When the American Health Care Act passed the House Of Representatives in April, the controversial bill generated a lot of discussion about how women continue to be threatened by legislation created by and for predominantly white men. While the United States awaits the final version of the bill to be presented to the Senate, who will ultimately determine its fate, it's important to take a moment to remember that there are currently many American laws that already put women's lives at risk.
For example, laws that restrict women's access to safe and affordable abortions disproportionately affect low-income women, sometimes driving them to seek dangerous methods to terminate their own pregnancies. Girls as young as 12 are legally allowed to get married in some states, often to older men, though their age makes it nearly impossible for them to fully consent. And a horrendous Oklahoma law still states that if a woman is unconscious and subjected to forced oral sex, it is not considered rape.
Unfortunately, these are only a handful of some of the current American laws that threaten the lives of millions of women across the country. Below is a list of some of the worst U.S. laws for women.
1Child Marriage Laws Across The U.S.
With parental and judicial consent, you can still get married in North Carolina if you are 14-years-old. https://t.co/a5ULhUEyCo— Joe Bruno (@JoeBrunoWSOC9) June 8, 2017
In many U.S. states, it is still completely legal for children under the age of 18 to marry with parental or judiciary consent. In fact, the New York Times recently reported that 27 states don't even have a statue establishing a minimum marriage age, allowing children well below their teens to marry as long as an adult consents.
This often has dangerous consequences, including, as the New York Times details, some children being forced to marry their rapists in order to preserve the reputation of the rapist and the child's family. This is overwhelmingly more forced on girls than boys, depriving them of their agency and ability to pursue an education or career. Legislation to raise the legal marriage age to 18 has been blocked in a number of states.
2Irreversible Consent In North Carolina
A current North Carolina law states that once a woman agrees to sex, she cannot legally revoke her consent, even if she decides that she wants to end the sexual encounter. This is known as irreversible consent, and it essentially legalizes rape.
Although the saying "no means no" is pretty simple, North Carolina legislators don't seem to understand this. The current law could make women targets of violent, aggressive, and potentially life-threatening sexual advances with no legal repercussions for the perpetrator.
3Oral Sex Is Not Rape If Unconscious In Oklahoma
do we all remember when in April of 2016 the Oklahoma court ruled that oral sex was not rape if the victim is unconscious from drinking?— rryp (@solarivm) May 19, 2017
The highest criminal court in Oklahoma unanimously determined last year that it is totally and completely legal for someone to have oral sex with an unconscious person without his or her consent. Shockingly, the state's rape laws for an unconscious person only cover anal and penetrative sex, not oral.
This sets an incredibly dangerous precedent that can empower and ennoble men to intoxicate or drug women in order to take advantage of them, knowing that they will not be punished in court for their actions.
4Michigan's "Abortion Rider" Health Care Plan
Michigan lawmakers require "abortion insurance" before policies will cover - even for rape and incest. #MenForChoice won't let this stand.— Aaron (@AaronsOnLine) September 21, 2016
In 2014, Michigan passed a controversial new health care law that required women to purchase an additional, special, and more expensive insurance policy, called an abortion rider, if she wanted reimbursement for an abortion. Because this bill did not make exceptions for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest, it was infamously dubbed "rape insurance," a measure that essentially forced women to pay more to ensure that she would not have to carry the child of a man who might decide to attack her.
One state representative even went so far as to say that the policy "unfairly punishes women simply for being women."
5No Mandated Sex Education In Texas
Abstinence-only is NOT sex ed. It keeps youth from having accurate info they need to make choices for themselves. https://t.co/hDtkanD4t0— natasha (@NatashaVianna) June 14, 2017
Sometimes laws that are not on the books can be just as dangerous as laws that are. Take, for example, the fact that only 24 states currently require U.S. schools to teach sex education in public schools. In the case of a traditionally conservative state like Texas, this means that a quarter of public schools have no form of sex ed at all, and many that do focus solely on "abstinence-only" curriculum, according to a recent study by the Texas Freedom Network.
This curriculum, or lack therof, leaves many teens lacking basic and crucial information about their sexual and reproductive health. This has been proven to lead to higher STD rates and instances of teen pregnancy.
6Oregon's Domestic Violence Policy
AG Rosenblum rallying on the Oregon Capitol steps to better protect sexual and domestic abuse survivors pic.twitter.com/hGSVqpK6nZ— OR Attorney General (@ORDOJ) February 22, 2017
In another example of laws that are missing from the books to the detriment of women, citizens in Clackamas County, Oregon are pushing for a bill that will force local police departments to adopt policies that deal with officers involved in domestic abuse.
The proposal would give police departments trainings and procedures to follow when an officer is accused of domestic abuse, potentially deterring women from being murdered at the hands of their spouses.
7Immigrants Can Be Deported For Reporting Sexual Assault
“We’ve always told our clients that even if you are undocumented... the officers are going to protect you,” https://t.co/uNvnB3o7jE— ProPublica (@ProPublica) April 30, 2017
Given President Trump's vow to crack down on illegal immigrants in a "military-style operation," many U.S. immigrants who have been in the country for years now fear any interaction with law enforcement officials — even if they are in danger and need help. New data confirms that immigrants are now less likely to report sexual abuse because they fear being deported and sent back to their home countries, where many have already fled violence or persecution.
This threatens the lives of immigrants across the country suffering physical or verbal abuse, making it nearly impossible to seek help or resources.
8Rapists Can Sue Arkansas Woman For Having An Abortion
Arkansas just passed a law that states husbands can sue their wives if they get an abortion, even if it was rape or incest. What?— Kayla Duerr (@kayla_duerr25) February 5, 2017
In February, Arkansas passed a law that will allow men to sue doctors to prevent them from performing certain types of abortions for their wives. What's worse, this bill makes no exception for spousal rape, meaning that a man who rapes his wife can then legally force her to carry his child.
I hardly need to explain why this is problematic. But I will say that a woman should have autonomy over her own body.
9The Global Gag Rule
One of President Trump's first official actions in office was reviving a measure that puts the lives, safety, and health of women worlwide at risk. Trump reinstated the so-called "global gag rule," a measure that bans the United States from providing funding to international organizations that provide abortions, or even speak with their clients about abortion options.
In many developing countries and conflict-prone areas, young women are often subjected to sexual abuse or violence that results in unwanted pregnancies. Often, these pregnancies are life or death. As a result of the rule, these women will no longer be able to speak with safe and reliable organizations about their reproductive health.
10The Tampon Tax
Women's menstrual products are currently subjected to a sales tax in all but 10 U.S. states, causing women to pay additional money for an item that is meant to address a natural and unavoidable part of life. Although women rely on these products, they are apparently not considered enough of a "necessity" to avoid being taxed.
For low-income women living from paycheck-to-paycheck, this poses a significant financial burden, given that tampons need to be purchased at least once a month.
11No Regulation On Tampon Ingredients
It's alarming how few women know exactly what tampons are made of, even though this is something that is intended to go inside of your body. I for one will admit that I have no idea what's inside of mine. Apparently, legislators don't know either — or at least they don't seem to be bothered by it.
A female Democratic legislator has repeatedly tried — nine times to be exact — to introduce legislation that would require companies to be more transparent about the contents of their tampons, but the bill has never made it to a vote. Given that a recent study has found that some pads and tampons emit chemicals and toxic substances, it's important for women to know what exactly they are putting in their bodies. Their lives could depend on this information.
2017 has been a heck of a year for women, and I don't mean that in a good way. We have seen many of our basic rights denied or threatened, but a big part of resisting is raising awareness. Hopefully, knowledge of these shockingly dangerous laws can inspire Americans to continue fighting for equality.