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The laws won’t work.


Global women's march, 21 January 2017. Mark Dixon under a Creative Commons Licence

Little could be more predictable or nauseating than the sight of Donald Trump, flanked by his super-rich, all-male team, signing the global gag rule back into force on one of his first days in office. The law, which means US funding cannot go to any overseas organization which offers or even gives information about abortion, will affect millions of the world’s poorest women.

There is no country in the world that has a proud history of men making great laws about women’s bodies. You’d think that maybe at some point they’d notice and stop, but don’t hold your breath.

Only a few weeks after Trump reinstated the global gag rule, Oklahoma lawmakers, as usual overwhelmingly men, started pushing Bill HB 1441, which demands that women seeking abortions first gain the ‘permission’ of their sexual partner. As if we needed further proof that the people drafting this bill lack empathy, the law literally refers to pregnant women as ‘hosts’. Presumably because none of them can spell ‘talking jizz incubators’.

The bill does include a provision that the signature is not needed if the individual in question is dead. ‘Could the defendant please tell the court how the victim died?’ ‘Yes, your Honour, he choked to death on the words “I just don’t like using condoms”.’

I had an abortion in Tokyo, where exactly this law exists. You have to get the ‘father’s’ signature to get an abortion. Let’s talk about that.

First, hello to the men reading this. You’re probably thinking something like: ‘What if her partner is violent or abusive?’ or ‘What if the relationship was brief and she doesn’t have contact details for him?’ or ‘What if she’s not sure which of her partners it is?’ All good, reasonable thoughts. Congratulations on being a compassionate indi­vidual; please consider getting a job in the Oklahoma Legislature.

But women reading this are going through a different thought process. I’ll give you a minute… And congratulations – you now know who your best male friend is! Because all you need to do is ring the man in your life who will help you no matter what. The idea that you would fuss about trying to make sure the signature on the piece of paper corresponds to the biological parent of the embryo is ridiculous.

And this, male lawmakers, is why your restrictions on abortion don’t actually work. Women know what they want and will say what they need to say to get it. All this law, and any law which attempts to dictate the ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ reasons for abortion, says to me is: GO AND LIE TO YOUR DOCTOR – which is incredibly unhelpful to the medical profession.

All these laws do is create an extra barrier to reproductive healthcare, and each barrier means yet more women miss out. Those that can’t risk taking the time off work, can’t find the childcare or get a lift to the clinic. Those that are too afraid to tell their violent partner or fundamentalist religious mum. Those too ill, too poor, too young to travel to a more favourable legal jurisdiction. Those without internet access, unable to Google a way round the restrictions.

Or to put it another way: those least likely to be in the room when the laws are being written.

Kate Smurthwaite is a comedian and activist. katesmurthwaite.co.uk. @Cruella1

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