Can we first just say how bizarre it is?
Yes, it’s invasive, and hypocritical, too, and we’ll get to that soon enough. But first, let us spare a moment for how purely, intensely and prodigiously strange it is.
As you’ve likely heard, Texas’ new anti-abortion law, which the Supreme Court refused to block on Wednesday night, bars termination of pregnancy after six weeks – long before a woman generally even knows she’s carrying – with no exception for incest or rape. But it imposes no criminal sanctions.
Rather, it deputizes ordinary citizens into a statewide anti-abortion posse. Henceforward, if “Joe” suspects someone has in any way helped a woman end a pregnancy, he can sue that person for $10,000. Doesn’t matter if Joe knows the woman or has any connection whatsoever. If Joe thinks a doctor performed an abortion, or a boyfriend paid for an abortion, or a neighbor simply gave a woman a ride to get an abortion, Joe can sue them – though not the woman herself – for 10,000 bucks.
Thus does Texas become a surveillance state. Thus is the right to privacy trampled into the mud. Thus is a woman’s bodily autonomy, a right enshrined into law in the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, betrayed.
Conservatives will tell you this is required out of reverence for “the sanctity of life.” Which, while it sounds like a noble principle, is actually a hypocritical one, something that becomes plain when you look for evidence of this “sanctity” elsewhere in state law.
It is, for instance, not found in Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order banning schools from requiring masks to stem the spread of COVID-19. This, in a state that has recorded 3.6 million cases of the disease and over 57,000 deaths, not to mention a daily death toll that spiked by a whopping 107% in the 14-day period ending on Sept. 1.
Nor is this reverence for the sanctity of life evident in gun laws that allow a Texan, without training or permit, to carry an AR-15 down a city sidewalk. This, in a state bloodied by gun massacres everywhere from Walmart to an army base to a church. KTRK, an ABC affiliate in Houston, reported in July that mass shootings were up 65% this year.
Texas calls that “freedom”; Texas is big on freedom. Yet, the same people who happily endure disease and massacre in the name of that freedom, quail ostentatiously at respecting a woman’s freedom to make her own reproductive choices – or, as they prefer to characterize it with ponderous solemnity, “to murder her babies.”
In her 2019 novel, “A Spark of Light,” Jodi Picoult offers a clarifying retort to that characterization when a public defender confronts a prosecutor at the hospital bed of a teenage girl facing a 20-year sentence for taking pills to induce an abortion. “If this hospital was burning down,” she says, “and you had to decide between saving a fertilized egg in the IVF lab or a baby in the maternity ward, which would you choose?”
The prosecutor can’t answer. Which is, of course, an answer. Indeed, even if there were no baby to prioritize, how many of us would rush into fire to save a fertilized egg? Would “Joe” in Texas do it? Not likely.
So the issue here is not the sanctity of life, but the punishment of sex. And shame on Texas, where the man with the AR-15 is free to stroll downtown and the man with the deadly virus is free to doff his mask, but a woman’s uterus is under public surveillance.
Anyone who thinks that’s freedom doesn’t know the meaning of the word.
Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for the Miami Herald, 3511 NW 91st Ave., Miami, FL 33172. Contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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