Obscure Laws Targeting Women That You Probably Didn't Know About
The Women's March on Washington in January of this year served as a clear-cut reminder that, unfortunately, women still experience vast inequality in the United States. While this inequality is often readily apparent, such as through women's perpetually unequal pay as well as the seemingly unending Republican mission to defund Planned Parenthood, this inequality also, unfortunately, manifests itself in lesser-known ways as well. Some of these lesser-known ways include laws that either directly or indirectly target women, thereby further perpetuating inequality and negatively impacting American women's lives.
The list below delineates some of the little-known laws targeting women that are present in legal codes throughout the country. While some people may already be aware of these laws, there is a good chance that many others are not — or that those who are aware have not heard an update on the status and implications of these laws in quite some time.
Sadly, many of these laws are still readily enforced and likely have a detrimental and inherently unjust impact on countless women's lives every year. Hopefully drawing attention to these laws can perhaps serve as a way of encouraging those who are so inclined to fight for their repeal.
1. Michigan's "Rape Insurance" Law
In 2014, Michigan's state legislature passed a law which requires women to purchase additional coverage for their health insurance policy (dubbed "abortion rider") if they want coverage for the procedure. The only exception to this rider requirement is if the woman's life is at stake due to her pregnancy; pregnancy resulting from sexual assault is not exempted. These riders are only available through employer-provided health insurance plans. Women who are individually insured are not able to purchase riders through Michigan's insurance market and therefore must always pay for abortions out- of-pocket.
As HuffPost reported, this law has been dubbed the "rape insurance" law by reproductive rights advocates because it forces women to both somehow "anticipate" being raped and elect coverage, as well as forces them to pay for their abortions resulting from rape, either through coverage or through out-of-pocket expenses. As state Rep. Marcia Hovey-Wright of Muskegon said in a statement, "This law unfairly punishes women simply for being women.”
2. "Refusal To Fill" Laws
One would think that, in 2017, a woman should be able to go to the pharmacy of her choice and receive the medication she needs. Sadly, this is not always the case. Six states — Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Mississippi, and South Dakota — have laws that explicitly allow pharmacists to refuse to provide women with contraceptives or abortion-related drugs on "moral or conscientious" grounds. There are, unfortunately, multiple stories of women not receiving their prescribed medication because their pharmacist was individually opposed to giving it to them.
3. Nuisance Laws
Multiple cities in the U.S., including Maplewood, Missouri, have nuisance laws in place that prohibit residents from calling police to their homes more than a certain number of times within a given period (in the case of Maplewood, it is twice in a 180-day period). If this law is violated, it gives the city the right to evict the resident.
Many advocates say these laws unfairly target domestic violence victims, who are predominately women, putting them in the impossible situation of choosing between getting police help to stop domestic abuse or facing eviction from their home. Indeed, the ACLU is currently suing the city of Maplewood on behalf of an abuse victim who was evicted from her home in 2012.
4. Provision Of Misleading Abortion Information
Many people know about the various laws restricting abortion access around the country. However, people are likely less aware that many of these laws allow for or require the perpetuation of inaccurate information to women considering having an abortion.
As Amnesty International reported, in 37 states, "doctors are forced to hand out false information about abortion." This information typically comes in the form of state-authorized brochures on the procedure and, according to a Rutgers University study, around one-third of the information in the brochures is "medical inaccurate or misleading." This inaccurate information includes suggestions that the abortion procedure is linked to breast cancer and infertility, among other negative consequences, as well as discussions of fetal pain.
5. "Choose Life" License Plates
Both Texas and North Carolina, among other states, passed laws allowing "choose life" vanity license plates to be included among the plate options from which motorists can select at the DMV. If motorists do select this plate, proceeds from the associated fees, minus administrative costs, go to pro-life organizations. Texas even has a "choose life" account that is administered by the state attorney general. Notably, North Carolina's legislature has rejected a "pro-choice" license plate for years.
Advocates of the plates have (thus far successfully) argued in court that the license plates represent free speech, despite the political and deeply personal association with them.
6. Irrevocable Consent
A 1979 state supreme court ruling in North Carolina actually determined that women cannot change their minds about having sex once the act of intercourse has begun. As the court phrased it, "if the actual penetration is accomplished with the woman’s consent, the accused is not guilty of rape, although he may be guilty of another crime because of his subsequent actions.”
This law is sadly by no means one that is "on the books" but not enforced. In fact, it recently manifested itself in a court case in which a defendant who allegedly became violent shortly after a woman had initially consented to sex, and subsequently withdrew her consent, was not charged with rape because of the law.
7. Sexist Laws "On The Books"
Nearly every state, and many cities, seemingly has very antiquated, sexist laws that are still technically a part of their legal code, but rarely enforced. For example, according to Marie Claire, in Michigan a woman cannot technically legally get a haircut without her husband's permission. And, in Arkansas, men are legally allowed to beat their wives once per week. These are just a few of the myriad example of sexist but seemingly rarely enforced laws that are still a part of legal codes all over the U.S.
While it may seem tiresome for states and municipalities to go through the effort of eliminating all of these sexist laws from their legal codes if they are seemingly not enforced, it is imperative to do so because they technically still could be held against women. Moreover, the fact that these laws even still exist in legal codes at all sends the wrong message about the value of women in society — that laws unfairly targeting them are not enough of a priority to be removed from statutes.
While perhaps frustrating to contemplate, hopefully this list served as a reminder women (and men) must remain steadfast in their fight for equality. There is, unfortunately, still much work that needs to be done, and many laws that need to be reformed or eliminated outright.