In other words, by manufacturing a concern about women’s health and safety, the anti-choice movement defused middle-of-the-road critics and passed the first round of ultrasound laws and similar restrictions with relatively little fanfare, at least compared to what we’ve seen lately. And those health and safety concerns truly involved fabrication: While each woman’s response to an unintended pregnancy and an abortion varies along a broad spectrum, there is no evidence to indicate that in any meaningful, aggregate sense, abortion actually damages women.
As a Guttmacher report puts it, “Likely because the science attesting to the physical safety of the abortion procedure is so clear” — several studies have indicated that abortion is actually safer than carrying a pregnancy to term — “abortion foes have long focused on what they allege are its negative mental health consequences. For decades, they have charged that having an abortion causes mental instability and even may lead to suicide, and despite consistent repudiations from the major professional mental health associations, they remain undeterred.” Neither the American Psychological Association (APA) nor the American Psychiatric Association recognizes so-called post-abortion traumatic stress syndrome as grounded in clinical evidence. Even Ronald Reagan’s antiabortion surgeon general was unable to produce a legitimate case, concluding, “the scientific studies do not provide conclusive data about the health effects of abortion on women.”
Abortion opponents don’t much care. The introduction to the AUL model legislation on ultrasounds, which can make its way verbatim to statehouses nationwide, is introduced with the unfounded, and highly ironic, claim that “in the abortion industry, paternalistic attitudes toward women still prevail and, as a result, women continue to be uninformed of the risks and consequences of abortion.”
Women, in this formulation, aren’t rational creatures who are making a choice for their own lives and bodies; they are fragile, emotional, subject to pressure, an idea that simultaneously seeks to draw on earlier feminist criticisms of the medical profession and on essentialist stereotypes, while denying women any agency and seeking to actually coerce them. The hoped-for takeaway is that abortion opponents aren’t seeking to criminalize women’s behavior (or put them in jail for murder, the natural and consistent conclusion of the anti-choice mentality), they’re just trying to remind them of the maternal instinct that allegedly lies in every woman’s heart.
There’s a reason many of these laws have tried to leave the door open for women — and chillingly, in the case of the Alabama bill, “fathers” and “grandparents” — to sue doctors for allegedly failing to properly inform them. Something has to reconcile the idea of saving women from abortion-greedy doctors with the fact that so many women willingly choose abortion for themselves. Surely it is because the women were lied to by the doctors, not because of their own complex set of feelings; otherwise, how could they have departed so far from a woman’s natural role and “killed” their “baby”?