Does Life Begin at Menstruation?

by Intern Kerishma

According to the state of Arizona, it does.

The state passed a bill on Thursday called the “Women’s Health and Safety Act,” a name so hilariously (and infuriatingly) inaccurate that I can’t begin to wonder how they got away with it. To go along with its all-kinds-of-wrong title are some all-kinds-of-wrong stipulations of the bill:

  • Any sexual education must focus on and prioritize birth and adoption (sex ed is not mandatory in Arizona)
  • The state health department must create a website that emphasizes abortion alternatives and features photos of fetuses
  • A notarized parental consent form is required for minors
  • A mandatory ultrasound screening 24 hours before having an abortion
  • No abortions permitted after 20 weeks except in cases to protect “life or health of the woman”

Obvious anti-abortion coercion aside, that last bullet point is the most baffling and controversial point of the bill. The current law in Arizona, and most other states, prohibits abortion after a time where the fetus could conceivably survive outside the womb by itself. This, according to medical experts, can be any point around 22-24 weeks.

Wondering how they arrived at the 20-week marker? The reason is a real doozy – it calculates gestational age not from the date of conception, but from the date of the last menstruation. Which means that the two weeks between a lady’s last period and ovulation, even if she’s on birth control, not having sex, or a virgin, she’s considered pregnant. Holy Virgin Mary, Batman!

That means the bill actually takes an extra two weeks off the permitted time period – making it 18 weeks instead of the claimed 20. The law will go into effect within 90 days. What makes this more rage-inducing is that the bill was signed into law by a woman, Governor Jan Brewer. Gov. Brewer’s track record, in my humble opinion, isn’t the greatest; her legacy also includes Arizona SB 1070, the racial- and ethnic-profiling law requiring anyone “reasonably suspicious” to carry their legal documents at all times. 

It’s pretty disheartening that we live in a world where we have legislation (and women) seeking to take away our autonomy – but at least we still have kick-ass lady officials like Judy McIntyre and Yasmin Neal and the Georgia Democrats fighting for reproductive rights and women’s health. 

And people still deny that there’s a war on women going on.

ETA: Just to clarify – it’s standard practice for doctors to use the date of the last period as the conception date because it’s difficult to calculate the exact date so early on in the pregnancy. Once the pregnancy progresses, an ultrasound can be used to get a more accurate reading. What’s problematic about this bill is that the AZ government is using this to legally define a woman as pregnant even before the date of conception to specifically restrict access to abortion – and that sets a dangerous precedent for an increased governmental involvement in women’s reproductive systems. Also, it cuts down on time to screen for any developmental problems in the fetus. That a piece of legislation – and not a doctor – can declare when life starts and when an abortion can or can’t be calculated is ridiculous, and little too Handmaid’s Tale for it to be OK.

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