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What We Mean When We Say “Not Even” in Abortion Legislation

According to the Guttmacher Institute, there have been more anti-choice bills passed in the past two years than in the past decade. Ninety-three up from to 22, to be exact. The majority of these restrictions target abortion providers in an effort to close clinics and limit public access. Specifically, these are known as “TRAP” laws: “Targeted Restrictions on Abortion Providers.” Others limit insurance coverage while the ones that often garner the loudest public outcry seek to impose time limits, the most stringent of which recently comes from the North Dakota State Senate where abortions after six to seven weeks will be banned. The conversation on reproductive rights never really subsided, but it seems to be enjoying a unique sort of spotlight in the public eye these days.

One of the most nebulous trends in recent legislation, at least in my opinion, is language regarding exceptions to the law. There have been numerous headlines about extreme legislation that would make no allowances for abortion, not even in the case of incest or rape.

It is this language, this “not even,” that I think we need to be careful with. When we say “not even,” it implies that there are regular abortions and there are serious abortions; there are abortions that we can justify and there are abortions that we cannot justify; there are abortions that insurance should cover and there are abortions that should come out of pocket.

The reality is that abortions cannot be dichotomized in this way. They are all equally valid medical procedures, and the circumstances surrounding such a medical decision are of no more relevance to the public eye than the circumstances surrounding a person’s decision to vote or not in an election.

This kind of regressive thinking in many ways undermines the very foundation of a woman’s right to choose. When we suggest that some abortions are more valid than others, we open the door to a kind of scrutiny no one should be subjected to. The conversations that follow are no longer about maternal health and wellbeing, but whether or not an instance of rape was “legitimate”. We stop considering what it means to raise a child for 18 years in favor of the idea that not being ready to be a parent is not reason enough. It creates a climate in which one needs an excuse for an abortion when no other legal right requires such moral permission. We do not ask people for an excuse to buy a gun, vote or get married. It stands to reason that we should not ask women for an excuse to exercise bodily autonomy, and yet this is what we do when we say “not even.”

Larissa Mattei Larissa Mattei (1 Posts)

Contributing Writer Emeritus

Tufts University School of Medicine