“The decision whether or not to bear a child is central to a woman’s life, her well-being and dignity. It is a decision she must make for herself. When the government controls that decision for her, she is being treated as less than a fully adult human responsible for her own choices.” — Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Our Kentucky legislators are again attempting to shove women back into the dark ages of illegal, and often agonizingly fatal, abortions by enacting governmental restrictions that will force women who want to terminate a pregnancy into backroom procedures by untrained or incompetent providers.
The bills before the Kentucky legislature this year severely restrict abortion rights. They will deny Kentucky women their constitutional right to make the very personal decision about continuing or terminating a pregnancy.
These bills have been filed with the expressed hope that they will create a legal challenge that would, in light of the current Supreme Court makeup, result in successfully abrogating a women’s right to choose not to bear a child.
The fetal heartbeat bills, sponsored Rep. Robert Goforth, a pharmacist cum Republican gubernatorial candidate, and Senate Floor Leader Damon Thayer, would outlaw abortions upon the detection of a fetal heartbeat, usually be detectable in an early, non-viable, embryo between the fifth and sixth week of pregnancy. However, an early heartbeat does not indicate embryonic viability.
The U.S. Constitution affords me the right to privacy, as well as freedom from state-sponsored religion. If passed, these bills will not only violate my right to privacy and my right to personal autonomy, but they will also establish a religious principle with which I disagree. The ongoing attempts of our legislature to impose personal religious views regarding conception through these restrictive abortion laws severely limit my First Amendment right to religious freedom.
Under the guise of protecting the “unborn,” our legislature also is attempting to curtail women’s rights by denying them the ability to make their own choices by enacting laws that treat us as second-class citizens, not the fully competent human beings we are.
If our legislators were truly concerned about the lives of Kentucky children they would support the right of women to make decisions regarding their mental, physical, emotional and/or financial ability to carry a pregnancy to term. They would acknowledge the validity of the reasons why women choose to terminate a pregnancy. They would recognize the disastrous effects of an unwanted pregnancy on women, the children they are unwilling bear and the commonwealth.
We can see statewide what happens when unwilling and unprepared individuals are forced to undertake the challenges and complications of pregnancy and parenthood.
Our infant mortality rate is worse than the nation’s. Child abuse and neglect are on an upward trajectory in Kentucky. Eight-five percent of the abused or neglected children who die or are severely injured are under the age of four. There is an all-time high of 9,705 Kentucky children currently in out-of-home care with insufficient placements available for children in need of fostering.
Yet rather than provide resources to decrease infant mortality, to prevent abuse and neglect of living children or increase safe foster placements, our legislators gleefully prefer lengthy and expensive legal battles to subjugate women and ensure more unwanted children are born.
These ill-conceived attempts to force pregnancy on women, while ignoring the long term effect of this policy on women and the children born of those pregnancies, strip resources from living children and parents in desperate need of assistance.
Rather than forcing women to have children they do not want or cannot provide or care for, and instead of expending millions of state dollars fighting an untenable legal battle, our legislature should concentrate that energy, time and money to improve the health, education, welfare and safety of the children born to those who choose them.
Kathryn Hendrickson of Maysville is a writer, lawyer, nurse and mother of four.