The flip side of giving the fetus rights is taking them away from the mother.
And no, I don't mean just the obvious one, the right of abortion. I'm talking a boatload of other rights: The right to make a medical decision for yourself, the right to have a glass of wine, or just the right to do basic things like paint a wall or walk around free. They're all under fire.
A woman in Florida disagreed with her doctor's recommendation for a Caesarian. Police acting under a court order forcibly took her to a hospital for a mandatory C-section. A court dismissed her subsequent lawsuit on the grounds the needs of the fetus outweighed the mother's right to a say in her medical treatment.
A woman in Wisconsin asked a hospital for help with her Oxycontin addiction. Authorities locked her up in a psych ward for 12 days with no legal representation on the ground she was a danger to her unborn child (despite which she received no prenatal care during that time)
Authorities arrested another Wisconsin woman for homicide based on charges that included smoking and drinking while pregnant (which is still legal).
North Dakota police charged a woman with "reckless endangerment" for painting while pregnant, on the grounds the paint fumes were hazardous to the fetus.
Utah charged a woman with fetal homicide because she refused a Caesarian and one of her twins was born dead.
For a number of people in authority, it seems the basic rights we take for granted are only conditional when you're a pregnant woman. Which is not really that startling when you consider that for some right-to-lifers, even the woman's right to live is conditional. The medical director for the Diocese of Phoenix said in 2009 that even saving a woman's life was not grounds for abortion: "There are some situations where the mother may in fact die along with her child. But ' and this is the Catholic perspective ' you can't do evil to bring about good. The end does not justify the means."
I've never heard someone in the same position say that's it's unacceptable to let the mother die if it saves the baby. Some right-to-lifers'or as they're sometimes described, forced-birthers'talk about how the baby is innocent and must be protected, but how is a pregnant woman not just as innocent?
How much further is this going to go? If a woman can be charged with a crime just for painting a wall or disagreeing with her doctor, is there any decision she's free to make if some zealot decides her baby is at risk?
As I've mentioned before
, one Georgia legislator has proposed having every miscarriage investigated. Will the next step be reviewing the miscarriages to decide if the woman was criminally negligent?
If a rape victim can't get an abortion, will the government pay for prenatal care to compensate her? From my experience with the religious right, we're more likely to hear lectures on how women are just crying rape in order to get the nanny state to pay their medical bills.
A decade ago, I'd have dismissed such possibilities as a straw man, way too extreme to happen.
I was naive.
It's not that all right-to-lifers are this extreme, only the worst of them. But the worst are full of passionate intensity, willing to shoot doctors or strip away women's rights in the name of the fetus. For some of the more patriarchal forced-birthers, taking away rights is probably a feature, not a bug.
Abortion is a legal right, and a moral right too. And apparently if the right-to-life movement takes it away, it's only the first of many rights that women should expect to lose.