Namo amitabha Buddhaya, y'all.
This here's a religious establishment. Act respectable.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Show Tunes, Ultrasound and the First Amendment

It's not often I comment on legislation without having first read the stuff. Yes, I actually read pending bills, and Court opinions for that matter, even though they can run to hundreds of pages and be full of legalese. Why? Because the devil is often in the details, and before I go off in a semipublic forum (or rather, to the two of you--you know who you are) I'd like to know enough about which I speak that I don't sound like an idiot, thankewverymuch. Besides, once you read the silly things, they often start making sense, and contrast with their headlines in such a way that you wonder what the journalists were thinking. My favorite example is "Appeals Court Denies Custody to Lesbian Mom," out of Virginia circa 1994 or so. The story made it sound like the court gave custody of the kid to his grandma solely because Mom liked another mom more than she liked Dad. Well, once I got ahold of the actual decision and read it, I wouldn't have given this woman custody of a cat. She had never held a full time job, she was on and off drugs, in and out of rehab and before she settled down with her "life partner" of less than six months, she'd had five boyfriends the previous year. The kid had lived with his grandma most of that time. Oh, yeah, and there was one sentence at the very end of the decision that said something like, "It is noted that Mom X is a lesbian; however, this is not a basis for deciding custody in the state of Virginia." That's it. That's all. I'd say the headline got it wrong, wouldn't you guys?

So that's what I mean when I say that the devil's in the details. And I haven't read this particular bill so I may be missing the devil. Or the details. So that's my disclaimer. I'm not a lawyer, either, nor do I play one at work. But here's the scoop about the law, as it's reported on a fairly moderate news site (CNN): Texas Lawmakers Approve Bills Requiring Ultrasound Before Abortion. And let the fur fly.

Obviously, the point of this law is to discourage women from having abortions. I don't think there's any other reason to pass it (and it looks like it did pass, though the final form has yet to be hammered out; the House wants a 24 hour waiting period after the ultrasound, the Senate only requires two hours, and for some reason the Senate thinks the woman can skip looking at the results if she's a rape or incest victim, though how they'll decide that is beyond me.) And we'll assume for the moment that nobody's going to sue and say this law poses an undue burden to women seeking an abortion (and that's a stupid assumption; I give it forty-eight hours, maybe less). If you wanted an abortion and somebody stuck a picture of your developing infant under your nose, how would you feel? Would you change your mind? Apparently that's the bet.

That's also the bet of the "sidewalk counselors" who stand outside doctor's offices and Planned Parenthood clinics and wave cheery signs with pictures of dead babies on them. Somehow they have this idea that the women showing up for appointments haven't made up their minds yet. That they'll just turn around and leave if they're shown the right bloody picture or if they're told the right thing. Well, folks, I used to be a volunteer that walked these ladies from their cars past the sign-waving crowd. I did it for two years, and never once did I see a woman turn around and leave. Never once. By the time they got to the clinic, the decision was made. So I can't imagine how the new ultrasound rule is going to change anything as far as that goes. No, I think this law is about making women feel bad. Sick, guilty, worse about their decision than they already feel. That's the point. That's the great state of Texas. That's the Republican Party (a supermajority in both houses of the Texas Legislature), the party of less governmental interference in personal lives. Mandating a medical procedure after they stated that no one should be forced to buy health insurance. Pardon me if I experience a bit of a disconnect here.

Of particular interest to me, though, is the provision that the women who undergo the ultrasound "listen to a description of the results" (apparently only one version requires them to actually look at the pictures, and I'm not sure which one--again, didn't read the bills, sorry about that). Which brings up an interesting question. How, exactly, do you require someone to listen to something? I mean, if you're reading the description, and the woman suddenly covers her ears and bursts into a medley of show tunes, what do you do then? What if she wears ear plugs? Are you legally required to clap your hand over her mouth and shout the description in her ear? Or will you need to build a special "listening to ultrasound results" restraining chair, complete with straps and eyeball-opening devices from A Clockwork Orange (and if you haven't seen it, why are you still sitting here? Go rent it on Netflix and get into a powerful self-argument about the nature of free will, already!). What if the woman Just Says No? No, I'm not looking at your pictures, I'm not listening to you, and I don't give a ripe goddamn what the Texas Legislature says? I mean, that's free speech, people. Hard to call it anything else.

In all seriousness, we need to think about this. In a country where we have free speech, do we or don't we also have the freedom not to listen? Because if we don't, all the First Amendment arguments in the world aren't worth a single bill out of the Texas Legislature. You heard it here first. (If you're still listening.)


Cele said...

Touchè girl friend. Not having read the bill, not carring to read what some infertal or regilious idiots wrote to bend women to their collective wills I have to say WTF? Really! We have a constitution, with an amendment - if people have to endure the harrassed, demented free speech of those who picket funerals, shouldn't the Texas (and other red states) have to abide by the law.

Jen said...

Well, that's kind of my point. But I've actually read the Constitution, and the Amendments, and I don't remember where it said anything about the right not to listen. This worries me a little. Unless you can somehow extrapolate that right from something clearly spelled out (kind of like they did with the right to privacy when they decided Roe v. Wade), I'm not sure it exists. Maybe we need to pencil it in.

Marcia Wall said...

The "right not to listen"....hmmm...interesting idea. The other stuff about looking at an ultra sound...must a woman have an ultra sound or is the right not to have one in fact not a right? Let's discuss this later as I am resurfacing from MG.

Cele said...

Hmmm, and another thought - Who's paying for the very spendy Ultra Sound? Big Brother handing women an unfunded mandate? amazing and archaic.

Jen said...

Yeah, um, I don't know who's paying for the ultrasound, and I'd be stunned and amazed if the bill actually tells us. And they do get pricey, if memory serves.