Saturday, April 15, 2023

BTRTN, The Wendy Rant: On the New Florida Abortion Law

It did not take Wendy long to find something else to rant about.

Someone asked me why I chose to rant about book bans rather than our slow but steady backward march to the days of coat hangers and back alley abortions.  I didn't choose abortion as my first rant because the press has been chock full of it.  But sure, I can rant about abortion.  No problem. 

I came of age immediately post-Roe so I’ve seen the before and after. I know a couple who fifty years later is still coping with the consequences of conceiving on the wrong side of that line.  And I know people whose lives took a vastly better trajectory as a result of being on the right side. 

The reasons for having an abortion don't matter.  What matters is that without control over our bodies, women lose agency over their lives.  And the options are shrinking fast for my daughters and nieces.  

How to talk about abortion is kind of daunting because there are so many poisonous tentacles to this issue. Today I'm choosing Florida.  This week, Ron DeSantis signed a bill approved by an overwhelming majority of the Florida statehouse that makes abortion after six weeks of conception illegal.  

A problem we have in this country is an inability to walk in another person's shoes. To help you with that, I started to write a hypothetical example of why a woman might need an abortion, of what her desperation might feel like.  But I've decided, frankly, that unless individual women choose to tell you their stories -- and many have -- it's none of my business or yours.  Women don't need to justify their decisions about how they choose to control their bodies.  But I can try to illustrate for you the repercussions of a six week abortion ban. 

Not surprisingly, it's particularly difficult for a man to project himself into what a menstrual cycle is like, but maybe he should educate himself a little.  Or failing that, at least give a nod to the experience of women. Listen, I know that many, many men support abortion access and that some women don’t.  So that’s not a dis on men or a statement that all women are kumbaya on this.  It’s just hard to watch DeSantis grinning like a crazed hyena while signing a bill I’m fairly certainly he’s never really thought about except as a political stepping stone.

The average menstrual cycle is 28 days, or four weeks.  But a cycle as long as 35 days, or five weeks, is considered normal.  It's a rare woman whose body works like clockwork, so maybe one month it's 25 days, the next 30. Lord only knows, sometimes it's hard to remember where you put your car keys let alone the timing of a bodily function that comes on its own schedule.  It's hard to keep track.  In Florida now, if you're fortunate enough to realize on day 35 that you might be pregnant, you need to make a very fast decision about whether or not you want to carry that pregnancy to term. Because if you don't, you only have one week to test, make an appointment with an abortion provider, arrange time off from your job and childcare for your toddlers.  It's an almost insurmountable hurdle.  But it gets worse because the sad truth is that many, perhaps most, women don't know that they're pregnant until after six weeks.  Home pregnancy tests are finicky. Taken too early in the menstrual cycle or even too late in the day may lead to a false negative. Tests are most accurate when taken after a missed period. If you get a negative result but still think you may be pregnant, the Mayo Clinic advises to test again in a few days or a week.  A week!  If your normal cycle is 35 days and you need to wait a week, you’re at day 42.  By my multiplication, six weeks is 42 days.  C'mon folks, abortion has been all but outlawed in Florida.

So now what?  If she can afford it, that woman in Florida needs to go to another state for her abortion.  (This all presumes she can afford the cost of travel, missed work, and childcare in a country where 60% of us live from paycheck to paycheck.  Assuming there is a paycheck.  That's a whole other rant.) 

Florida was heretofore the oasis for people in the south who need abortions.  Because according to the Center for Reproductive Rights, with the fall of Roe, Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky and West Virginia all enforced trigger or other bans making abortion illegal.  And access in Georgia and North Carolina is severely restricted. Look at that map. The end result is that more and more women are traveling further and further for health care, and as health centers close, logic tells you that demand for care will exceed the number of appointments available in the day.  

Tom tells me that the GOP has overreached and we’ll see a swing back to saner abortion policy in the future.  I think he’s right.  He also tells me it could take decades.  I think he’s right about that too. In the meantime, individual women – perhaps a whole generation of them – will suffer mightily and turn to those coat hangers.  They can’t wait for change (and mind you, this isn’t quantum-leap-forward change, it’s back-to-where-we-were change). They are being denied the opportunity to control the trajectory of their lives. And that is a heartbreaking tragedy.



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