Originally published in the New Haven Register about three years ago, this piece is still, unfortunately, highly relevant. So here it is again, with updated statistics.
These days, any American not living under a rock would have to conclude that women’s reproductive organs are considered more hazardous than assault weapons.
To quote our own Declaration of Independence: “Let the facts be submitted to a candid world.” Just a few of these facts will suffice to show that tens of millions of us live in states whose legislators believe that access to assault weapons is a God-given right, while concurrently holding the conviction that our lady parts are a threat to the Republic, and therefore require close supervision by elected representatives.
Let’s start with waiting periods.
Every state requires that patients must provide informed consent before undergoing medical procedures. However, in the case of abortion, 26 states require a woman to wait at least 24 hours between her counseling session and the procedure, and eleven states require that the counseling be provided in person and take place before the waiting period begins — meaning two separate trips to the facility.
Two trips may not be such a big deal if the clinic is nearby — although still burdensome for women who have to take time off from work or find child care. But 87 percent of U.S counties have no abortion providers, and six states as of this writing (Arkansas, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming) have only one provider each. Low-income women are most affected by such restrictions; they have the greatest challenges taking time off from work, obtaining child care, and affording travel. Missouri and South Dakota require a 72-hour waiting period, with South Dakota prohibiting the inclusion of weekends and holidays in that 72 hours.
But a waiting period for gun purchases? Why, that’s downright un-American. There are no federally-mandated waiting periods, and only twelve states have any waiting periods, varying by types of firearms and other details.
Federally licensed gun dealers must perform background checks on gun purchasers. But private sellers, including those at gun shows — of which the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms estimates there are as many as 5,000 annually — are not required to do background checks or keep sales records. In addition to private individuals who sell at gun shows, private sales include guns sold through print ads, on the Internet, and between individuals.
While seventeen states and Washington D.C. require background checks for at least some gun purchases at gun shows, in 33 states, anyone can walk in and purchase firearms with less oversight than we expect our civic institutions to exert over people who drive cars, own dogs, or hunt deer. To circumvent certain state laws, buyers can build up arsenals by making purchases from several different sources. No counseling, no safety education, no instruction, no rationale required.
But if you want to terminate a pregnancy? We’ll give you all the counseling you could possibly want, and then some.
Don’t get me wrong. Counseling is good, and so is education. They are central to the services of responsible health care providers like Planned Parenthood. Thirty-five states require that women receive counseling before abortions are performed. Of those, 27 detail the information a woman must be given.
Unfortunately, the majority of those 27 require the provision, along with generally accepted medical information, of information that is misleading, downright false, or based on religious beliefs rather than medicine. For example, five states require including medically inaccurate claims of links between abortion and breast cancer, even though the National Cancer Institute has stated unequivocally that “[i]nduced abortion is not associated with an increase in breast cancer risk.”
In thirteen states, doctors are required by law to perform ultrasounds in all cases, even though ultrasounds are medically unnecessary for first trimester abortions, which constitute nearly 90 percent of all abortions done in the U.S.
And, in a particularly cynical move, given lawmakers’ professed adoration of the Constitution, five states require that women must be told that “personhood” begins at conception — meaning that many legislators who pledge unhesitating allegiance to the Second Amendment are skipping right past that pesky First.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, since 2010, states have enacted a total of 231 abortion restrictions in addition to those already on the books; those I’ve listed here constitute just a small sampling. While in 2000 only thirteen states had passed enough restrictions to be considered hostile to abortion rights, that number jumped to 27 by 2014. Using information from the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, I was able to determine that, of the 10 states with fewest restrictions on gun ownership, nine are in the “hostile to abortion rights” category.
I know that there are those out there itching to lecture me on the Second Amendment. But next time you hear legislators defending unfettered access to firearms by pontificating about “individual liberty,” “self-protection,” and “keeping the state off our backs” — ask if they can work up an equal degree of enthusiasm for keeping the state out of women’s personal medical business.
© Rhea Hirshman 2015