Don’t Believe the Media. Arkansas is Not the Riyadh of the West

Is Arkansas the new Saudi Arabia?

You’d think so from recent news accounts about the state’s new abortion restrictions.

“In Arkansas, women will need permission from men to get abortions,” a headline on HuffPost said.

Other publications, including The Independent in the UK, and Allure and Glamour magazines, used the same wording in headlines and opening paragraphs of their articles.

Who are these dastardly men who must give permission to Arkansas women in peril of childbirth? The Legislature? The Knights of Columbus?  Steve Bannon?

Only a publication called the Atlanta Black Star hinted at the truth with a headline that read, “New Arkansas Bill Requires Women to Seek Partner’s Consent Before Having an Abortion.”

“Partner” is close, but still not the right word.

The word that gets to the crux of the matter, the word no one dare say, is “father.” Many people in Arkansas—and elsewhere—believe fathers have a right to know if a child they helped to conceive is about to be aborted.

It seems a simple enough word to describe someone whose actions helped to color the two pink lines on a pregnancy test, but even in the age of fathers’ rights, the word is fraught with meaning, and abortion-rights supporters demand that it be scrubbed from all public discourse.

This creates a problem.  “Father-to-be” doesn’t work for this crowd either, and “sperm donor” is awkward and icky. The only word left for the hapless headline writer is “men,” as if these are random men plucked off the streets of Little Rock to hold sway over oppressed women, not men who have actual skin in the game, so to speak.

A man who contributed half of an embryo’s chromosomes is hardly an impartial bystander when it comes to abortion. But courts have ruled that the father having a say in the matter would interfere with a woman’s right to have an abortion, so this is not allowed anywhere in America, even Arkansas, despite its new reputation as the Riyadh of the West.

Yes, that’s right: All those blustery headlines were wrong.

Blinded by wrong-headed fury, many news outlets reported that Arkansas is about to require the father’s consent for an abortion, when its new law says no such thing.  It’s the Ozarks, and all, but they do have lawyers in Arkansas who have read Planned Parenthood v. Casey.

The law that has everyone in a lather is one that says family members must agree on what to do with fetal remains (or, as Marie Claire magazine puts it, the “tissue”).  Abortion opponents insist the law has nothing to do with notifying men, but is designed to show respect for human remains.  The ACLU and other supporters of abortion rights say it’s a sneaky attempt to force awkward conversations between a woman and her co-conceptor.

Or rapist, as the case may be. 

Yes, one headline writer, in an attempt to out-HuffPost the HuffPost, wrote this above the story in the International Business Times:   “Arkansas is going to force rape survivors to tell their rapist before having an abortion.”

And they say pro-lifers are histrionic.

Arkansas, which already has the fourth-toughest abortion laws in the nation according to Americans United for Life, may have drafted its latest laws for naught. Planned Parenthood, Little Rock Family Planning Services and the Center for Reproductive Rights have all filed lawsuits challenging the new restrictions.

But the saga drives another wedge between ordinary people—the church-going, Red State conservatives who are sincerely troubled by abortion—and the people who write about them.

Most people have no qualms about calling a pregnant woman a mother, even if she has yet to deliver. Even Romper.com, which has railed against the Arkansas restrictions, three months ago suggested eleven Mother’s Day gifts to give your pregnant wife.

“If your wife is currently pregnant, then 2017 marks her first Mother’s Day as a mom,” the website said back then.

Only in the political arena and in the media do we quibble and hedge, and insist a person who fathered a growing embryo is not a father, but merely a man.

Image: By Sgerbic (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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