Our society has stuck with the “division of labor” concept because it works. Most people become skilled at one job or type of work and contract with others for different sets of expertise. Very few people can be doctors, fundraisers, lobbyists, lawyers, and politicians—at least, not with success. That is why, when I need a medical opinion, I go to my doctor. When I have a political concern, I call my representative. This isn’t new, and it isn’t rocket science. I don’t think anyone has ever felt their water break and exclaimed, “Quick, call Warren County State Representative Kathy Rapp!”
This is one of the reasons House Bill 1077 is so infuriating. Sponsored by Rep. Rapp, this bill, currently under review in the state House Health Committee, is another effort by politicians to tell doctors what to do– an irrational step beyond a politician’s area of expertise that only anti-choice measures regularly seem to demand. The bill makes ultrasounds mandatory for all women seeking abortions. The bill demands a 24-hour wait period between ultrasound and abortion. And the bill requires, ridiculously, that the ultrasound screen be positioned so that women can see the image– whether they want to or not.
While this bill is less extreme than similar bills that requirewomen to look at the ultrasound as a condition for obtaining an abortion, the difference between the two is miniscule. It’s like anti-choicers sit around and think, “Well, nobody seems to like it when we force women to look at the screen, so maybe we can just require that it be put in front of her and then she’ll have to see it whether she wants to or not– and it won’t sound quite so bad because she could have just kept her eyes shut!” Aside from the fact that making a woman look at the unwanted bundle of dividing cells in her uterus is medically unnecessary and purely intended to guilt women into changing their (carefully considered) decisions, the fact that it pits the desires of patients against the would-be legal obligations of their doctors decreases trust for no good medical reason. And it’s downright condescending.
Even more problematic is the mandatory 24-hour wait period. The vast majority of counties in Pennsylvania lack an abortion provider, so most women seeking this legal reproductive service have to travel a substantial distance to obtain it. They may have to take off work, find childcare, and arrange transportation to and from the clinic. How many low-income women can afford to do this on two separate days without serious consequences for their jobs or their incomes? I don’t see Rep. Rapp sponsoring any legislation that provides paid leave for government-mandated-but-medically-unnecessary appointments. The wait period serves two purposes: One, to make women go home and essentially sit in time-out in the hopes that they’ll reconsider their perfectly reasonable choice, and two, to serve as just enough of a barrier that some women won’t be able to make it back to their clinic for the abortion procedure itself. Who needs to ban abortions when you can just make it really, really hard to get to the clinics that provide them?
Nobody can deny that doctors are better-informed about good medical practice than politicians. So it’s only rational to let themadvise their patients– without anti-choice politics meddling in the process. There’s a reason I don’t head to the State House when it’s time for my yearly Pap smear– frankly, I don’t think those guys would even know where to begin. They are not doctors. But my gynecologist is. Why don’t we all just stick to what we’re good at.
Janna Frieman is an intern with the ACLU-PA’s Duvall Reproductive Freedom Project. She is pursuing a master’s in Social Policy at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Social Policy and Practice.