Husband notification laws and Alito

News & Politics

There's been some talk about Alito's lone dissent in the "spousal notification" laws that were argued before the Supreme Court, in which he upheld laws requiring women to notify their husbands of their desire to terminate a pregnancy. (Hence the renaming it to "husband notification" -- there's never a time when the reverse would be true.) Some have come out saying that this is not that unreasonable of a request; after all, the husband is part-creator of the fetus and should have a say in what happens to it.

What many don't seem to understand is that this frame is misleading and dangerous, in that it (like most issues with reproductive rights) has little to do with what happens to the fetus, and more to do with men's control over women's bodies. Alas, A Blog gives an excellent summation:

If my partner is female, she has an ability I lack - the ability to abort. (She also faces risks I don't). But the fact that other people have inherent abilities I lack, doesn't make me a victim, and doesn't mean I lack liberty.


But in another sense, our system is fair, because it treats women and men the same: Everyone has the right to choose what to do with the reproductive abilities they have, and everyone is responsible for dealing with the choices they make.

The arguments for pro-notification ignore the fact that when the man exercised his choice in having sex, he willingly took on his responsibility that a fetus could be created in the woman's body, and he made his reproductive choice right there. The majority opinion in the Supreme Court explained it even better in their opinion:
The husband's interest in the life of the child his wife is carrying does not permit the State to empower him with this troubling degree of authority over his wife. The contrary view leads to consequences reminiscent of the common law. A husband has no enforceable right to require a wife to advise him before she exercises her personal choices. If a husband's interest in the potential life of the child outweighs a wife's liberty, the State could require a married woman to notify her husband before she uses a post-fertilization contraceptive.

Perhaps next in line would be a statute requiring pregnant married women to notify their husbands before engaging in conduct causing risks to the fetus. After all, if the husband's interest in the fetus' safety is a sufficient predicate for state regulation, the State could reasonably conclude that pregnant wives should notify their husbands before drinking alcohol or smoking. Perhaps married women should notify their husbands before using contraceptives or before undergoing any type of surgery that may have complications affecting the husband's interest in his wife's reproductive organs. And if a husband's interest justifies notice in any of these cases, one might reasonably argue that it justifies exactly what the Danforth Court held it did not justify � a requirement of the husband's consent as well. A State may not give to a man the kind of dominion over his wife that parents exercise over their children.

Section 3209 embodies a view of marriage consonant with the common law status of married women, but repugnant to our present understanding of marriage and of the nature of the rights secured by the Constitution. Women do not lose their constitutionally protected liberty when they marry.

All of these pro-notification arguments, by the way, also imply that there are mobs of married women aborting fetuses willy nilly throughout the land, while their husbands stand by helplessly, emasculated by the liberated feminist infection that has swept the land. Okay, that's a little dramatic, but the point is that the fact that lawmakers tried to even put this in place is bizarre to me. I'm going to guess that most marriages are in a place where the spouses are talking about this sort of decision; ones that aren't, I would guess that a woman who has an abortion without her husband's knowledge fears serious reprisal or harm from said husband.

We don't need a law in place that puts women in harm's way here, and would have been another slippery-slope initiative towards overturning Roe, or at least severely restricting access to abortion so that it's nearly impossible for a woman to meet the conditions to "qualify" for one. Alito's support of husband notification laws demonstrate very clearly to me how he feels about me having control over my own body.

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