Seattle's News Elixir

The US is in the middle of a historic attack on women's rights. Across the country, states are passing restrictions on abortion that will endanger women's lives, force hundreds of thousands of women to carry through with unwanted pregnancies, and trap poor women and their families in a cycle of poverty.

Many also feature the added indignity of insulting women's intelligence by forcing them to "think about" the decision they've already made, obtain (and, in some cases, pay for) invasive procedures like ultrasounds (yes, ultrasounds can be invasive), and sit through anti-abortion "counseling" before getting an abortion.

Taken together, the bills would constitute an unprecedented nationwide attack on Roe v. Wade. If things continue this way much longer, Roe won't be worth the paper it's written on.

And President Obama, the politician in the best position to be a moral leader on abortion, is nowhere to be found. Although Obama has shown a willingness to wade into state political battles before---fighting states' lawsuits against his health care bill and talking tough on behalf of union workers in Wisconsin, Obama is capitulating in the state-by-state war on women.

• In South Dakota, the governor has signed into law a bill that would mandate a three-day waiting period---the longest in the country---after a woman has requested an abortion; during that time, women will be required to visit a "crisis pregnancy center" and "learn about" the alternatives to abortion.

• A law under consideration in Georgia would force women who miscarry to prove they didn't do anything to cause the miscarriage; women who couldn't prove they didn't cause their miscarriage could be charged with a felony punishable by death. (That one's unlikely to go far, given that between a third and a quarter of all pregnancies result in miscarriage, but its mere existence shows such profound contempt for women that I've included it here.)

• In Indiana, a bill under consideration would force doctors to tell women (falsely) that abortion causes breast cancer. If the bill passes, Indiana would join five other states that currently require doctors to lie to women.

• In states across the country, including Alabama, Idaho, Ohio, and Nebraska, legislatures are considering laws that would bar all abortions after 20 weeks, in direct violation of Roe v. Wade, which allows abortions until viability, or about 24 weeks. In most cases, the laws include no exceptions for women whose health would be endangered by carrying the pregnancy to term. (In Nebraska, the law has already forced at least one woman to carry a pregnancy to term despite the fact that doctors knew the baby would die, which it did, after 15 minutes of struggling to breathe.)

• In Virginia, the state legislature passed a law that reclassifies abortion clinics as hospitals, a standard that anti-choice advocates have admitted is aimed at putting most of them out of business.

• Because women are infants who don't know what pregnancy means, several states have passed or are considering laws that force women to undergo an ultrasound and look at or listen to the fetus before having an abortion. Many of these laws require the woman to watch as the doctor details various parts of the fetus before she can go through with an abortion. In Texas, the bill does not exempt victims of rape or incest from the mandate. In Oklahoma, the law also requires a woman to answer a list of 38 questions, including her reason for terminating the pregnancy, and prohibits patients from suing doctors for withholding information about birth defects in order to prevent the woman from seeking an abortion.

• In Ohio, legislators are considering legislation that would bar women from getting abortions once a fetal heartbeat can be detected, or as early as six weeks---another clear violation of Roe.

• In North Dakota, another bill (since shelved) would have legalized the murder of abortion providers if the murder was committed by a pregnant woman's parents or husband "to protect the life of a fetus." A similar proposal being considered in Nebraska would go much further, allowing anyone to kill abortion providers to protect a fertilized egg.

And on, and on, and on, and on, and on.

So where has "pro-choice" President Obama been while this nationwide attack on half the population has been going on? As he did with the health-care bill---which threw American women under the bus in the name of "reform" for "all Americans"---Obama is sitting abortion out, and selling millions of American women out in the process.

Not that we should be surprised. Even before he was elected (like this interview in February 2008, when he called a fetus "potential life" but allowed that "women should have some control over their bodies and themselves and there is a privacy element to making those decisions"), Obama has made it abundantly clear where he stands on choice---as far away from the issue as possible. Choice advocates are culpable here too, because we've let him get away with it, telling ourselves that "at least he'll protect Roe," or "but the alternative is so much worse."

At this point, those justifications are getting harder and harder to swallow. To quote what the prescient Melissa McEwan said nearly two years ago, "Either you stand on the side of women's equality and independence or you don't." By staying silent as women's rights are chipped away across the country, Obama has made it clear which side he's on.
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