Ladies and gentlemen, in this week in patriarchal personhood, an Arizona attorney asked a Phoenix court to appoint a lawyer to represent the unborn. This is so timely because, having recently updated myself on so many cases involving the surveillance, arrest and imprisonment of women on behalf of eggs, blastocysts, zygotes, fetuses, I wrote a list of 10 Tips for Avoiding Jail While Pregnant. But, after learning about this juicy tidbit of news I was forced to ask, "What about the men? What is going to happen when we start arresting them???"
Of course all women of childbearing ability should be worried, but my point here is that any man who is capable, intentionally or not, of participating in conception should be worried about his own imprisonment, too. We know we are ceding women's rights and allowing corrupt sectarian politicking to ruin our high-falutin ideas about America's exceptional democracy. We are told that this punishment of women has nothing to do with women's rights, that the issue at hand is the compassionate societal protection of the rights of "persons" from the moment of conception.
Well, in that case, we'd better start arresting men willy-nilly (so to speak).
But, first, the rules women can use to be as superhumanly, miraculously magical as possible. Because only after we review these can we adapt them for the guys.
15 RULES FOR AVOIDING JAIL WHILE PREGNANT
Oh? What do men have to do with adding five rules? Well, I added five, not for men but because of men. Fifteen has a handy acronym: PARTHENOGENESIS. Easy to remember because this is one of the only times that only women count. In this instance, in order for society to prosecute men for fetal harm they have to first violently bludgeon or kill their pregnant counterparts. One of the primary reasons we have feticide laws, before we started using them against women themselves, was "protect women."
The thing is, is that this is complicated. Despite the real dangers of domestic abuse, (which is one of two leading causes of pregnancy related death, the second being suicide) defining life and human person are not a blunt force trauma kinda things. "Bad dad" sperm deliver toxins to great deleterious effect during conception and with long lasting impact after. I know that there is a difference between how gametes affect fetal health and gestation-related behaviours affect fetal health. But at the very least we should be debating those differences as we proceed to target women exclusively for punishment.
What is worse? Imprisoning women for opinion-based junk science and media epidemiology about the effects of crack or imprisoning men for preventable and predictable long-term fetal and child harm due to sperm defects? It feels wrong, viscerally, if an addicted woman uses drugs while eight months pregnant. But, the truth is that the risks of harm are higher when men over 35 knowingly (and with no addiction) procreate. According to Dr. Deborah Frank, associate professor of pediatrics at Boston University School of Medicine, "there are small but identifiable effects of prenatal cocaine-crack exposure on certain newborn outcomes, very similar to those associated with prenatal tobacco exposure. There is less consistent evidence of long term effects up to age six years." On the other hand, when a man is older than 35 it "boosts a child's risk of developing autism spectrum disorder between five to 20-fold." Do you consider this harmful compared to "small" drug-related impacts up to the age of six?
To be perfectly clear, I think that prosecuting men in these ways is an equally horrid idea. First, I like men and we already have shameful and unconscionable rates of incarceration. Second, women are actual human beings and, more importantly are "persons." Rights are not God-given; rights are how we decide to distribute justice. They are morally based principles that define a living individual human person's freedoms in a society. Blastocysts, zygotes, etc., while biological stages of life (we don't treat acorns like oak trees), are not "persons" for social, political, legal, ethical or moral reasons. Eliding these categories in the way that personhood advocates do creates an equivalence where there is none. Third, for these reasons, we should eliminate any ambiguity regarding the false framing of fetal rights against those of women's. Women and their fetuses are inseparable and until that changes gestating potential potential humans do not have separate and conflicting rights.
Our society has to demonstrate a humane concern for fetal life, but that does not mean establishing false premises for competing rights. Roe v. Wade sought to do this. But, what we are seeing now in the fundamentalist Christian movement's personhood movement is a perverse and radical threat to women's recently hard-fought for gains. Every time a personhood amendment's basic tenets are incorporated into prosecutorial, legislative and judicial agendas -- or gain the sworn support of presidential candidates -- we abandon critical thinking and democracy falters. The irony of course is mainly men, who make up the vast majority of our legal, political and judicial system, being all emotional here.
But, if we insist on entertaining this pretense, fair is fair. The whole point of the movement for fetal rights is to eliminate abortion and contraception entirely. These people will chip and chip and chip away at women ad infinitum because they believe that it is their god-given responsibility to tell you what to do. Just remember, when you criminalize abortion in these ways you criminalize all women of childbearing age as a class. However, given our medical technology, men will not long be excluded.
We have known for decades though that children of older fathers face higher risks of fetal abnormalities, a sixfold chance of debilitating austism, dwarfism. (Boy, do we need a national conversation about what we mean by "harm" because it gets eu-genetically ugly when we realize where personhood takes us.) And, yet, I see no men taken into custody or, say, being prosecuted for conception within two years of chemotherapy. In addition, studies have shown that women whose husbands are exposed to toxic substances suffer higher rates of miscarriage - are we going to start arresting these men for not quitting their jobs in certain industries? Women are routinely removed from hazardous workplaces when they are considered of reproductive age.
Why is it so hard for people to accept that women's bodies are their own, (share This Is My Body with anyone who finds that bewildering ), even when they are pregnant? This is just and, actually, the law of the land. We don't live in a culture that is comfortable with women having control over much of anything, especially over their own bodies, and double especially when they are reproducing. We trust men to make life and death decisions not just for themselves, but for everyone at a minimum tune of $645 billions dollars a year. And that's just a slim slide of the decisions-for-everyone pie. Do you think women can be trusted to make decisions too? I suspect that one of the only ways to stop this is to make sure men understand the risk to them as well. For example, this is hilarious, but in the end not funny. Besides, if you've made it this far, consider it a small gift:
What has come to pass is exactly what anti-abortion activists always denied would happen: Namely, that in the anti-abortion crusade to make Roe v. Wade meaningless in practice, women would lose their rights and be criminalized through pregnancy. Their strategy has always been on eliminating abortion and prosecuting abortion providers to achieve it. That strategy is obsolete. Changing medical technology and options that allow women to bypass doctors in terminating unwanted pregnancies clearly mean that doctors cannot be the target of prosecution and women have to be.
As I see it, we have two options where men are concerned.
Option one: Don't worry about the men involved in conception and give up the pretense that personhood-inspired people are compassionate and concerned about protecting and improving life. In this scenario we acknowledge that the ideal of motherhood has virtual nothing to do with the reality of being a mother in a society that sees you as useful bits and pieces. Women need to stop thinking they'll be the exception and get with the program. That's why I'm thinking of investing in handcuff stock. The Ultimate Source of Restraints is as good a place as any if you are interested.
Option two: start arresting men for understanding the risk their sperm poses to developing fetuses and risking or undertaking procreation in spite of that knowledge. This is, in effect, the same as laws regarding faulty design. It is, in the words of Utah's recent attempts to imprison women who miscarry, "reckless" and worthy of penalization. In this case we should indeed have another list which would look like this:
Etc., etc., etc. Some of the women's rules are easily adapted.
You can do something by signing the Free Bei Bei Shuai petition, supporting organizations like the National Advocates for Pregnant Women, the Center for Reproductive Rights and staying informed about the implications of benign sounding "personhood" ideas.
Portions of this article originally appeared in VitaminW's 10 Tips for Avoiding Jail When Pregnant
Follow Soraya Chemaly on Twitter: www.twitter.com/schemaly