Jill Filipovic

File Under: Get Pregnant, Lose Your Civil Liberties

Ah, the things politicians will do in the name of protecting babies! Now, we all know that the term "protecting babies," when uttered by a "pro-life" individual, is usually code for "reminding women that they are simply vessels who, once occupied,* cease to possess the basic rights that non-vessels are entitled to (non-vessels being "men," otherwise known as "actual human beings")." There's the classic example of the pregnant drug addict being prosecuted after she gives birth, despite the fact that neither being a drug addict nor being pregnant is actually a crime. There's penalizing low-income women for giving birth by limiting their welfare benefits if they have more children. There are state laws which require that pregnant brain-dead women be kept on life support until they give birth, even if they have living wills which specify that they wish to be taken off under those conditions. In other words, stripping women of their rights as soon as they become pregnant is nothing new. So Georgia's proposal to require that doctors offer HIV tests to all pregnant women -- and make a note in their medical records if they refuse -- should not surprise us. At first glance, this bill doesn't seem all that egregious -- after all, who doesn't support cutting the risk of HIV transmission? But this puts pregnant women in a unique category of people who must be offered the test, and who will be on record as to accepting it or not. If we're really worried about HIV transmission, why not require that doctors offer an HIV test to every sexually active boy or man they treat, and make a permanent note if he refuses? After all, men are pretty good at spreading STIs to their partners (far better than women). But we don't do that because men, as a class, are assumed to be responsible enough to request a test if they feel they need it. Unless they're men who are part of a social underclass and whose liberties have already been largely taken away, like prisoners -- and even then we hesitate (thank God). Of course doctors should be telling all of their patients about the risks of any medical condition -- including telling pregnant women that HIV transmission to their fetus is a possibility if they're infected with the virus. Of course they should offer a test. But mandating that a test is offered, and recording the results or the refusal, is part of a dangerous pattern taking shape, which considers pregnant women to be a class that deserves fewer rights, fewer liberties, and fewer social protections than full-fledged human beings. Cross-posted at Feministe. *Of course, in a conservative anti-choice utopia, once the occupier is born and exists as an actual human person, s/he would be automatically entitled to fewer rights than s/he had while in utero. Like health care, which is under federal law given to fetuses but not to pregnant women. Or the right to use someone else's body without their consent to sustain your own existence.

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