Rick Perry's Demeaning Abortion Doctrine

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The Guardian/UK

Rick Perry's Demeaning Abortion Doctrine

The Texas governor's real anti-abortion agenda – enforcing sexual abstinence – not only insults women; it doesn't work

Rick Perry's chances at passing himself off as a reasonable Republican were diminished considerably yet again this week, when the Centre for Reproductive Rights secured a victory against a draconian anti-abortion regulation Perry rushed through the legislature in May, claiming while doing so that it was an emergency measure. When US district judge Sam Sparks rejected the law and blocked enforcement, he created an occasion for the national media to look more closely at Perry's record on women's rights. What they'll find is that Perry goes far beyond the usual anti-abortion platitudes: he not only bears a zealous hatred of abortion rights, but also a hostility to contraception and sex education.

While many states have mandatory ultrasound laws, the Texas bill rushed into law by Perry goes many steps further. The law requires a woman seeking an abortion to endure an anti-choice lecture delivered by a doctor who doesn't agree with the content, which gave judge Sparks the chance to reject the law on freedom of speech grounds. But what's truly alarming about the law is the searing contempt for women's dignity and intelligence baked right into it. Women would be required to go through an uncomfortable, invasive vaginal probe sonogram in order to get the picture and audible heartbeat required. They would then be sent home 24 hours to "think" about the decision, putting the Texas government in the position of a schoolteacher sending women to the corner.

Probing "dirty girls" with vaginal wands and then punishing them as though they were naughty children? This seems like Perry and the Texas legislature have mixed up writing laws with scripting pornography. Unfortunately, for the women of Texas, these ritual humiliations dreamed up by Republican legislators aren't actually sexy fantasies but miserable realities - but for a federal judge remembering that women, too, have constitutional rights.

To add insult to unwanted bodily invasion, Perry justified his support for the law by arguing that women are dog-stupid. "This important sonogram legislation ensures that every Texas woman seeking an abortion has all the facts about the life she is carrying," he bleated, "and understands the devastating impact of such a life-changing decision." In other words, women need to be put through unnecessary vaginal probing, condescending lectures and 24-hour waiting periods, because without all this harassment, they might not realise that if they have an abortion, they won't be having a baby.

One shudders to think of what other legislation could come from such a view of women's basic intelligence. Would Perry support a law requiring tampons to be labelled "Do not wear in ears"?

Perry justifies this sadistic interest in humiliating women seeking abortion by claiming that it's all in service of preventing abortions. This argument is clearly false, for two major reasons. One is that empirical evidence demonstrates that women don't change their minds after looking at an ultrasound – something we know because many doctors offer it without the humiliating rituals. In fact, most women who want to look report being glad they did, presumably because ultrasounds show how the teeny embryo being removed in no way resembles an actual baby.

The other reason is that Perry focuses all his interest in visiting humiliations and obstacles on women who are already determined to get an abortion, but exactly zero interest in preventing women from needing one in the first place. In fact, his actions demonstrate that he's not only disinterested in preventing abortion, but works hard to increase the abortion rate.

Under Perry's leadership, Texas Republicans have drastically cut state funding for family planning programmes. These cuts had no relationship to abortion, but are simply cuts in basic reproductive healthcare services and, of course, contraception. The Austin Chronicle estimates that hundreds of thousands of women will be cut off from subsidised contraception. Since these women already struggle to afford basic healthcare, many won't be able to get contraception elsewhere, and will get pregnant. Since it's even harder to afford a baby than a pack of pills, we can expect many of these women to get abortions, even if they have to borrow money or pawn belongings to afford it.

It's not just in contraception cuts that we see how Perry's supposedly great concern for preventing abortion invariably stops short if doing so would ever help a real live, sexually active woman. This was demonstrated amply by his fumbling response to an interviewer who challenged Perry with empirical evidence that abstinence-only education in Texas schools wasn't working, as demonstrated by the state's high teenage pregnancy rate. Perry repeatedly insisted that abstinence works – which is not true if you apply the "imperfect use" standard used to assess all other contraceptive methods – but simply blundered about when challenged about the ineffectiveness of turning a "just say no" method into young people actually saying no.

It clearly hadn't occurred to Perry to think of sexually active women as equals to the virgins, or that the state should have any responsibility to its sexually active citizens (that is, the vast majority) other than to tell them to go hang. After vaginally probing them using an unwilling doctor as a proxy, of course.

Amanda Marcotte

Amanda Marcotte is a freelance writer who focuses on feminism and politics. She lives in Brooklyn, NY.

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