Monday, May 18, 2009

Back to Second Grade: "Timeouts" are Harmful and Condescending

The last time you got a timeout was probably in elementary school, when Teacher sent you to sit in the corner of the classroom for stealing Bobby’s crayons. Yet in 24 states, a grown woman can be sent to the timeout corner if she dares to consider abortion.

These 24 states have “informed consent” laws on the books, which mandate:
a) scripted “counseling” chock-full of anti-choice rhetoric, and/or
b) a waiting period of at least 24 hours between counseling and abortion procedure, hence the “timeout.”

According to the Guttmacher Institute’s recent study, the waiting periods “likely increase both the personal and the financial costs of obtaining an abortion, thereby preventing some women from accessing abortion services.” These mandated timeouts delay access to abortion care, making it more difficult for women to obtain abortions and more likely that they will require a more complex, more expensive second-trimester abortion. Mississippi, a state with so-called “informed consent” laws in place, has seen an increase in both out-of-state and second-trimester abortions – costly procedures that are relatively accessible for well-to-do women, but much more difficult to obtain for low-income women. In fact, there is considerable evidence that these policies disproportionately affect disadvantaged women, who struggle with the logistics: time off from work, childcare arrangements, longer and more frequent travel times - sometimes hundreds of miles in areas with few abortion providers. This “double whammy” is grossly unfair and unconscionable.

In addition, these laws are infantilizing, reinforcing the still-pervasive image of women as childlike, passive, and too frivolous to make decisions for themselves. These policies are, as NARAL Pro-Choice New York President Kelli Conlin points out, “really ruses to block access. They reinforce the myth that abortion is a decision that women take lightly. The unmitigated truth is that women facing unwanted pregnancies will have already carefully weighed their options before even picking up the phone to make an appointment with a provider.” Grown women do, believe it or not, have the ability to make critical decisions for themselves – yet “informed consent” laws try to place them back in the realm of teachers, crayons and “timeouts.”

Maryland is fortunate not to be one of those 24 states. Yet over the last two years, anti-choice activists have attempted to pass biased counseling provisions involving ultrasound imaging for women seeking abortion care; NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland is working to keep "timeouts" from coming to our state.

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