On March 8, Mississippi’s House of Representatives voted 75-34 in favor of H.B. 1510, the Gestational Age Act, which prevents a woman from terminating a pregnancy after 15 weeks. This bill follows the Mississippi Senate vote of 35-14 in favor of this ban. When Governor Phil Bryant signs it in to law, it will take effect immediately.
Of course, Mississippi was hardly a beacon of progressivism for reproductive rights prior to this bill’s passage, with a 20-week ban already in effect with the exception of lethal fetal anomalies or the endangering of the woman’s life.
This recent ban takes further steps not simply in terms of gestation, but by subjecting to criminal charges both the women and doctors engaged in abortions after 15 weeks, and by not providing exceptions for cases of rape or incest or exceptions to protect the woman’s health.
It should come as little surprise that Republicans control both chambers of the state legislature and the governorship. But the extremism of punishing women for being subjected to violent crime is so abhorrent that it should go well beyond the scope of normal partisan politics. The Supreme Court held in Planned Parenthood v. Casey that the central holding of Roe v. Wade did not preclude states from enacting their own restrictions on the scope of abortion access so long as the state’s enactments did not have the purpose or effect of imposing an undue burden. It is difficult to see a world in which sentencing rape survivors to motherhood is not an undue burden.
You would think that Republicans would have learned from the absurdity of Todd Akin’s reprehensible remarks about “legitimate rape,” and women’s abilities to “to try to shut that whole thing down” to prevent pregnancy resulting from rape. Perhaps if more Republicans supported medically accurate sex education, they might know more about women’s bodies.
If Republicans cared about fetal health, they would have supported the preservation of the Affordable Care Act and would have voted for Medicaid expansion, which vastly expanded access to health care for low-income Americans. The Affordable Care Act established, among other things, essential health benefits including OB/GYN care that would help enable a safe and healthy pregnancy, and it established as another essential health benefit pediatric care, to help care for the health and well-being of the individual being brought in to the world. The Affordable Care Act established that pregnancies couldn’t constitute declinable preexisting conditions should someone seek to obtain insurance. And had Mississippi chosen to expand Medicaid, more of its poor residents would have been able to seek medical attention, whether for primary care, obstetric care, pediatric care for their children, or mental health care in a time when far too many Americans struggle with mental health conditions and substance abuse.
Building a family can be an exciting decision, but people should be financially prepared to take on that responsibility, and should have the health care to support this family. Yet Mississippi ranks #1 in the country in the highest percentage of children in households with below-poverty income, in addition to which it has the highest child food-insecurity rate, and the highest infant mortality rate.
Time and again, Mississippi has shirked its responsibility to provide health care, fighting only for life before birth, and penalizing women for the violent crimes to which they’ve been subjected.
As a rape survivor myself, I know the violation that it presents. One loses a sense of power. One loses a sense of bodily autonomy. One experiences physical and emotional trauma.
When I was recovering from my assault, getting out of bed was a challenge. Going to classes and doing problem sets in graduate school was a challenge. Living was a challenge, and when I couldn’t function well, I self-medicated. While I took emergency contraception – a pill whose access Mississippi has sought to limit – and thus was not concerned about pregnancy, had I been forced to carry a pregnancy to term, if I didn’t intentionally overdose I would not have had a healthy pregnancy, nor would I have been well-prepared to parent on my meager graduate school stipend.
1 in 6 women will be subjected to attempted or completed rape in their lifetime, and 13% of rape survivors will go on to attempt suicide amid the depression and trauma that may result. We should treat rape survivors with compassion. We should treat rape survivors by prioritizing the women themselves over the pregnancy that may have resulted from that crime.
Women should never be forced to physically carry the burden of crimes they have endured. Decisions about pregnancy are deeply personal and life-changing, and must remain exclusively between women and their doctors. Legislators who pontificate about being pro-life must put their money where their mouth is by supporting investments in health coverage for life after birth.