“Informed consent” laws are all the rage in anti-choice circles these days. They started off with The Script — legally requiring abortion providers to read an often factually incorrect statement to women seeking abortions. The Script varies from state to state, but it generally includes the idea that the fetus is a “unique life,” that abortion can lead to breast cancer (completely proven false), and that abortion has a series of psychological and physical consequences (also totally unsubstantiated). In many states, the woman is required to go home and think about it for a day or two after hearing the script before they have an abortion.
These laws serve a few purposes — to try and scare women out of abortion by telling them that they’re killing their baby and their life will be forever ruined; to make it more difficult to get an abortion (in many states abortion clinics are few and far between, and women drive for hours to get there — making then wait 24 or 48 hours puts up serious roadblocks); and to enshrine paternalism into the law.
The latest “informed consent” move is the ultrasound. Women are apparently to dumb to know that they’re carrying a fetus, and so they must be shown a picture to “fully inform” them. When pro-choicers object on the grounds that required ultrasounds are coercive, medically unnecessary and condescending, we’re told that we’re hypocrites — after all, don’t women have a right to know?
Well, fine. If we’re going to treat women like stupid children when it comes to medical decisions about reproduction, then let’s go whole hog. Whenever a woman decides to give birth, we should legally require her doctor to give her the whole list of what could go wrong. We should tell her that her chances of dying in childbirth are about 10 times greater than her chances of dying because of an abortion (and because the “pro-lifers” leave out information about just how seldom death from abortion occurs, I see no reason why we should tell pregnant women that death in childbirth really isn’t all that common). We should tell her that she’s much more likely to experience depression and other mental illness after giving birth than she is after abortion. We should tell her that adoption also includes a significant risk of depression. We should tell her that motherhood will significantly decrease her wages. We should make sure that she’s really informed about what childbirth entails — since anti-choice activists like pretty pictures so much, we should make her watch a video of a woman giving birth. And a video of a C-section. And we should be sure to include the important details — like the fact that the little piece of skin between your vagina and your anus might very well rip through during birth, if the doctor doesn’t cut it to allow more room for the baby to exit. We should make sure that women know that kids are expensive — and raising kids is probably the most expensive thing you’ll ever do. We’re talking a quarter of a million dollars — and that’s only until the kid is 17. Better hope Junior doesn’t want to go to college.
Women have a right to know, right?
I have a feeling that if we proposed a law which would require doctors to read that script and show a birthing video to all pregnant women, anti- and pro-choicers alike would not be happy. So why the special treatment for abortion? People like William Saletan may argue that abortion is a Monumental Choice and it is Very Important that women know what they’re getting into beforehand (even if it’s a pack of lies). Fine. But since when is having a kid a walk in the damn park? If women are too dumb to know that they’re pregnant with a fetus, shouldn’t we assume that they’re too dumb to know what childbirth and childrearing (or adoption) entail? Child-rearing, unlike abortion, is generally a life-long commitment, and almost always has more substantial effects on women’s lives than terminating a pregnancy (physically, emotionally and financially). How are we talking about approving coercive laws for the Monumental Choice of abortion and not discussing the fact that pregnancy, childbirth and childrearing are a hell of a lot more Monumental?
Obviously I’m not in favor of treating pregnant women like idiots. But if we think that women are so intellectually inferior that we must be read a script and shown a picture before we can terminate a pregnancy, then we sure as hell should require women to be read a script and shown a picture before we can carry a pregnancy to term and have a child. I look forward to the “pro-family” groups — who are, you know, so pro-family — proposing this law, which will ensure that women know what they’re getting into when it comes to birth and motherhood. Because we value motherhood, right?
Don’t get mad at me — it’s just informed consent. Don’t women deserve to know?
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