This week we've been asked to reflect on a story that resonated with you this year. Initially challenging to narrow down to just one, news of a strikingly similar bill pre-filed in Alabama decided my topic. This week, I'd like to reflect on was what happened in Texas on May 19, 2021 – the enaction of Bill 8. I think it's time to revisit the consequences of this legislation both for American women and the argument for feminism worldwide.
What is Bill 8?
Because May 2021 seems like forever ago, here’s a quick recap of what Texas's Bill 8 is. Bill 8, also known as the Texas Heartbeat Act, is legislation that bans abortion after deduction of a fetus's heartbeat – usually at the six-week mark in pregnancy. Why it is significant is because it’s the first time a state has been able to overthrow the verdict of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court Case of 1973 that declared a woman's right to choose abortion was her constitutional right.
Why is six weeks concerning?
In Canada, abortion is legal at all stages of pregnancy regardless of reason and is covered under our public healthcare (though access to services can vary by region). It was criminalized briefly from 1968-1988, and since then has seen a modest decline and 90% of abortions occurring in the first trimester (before 12 weeks).
The six-week mark in the Texan legislation is concerning because it leaves many women without choice on whether they would like to take on the responsibility of motherhood. For anyone who hasn't peed on a stick, most home pregnancy tests recommend that you wait until one week after your missed period for the most accurate results. That means, if your cycles are regular and you're planning your pregnancy, the earliest you could know is five weeks (pregnancy counting "starts" on the day of your last period). Many women don't even know they are pregnant at six weeks and even if they did find out at five weeks, this new ban gives them one week to make a decision that will dictate the next 18+ years of their life. Much like the dystopian reality in Margaret Atwood's Handmaid's Tale, the "forced births" dictated by this legislation essentially turns women in to human incubators. Should we put on our red cloaks now?
Motherhood is not for the faint of heart
I love being a mom (most days), and a pro-life friend once asked me if having a baby had changed my views on abortion. If anything, these past 16 months has solidified my pro-choice philosophy. Motherhood is not for the faint of heart. I would not wish this on anyone not 100% ready to take it on. Usual grievances aside (lacking sleep and expensive baby stuff), becoming a mom completely transforms your identity. In a short nine months, your life as you know it is over. Now and for the long foreseeable future, your priorities take a hard backseat.
For me, even though I love my very-much-wanted baby to pieces, I remember going through a significant period of mourning in the first year. Overnight the only me was gone. The independent version of me that loved her job, travelled at the drop of a hat, and would get lost in eight-hour art sessions on the weekends no longer existed. Now, it's not to say I won't go back to work or won't ever travel again, but it is forever different. Now, "work" means part of paycheque goes to the daycare staff, "travel" is no longer relaxing, and my treasured "me-time" is crammed between cleaning sessions during naptime.
Any reason is a good reason
Many pregnancies are wanted, but there are just as many that aren't. Condoms break, sexual assaults happen, and sometimes women just don't want to be mothers – any reason is a good reason because it's their reason and their life that will be transformed because of it.
Who are we to decide who gets to be a mother? (Especially since most who have power also don't have a uterus.) Imagine if the sock were on the other foot, what if mandatory vasectomies were law and the government dictated whether men were ready to become fathers and scheduled their reversals? I wonder if legislation impeding their personal choice would be so quick to pass.
Parenthood is a complex and personal choice that directly impacts the lives of the individuals involved, and in a boldly advertised "free country," their government legislation should support that freedom.
Why both sides of the debate should be concerned
Even those opposed to abortion should be concerned about this legislation. It essentially provided a road map for states to dismantle constitutional rights. Previous attempts to overthrown Roe v. Wade, were quickly shut down because government officials enforcing penalties for abortions contradicts constitutional rights. Bill 8 found a loophole because the bill authorizes any person other than the government to sue anyone performing an abortion after six weeks, helping someone obtain one, or even "intends" to do either of these things. Crazy-ex boyfriend? Avid anti-abortion activist? Overly eager mother in law? All have the power to sue. Plus, the bill also offers an incentive by providing a bounty of at least $10,000 to those who can prove a violation of the new law has occurred. This feels like the wild west. Now that the precedent has been set, what's to stop governments from abusing these legal loopholes to impede other constitutional rights?
Should Canadian women be concerned?
It's no debate that America holds a powerful influence over the Western world, including Canada, but should Canadian women be concerned about their own freedom of choice? The political climate towards the abortion issue isn't as polarized as it is in the United States, with the majority of Canadians (77%) supporting abortion in Canada. Religious arguments also don’t have as heavy an influence here as they do with our southern neighbours. And our political leaders, even our conservative ones, openly state that they are not willing to open up the abortion debate. So, no, it doesn't appear that our freedom of choice is in jeopardy in this moment in time, but that doesn’t mean we can't empathize with the women and men actively protesting these injustices next door. It’s a rude awakening of how much farther we have to go in order to reach true equality of the sexes
In the end, I'm thankful for my beautifully wild child, but equally thankful that I was given the choice to choose being her mother. For all the Texan women currently not granted that choice, know that you have my heartfelt sympathies and raging-feminist support as you continue the fight to regain your fundamental freedoms.
A.M. Cullen lives and writes in Fort St. John. Are you parenting in the Peace? Send in your questions, topics, or suggestions for #MomLife to cover at firstname.lastname@example.org.