On “mommy blogs” across the Internet, pregnant women lament that perfect strangers feel entitled to pat their bellies, offer unsolicited diet and parenting advice, and ask intrusive questions about their personal health. For most women, such invasions are at most a temporary social annoyance. But it should come as no surprise that in this culture of entitlement to pregnant women’s bodies, legislation that effectively strips pregnant women of their privacy and autonomy is widespread and, in many instances, has resulted in incarceration and forced intervention by the state.
The ceaseless barrage of measures restricting the liberty of pregnant women takes many forms. First, there are laws that place medically unnecessary (and sometimes irrational) mandates on abortion procedures: waiting periods, crisis pregnancy center counseling, ultrasounds, physician scripts, ambulatory surgical center requirements, hospital admitting privileges, hospital transfer agreements, procedure-specific bans, parental consent laws, restrictions on private insurance coverage, and the list goes on.
In Texas – a state where judges are elected – a bill is being considered that would publicize the names of judges who give minors permission to obtain an abortion. The Ohio House last week passed a bill that would ban abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected – possibly before a woman even knows she is pregnant – and provide for doctors who violate the ban to be imprisoned. A new Arizona law requires doctors to tell patients, contrary to medical evidence, that drug-induced abortions can be reversed. And on Tuesday, Kansas became the first state to ban dilation and evacuation as an abortion method.
Such restrictions and state-sanctioned intrusions into the doctor-patient relationship are alarming, but they are not the end of the story. At least 38 states have enacted “fetal homicide” laws, the majority of which apply to even the earliest stages of gestation. These laws, which were originally sold to the public as tools to prosecute abusive boyfriends and others who may harm pregnant women, are increasingly being used to prosecute pregnant women themselves.