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Kathleen Parker: Women who have abortions may be headed to prison - or worse

Kathleen Parker Washington Post

When Iranian activist Mahsa Amini died mysteriously six months ago in police custody, Iran erupted in protests that have resulted in at least 522 deaths, including 70 children, and nearly 20,000 arrests.

Amini, you may recall, was detained in Tehran for “improper” hijab – that is, refusing to correctly wear the headscarf mandated by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and his fellow clerics after the 1979 revolution. Enforcers, who operate under the auspices of the Guidance Patrol, or “morality police,” have been busy since Amini’s death in September, beating and torturing women and girls as young as 12, according to a report by Amnesty International.

Even so, brave Iranian women have continued to rip off their hijabs and burn them in a symbolic display reminiscent of American women’s bra-burnings in the 1960s and ’70s. Fortunately for us, there were no laws (at the time) requiring women to harness their breasts.

Reading about the six-month anniversary of Amini’s death last week, I was struck by the consistencies in Iran’s crackdown on women and recent developments in a budding theocracy of our own, known as South Carolina. My beloved state continues to outperform others in all the worst ways. Now, it wants to treat abortion as murder and apply penalties accordingly.

The South Carolina Prenatal Equal Protection Act (H.3549) would “afford equal protection of the laws to all pre-born children from the moment of fertilization,” and reclassify any act that ends a pregnancy as “wilful prenatal homicide.” This means that an abortion could be punished in the same way as a murder, with sentences at a minimum of years in prison to, conceivably, the death penalty, though the latter isn’t spelled out in the bill. As with other state abortion laws, there are no exceptions for rape or incest, though the bill does allow one if a woman “was compelled to do so by the threat of imminent death or great bodily injury.”

I wonder who gets to critique that decision – the Guidance Patrol, or perhaps the South Carolina Freedom Caucus? More than half of said caucus members, including three women, have joined state Rep. Rob Harris (R-Spartanburg) as co-sponsors. Though several states have acted to essentially ban abortion in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling reversing Roe v. Wade, South Carolina conservatives seem determined to push the limits.

That said, several other states have tried to define personhood as beginning at fertilization and a few have succeeded. Add South Carolina to the list if this bill flies, but few think it will.

In a telephone interview Thursday, U.S. Rep. Nancy Mace, R-S.C., worked hard to restrain her spleen. “It is obscene; it is disgusting; and it’s not representative of the people of South Carolina,” she said of the bill. “It’s not going to go anywhere, and it’s wrong. … It’s unbelievable to me that this is where we are.” Mace, who said she was raped at 16, is “deeply passionate” about this issue, though she’s also a pro-life Republican.

“My (pro-life) record is almost 100%,” she said. “But this is an American issue. Execute a woman for abortion? No. A nonstarter. It’s also hypocritical. You can’t be pro-life and then kill a woman for having an abortion.”

I asked whether she would support the bill if it included a rape exception, and she said no. I asked whether she was against the death penalty. She said she supported the death penalty only in the most egregious cases. “Dylann Roof is alive,” she said, referring to the white supremacist who murdered nine Black congregants in a Charleston, South Carolina, church during a Bible study session. “Why is he still alive?”

I well appreciate that many people do believe that life begins at conception, which, in fact, is a biological certainty. But is that little zygote a “person” who ought to be treated as equal under the law to a grown woman – or a raped teenager? And should a woman be sentenced to 30 years or death for deciding to terminate a pregnancy for reasons that are none of my or anyone else’s business?

An awful lot of angels dance on the head of this pin, but the answer is an unequivocal no. (I can’t believe I need to say this.)

My hope for women facing an unwanted pregnancy has always been that they would see other options as preferable to abortion. Mostly, this is because I know how damaging abortion can be for many women, not all, especially once they have a baby and realize that he or she was once also a mere zygote. This revelation was a lightning bolt to the soul when I, a previously heel-clicking, pro-abortion feminist, gave birth to a baby of my own. Damn. My zygote was my baby boy.

But such insights are better discovered than imposed by guidance police. Our politicians should have more faith in the basic decency of women guided by their own moral compasses. Considering a pre-born a person is the thinking of saints; treating abortion as murder is the thinking of ayatollahs.

Mahsa Amini died for defying the dress code of her country. Given Republicans’ apparent views of women, their bodies and the punishments owed them for sins that were never theirs alone, one almost wonders how long before freedom caucuses turn their attention to female modesty. Immodesty breeds rape, don’t you know, and it’s just a hop, skip and a jump to “she asked for it.”

Kathleen Parker’s email address is