Dear Kentucky: This is what an abortion ban looks like


Salvador Dali “Liberation”


While she runs my credit card, the clerk makes polite conversation. “Is this rain ever going to stop?” she sighs, describing how there is no way to get her toddler in and out of a carseat without getting soaked.

“Well, now I’ll need to see pictures of your toddler,” I say, and like all proud mothers she gets out her phone and starts scrolling. She almost slips past a photo of her 11 year-old daughter with a friend, saying “And that’s Jaycee who stays with us,” when I stop her and ask what “stays with us” means.

Jaycee, she explains, came for a sleepover about a year ago and never really went home. “I don’t know what to do,” she says. “Her mom is only 26, she also has six younger children but won’t give up the kids because she gets a check. And Jaycee feels safe with us, so she stays.”

I wonder if our state legislature consider cases like Jaycee’s, children whom they insist must be born yet fall outside the safety nets they think they are building with bills like HB158 (a foster care bill of rights) and HB1 (adoption and foster care reforms).

In a 1997 interview with The New Yorker, writer Jeanette Winterson said about human nature, “Most of us spend a lot of time censoring everything that we see and hear. Does it fit with our world picture? And if it doesn’t, how can we shut it out, how can we ignore it?”

It seems Jaycee, her mother, the additional six children, and even the clerk whose family has taken Jaycee in, all fall into the “shut it out and ignore it” category while the pro-life, mostly male, contingent of our legislature pat themselves on the back for a job well-done.

And if you’re looking for the definition of cruel irony, look no further than the votes on SB18 which would “make it unlawful for an employer to fail to accommodate an employee affected by pregnancy.” The same seven men who voted no—no special treatment for pregnant women in this state!—voted to ban abortion via the “heartbeat bill.”

So much for the compassionate-component of the compassionate conservative.

Rep. James Tipton wrote in the Feb. 20 issue of The Anderson News that “The House passed HB148 by a 69-20 vote last Friday. This measure seeks to prepare Kentucky for the possibility that the Supreme Court could overturn Roe v. Wade by prohibiting abortion in all cases except when required to save the life of the mother or prevent serious harm to her. The Senate also passed SB9, a measure which bans abortion after the child’s heartbeat can be detected.”

A friend who is expecting texted: Is Kentucky really going to pass a six week ban? We didn’t even suspect we were pregnant until five or six weeks, then it took a month to get a doctor’s appointment. And we didn’t know the health/viabilty until 12 weeks.

Let’s be clear. It’s not a heartbeat bill. It’s a ban.

Pro-lifers would have us believe that Roe v. Wade created abortion, and that striking down the law will be the panacea, the final solution, the big win. But the facts say otherwise. Terminations of pregnancy date back to ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome, and so the pro-life obsession with banning a woman’s right to choose begs the obvious questions:

Is the goal of the pro-life movement—which began in 1980, not as a moral movement but as a Hail Mary pass to get Evangelicals to the polls—to significantly reduce the number of abortions?

If so, programs offering free birth control, pre-natal and well-baby care, and subsidized childcare so women can return to work might go a long way.

Or is the goal zero tolerance?

Gov. Matt Bevin and his caucus have been clear: they seek to outlaw abortion in Kentucky, even as thousands of years of history clearly tell us that outlawing abortion does not end abortion.

So in addition to women risking their lives by trying to self-abort, let’s consider what a Bevin Ban—what criminalization—looks like.

How do you suggest punishing a poor, scared, 16 year-old from Appalachia, Louisville, or Lawrenceburg?

Will there be a significant fine, a sliding scale, maybe, based on income or lack thereof? Or will public shaming, her mug shot, in the local paper do?

Will you put women in the county jail or state prison—“Lock her up! Lock her up!” comes to mind—and for how long? What happens when she loses her job and her health insurance for going to jail? Are you going to support her? Am I?

And what do you suppose happens to kids like Jaycee and her six siblings, born to a woman who does not want to be a mother?

Does this fit your world picture? Or will you simply ignore it?