A North Idaho lawmaker wants to make it a crime to attempt to coerce a woman or girl into having an abortion, according to S-R reporter Parker Howell, who covered the House Health & Welfare Committee meeting today where the bill was introduced.
Rep. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene, persuaded the committee to introduce his bill to outlaw the use of threats or physical force to dissuade a pregnant woman from giving birth. The measure also prohibits threatening to do “anything that the person does not have the legal right to do against the pregnant woman.” That could include employers threatening to withhold a job or promotion or “a school counselor maybe describing to a young person that by having this baby you have no future, those kinds of acts,” Nonini told the panel, Howell reported. Under the measure, it does not matter if the woman has the abortion.
While perhaps not quite on a level with legislation which makes the legality of abortion turn on which way a fetus’ legs are pointing in the womb, this legislation is evidently irrational. If it applies only to physical coercion or doing anything that is already illegal, it is superfluous; if, as Nonini implies, it applies to giving advice or verbal persuasion, it would take a lengthy brief to detail the ways in which it is unconstitutional. And all of this is premised on the classic belief of the forced pregnancy lobby that women are incapable of making moral choices.
Having said that, the rhetoric surrounding this kind of legislation is a fairly clever tactic. There is a grain of truth here: pre-existing gender disparities don’t go away when a woman is deciding to carry a pregnancy to term. It is undoubtedly true that some women feel they can’t have a baby they would have in better circumstances because they can’t support the baby financially, trust their partner to maintain a stable relationship, etc., and they may feel pressure from employers or partners. But, of course, using state coercion to make it more difficult or impossible for poor women or women in bad domestic situations to obtain abortions exacerbates the underlying problems rather than solving them. Forcing women to carry pregnancies to term against their will–particularly given the skimpy state support for child care that exists in most states–simply makes financial and educational disparities worse and makes women even more dependent on their partners whose power this legislation purportedly seeks to curtail. (Which is also why feminist policies tend to actually be more effective at reducing abortion rates than criminalization. Women are more likely to being pregnancies to term in conditions of emotional and financial security, and the law on the books can only do so much to constrain women who are desperate.) At any rate, as with most anti-choice legislative proposals, the legislation makes sense only if you think that women are incapable of rational judgment and that choices to make abortion are always somehow made by men.