Feb 19, 2020
Rolanda Hollis, a state representative from Alabama, has introduced a bill in her state's legislature that has gotten a lot of attention. After Alabama banned nearly all abortions last year, Hollis introduced a bill that would require all men over the age of 50, or those who have fathered three children -- whichever comes first -- to undergo a mandatory vasectomy. She made it clear the bill was meant to "send a message that men should not be legislating what women do with their bodies." Replying to a question on Twitter, she explained, "The Vasectomy bill is to help with the reproductive system. This is to neutralize the abortion ban bill.
The responsibility is not always on the women. It takes 2 to tangle [sic]. This will help prevent pregnancy as well as abortion of unwanted children." Hollis added the bill would "help men become more accountable as well as women."
If the idea behind Hollis' bill sounds absurd, that is precisely the point. Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who has urged the passage of a 20-week abortion ban in his state, among other things, was shocked at what he describes as the bill's overreach. He said, without irony, "Yikes. A government big enough to give you everything is big enough to take everything ... literally! Alabama Democrat proposes bill mandating all men have vasectomy at age 50 or after third child." Twitter users jumped on his hypocrisy and called him out. Actress and activist Patricia Arquette replied, "Thought you wanted to stop unwanted pregnancies." LGBTQ rights activist Ida Skibenes retorted, "Yikes. It's almost like you're uncomfortable with someone telling you what to do with your body and deciding when and how to have a kid."
Republican lawmakers in Alabama made it quite clear that their intention in passing their near-total abortion ban was to challenge the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade, which asserted women had a constitutional right to an abortion. Rep. Terri Collins acknowledged the abortion ban would be challenged in court and said, "The heart of this bill is to confront a decision that was made by the courts in 1973 that said the baby in a womb is not a person."
So adamant were lawmakers who supported the abortion ban that they refused to hear an amendment that would have carved out exceptions for pregnancies as a result of rape or incest. This means that in Alabama, for example, a 13-year-old girl who might get pregnant after being raped by an older male family member would be forced to carry a baby to term if the state law stands. If such a scenario does not sound absurd -- but mandatory vasectomies for men does -- you might just be a misogynist.
Hollis, a black woman lawmaker in a deeply conservative southern state, is fearless. She has challenged Republicans in the legislature, reading out a feminist poem by Katie Heim featuring this first line: "If my vagina was a gun, you would stand for its rights. You would ride on a bus and fight all the fights." Although she made headlines for her vasectomy bill, she has also introduced bills to protect the health of children such as a ban on smoking in cars while children are present. Her detractors have raised the fact that last fall in Florida, she was arrested and detained for one night on suspicion of domestic violence after an argument with her husband during which she admitted to breaking a glass. In a country where black people, including black women, are criminalized and overpoliced, the legitimacy of her arrest deserves to be questioned. Conservatives who ban abortions, protect guns over human lives and celebrate the racist criminal justice system with their "tough-on-crime" rhetoric see no contradictions in their positions.
The anti-abortionists of America are so dangerous, they have tried to spread their ideology all over the world. A new, first-of-its-kind investigation by OpenDemocracy.net recently found that a U.S.-based organization linked to President Donald Trump has been spreading anti-abortion propaganda in at least 18 countries. Vice President Mike Pence has spoken at events organized by Heartbeat International, a group that runs so-called crisis pregnancy centers in which pregnant women who might be considering an abortion are lured in by staffers, who then tell them whatever it takes, including outright lies, to talk them out of the procedure. Heartbeat, according to the investigation, funds such centers throughout the U.S. and all over the world, including in nations where abortion is legal and often more freely available than here. The centers it runs have made claims that abortions can cause cancer, have high failure rates and can make your partner gay -- all of which are obviously false.
While anti-abortionists confer life on a collection of cells inside a woman's body and defend those cells at all costs, their denial of abortion access risks the lives of real, living human beings. Research shows that in areas where abortion access is restricted, maternal mortality rates begin climbing. Specifically, "a state's enactment of gestational limits for abortion and the Planned Parenthood clinic closures in a state increased its maternal mortality rates," as per one study.
The issue of abortion has come to define the American political landscape. President Trump knows he can get away with anything as long as he can reliably win the votes of anti-abortion Americans. They will seemingly forgive all his misconduct, criminal behavior, public bullying and compulsive lying, as long as he backs their agenda. And Trump's support is not just symbolic. He has relied on the opinion of an ardent anti-abortion activist named Leonard Leo, who functions as his "unofficial judicial adviser" to remake the federal courts with the appointment of hundreds of conservative judges. The president also has picked two Supreme Court justices -- Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh -- who were on Leo's short-list. Trump's actions could bear real fruit for the anti-abortion crowd as the Supreme Court hears arguments next month in a case involving an abortion clinic in Louisiana. At stake in that case is the seminal Roe v. Wade decision.
It's not just Trump. Anti-abortion activists have the powerful Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in their corner as well. McConnell has boasted about successfully blocking President Barack Obama's Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland and overseeing the Senate approval of Trump's judges and Supreme Court justices. The man who has turned the U.S. Senate into a "legislative graveyard" now plans to bring two bills to the Senate floor: the "Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, and the "Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act." As their titles strongly suggest, both bills absurdly elevate the rights of a collection of fetal cells over all else.
In spite of the relentless fearmongering, legislative erosion of women's rights and powerful political allies to do their bidding, the anti-abortionists remain a minority. Nearly two thirds of all Americans still identify as pro-choice. If the right's brazen attempts to erode abortion access sound deeply absurd, perhaps Alabama Rep. Hollis' idea for mandatory vasectomies for men ought to be introduced on a federal level and debated in full view of the public.
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