Backstory: Coverture is the long standing practice that women belong to men. First their fathers then their husbands. It was law of the land. And if you think we’ve come a long way (baby), think again.
2015 Assembly BILL 237 contains a clause that allows a man to sue a doctor who performs or attempts to perform an abortion at 20 weeks. A man would be able to claim “damages for personal injury and emotional and psychological distress.” The only caveat is that the sex would have to have been consensual. Pregnancies that were the product of rape or incest are exempt.
Let’s set aside the contempt these bills have for women by delaying their own decisions and forcing them to come forward about rapes to begin with and look at the logical consequence of legislation like this: Your one night stand could sue your doctor for profit if you decide continuing a pregnancy isn’t what you want.
If that doesn’t scare the shit out of you, maybe this will: Six other states already have similar language in their laws.
It’s bad enough that these bills give a finger to our own Constitution. But let it sit in a moment exactly what the legislation actually means.
The decision for a man to ejaculate his sperm inside a woman carries more value in our society than a woman’s own desire to reproduce. These laws mean a man essentially claims a right to a woman’s womb.
And before you retort rhetoric that “feminism is about equality and women are able to sue too", save it. You’re missing the point. Equality allows for both a man and woman to mutually consent to sex. Equality allows for both men and women to fight for custody and choose to parent. It is not equality that suggests because a sperm fought the good fight and managed to penetrate an egg that a woman automatically must share rights to her own reproductive decisions.
And it’s not just the biological “sperm donor” that gets to lay claim. According the the bill:
“A prosecuting attorney may also bring an action
for injunctive relief for intentional or reckless violations of the limitations and requirements. Any person who violates the prohibition against performing, inducing, or attempting to perform or induce an abortion when the unborn child is capable of experiencing pain is guilty of a felony subject to a fine not to exceed $10,000, imprisonment not to exceed three years and six months, or both.”
Let’s tally up all the people who have a right to a woman’s womb:
Her lover, a prosecutor, a (non-sentient) fetus and her.
Ouch. Crowded in there.
According to Guttmacher, in the last four years alone, 231 abortion restrictions have been legislated by states. That’s not counting the recent legislation this year. Or this one, that Governor Scott Walker said he’d sign if he could.
Only, Walker would go a step farther and let a woman’s rapist lay claim too.
The hard truth is that a woman’s womb is still considered the property of another. Her rights take a back seat to sperm. Sperm. Bills like this don’t focus on parenting, they focus only on biological paternity. They force women to share their bodies long after consent to enter them ends. And if Walker had his way, they would violate a woman over and over and over again.
Abortions at 20 weeks are rare. The decisions to terminate a pregnancy at this stage are complex. But if it’s her decision, it’s her distress. And any suggestion that another person has a right to her experience and a right to profit from it is pretty egregious.
And proof once again that coverture is far from over.
If that isn’t personal injury, I’m not sure what is.
*Let me add a caveat here: I'm not discounting that men have emotional investments in pregnancies. They can and they do. But there is a fine line between that personal experience and a right to sue.