Signs, Signs, Everywhere a Sign

Kathryn Lopez

7/30/2011 12:01:00 AM - Kathryn Lopez

Sometimes, the yelling stops long enough to remember that there are real people involved in abortions.

And not just the youngest one, who doesn't get a say in the decision.

I read the other day a piece about the "safe and successful" telemedicine abortions, getting "high grades" in Iowa. That's an abortion where a doctor doesn't even have to be present. The clinical efficiency with which the story was written was jarringly chilling.

Clinical efficiency, of course, being the goal of the deed. Which was just one among many reasons to be delighted about a new law in Louisiana: the Signs of Hope Act. It brings a little humanity to the debate and the reality of legal abortion in America (38 years later and counting).

Written in the reality, too, that abortion isn't a rewind button, what has happened and will be done will have impact.

With Louisiana's Signs of Hope Act, women can't get an abortion without a gentle reminder about options. In other words: actual choice. Written in the reality, too, that for some women, who are being coerced in one way or another, a sign may be a real liberation for a woman. For all the use and abuse of the word in relation to the issue of abortion, here it is, codified, complete with a website.

The signs are straightforward enough. "Notice: Women's Rights and Pregnancy Resources" is the start off. It then descends into boldface and bullet points.

Point 1: "You can't be forced. It is unlawful for anyone to make you have an abortion against your will, even if you are a minor."

Point 2: "You and the father. The father of your child must provide support of the child, even if he has offered to pay for an abortion."

Point 3: "You and adoption. The law allows adoptive parents to pay costs of prenatal care, childbirth and newborn care."

Point 4: "You are not alone. Many agencies are willing to help you carry your child to term, and to assist after your child's birth."

The sign features a website address for abortion alternatives, which is easily accessible on a smartphone.

Originally referred to as the "Women's Right to Know" Signs law -- an amendment for current informed-consent-for-abortion laws that are in effect in about 30 states -- it took on the more inspirational language when a woman who counsels post-abortive women said that the "signs in abortion clinics would be 'signs of hope' to women who often feel hopeless and coerced due to a perceived lack of alternatives," New Orleanian and Bioethics Defense Fund counsel Dorinda Bordlee recalls. Bordlee, who drafted the legislation with fellow lawyer Nikolas Nikas, calls the Signs law "cutting-edge technology in the service of women and their unborn children" and a "love letter to women and their unborn children."

But are the Signs nothing but pro-life propaganda? Bordlee denies the charge. The Signs "educate and inform women of concrete resources that she can consider with her intellect," Bordlee says.

"The thousands of affidavits of post-abortive women gathered by the Operation Outcry outreach confirm that women are often vulnerable to abortion coercion or pressure based on the very fact that they are in an emotional state based on their perceived lack of available resources or options," she says. "These signs clear the fog with objective information."

Bordlee adds that, "As much as that may irritate the owners of abortion clinics, the simple fact is that ever since the 1992 decision in Casey v. Planned Parenthood, the U.S. Supreme Court has recognized that 'a State has legitimate interests from the outset of the pregnancy in protecting the health of the woman and the life of the fetus.' So, we have clearly established that the Signs of Hope Act is pro-life in a not-so-veiled manner."

Despite the fact that the Signs of Hope Bill, which will be implemented in the Pelican State in November and requires abortion-clinic websites to post a link to this alternatives website, may sway some women from not having abortions, it was a bipartisan vote for the bill. You can imagine some of the objectors (a Planned Parenthood rep called them "condescending" and "offensive"), but it's hard to argue with informed consent in a matter of life and death, even if nascent. Bordlee presents it as flowing from a "holistic feminism," a reintegration of "the best interests of women, children and families based on the understanding that we are at our best when we reach out to help one another."

She adds: "It never ceases to amaze me when abortion advocates take the patronizing attitude that we should hide information from women because of their fragile emotional state. Women are strong and intelligent. Each of us deserves the dignity of full information."

In that spirit, Bordlee and the BDF hope to use the Cajun model as a nationwide effort, helping pro-life groups with similar legislation. If a state's government won't bite, she won't be discouraged: "Even if a state does not have a Signs of Hope law, individuals who counsel in front of clinics and elsewhere can just as easily have postcards or flyers to hand to women so they can access the information on their smartphones."

It's an alternative, too, to much of the sound bites and rallies, complete with familiar rhetoric that people, especially those desperate for help, might simply tune out. It's a sign that a revolution of love may just be what the doctor ordered.