“Women are capable of making moral decisions,” so said Mary Lou Marzian, Kentucky House of Representatives member and author of a bill that garnered international attention based on its requirement for men to obtain consent from their wives prior to gaining access to erectile dysfunction drugs. Reminiscent of the pivotal scene from “Broadcast News,” and from an iconic ’80s Dee Snider video, Rep. Marzian leaned out the window, gave no F!&*s and said “We’re not gonna take it. No, we ain’t gonna take it. We’re not gonna take it anymore.” Reproductive choice advocates, hold out no longer for your #shero.
Rep. Marzian, a veteran legislator, and longterm reproductive rights supporter, penned her measure in response to the “informed consent bill” Governor Matt Bevin signed into law a few weeks ago, with a smile that lit up Right to Life activists everywhere. Notably, he was surrounded by men in the photo op to accompany the gratitude he expressed at the privilege of signing the bill into law. But, lest you think it’s a man’s world when it comes to paternalism, let me prove you wrong. The sponsor of the “informed consent” measure is none other than former Louisville Metro Council member, now Senator, Julie Raque Adams.
Paternalism is non-gender-specific, kids, as old as Methuselah and has depended on women, as well as men, to perpetuate it since the dawn of time. Why paternalism? Two words: social control. Because nothing is scarier to the state than an autonomous female, who acts outside of the dictates of her husband or her parents, with no checks or restrictions on her behavior and choices, other than her own moral code.
If parens patriae served at the end of the 19th century to anchor the state’s substitution of its judgment for “wayward” girls by institutionalizing them until they were 18 (to include forced vaginal penetration to determine virginity) what’s to prevent it from being a basis for informed consent laws in 2016, requiring pregnant women to counsel face to face with physicians before obtaining an abortion? Why let a good thing slip away? Despite growing numbers of women judges, politicians and lawyers, paternalism is still the default state justification when women dare attempt to make fundamental decisions about reproduction and what is best for them.
Women are not incubators. We are not yet at Handmaid’s Tale. We can read and own property and vote and choose our sexual partners. (See New York Magazine “Single women are now the most potent political force in America”). We run companies and organizations and boardrooms and cities and counties and families. How is it, then, that we cannot yet break free from the doctor/father/mother-knows-best doctrine to run our own bodies without forced intervention from a physician or psychiatrist or parent or husband or boyfriend? It seems anybody in charge other than the woman herself will suffice.
And how have we managed to discount and stigmatize and attempt to criminalize an entire group of free thinking people who made a decision that was best for them at the time they made it? A Guardian story by Sally Sheldon about access to abortion in the United Kingdom (“The Abortion Act’s Paternalism Belongs to the 1960s”), where doctors determine if a woman may abort pursuant to the Abortion Act of 1967, stated that believing “embryonic life is of moral significance” shouldn’t automatically eclipse female autonomy, especially considering the “far reaching implications” that are so personal to the one seeking access to abortion. My bet is the ability to make “important decisions in a serious and reflective way,” of which Sheldon wrote, is the kind of moral decision making likely contemplated by Rep. Marzian in her public comments about the erectile dysfunction consent bill. It’s also an ability that must finally be acknowledged is as inherent in women as men and without need for protection and substituted judgment from the state.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie put it this way in “We Should All Be Feminists”:
“If we do something over and over again, it becomes normal. If we see the same thing over and over again, it becomes normal. If only boys are made class monitor, then at some point we will all think, even if unconsciously, that the class monitor has to a be a boy.”
Parens Patriae. We’re not gonna take it anymore.