Missouri just became the third state, after Utah and South Dakota, to implement a 72-hour waiting period for women seeking abortions. The pro-choice camp is adamantly denouncing the new state law, proclaiming that it causes women additional suffering.
But waiting in and of itself does not cause suffering. Circumstances do. Often the woman suffers deeply not because she must await a medical procedure but because she agonizes over the circumstance that impels her to it. She agonizes over the fact that she is pregnant, and desperately does not want to be. She bears the agony of an unceasing inundation of “I can’t”, “I won’t”, “It’s not possible”, “How could this happen to me?” and “I have to get rid of it no matter what.”
Those who oppose the 72-hour waiting period do rightly acknowledge that a woman who awaits an abortion is often in agony, but they do not acknowledge the essential nature of agony – the way it subjects its victim to a violent outburst of her ugliest fears, and in doing so temporarily obliterates hope and morale.
In failing to consider the nature of suffering, above all of a person faced with an indisputably life-altering decision, they place concerns of finance and travel and other material stresses above the consideration of the ailing psyche. While the stresses of finance and travel are often very real ones, they are not the roots of a woman’s agony when she awaits an abortion.
If they were, if the cause of her agony were, say, missing an additional day of work to make it back to her abortion appointment, then she would simply cancel the appointment and thus absolve the stress of missing more work. But in the case of a woman awaiting an abortion procedure, canceling the appointment to save money or to avoid time off work will not relieve the racking anxiety. Neither dilemma is at the root of her pain. Her pregnancy, and the shame, the fear and the dread surrounding it, are the roots.
Hence, her agony is an internal struggle before it is motivated by external factors like time and finances and childcare. An internal struggle, unlike material concerns, is a profoundly psychological matter: the individual must delve deep into the recesses of her own dread as she analyzes the cause and effect of her feelings, and of her options. At the same time, however, her agony begs for instantaneous relief. A person who suffers deeply must battle two opposing forces: the desire for immediate resolution, and the need to confront and examine the nature of her suffering.
Those who oppose the 72-hour waiting period believe that a woman’s emotional turmoil over an unwanted pregnancy is a problem that is eliminated as soon as the pregnancy is. But in this belief they unfairly assume that caring for logistic and financial concerns should take precedence over an internal angst that is not resolved by medical means. They also unfairly assume that women awaiting abortions are but the mere sum of their agony: that the parts of them that cling to “It’s impossible” and “Make it all stop now because I can’t bear another day of this” ultimately characterize their decision. If a woman says she can’t, they agree that she is not capable. If a woman says it’s not possible, they agree that she has no choice. They believe women, but they don’t quite believe in them.
Yet the truth remains, that sometimes women awaiting abortions, even those inundated by impossibilities and grief, decide to cancel their appointments. Not always, not often, but sometimes.
So, while those who oppose Missouri’s new law believe that mandating waiting periods for abortion is disrespectful of women’s ability to make quick decisions, I maintain that is disrespectful to assume that a woman is no more then what her agony temporarily convinces her she can not do.