Right to Know Law Hurts Women

Its euphemistic name is so awful it's almost funny. But the so-called "Women's Right to Know Act" under consideration in the North Carolina General Assembly is a serious attack on women's rights and a concerted effort to interfere in decision making about their lives and those of their families.

The bill mandates that every woman who has chosen to have an abortion must be subjected to an ultrasound examination at least four hours before the procedure.

Clearly, conservatives hope to prevent women from exercising their legal right to an abortion by manipulating their emotions. Women already have the right to know whatever they want about the fetus, and to get an ultrasound should they so choose. Forcing women to have an ultrasound is not about their "right to know" -- it is about social conservatives' belief that they know what's right.

What makes this latest assault on women's lives so infuriating, however, is the context in which it is happening. At the same time that anti-abortion activists are working hard to prevent women from choosing to end pregnancies even if they do not have the resources to care for a child, conservatives are also making it more difficult for parents to avoid unwanted pregnancies in the first place and to support and care for their children.

A new North Carolina law passed just two years ago, the Healthy Youth Act, mandates comprehensive sex education in our schools. Some conservatives continue, however, to try to undermine that law, even though 19,000 teens become pregnant in North Carolina each year and it has been proven that teaching young people about contraception is far more effective at preventing pregnancy than an "abstinence-only" curriculum.

Likewise, Republicans want to slash the budget for North Carolina's excellent child care subsidy program, even though we already have more than 45,000 children on waiting lists.

We can agree that unwanted pregnancies shouldn't happen. We can agree that babies who enter this world deserve love, care, and a stable home. But until we commit to providing effective means of preventing unwanted pregnancies, including increasing access to affordable birth control and comprehensive sex education, and to helping families support and care for the children they have, through child care subsidies, living wages, and affordable housing, we have no moral ground to stand on.

For Republicans to use their power to deny women access to birth control, prevent schools from adopting comprehensive sex education, block campaigns for living wages, and slash budgets for high-quality child care, and then try to use ultrasounds to manipulate women who choose to have an abortion, is outrageous. Let's hope North Carolinians don't let them get away with this shameful hypocrisy.

Rachel Seidman is associate director of the program on history, public policy and social change and a visiting lecturer at the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University.