” theory just a few years ago — Republicans made their willingness to put politics and personal views before women’s rights apparent a long time ago.


This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.

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