States have tried all sorts of things to prevent women from having abortions. They’ve enacted waiting periods, ultrasound laws and parental notifications. They’ve passed laws that force doctors to lie to women and force women to visit with ideological zealots. Some legislators have even attempted to make women get a man’s consent before obtaining the procedure – a paternalistic permission slip to access their legal rights.
But Alabama has brought efforts to restrict abortion to a whole new level, as the state tried this week to stop a woman from getting an abortion by terminating her parental rights... to her fetus.
District attorney Chris Connolly filed a petition to terminate an incarcerated woman’s parental rights for the sole purpose of stopping her from ending her pregnancy. The woman, known as Jane Doe, had filed a lawsuit in order to be granted a furlough to obtain the procedure. Connolly told a local paper, “Our position, if the termination for parental rights is granted, is that [she] would not have standing to obtain the abortion.” He’s arguing that Doe’s parental rights should be rescinded because she is facing charges of chemical endangerment of a child.
Alabama ACLU legal director Randall Marshall, one of the woman’s lawyers, told the Huffington Post that this is the first time the state has used these charges to try to prevent an abortion. “It appears to me that what the state is attempting to do is turn Jane Doe into a vessel, and control every aspect of her life,” he said.
If this dystopian Handmaid’s Tale nonsense wasn’t bad enough, Doe’s fetus was even appointed an attorney, thanks to a law passed in 2014 allowing such a move. (As The Daily Show’s brilliant Jessica Williams said to one such ‘fetal attorney’: “You have a crazy-ass job, sir.”)
Doe now says she no longer wants an abortion – under circumstances her original lawyers called “highly suspicious” – but the disturbing precedent that Alabama has set through this petition remains. How much longer will we put up with this obsessive encroachment onto women’s bodies and rights? How much more insanity will it take? A lawyer for every fetus? We’re already fighting against constitutional “personhood” status for zygotes and attempts to defund a woman’s health organization thanks to the 3% it spends performing abortions, so perhaps the anti-choice movement has reached peak wacky.
Baffling legal maneuvering aside, what’s worst in cases like this one in Alabama – where the state focuses its misogynist ire on the most marginalized women – is that they’re commonplace. Women in prison, women who use drugs, women of color and low-income women have long been targets for anti-choice legislators, not just because they have less support to fight back, but because the people attacking them believe that no one will care. It’s nastiness of the worst sort.
Abortion is legal. And while I’d like to say that no amount of strange, overreaching and insulting litigation or legislation will change that, it has, and it still could. And if it does, we know who will be penalized most.