New anti-abortion laws endangers more than the right to personal autonomy.
Brian Kemp, governor of the State of Georgia, has signed a bill into law that will ban all abortions after a “detectable human heartbeat” is found, excepting cases of rape or incest for which a police report has been filed to verify that the asserted date of conception is less than twenty weeks prior to the procedure or when the abortion is deemed to be medically necessary. Medical records in such cases would be available to the district attorney. And the law defines “unborn children as natural persons.”
That particular assertion clarifies any confusion that people may have that fetuses are corporations. The Republican Party of Georgia apparently would not want anyone to think that their concern is for “unborn children” who cannot donate to their campaigns. The real goal here is all too easy for me to guess, though I will be accused of having a left-wing bias — guilty — and I will defend my conclusions here.
As Mark Joseph Stern has pointed out, this declaration of fetuses as persons potentially allows prosecutors in Georgia to charge women who leave the state for the purpose of seeking an abortion with criminal conspiracy, a conspiracy to engage in an activity that is legal elsewhere.
I have long found the right wing’s assertion of states’ rights as one of their key doctrines to be ill-formed and often disingenuous. The Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reserves powers not already delegated to the federal government to the states or to the people. Note that powers are not the same thing as rights and that the question of rights that were not enumerated already are declared in the Ninth Amendment to be the possession of the people alone. But take the idea of states enjoying rights as a principle. It is treated by Republicans as having unwritten exceptions.
In their view — in the views of various Republican politicians and party supporters on social media — marriage is something for states to decide, at least when same-sex couples are concerned, as are gun laws, unless the Supreme Court expands the legal exercise of gun rights. Labor regulations also fall into this blessed category. So do considerations of what businesses may do to the environment, though the question of the construction of walls at the state borders to contain pollution are left unconsidered.
The federal constitution does not discuss laws related to homicide. The Fourteenth Amendment says that no state shall deprive a person of life without due process, but it would be an interesting graduate seminar discussion to ask whether a state could decide that dueling, for example, is permissible. But with some exceptions, particularly in regard to reciprocity and extradition agreements, a state’s laws end at that state’s borders.
I said above that I have a guess as to the purpose of Georgia’s new law. If a state can tell its residents that not only are they not allowed to engage in specific activity within the state but also in other states where the laws are different, this would reduce those residents to the status of children or of people on probation — somewhat free to walk about, but essentially under government supervision.
As I and others have noted, the exercise of particular rights in the United States is dependent on the state where a person lives. As I am writing this, Alabama’s senate decided that Georgia’s law was not restrictive enough and passed a bill that would ban all abortions, including of pregnancies resulting from rape or incest, unless the woman’s life is in danger. A resident of Alabama who wants to own firearms, however, will find the process for fulfilling that desire to be among the easiest in the country. New York reverses these two. But allow me to use arguments more commonly appearing in the debate over gun control here. Women do not typically undergo a background check to become pregnant, and tracking them, especially early on, is all but impossible. In a nation in which freedom of movement is so basic to our thinking that we have not often had to debate it, monitoring women who can afford to travel to states that have legal abortions is equally unrealistic. Georgia’s law throws out privacy protections of medical records, but pregnancy tests are sold over the counter in many stores, no background checks or licenses required and no paperwork that the seller must preserve.
The implication of laws like these is clear. Alabama’s childhood poverty rate is one of the worst in the nation, and Georgia is not far behind. Incarceration rates in the two states are also high — tenth (Alabama) and ninth (Georgia) to be specific. The two have some of the highest rates of adults who are illiterate, and Alabama is one of the least educated states in the nation, while Georgia is well below average.
It is tedious to have to say this, but the right wing cares about you until you are born. After that, take a firm grasp on your bootstraps. If the concern of abortion bans were to protect human life, the people pushing these bans ought to care about the portion of that life that we experience outside the womb. Whether through ignorance or malicious intent, though, the practical effect of right-wing policies is to hold people down. More than that, these policies make it clear that some people are favored, while others are to regard themselves as second class.