It is the Year of our Lord 2021. Women now outnumber men on college campuses. We serve in juries, the military, Congress. We’ve been to space. We run Fortune 500 companies, and many of us are entitled to maternity leave. We collect Nobels, Grammys, Pulitzers. Last year we celebrated that a full century has passed since the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that recognized the right of women to vote.
Look, ma, we made it!
It’s so empowering to have a say in who represents us. Now if we could only get our elected leaders to do their homework on how pregnancy works before they pass laws that can permanently alter our lives, that would really be something.
An honest debate on abortion requires that we handle the thorns, that we wrestle with questions about personhood and the rights of the unborn and pregnant people, including the victims of rape. An honest debate requires that we get in the weeds, that we understand the mechanics of pregnancy and the workings of body parts.
Good governance demands nothing less of the people who represent us.
That is why it’s hard to shake off recent comments made by Gov. Greg Abbott about the Texas law he signed that bans abortion once fetal cardiac activity is detected — generally around six weeks’ gestation. There are no exceptions for victims of rape and incest.
In response to a reporter’s question about forcing rape and incest victims to give birth, Abbott vowed that Texas would rid its streets of rapists, an unrealistic promise. He also said that women and girls would still have “at least six weeks” to get an abortion under the new Texas law.
That is false. Doctors begin tracking gestation from the beginning of the woman’s last period, before she conceived. Women generally ovulate and become pregnant about halfway through their monthly cycles. It takes several days for the pregnancy hormone to build up enough to become detectable, and many women wait until a missed period to take a test. That leaves a window of roughly two weeks to get an abortion, which in Texas requires at least two appointments.
In fact, the first ultrasound, usually performed around two or three weeks after a missed period, or what’s considered six or seven weeks’ gestation, is how OB-GYNs often confirm pregnancies. Many women (myself included) can testify to brandishing a positive home pregnancy test and breathlessly calling the OB-GYN only to be told, “Thanks for the call. We’ll see you in a couple of weeks.”
Sure, the concept of gestational age is confusing. But we expect our government representatives to master the details of the matters that they regulate, in this case pregnancy, about the most consequential thing that can happen to a woman or a girl.
It’s not crazy to insist that politicians who memorize the stages of fetal development also learn the phases of the menstrual cycle. It’s not brazen to want our leaders to do their due diligence before they introduce laws that affect us viscerally.
We shouldn’t have to beg for common decency.
To be ignorant is to be dangerous. It was only two years ago that Ohio state Rep. John Becker filed a bill banning insurance companies from covering abortions but requiring coverage of a procedure to “reimplant” an ectopic pregnancy into the woman’s uterus. An ectopic pregnancy occurs when a fertilized egg implants outside the uterus. A pregnancy cannot survive outside the womb; if left untreated, the condition can make a woman bleed to death.
Doctors told Becker that reimplanting an ectopic pregnancy in the uterus is not possible. Critics of the bill raised concerns about promoting a procedure without knowing whether it’s safe. The lawmaker told the Cincinnati Enquirer that he never researched the medical procedure before adding it to his bill.
“I heard about it over the years,” Becker told the newspaper. “I never questioned it or gave it a lot of thought.”
Who can spare a moment to dwell on a woman’s life-threatening condition when writing legislation about it? Thankfully, the bill fizzled.
Responsible leaders are straight with their constituents about what laws do or don’t do. They welcome facts to make better policy, even if they can’t achieve societal consensus on an issue. Women themselves are not monolithic on abortion. Our stances fall along a spectrum defined by our individual experiences, observations and moral judgments.
But the logistics of pregnancy are not a matter of public opinion, so let’s be real about how our bodies work.
I only ask for what women and girls have always deserved: respect.
Julieta Chiquillo is a member of The Dallas Morning News editorial board.
Read More: Texas, why can’t we be honest about pregnancy when we discuss abortion?