The past couple of weeks have seen increasingly contentious and threatening dialogue around how women who have abortions should be treated. The Atlantic’s decision to hire Kevin Williamson, a conservative columnist who vocally advocates for the death penalty for the quarter of women who have abortions, drew as much outrage as the publication’s subsequent decision to end their working relationship with Williamson. And the same week The Atlantic decided to sever ties with Williamson, a three-term state senator from Idaho had to walk back on similar statements he made, also supporting the death penalty for those who have abortions.
Such a belief is undeniably extreme. Contrary to the criticisms of conservative commentators like Erick Erickson, Williamson was not fired for his contrarian “viewpoints” — The Atlantic is notably staffed by multiple abortion rights opponents. The incitement of violence and mass murder against the substantive group of women who have had an abortion is not merely a “viewpoint,” nor is it merely a contribution to the marketplace of ideas. Rather, it’s a violent and dangerous ideology; such rhetoric normalizes the very real violence and harassment shouldered by abortion providers and women across the country for offering or receiving a legal, necessary medical service.
In 2017, the Feminist Majority Foundation found that 34.2 percent of U.S. abortion providers said they had experienced “severe violence or threats of violence” in the first half of 2016, an increase from the 19.7 percent of clinics who said they had experienced this in 2014. In light of the upward trend of arson and other acts of physical and verbal violence that target providers and women, threatening language about abortion must be understood as more than abstract contrarianism, but as a clear threat to women and health care providers’ livelihoods.
That said, fringe and extreme ideologies more often than not share some foundation with ostensibly moderate politics. On Monday, Arizona’s House of Representatives passed a bill that would require hospitals and clinics to ask women seeking abortion why they want the procedure. The bill’s quiet demand for women to be punished for the procedure may not be as obvious as Williamson’s articulation that women who terminate a pregnancy should be hanged, nor President Donald Trump’s sentiment in 2016 that there must be “some form of punishment” for women who have the procedure. Nonetheless, the bill demands that women who have a legal, but inherently gendered, medical service be treated differently by requiring them to justify what is often a deeply personal decision. It’s a compelling discussion that many patients may understandably feel uncomfortable having.
The bill transparently does not stem from concern for the reasons women want abortions, which could include anything from economic hardship or lack of access to reliable contraception, to simply not wanting to experience the often extreme discomfort of pregnancy. It is supported by Republican lawmakers’ whose track records reveal they are the same people who never cede an opportunity to make abortion less accessible. The bill is widely understood among pro-choice advocates as an invasion of privacy meant to make women feel ashamed for making safe decisions about their bodies.
And its specifics are even more insidious. The bill delineates certain, charged questions abortion providers must ask patients seeking abortion care: Were they victims of sex trafficking or domestic abuse? Was the pregnancy a result of rape or incest? Were they being coerced? Trafficking, rape and reproductive coercion are all very serious issues of their own accord, but here, we see them being manipulated to undermine the existence and necessity of free reproductive choice.
The bill’s purpose is to associate the procedure with extreme situations to suggest that abortion is not the common, safe and, once again, legal medical procedure that it is. It suggests only unstable or victimized women would willingly seek to terminate a pregnancy outside of extreme circumstances. And in doing so, it aims to subject women to the guilt and shame that go hand-in-hand with forcing anyone to defend a personal decision. Despite the stigma and cultural fanaticism that abortion remains mired in, it is as legal as a colonoscopy or other situational medical services, and yet, the government does not necessitate questioning, mandatory counseling and justification for any of these services.
Ultimately, it’s important to note that the social or other forms of punishment that go hand-in-hand with having an abortion are hardly evitable. Women who have abortions aren’t irresponsible, and we don’t need to “teach them a lesson” for purportedly making poor choices; the majority of women who have abortions notably used contraception when they conceived, according to Guttmacher. It should go without saying, but women who seek abortion care didn’t “choose” to get pregnant: Whether or not we support stigma and punishment-free reproductive health care is inherently about empathy and compassion.
Kylie Cheung is a sophomore majoring in journalism and political science. She is also the associate managing editor of the Daily Trojan. Her column,“You Do Uterus,” runs Thursdays.