The Missouri legislature is considering an ultrasound bill that would triple the waiting period before having an abortion in the state to a whopping 72 hours. During a hearing the other day, the bill’s sponsor Rep. Chuck Gatschenberger made his case by drawing on his personal experience with
an unintended pregnancy buying a new car and re-carpeting his house.
I’m considering maybe buying a new vehicle. Even when I buy a new vehicle — this is my experience — I don’t go right in there and say, I want to buy that vehicle, and, you know, leave with it. I have to look at it, get information about it, maybe drive it, check prices. There’s lots of things I do going into a decision — whether that’s a car, whether that’s a house, whether that’s any major decision that I make in my life. Even carpeting. You know, I was just considering getting some carpeting in my house. That process probably took a month… I was faced with a decision that I didn’t have very much information that I knew about. So I wanted to be as informed as possible, and that’s what this bill is, having them get as much information as possible.
If you watch the full video of the hearing recorded by Progress Missouri, you’ll hear that this response comes right after Gatschenberger had an exchange with a female colleague that I thought was equally revealing.
Gatschenberger had made a comment about how women like to put their ultrasound photos on the fridge, and his colleague points out that’s not always the case — when she had a miscarriage, she definitely didn’t want to see the ultrasound photo everyday. She reminds him, ”You probably haven’t seen a lot. There are probably circumstances and situations that women find themselves in that you’re not aware of and that haven’t been a part of your experience.” In reply, Gatschenberger brings the fact that he has four sisters and three daughters, so, ya know, he’s seen some lady stuff. His colleague asks if any of his female family members have had pregnancies that they discovered weren’t viable or endangered their health. Gatschenberger says he hasn’t seen that. She again notes that there are probably situations women face “that perhaps you might not be able to relate to because it’s outside your experience.” Gatschenberger grants that. She brings it back closer to home: “Do you not trust your sisters to make the decisions for themselves?”
In this exchange, you can see how Gatschenberger’s colleague is trying two different tacks to get him to see women as fully human beings capable of making moral decisions by themselves. One is to appeal to his humility — to get him to admit that there are experiences that he cannot fully understand and relate to, and therefore he should probably not be so quick to make laws about them. (I generally think this approach — reminding people how little they truly know about the lives of others — is a good one when it comes to abortion rights.) The other is to appeal to his sense of empathy — invoking his sisters and daughters based on the common hope that men who seem incapable of identifying with women in general may be able to put themselves in the shoes of their female loved ones. A depressingly low bar, IMO.
Yet neither strategy works. Whether called upon to empathize outside his own sphere of experience or merely to acknowledge the limits of his own perspective, Gatschenberger pivots, again and again, back to himself. It’s in direct response to the question “Do you not trust your sisters?” that he launches into his car speech. “Well, yesterday I went over to the car lot…”
The arrogance of patriarchy, folks.
Maya Dusenbery is an Executive Director of Feministing.