Yesterday, Nebraska's Legislature finally approved, and the governor is poised to sign today, a retrograde law that would ban abortions after 20 weeks, based on the idea that fetuses feel pain, and would also require extensive screening of women seeking abortions. Among the conditions screened for are mental health problems, but the bill also precludes mental health problems as an emergency qualifier that would allow women to obtain abortions after 20 weeks.
The Wonk Room analyzes how this bill is probably intended to have a chilling effect on doctors who provide abortions, since they have to meet a really high burden to show they warned women of any possible effect of an abortion, whether that "effect" is widely accepted by the medical community or not. It's probably even more specifically targeted at Dr. Leroy Carhart who pledged to continue the work of murdered doctor George Tiller, who was a close colleague.
What troubles me most about the language often used in the abortion debate is the equation of motherhood and psychic troubles for women. We have to find balance between recognizing real problems, like post-partum depression, that went unrecognized for too long, and the sexist practice of pathologizing women who try to break free of "traditional ideas of femininity." I'm not sure abortion is the right topic in which to have these debates, since it's fraught with so much emotion. My only hope is that when the health-care reform bill is implemented -- covering more women and ending the frontline discrimination against them by the insurance industry -- more women will be engaged in a more sane debate about their real health problems. Right now, the debate is about the problems men who want to reinforce gender norms wish women had.
-- Monica Potts
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