Sorry, But a Plan B Database Won't Keep People From Having Sex

Last week, a Louisiana Democrat filed a bill in the state's legislator she's calling the "Unsafe Abortion Protection Acts." Like most laws that ostensibly "protect" women from one of the statistically safest medical procedures, the bill doesn't do anything the pretty words in its name suggest. In fact, the way the bill is written, it could allow the state to keep a database of all the women who have used the Morning After Pill. A Scarlet Ledger, if you will.

The bill, like others adopted in other states, would require abortion doctors to have hospital admitting privileges (which many hospitals won't grant) and subject abortion providers to more cumbersome regulations (even though giving birth is statistically 14 times more deadly than having an abortion). But here's where it gets really fun: this one would change the legal definition of "first trimester" from "six to fourteen weeks" to "up to fourteen weeks" and require any individual who distributes "any drug or chemical to a pregnant woman for the purpose of inducing an abortion" to comply with the restrictions. You're pregnant from the first day of the last period you had before you got pregnant, according to this law.

One blogger argues that HB388 would impose huge restrictions on the distribution of Plan B, which is available over-the-counter in Louisiana, and require pharmacists to have admitting privileges. My first reaction to this legal analysis was to cringe; the Zygotes > Women set has waged a long campaign attempting to conflate the morning after pill, which prevents pregnancy, and RU-486, a combination of drugs used once a woman is pregnant to terminate pregnancy. They're totally different things, but a lot of folks seem to think they're the same. Even the Associated Press has confused the two.

Here's what the Morning After Pill can do that raises hackles: according to some claims that have not been medically proven, Plan B can prevent a fertilized egg from reaching a woman's womb, thus preventing pregnancy. In the eyes of people who believe that life begins at conception, a single cell dumbly inching along cervical mucus with the help of an insistent female biological process is the same thing as a toddler. Thus, even though the bill in Louisiana specifically applies to drugs that cause abortions, a significant enough portion of people believe, contrary to fact, that the Morning After Pill causes abortion could feasibly lead to mass misapplication of this law as written. Who needs facts when we've got yelling?

Statewide abortion databases aren't that uncommon; it's helpful for medical practitioners and social scientists to get a sense of who has abortions and why in order to do their jobs. But some abortion-related material gathering has taken a deliberately intimidating turn. In 2009, Oklahoma legislators tried to enact a bill that would have required all abortion patients to fill out a 34-question survey, the results of which would be entered into a searchable online database that anyone could access. According to framers of the law, all identifying information was removed, but it doesn't take a rocket abortionist to realize that if you live in a small town, it doesn't take many data points to be able to significantly narrow down individuals on the list. Three surviving children? Thirty-three years old? Abortion performed in X county? That's gotta be Denise!


[Side note: Since they're so gung-ho on keeping records now, I'm sure that all of the Louisiana legislators supporting this bill will be equally enthused about a gun registry.]

What is the aim of laws like this? There's no data to back up the dubious claim that threatening women with at best inconvenience and at worst social ostracization will prevent them from obtaining abortions; in fact, making abortions less accessible or more fraught with social consequences forces women further underground, into illegal or unsafe facilities like Kermit Gosnell's. This bill is only "protecting" women from having access to a safe and legal medical procedure. Is enabling the potential "consequences" of sex by erecting barriers between sex-havers and safety supposed to convince people not to have it?

Which brings me to an important point: trying to make women feel ashamed for having sex as a way to keep them in line is a tactic that The Man has deployed for thousands of years. And yet! Women have, for thousands of years, continued to have and enjoy sex, and it continues to become less taboo in the US (and thank goodness!). Calling a woman a slutty whorestitute for letting a guy stick parts of him into parts of her is an incredibly, historically ineffective way to deter sexual activity, and it seems especially silly for anti-sex-without-pregnancy advocates to repeatedly deploy it. It just introduces more strife into an activity that's going to occur, anyway. Even shame as a tool of effective social engineering is subject to entropy.

While publicly available records of what medication we've purchased and how many punches we have on the ol' abortion card sound like a headache to any woman who cares about her privacy, the unfortunate reality is that private entities with money already likely have access to most information we'd never tell our parents. On last night's 60 Minutes, the newsmagazine explored the shady world of data brokers, corporations that collect, bunch, and sell data to advertisers. According to one ACLU official the program interviewed, data brokers have lists of people suffering from all manners of physical and mental illness, taking all manner of medications, and exploring all kinds of sexuality. In all likelihood, if it happened, someone knows about it. Which, of course, doesn't make Louisiana's proposed new law any less crappy. Just depressingly redundant.

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