Did the state of New York last week adopt a law that would allow a woman to get a late-term abortion, right up to a baby’s due date?
No. That is not what happened.
So why does the internet want you to think it is? The short answer is simple: patriarchy. The long answer, of course–like patriarchy itself–is complicated.
Here is what Article 25A, also known as the Reproductive Health Act, is really about. In short, it updates an outdated law. It protects doctors from criminal prosecution in the event that they have to to perform a late-term abortion in order to save the life of the mother. Yes, there may be some gray area surrounding what “life-threatening” might really mean. But who do we want making those decisions? A physician in the moment? Or a legislator with a hypothetical on paper? If we truly believe doctors are going to work every day just looking for an excuse to abort a full-term baby, then civilization, we have got some bigger questions to be asking ourselves.
But let’s run on the assumption that doctors go to work every day with the goal of preserving life, whenever possible. These are the kinds of laws that separate us from the developing world … the laws that make America different from countries in the Middle East and Central America, where life is both dangerous and terrifying for women. These laws let physicians make the best choices they can, in the moment, for the well-being of their patients–both the mother and the unborn baby. These laws also protect women who are already having to make impossible choices from having to also worry about going to jail later.
There are countless stories around the internet of women who have been in just this situation, and they are heart wrenching. There are also stories of women who have died of sepsis because their Catholic (or other faith-based) medical facility would not remove a non-living fetus from the womb. To be clear–the baby had already died. But to remove it from the mother is still medically considered a termination of pregnancy, and so, in certain facilities, a doctor’s hands are tied.
Those stories are not mine to tell. It is important to understand the nuances of these laws; and to understand that misinformation about women’s reproductive health is harmful to women. The production and spread of that misinformation is an act of violence against women. And this, in a nutshell, is how patriarchy functions to control this narrative.
Create confusion and you create widespread fear (wait, they’re aborting full-term babies?? They can’t do that!); create fear and you have great division (who would want to kill a baby! those monsters!); and with that division, you can more easily “divide and conquer” the subjects you aim to keep small and silent (how do “those kinds of women” possibly support this evil law?) Divide women across ideological lines, and you have effectively achieved a “divide and conquer” situation, wherein women will never really mobilize for their own progress and equality, because you’re keeping them too busy fighting about their babies and their bodies.
There is a whole chapter about this in my book, Resist and Persist: Faith and the Fight for Equality. The fight over abortion has so effectively polarized this country that no leader can hope to get elected without engaging it. And for those on the extreme right or left of this issue, all other conversations come to a screeching halt when this one is on the table. I’ve long known this line of discourse is a favorite tool of the patriarchy in its onhoing attempt to shame and silence women; but I’ve never seen such a glimmering “case in point” as this most recent legislation. Politicians and faith leaders have leveraged the hysteria to boost their own profiles. But that hysteria overlooks critical facts and context, makes broad generalizations and assumes the most sinister of intentions at every turn.
Is the law perfect? No. But as long as fear and misinformation are given so much oxygen, women’s votes and voices remain divided. With women divided, the reign of the straight white dude goes unchallenged. Patriarchy mission accomplished.
Broadly speaking, I file myself under “personally pro-life, politically pro-choice.” I believe a fetus is a life; and there are very few scenarios in which I, personally, would ever consider an abortion. At the same time, I recognize the privilege inherent in that view. Things like education, age, economic and relationship status make that an easy choice for me. For most women in the world, none of those things are easy. And some of the most vulnerable women in the world are the ones with the fewest choices about their own health and agency.
The best possible way to diminish the tragedy of abortion is to provide unfettered access to sex education, birth control, and affordable healthcare and childcare for all women–the very things that “pro-life ” patriarchy seeks to inhibit. Ultimately, if we empower women’s bodies, we empower their whole lives. And the lives of their children will be better for it. I’m one of many Christians who believe any “pro-life” philosophy must embody a broader ethic of life–whole life, all life– even after birth. This new legislation in New York is a step in that direction, not away from it.
There is no easy answer. The matter is complicated, and so solutions must be as well. But I am weary of all the shame and entitled outrage that comes attached to what should be a meaningful conversation about all life in general, and women’s health in particular. I am exhausted of the needless hysteria and the spread of misinformation that is meant to keep us stuck and scared. I am eight kinds of over people who buy into all the outrage without ever turning a discerning eye to their sources. To the detriment of us all. If you know anybody like that … maybe gently point them in the direction of some critical context and nuance.
I know we are not all going to agree on this today. But we should at least know that it’s the patriarchy, not the faith community, fueling the real fire out there. And they are getting exactly what they came for.