State legislatures all over the country have been discussing restrictions to women’s reproductive rights at a hasty clip since the first half of 2011, when 162 new provisions were enacted, according to the Guttmacher Institute. These include mandatory counseling periods before seeking an abortion, restrictions on when an abortion may be performed and funding cuts for organizations like Planned Parenthood. This figure does not include the 2012 legislative session so far or all the bills about reproductive health that did not make it to a vote.
In three red states, female lawmakers are fighting back, writing and sponsoring their own bills that would restrict health procedures undergone by men. While they are somewhat tongue-in-cheek and may sound absurd at first glance, these women are making a point: so much public discourse is about regulating what women can do with their bodies, so why not at least start a discussion about what men can do with theirs?
Constance Johnson, Oklahoma
Oklahoma state senator Constance Johnson, a Democrat representing Holdenville, saw the “Personhood Act,” which would declare life as beginning at the moment of conception, gaining momentum and inserted an amendment. You can view a handwritten photo of it here. It reads “Provided, however, any action in which a man ejaculates or otherwise deposits semen anywhere but in a woman’s vagina shall be interpreted and construed as an action against an unborn child.”
Sen. Johnson later retracted her proposed amendment, but it had already received national and international attention. It drew a lot of comparisons to the famous song Every Sperm is Sacred from Monty Python’s Meaning of Life, but Sen. Johnson was not just being funny about it. In fact, she wrote a column for the UK paper The Guardian explaining why she had created this amendment in the first place.
“I am increasingly offended by state law trends that solely focus on the female’s role in the reproductive process,” she wrote. “My amendment seeks to draw attention to the absurdity, duplicity and lack of balance inherent in the policies of this state in regard to women.”
The Personhood Act was passed 34-8 by the Senate and now goes to the state House. Two other abortion-related bills are being considered in Oklahoma: one that would require a woman to listen to fetal heartbeats before the procedure and another that would allow Oklahomans to vote on the personhood issue. I think Sen. Johnson might have her work cut out for her.
Janet Howell, Virginia
In the Virginia state senate, a bill that would require women to have an ultrasound before seeking an abortion didn’t sit right with Sen. Janet Howell, a Democrat from Fairfax. She introduced an amendment that would require men to have a rectal exam and a cardiac stress test before getting a prescription for erectile dysfunction medicine. Her motivation: equality.
“We need some gender equity here,” she said to The Huffington Post. “The Virginia senate is about to pass a bill that will require a woman to have totally unnecessary medical procedure at their cost and inconvenience. If we’re going to do that to women, why not do that to men?”
The amendment only narrowly failed 21-19, but Howell got six out of seven female senators to vote for it as well as 13 male senators. The bill itself passed Feb. 1 and headed for the House of Delegates, where it passed , although revised to call for an external ultrasound (the one with the cold jelly on the torso) instead of a more intrusive transvaginal one (pretty much exactly what it sounds like), 65-32 on Feb. 22.
With Virginia’s legislature having a Republican majority for the first time since the Civil War, there are plans for a whole menu of bills about reproduction. Again, it sounds like Johnson’s work is not done yet.
Yasmin Neal, Georgia
In my home and current state of Georgia, Yasmin Neal, a Democrat who represents Jonesboro, is having her time in the spotlight too. House Bill 954 would reduce the deadline for having an abortion from 26 weeks to 20, removing any exceptions currently allowed past 26 weeks. It is sponsored by Rep. Doug McKillip (R-Athens), who is on the record saying that abortion is “a barbaric practice.” Rep. Neal, who is in her first term in the House, introduced House Bill 1116 in response, a bill that would regulate when men can seek vasectomies.
HB 1116 would limit vasectomies except in cases where not getting one would result in death or “impairment of a major bodily function.” Neal, like Howell and Johnson, says she is only partially joking with this bill, pointing out that sometimes satire can really send a serious message too. She also asks legislators to “consider the feelings of a woman, if only for a moment” before creating legislation like HB 954.
McKillip may not think Neal’s bill is very funny, but she’s already been spotlighted on The Rachel Maddow Show and CNN as well as being talked about on Twitter. Just like in Oklahoma and Virginia, I’ve seen firsthand how the state legislature here is trying to restrict access to reproductive services for women. However, I haven’t seen much discussion about tackling Georgia’s unemployment rate, which is at almost ten percent.
All three of these women created bills that discuss the male side of reproduction. Outside of this recent rash of news, how often do you hear anyone trying to regulate when men can get erectile dysfunction pills or get a vasectomy? If you’re coming up short trying to remember a time, that’s the point. These three women are at least trying to point out the inequity in the rise of restrictive measures about women being offset by pretty much nothing to do with men. They all have a lot of work ahead of them, but maybe, just maybe, the messages they’re sending will be heard by the right ears.
Emma Harger is a young journalist living just outside Atlanta, Georgia. A native Georgian, her twin loves are politics and ice hockey, but as a Democrat and hockey fan, she sometimes feels out of place in a fervently Republican state that has twice seen NHL teams relocate to Canada.