The Most Sexist Laws in America

by Seth Millstein

Thursday wasn’t the best day for women. Arizona implemented onerous new health regulations that could make it near impossible for some women to get medical abortions, while a Massachusetts court ruled that taking upskirt photos on the subway is a-okay. On the plus side, Virginia took a step toward repealing its archaic ban on consensual oral and anal sex, although of course, that means Virginia actually had a law banning consensual oral and anal sex to begin with.

All of this is a reminder that even in 2014, de jure sexism isn’t anywhere close to being a thing of the past. Tons of jurisdictions in the U.S. still have laws on the books that are ignorant, dangerous, and downright hostile to American women. Here are some of the most shameful examples.

Rape By Deception

In 2009, Julio Morales snuck into a stranger’s house after her boyfriend left, entered her darkened bedroom, and got into her bed. She awoke to the sensation of having sex with a man and, believing him to be her boyfriend, continued willingly — until the light hit his face, and she realized it was a complete stranger. Morales fled, but was later apprehended, and the woman pressed charges.

Morales was initially convicted under California’s “rape by deception” law, but that conviction was later overturned. Why? Because the victim wasn’t married. The law in question outlaws rape wherein someone impersonates someone else’s husband in order to have sex with them, but if they 'only' impersonate their boyfriend, they literally haven’t broken any laws.

California isn’t the only place with a loophole like this: in 2011, a similar incident happened in Iowa, which also only protects women who are married from deceptive rape. The worst part, though, is that California and Idaho’s laws are actually better than those throughout those in the rest of country, because most states don’t have any laws against deceptive rape at all. A Massachusetts lawmaker attempted to pass one in 2008, but it never made out of committee.

Sex Toys

Virginia laws take a weird, frightened attitude toward basic human sexuality. The state legislates against all sorts of natural human desires. While the ban on consensual oral and anal sex was overturned this week, the state still technically prohibits unmarried people from having any sex at all. It also has a law banning “obscene items;” while the statute doesn’t specifically say “you can’t have vibrators,” some legal observers have interpreted to mean just that.

Alabama law, on the other hand, does specifically say that you can’t have vibrators. In 1998 — that is, less than twenty years ago — the state passed law making it illegal to:

...knowingly distribute, possess with intent to distribute, or offer or agree to distribute any obscene material or any device designed or marketed as useful primarily for the stimulation of human genital organs for any thing of pecuniary value.

Mississippi has a similar law banning "any three-dimensional device [that is] designed or marketed as useful primarily for the stimulation of human genital organs, or offers to do so, or possesses such devices with the intent to do so." (Interesting that it specifically names a “three-dimensional device,” considering two-dimensional devices can’t physically exist in our universe.)

Let’s be entirely clear: The only purpose these laws serve is to criminalize female sexual pleasure. That’s it. There is no public health concern, no harm even purportedly being done to anybody else, and no corresponding laws against, say, Viagra. These laws exist for no reason other than to make it harder for women to have orgasms.

Irreversible Consent

As if the the loopholes in (or complete lack of) rape-by-deception laws weren’t enough, North Carolina law renders it impossible for a woman to revoke sexual consent once she’s given it.

The law came to light in 2010, when a man named Osvaldo Sombo was charged with the sexual battery and rape of his then-girlfriend. The woman told law enforcement that she’d initially contented to having sex with Sombo, but that as soon as they started, it hurt and she told him to stop. He didn’t stop, though, and “proceeded with rough vaginal intercourse while she continued to tell him to stop.”

Prosecutors dropped the charge, however, because according to a 1979 North Carolina Supreme Court ruling, “no rape has occurred though the victim later withdraws consent during the same act of intercourse.” That's right: by consenting to sex in North Carolina, you’re also simultaneously revoking your right to withdraw consent later on.

Lying To Patients To Avoid Abortion

The full slate of anti-choice measures that have been passed in the U.S. over the last couple of years could fill a book. They seek to end abortions in a variety of different ways, be it through outright criminalization, the closure of abortion clinics, or creative disincentivization. The latter can take many forms, but Arizona’s bears special mention for its insidiousness.

Arizona requires that women seeking abortions first undergo a transvaginal ultrasound; a medically unnecessary procedure that, in in terms of sensation, has been compared to rape not only by politicians who oppose them, but also by women who have received them. The ostensible reason for the requirement, according to many of the legislators who support them, is to provide a woman with “all the information” about their pregnancy before terminating it.

That’s already an absurd claim, and multiple studies have shown that forcing women to view ultrasounds of their fetuses has no effect on their decision to get, or not get, an abortion. In addition, it’s contradicted by another horrific Arizona law that — and this is not an exaggeration — allows doctors to lie to women about the status of their pregnancy if telling them the truth might lead them to get an abortion.

There’s no way around it: These laws have nothing to do with a woman’s health; rather, they subordinate women’s health in an attempt to ensure that as many women are having babies as possible.

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