Yesterday, the Texas Senate passed HB2, the bill Wendy Davis successfully filibustered last month. In the gallery, State Troopers confiscated tampons and maxi pads from protestors, as Lt. Governor David Dewhurst was afraid they would be thrown. Guns, however, were allowed. Really.
But in two other states, stories are playing out that remind us there’s more to choice than the right to a safe, legal abortion.
Since the 1970’s, it has been illegal to pressure a woman to be sterilized, or to ask for consent for sterilization during labor or childbirth. But in California, at least 148 pregnant female inmates between 2006 and 2010 were sterilized by tubal ligation during childbirth, often after coercion by prison staff and without patient consent. None of the procedures went through the required approvals or oversight.
In Pennsylvania, Tanya Williams – a 34-year-old homeless woman with a reported IQ of 65, has been sentenced to 9-18 years in prison for involuntary manslaughter and aggravated assault, after one of her 2 newborn twins starved to death in a homeless shelter. What could have been done to prevent the tragedy? Consider:
– The twins were born in a Philadelphia hospital on October 21. Williams hadn’t had any prenatal care, and didn’t know she was carrying twins. Despite their low birth weight, the hospital released Williams, the twins, and her 4 other children to a homeless shelter 4 days later.
– The twins were deemed healthy by a city-funded caseworker 36 hours before the twin’s death. The same caseworker released Williams from participation in a voluntary parenting class.
While the caseworker and another employee of Lutheran Children and Family Service were fired, Williams is the only person bring held legally responsible for her son’s death.
Being pro-choice is not just about protecting the right to choose not to have a baby. It also means fighting for women’s right to get pregnant, stay pregnant, and raise healthy children without government interference. That includes women who are poor or in prison. We know the way to prevent abortion is not to restrict access to abortion, but to prevent unwanted pregnancy through education and access to contraception; Similarly, the way to prevent poor women from having babies they can’t support is not to punish them for getting pregnant, but to help them escape poverty.