Republicans at the Legislature are upset that one of their colleagues used the word uterus on the floor of the Florida House this week. Lawmakers were talking about deregulation. Scott Randolph, an Orlando Democrat, joked that if his wife’s uterus were incorporated, maybe his colleagues would be talking about deregulating it, instead of getting in its way in the form of more regulations. Like additional abortion restrictions. The Speaker of the House was so upset that he sent his PR flack to complain about “language that would be considered inappropriate for children and other guests.” But how is the mention of the word uterus any more inappropriate than the mention of lungs or kidneys or livers, particularly with children or young floor pages, all of whom have spent more time in the comfort of a uterus than on the duplicitous carpets of the Legislature?
There are many offenses being committed on the Legislature’s floor these days. Uttering the word uterus is not one of them. What Republicans are doing to women’s uteruses is, and that was just Randolph’s point. Here’s one example.
Current law requires that any clinic providing abortion services in the second trimester conduct an ultrasound first. It’s one of those patronizing impositions that presume that women need to be lectured about what they already know by clinicians who know absolutely nothing about them. The really offensive assumption is that women must be forced to see the fetus they want to abort if they’re to make an informed decision. GOP lawmakers have been trying for years to extend the ultrasound requirement to the first trimester. This year they may succeed. The requirement would immediately cut down on the number of abortion clinics, because some of them can’t afford extremely expensive ultrasound machines. It would also force some women to possibly forego clinical abortions, because the women themselves would have to pay not only for their abortion, but for the ultrasound, too.
The proposal is back-alley trickery, a way to stick it to women and their health while pretending to be looking out for morals. And that’s the least of the insult.
In 2008, there were 95,000 abortions in Florida, and 231,000 live births. Some of those pregnancies—if I may be allowed to use the word pregnancy—were terminated by choice, some by medical necessity, and some by moral necessity, if for example the pregnancy was the result of incest or rape. What’s beyond dispute is that for most of these women, getting an abortion was not a casual choice. Getting pregnant may have been a casual act, even a careless act. But that’s nobody’s business, particularly since half the people involved in those acts either dropped out of the picture before sunup or stand there as men tend to with these things, either clueless or looking to mess with something that isn’t theirs to mess with. Women, meanwhile, must endure. If the experience of women who go through with abortions is any guide, the stupidity around them pales in comparison with their own grief and second-guessing and pain, all of which endures long after the abortion.
There may be a difference between forcing a woman to wear a burqa supposedly to protect her virtue and forcing a woman to stare at an ultrasound supposedly to inform her about her choice. If there is, it’s not much of one, both burdens being the result male-centered assumptions about what’s best for women.
It would be nice if there were ultrasounds for anguish, and men were forced to see what they’re putting women through that way. I wouldn’t go so far as to suggest that forcing a woman to stare at an ultrasound of her own innards is a form of rape, though some women do. But it is a form of violation, not just of the woman’s privacy, but of her dignity. None of those requirements are imposed on the father, of course. Fathers, as always, are elsewhere. They have that luxury. The floor of the Florida Legislature appears to be one of their favorite retreats from the real world. Take an ultrasound of that place and you’ll see that if life begins at conception for some, empathy and compassion never do, even well into adulthood.