‘Right to know’ bill harasses pregnant women

by Matthew Brophy

An insidious Trojan horse has infiltrated Minnesota legislation. Concealed in its dark underbelly is religious fundamentalism. Deceptively named the “Women’s Right To Know” bill, this legislation harasses women with abortion-opposing propaganda before they are allowed to receive an abortion.

The bill passed through a House subcommittee last Monday. Both opponents and proponents agree the bill will easily pass the House and has a good chance of passing the Senate. Though former Gov. Jesse Ventura vetoed a similar bill, Gov. Tim Pawlenty has already announced his support.

This legislation requires women to wait an additional 24 hours before the abortion procedure. During this wait, they have to prostrate themselves to religiously motivated misinformation, view graphic pictures of the procedure and have their doctors perfunctorily read to them from a preapproved script.

Minnesota law already requires doctors to provide all pertinent medical and health facts to women so they can make an informed decision about abortion. A woman must also sign a consent form containing information about the procedure, possible medical problems and choices available other than abortion.

However, there’s apparently additional “information” the doctors aren’t telling their patients. This “information” is nothing short of religious propaganda, comprised of politicized, junk science. Against their professional judgment, doctors are forced to assert the dubious link between abortion and breast cancer – a claim all major scientific studies do not support. In addition, women are lectured about the contentious notion of “fetal pain.”

Abortion opponents support this bill, claiming women should have all of the “facts” before they undergo this serious medical procedure. This is merely a thinly veiled excuse to proselytize. I suppose when the religious right uses the term “facts” what they mean is “our religious beliefs.” Thus, it’s a “fact” that Noah built the arc, angels fly around on wings, homosexuals will go to hell and every fertilized egg has a soul. Apparently, a woman’s decision is not truly “informed” until she’s gone to Sunday Mass.

What’s most repulsive is that supporters of this bill disingenuously act as if they really care about women’s rights, proclaiming that women shouldn’t be “kept in the dark” from “pertinent information.” This disgusting posturing hides the true intent: to corrode the rights of women to choose for themselves. This bill treats women like children, as if women are irrational and morally incompetent, which is why opponents have labeled it the “women are stupid” bill.

The abortion opponents who support this bill have cleverly dressed it up in liberal disguise, claiming it promotes women’s “rights,” when in fact it’s a direct assault on these rights. These abortion opponents sophistically spew rhetoric that women have a “right to know,” as if there’s some oppressor of women out there malevolently withholding critical information. If the religious right were honest, they’d come out and admit what their true intent is – not to inform women, but to prevent them from “murdering an unborn child.”

In fact, the bill slyly redefines a fetus, from its very fertilization, as an “unborn child.” Not only does this redefinition conflict with overwhelming medical opinion, it also sets a dangerous precedent in state law. Defining “fetus” as an unborn child might inadvertently have a legal impact on emergency contraception for rape victims, women using intrauterine contraceptive devices, as well as doctors and patients involved in in-vitro fertilization.

DFLers tried to introduce several amendments to the bill – not only moving to reject the redefinition, but also trying to add family planning and contraception information to the list of reading materials. However, each of these amendments failed by wide margins – so much for a woman’s right to know.

Hypocritically, while heralding “a woman’s right to know,” these same people support prohibiting doctors from even mentioning abortion as an option in family planning. It’s also the same faction that wants to preclude information on contraception from sex education classes in high school, teaching solely abstinence. The “right to know” extends only insofar as what the religious right wants you to know.

This bill’s intent isn’t to dispense crucial health information; its intent is to harass pregnant women. Rather than harassing women in front of the family planning clinics, rabidly yelling in their faces, “abortion is murder,” the religious right has wormed its propaganda into the doctor’s office – legally forcing doctors (on penalty of a stiff fine) to serve as its mouthpiece.

One intention of this bill is simply to obstruct women from getting abortions. Poor women, rural women, single mothers and minority women disproportionately suffer an unwarranted hardship from this added barrier to abortion access. Many women have to travel hundreds of miles to reach the nearest abortion provider; many women would have to take another day off work or secure childcare to make this additional appointment. Of course, I suppose this would give religious protesters one more chance to harass these pregnant women in front of the clinic.

Women are rational, moral agents and should be able to decide for themselves what to do with their bodies – without having to submit to the assault of fundamentalist ideology. These pregnant women can consult their doctors, their family, their friends, their clergy – but they shouldn’t be harassed by abortion opponent scare tactics before making their personal decision.

Supporters of the bill should feel ashamed for deceptively and unethically injecting their religious ideologies into our secular government. They should come clean and admit they are not concerned at all for women’s rights; they are only concerned about intimidating women with their propaganda. Unless we make our voices heard in opposition, this two-faced, paternalistic legislation will mark another step in the corruption of U.S. government by the religious right.

Matthew Brophy’s column usually appears alternate Wednesdays. He welcomes comments at [email protected] Send letters to the editor to [email protected]