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Anti-Choice Activists Use Myth of ‘Coerced Abortion’ To Push For Restricting Women’s Rights

By Tara Culp-Ressler  

"Anti-Choice Activists Use Myth of ‘Coerced Abortion’ To Push For Restricting Women’s Rights"

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A new prong in the crusade against women’s reproductive freedom, according to a profile in the Colorado Independent, is an outsized concern for women who may be coerced into getting an abortion that they don’t want. Anti-choice activists are pushing legislation they say will help address the alarming rates of coerced abortions in the U.S. — despite a lack of scientific evidence to bolster their claims — and often employ testimonies from women who regret their abortions to make their point.

So far this year, at least 11 states have considered anti-abortion legislation that include provisions about coercion. Arizona, Wisconsin, and Michigan have already passed anti-coercion provisions into law. In the other eight states, the anti-coercion policies are often part of larger restrictions and regulations intended to limit women’s access to abortion, such as requiring doctors to do mandatory screenings to make sure a woman isn’t being coerced into the procedure against her will. Advocates claim they are fighting for the best interests of women:

Supporters of anti-coercion abortion bills argue that these policies are meant to protect women. But critics claim that – like laws that single out abortion clinics by imposing difficult-to-meet construction requirements – anti-coercion policies are really meant to make accessing abortion more complicated in the short term, and illegal in the long term. [...]

Legal scholars, such as Yale University law professor Reva Siegel, have described the rationale underpinning these types of laws as the “woman-protective” anti-abortion argument. Siegel, who has written extensively about anti-coercion efforts in South Dakota and elsewhere, observed in a 2008 Duke Law Journal article that the anti-abortion movement has begun to “supplant the constitutional argument ‘Abortion kills a baby’ with a new claim ‘Abortion hurts women.’”

But framing anti-coercion legislation as the best way to protect women is a distortion. In fact, many public health professionals believe that anti-coercion abortion restrictions do a disservice to vulnerable women because focusing on abortion bypasses the broader issue — domestic and sexual violence, which is often the root cause of coercion. Showing true concern for the women who are at risk for coercion means addressing the dangerous culture of domestic abuse within intimate relationships.

However, the restrictive anti-choice legislation that far-right politicians advocate often undermines this very goal. The official platform of the Republican party includes a stringent abortion ban with no exceptions even the case of rape, which means that women who are in coercive and sexually abusive relationships would be forced to carry their rapist’s child to term. If anti-choice activists are genuinely concerned about women’s autonomy and freedom, punishing clinics who provide access to the medical services they need — including Planned Parenthood, which is often the biggest target in campaigns against coerced abortion — is certainly not the way to go about it.

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