Personhood: Not for Women, and Not in Texas

Oh Texas. Women’s health in the great Lone Star State has certainly made headlines these past few weeks.

The omnibus anti-abortion law that Wendy Davis attempted to filibuster in June is now being heard in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. HB2 would criminalize abortion after 20 weeks and force all but five of the state’s abortion clinics to close their doors. Now, it’s up to the attorneys representing Texas abortion providers, Planned Parenthood and reproductive rights groups to provide proof of the burden this law would have on women in Texas if HB2 is found to be constitutional.

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This band of Bush appointees on the court, including Edith Jones, a conservative judge who is very public about her desire to overturn Roe v. Wade, is very unlikely to grant women their reproductive rights. In fact, this panel of judges seems keen on making abortions extremely difficult to obtain, particularly for the women of the largely low-income Rio Grande Valley. The judge’s comments reflect an insulting disregard for the realities poor women face when seeking an abortion.

There’s a lot of very helpful critique of this law’s guts here and here and here. But the takeaway is that Texas is not the best place to have a uterus these days. (This will hopefully change when Wendy Davis wins the gubernatorial bid. <feminist fingers crossed>)

Equally as egregious, Texas is one of twelve states that will automatically ignore the living will of pregnant women without exception. If you’re lucky to live in one of the four states to include exceptions — like Pennsylvania, New Hampshire or the Dakotas — your dying wishes may be granted if whatever life-sustaining treatment is determined to cause you pain or suffering. How sweet of them, eh? These pregnancy exclusion laws are archaic at best and unconscionable at worst, but we can hope that a case like Marlise Machado Munoz’s will make more states like Oklahoma (who knew…?), New Jersey and Vermont.

Marlise Machado Munoz is currently about 19-weeks pregnant, and was 14-weeks pregnant at the time of her death on November 26, 2013. She has been kept on life-support by a Texas hospital against her wishes after being pronounced “brain dead.” The family of Marlise Machado Munoz will sue. The precedence set in this case will have serious legal and ethical implications, and hopefully in the direction of justice for Marlise and her family.

The state of Texas is affirming to pregnant women that they are not much more than a host. A vessel. A crock pot. An incubator. A gestational conduit through which a “real person” is passing. Not only that, but the sanctity of one’s last wishes is undermined, a rightfully secular and non-partisan concept. And should you be a woman seeking an abortion, the state of Texas deems it appropriate for you to drive hundreds of miles, in addition to having to undergo a forced ultrasound, mandatory counseling, and a 24-hour waiting period. A woman’s rights in the matter of her pregnancy: irrelevant.

I’m waiting for the day when a woman’s personhood isn’t determined by what state she’s in, and whether or not she’s pregnant. I’ve also been waiting a long time (or, my whole 29 years) for the day when women aren’t expected to jump through hoops to access a legal medical procedure. Maybe 2014 will be different…

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