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Do They Think We're Stupid?

Louise Melling,
Deputy Legal Director and Director of Ruth Bader Ginsburg Center for Liberty,
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September 17, 2014

Do they think we're stupid?

It's the question I ask myself time and time again as I read about some of the newest restrictions on abortion. Like, for example, the law just enacted by the Missouri legislature, which forces a woman in Missouri to delay her abortion three days after she talks with a health care professional.

Supporters describe the forced wait as a "reflection period" – as if a woman hasn't already carefully considered her decision. They argue that a woman who resents the forced wait can simply "go across the river" to Illinois or Kansas, a trip that could take six hours, one way.

Sadly, this law isn't an outlier when it comes to treating a woman like she doesn't have enough sense to think for herself. And it's not alone in being designed to shame a woman out of having an abortion.

Politicians have passed laws that require abortion providers to give every women seeking an abortion a booklet produced by the state detailing the development of the fetus throughout pregnancy. It's not a question of giving the pamphlet to women who ask for more information. It has to go to all of us – without regard to how firm we are in our decision.

Another law mandates that a medical professional tell a woman that an abortion "kills a living human being." Still more laws require women to have ultrasounds and have the images described to us before we are allowed to have an abortion.

Laws that send a woman, and only ever a woman, home to consider her decision, no matter how confident she is of her choice, no matter how long she's thought about it, and no matter how many people she has consulted, tell a woman she can't be trusted to make a decision. That her yes – "Yes, I am sure I want an abortion" – can't mean yes because a woman can't be trusted to understand what an abortion is.

In a nutshell, these laws all say a woman can't be trusted to think. It's a notion I would like to think antiquated, but it remains grievously at play.

Why else send a woman home even when she's sure she wants to end a pregnancy? Why else force on her the booklet with the pictures? Why else require her to hear a description over her objection? To make her feel bad, of course. To replace her choice – of an abortion – with a choice that a politician finds preferable.

These laws send a deeply disheartening message to women. They send the message that we are selfish if we prioritize finishing school, advancing in our career, or exiting a hurtful relationship. If we prioritize caring for our existing children in the way we dreamed. They tell us that, despite progress, the old-fashioned messaging that a good woman puts motherhood first is still alive and well.

They shame the nearly one in three women who will have had an abortion by the time she turns 45. Those women are our mothers, daughters and sisters. We don't think they're stupid, do we? Apparently, for all too many lawmakers, the answer to that question is a resounding yes.

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