What If We Treated Expecting Mothers Like We Treat Abortion Patients?

In a recent Washington Post op-ed, R. Alta Charo poses “A Proposal for Moms-To-Be” — a satirical bill she calls the Defense of Motherhood Act. Alta Charo mocks the increasing number of abortion restrictions popping up nationwide, turning the regulatory spotlight from women seeking abortions to women carrying a pregnancy to term. Suggested requirements for Alta Charo’s DOMA include:

-A 72-hour waiting period between the time a pregnant woman first sees a doctor and the time she can get prenatal care

-A condition that physicians inform women of the risks of childhood and motherhood: for example, a 9-16% drop in wages with each child, as well as a higher risk of depression and other mental illness

-An interview about the circumstances of conception, to determine whether coercion or inability to afford contraception were a factor in pregnancy

-Viewing a two-hour video “featuring a colicky newborn, a toddler having a tantrum and a sulking teenager”

-For teenage mothers, a parental signature acknowledging “limited life prospects and economic opportunities for teen mothers”

Charo’s piece (the subtitle reads, “Like abortion, it’s for their own good”) highlights the unhealthiest facets of our culture of motherhood. More and more, our politicians find it necessary to fiercely regulate a woman’s abortion options, while we hear radio silence when it comes to women going through with a pregnancy (I’m certainly not advocating more regulations on women who do choose motherhood, but the gulf between the two options is striking). We glorify motherhood with little regard to the economic, psychological, and physical costs, and we make pariahs of women who choose an abortion — rarely a cavalier decision.

At best, our critical eye is misguided. We are vigilant in our oversight of women who don’t want to be mothers (not only with abortion, but even with attempts to restrict birth-control access), yet we barely ask cursory questions of people who are making a human. I’m not suggesting we restrict the right to have children. It’s just that, especially given the world’s ever-mushrooming population, a bit more critical thought on the issue might not go awry.

Further, Alta Charo’s essay highlights the myriad ways we police motherhood, even as we venerate it. We shame teen mothers instead of supporting them. We try to force unwilling women to give birth, while expecting them to shoulder the fallout alone — without maternal leave, without health insurance, and without assistance for single mothers. All that, despite the drop in economic outlook that children bring. We want women to be mothers so long as they fall into our perceptions of what “normal” motherhood looks like, and so long as they do it on their own.

Alta Charo’s DOMA would be laughed out of Congress should it ever make their way into an actual bill. But why are these restrictions so absurd in the context of women carrying pregnancies to term, but so “reasonable” when it comes to women pursuing abortions? We have so little trust in women making decisions for themselves. It’s long past time to rethink our expectations for women and modern motherhood.