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WTF Files: Jan Brewer Thinks You're Pregnant Two Weeks Before Conception (and she signed a bill to prove it!)

Back in April, Arizona's Republican-controlled House of Representatives passed a bill to prohibit abortions after the 18th week of pregnancy. That was scary enough, but it got even scarier when we realized the bill included a new definition for when pregnancy begins. Writes John Celock:

A sentence in the bill defines gestational age as "calculated from the first day of the last menstrual period of the pregnant woman," which would move the beginning of a pregnancy up two weeks prior to conception.

If that description of the "Women's Health and Safety Act," which defines you as pregnant two weeks before you get pregnant, didn't freak you out four months ago, maybe this news will: On Thursday, Arizona Governor (and on-the-record Douchebag) Jan Brewer signed the bill. Stay douche-y, Brewer!

Jan Brewer squinting with her glasses on her nose
You look pregnant to me.

Since medical science can only predict gestational age to within a 10-14 day period, the bill ridiculously employs that same logic in reverse. Since you (probably) aren't pregnant while menstruating, the bill rolls the dice and figures you got knocked up sometime around the two-week post-period mark. In order to further restrict abortion access—the aim of this bill—Arizona legislators are playing fast and loose with the definitions of "pregnant." What this means for menstruating Arizonans is that you might be technically, legally pregnant even though you are not actually pregnant. Congratulations, it's a nonsensical piece of legislation!

"This is the most draconian right-wing legislature I've ever seen, and they [the bill's authors] are hand-in-hand with the governor who is in the same camp," said former Planned Parenthood national president and part-time Arizonan Gloria Feldt. Whether you live in Arizona or not (if you do, Jan Brewer thinks you might be pregnant right now), you have to admit this logic is messed up. The GOP's War on Women has been steadily creeping across the country like the worst case of crabs, but this bill makes AZ the most restrictive state in this regard, edging out the seven other states that have similar laws. Because why just target actually pregnant people's right to choose when you can just redefine the term "pregnant" and apply it to everyone who menstruates, thus casting an even wider anti-choice net?! Dystopian lit has nothing on the real world right now, folks.

State Rep. Kimberly Yee, the bill's sponsor, said she acted with her constituents in mind, adding that many of them feel it "doesn't go far enough." (Question to those people: HOW MUCH FURTHER COULD THIS POSSIBLY GO?) Women working together in government to... abolish women's reproductive rights. Yeah.

As Amelia McDonald-Parry points out, this bill doesn't just present ludicrous problems for pre-pregnant people:

In addition to completely screwing women who want to have abortions by further limiting the window in which they can legally have them, this law presents a huge problem for women who would continue their pregnancies to term — provided the fetus is healthy. According to the Tuscon Citizen, "During the hearings on the bill, doctors said many women don't discover their fetus has a severe or life-threatening problem until an ultrasound at about the 20th week. The doctors — and several women who had faced this issue — testified that this law would arbitrarily cut off the right for these women to have an abortion."

So pregnant people with life-threatening medical reasons for abortion (the only reasons most anti-choicers are willing to accept) are screwed over by this bill too.

This bill defies logic and common sense, regardless of your politics. That Jan Brewer signed it last week just proves what we already knew: She's the worst. And now she thinks you're pregnant.

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Comments

16 comments have been made. Post a comment.

Assumptions about length and regularity of cycles?

Seems like this could be extra-ridiculous for those of us with irregular cycles.

For example, I have PCOS and sometimes it can be 8 or 10 weeks in between my periods. If I was to conceive, which is unlikely because I'm a cautious contraception-using kinda lady, and also have reduced fertility due to the PCOS... Anyway: if I was to conceive let's say 8 weeks after my last period, this law would actually add more than 2 weeks on to the 'gestational age'. I'm not a biology expert so perhaps this isn't actually possible? But if it is, then anyone with a menstraul cycle longer than the 'standard' 28 days would be even more screwed by this bill, right? Anyone with a better grasp of the biology - please chip in!

In a case like yours, an

In a case like yours, an ultrasound would most likely determine how far along you were. I became pregnant with my 2nd child before I started having a period after birthing my first. An ultrasound was used to determine how far along I really was. This 2 week thing is nothing new. Pregnancy, in terms of 40 weeks has ALWAYS been calculated this way-so it in fact is not "screwing" anyone.

Thanks Anonymous

This basic story has already popped up around the blogosphere a few times, and people keep notingin comments that the 2 weeks thing has been standard for quite some time. Obviously, that doesn't make 18 weeks any less ridiculous as a cut-off date, but it's frustrating to see this (unintentionally) misleading story about "redefining" the start of pregnancy propagate when it isn't anything new. So thanks for setting things straight, anonymous.

Wrong, sorry

I am a pro-choice physician. You have this story wrong, I am sorry to say.

Dr. Jen Gunter, another pro-choice physician, has already explained it better than I would:

http://drjengunter.wordpress.com/2012/03/30/mother-jones-gets-facts-mixe...

Nope, sorry.

No. This is not the first time I've seen this idea floating around the progressive blogosphere, but I hope it's the last. Pregnancy dating is ALWAYS done by LMP (last menstrual period). Always always always. Whether you're planning on having an abortion or continuing to birth, it's done by last menstrual period. When you're five weeks pregnant, it means you probably conceived 2-3 weeks beforehand. Seriously, how much effort would it have taken to discover this? Searching "pregnancy by LMP", or even going to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gestational_age would have shown you the accurate information. Most people who have given birth to a child would (hopefully) be aware of this as well, as they had to count their own gestational age at one point.

I work at Planned Parenthood, and we always date pregnancies this way. It's true that ultrasounds are the most accurate way of dating a pregnancy, but the dating conventions are the same - if an ultrasound is performed and it says that person is 8 weeks 3 days pregnant, that means 8 weeks 3 days by LMP. Of course, people's cycles are irregular and dating by LMP is going to be inaccurate a lot of the time (even ultrasound can be off by a week or so in each direction), but because home pregnancy tests can't detect pregnancy until after implantation, not after fertilization, dating from implantation would be ridiculously difficult.

I expect a retraction on this article, as it is completely inaccurate and misleading. Seriously, this is as bad as when feminist blogs say that personhood laws would outlaw emergency contraception because it interferes with implantation (it doesn't). We have to deal with misinformation from the other side - is it too much to ask that our side report things accurately?

Abortion is being further restricted

Thanks for your comment, Anonymous. I don't work in healthcare, and I linked to all of my sources above and tried to quote them liberally because I'm not an expert. From what I understand in this case though (and please do correct me if I'm wrong), Arizona is shortening the restrictions on abortion from 20 weeks to 18 weeks, using gestational age as justification. I know dating pregnancies this way is standard (as I say in my post, "medical science can only predict gestational age to within a 10-14 day period") but what isn't standard is using that logic in the reverse to further limit abortion access.

Again, that is how I understand this bill. I know (a little bit) about how gestational age is calculated and I did not mean to imply that it's a new practice—just that the science behind it is being used to restrict abortion access in Arizona.

____________
Kelsey Wallace, contributor

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Arizona ban at 20 weeks gestational age

There is one article at the Examiner that serves as the basis for a few other websites' claims about an 18-week gestational age abortion law in Arizona (one of these websites is HuffPo).

Among websites that do not cite the Examiner's article, many of which can be considered fairly reliable sources (including this one: http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/story/2012-07-30/arizona-abortion-ba...), I can only find ones that claim that Arizona's abortion ban starts at 20 weeks gestational age. This makes Arizona one of ten states to enact similar legislation, including Alabama, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Nebraska, North Carolina and Oklahoma, among others. So you can't really single out Arizona's law as non-standard.

This doesn't mean that 20 weeks gestational age is a reasonable standard for viability, but it does mean that it's in no way an unprecedented one in the US.

Not unprecedented, but still more restrictive.

Thanks for your comment, Antonia. From what I understand (and perhaps wasn't clear on in my post), Arizona's new bill bans abortions at 20 weeks gestational age, but that could be as short a period as 18 weeks, depending on when the person wanting the abortion last menstruated. From AlterNet: "It sets the gestational age as beginning on the first day of a woman’s last period, rather than at fertilization. Which, in practice, means that a virgin can get pregnant and instead of barring abortions after 20 weeks as the law states, actually cuts the time to 18 weeks." (Link: http://www.alternet.org/newsandviews/article/880920/jan_brewer_signs_%22...)

I read the bill's fact sheet here: http://blog.azpolicy.org/wp-content/uploads/f12-12-AbortionRegs.pdf and linked to the Daily Beast: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/04/12/governor-jan-brewer-sig... and Think Progress: http://thinkprogress.org/health/2012/03/30/455643/why-arizonas-new-anti-... as well, which reinforce the possibility of an 18-week period. I may not have been clear enough, since the gestational age calculation is within a 10-15 day period, which means the fetal age could fluctuate between 18 and 20 weeks.

Again, I'm not a healthcare expert and I might still be missing something, but I did read several articles about this bill (and about gestational age calculations), and though this is the seventh state to pass a bill like this in two years, the difference seems to be in the severity of the limitations in Arizona's case, which in addition to the gestational age calculations include clinic regulations and informed consent "provisions" like an ultrasound requirement.

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Kelsey Wallace, contributor

Ask me about our Comments Policy!

Gestational Age

I believe that the other extreme abortion laws cited above by Antonia (Alabama, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Nebraska, North Carolina and Oklahoma) all refer to 20 weeks *post-fertilization*. In this way, the Arizona law is unprecedented because, by using a standard mode of measurement (pregnancy by LMP), it actually moved the ban up 2 weeks to 18 weeks post-fertilization. In the standard mode of measurement, the other nine states ban abortions at 22 weeks.

Regardless, both 22 and 20 weeks are extreme and equally unconstitutional.

It seems like there's

It seems like there's differences in terminology used between different state legislatures in writing their abortion gestational limits, and that in some states there is a ban 20 weeks after fertilization (thus making a person ~22 weeks pregnant), and that Arizona's is different - truly 20 weeks along in the common parlance, so somewhere around ~18 weeks post-fertilization. However, if a person were to describe the former scenario as a person who was 20 weeks pregnant ending their pregnancy, it would be misleading and inaccurate; they are 22 weeks by any ultrasound, pregnancy guidebook, or obstetrical textbook. It is true that Arizona's laws place undue hardship on people seeking abortions - and one of those reasons is the lower age limit than many other states - but alleging that its government has a nefarious agenda of telling you you're pregnant even before you've had sex is inflammatory claptrap. It's possible that its legislators meant to put it in an earlier limit than those other states and succeeded, or perhaps they've only done so through their ineptitude.

You say that you were aware of gestational age conventions, but yet chose to include such gems in your article as "it got even scarier when we realized the bill included a new definition for when pregnancy begins" and "What this means for menstruating Arizonans is that you might be technically, legally pregnant even though you are not actually pregnant. Congratulations, it's a nonsensical piece of legislation!" I mean, you literally made references to dystopian literature and kept repeating the idea that "Jan Brewer thinks you're pregnant before you've had sex". How is that anything other than a bald-faced lie?

I truly can't reconcile your reply to me with your written piece - either you knew how pregnancy is commonly calculated and chose to disregard said knowledge while writing this piece, or didn't research it as well as you thought. By headlining and framing this article with what is, for all intents and purposes, a lie (the idea that AZ has some nefarious agenda for redefining pregnancy as we know it), you perpetuated ignorance as well as distracted from the real problems with this legislation - namely that the "fetal pain" research cited by lawmakers is drivel, mandatory ultrasound requirements are insulting and unnecessary, and that restricting abortions pre-viability is unconstitutional.

The problem with politics today

This article illustrates perfectly what I think the most damaging part of American politics is today - stories and reporting that are so biased they are completely illogical and only seek to further polarize people. I'm usually not a big supporter of the GOP's stance on a lot of issues, but this kind of blatant misrepresentation of facts - either through design or ignorance- forces me to defend it. It seems like your hostility should be directed at the medical profession, which always calculates gestation based on your last cylce. Or maybe you just need to do a little research. This wasn't "re-defining conception", it was simply including the existing, establsihed definition. I'm sure this will succeed in inciting outrage in some over the conservatives' attempt to arbitrarily dictate that we are pregnant before conception, thus somehow "screwing" us out of two weeks to get an abortion. That's unfortunate, and pretty shameful, because A. the last thing we need is further bipartisan hostility and B. it will be based on complete misinformation.

Restrictions

Anonymous,

Please see my above comment to the other Anonymous. My issue here is with the term restrictions and the way the science is employed to justify them. I'm sorry if that wasn't clear.

Thanks for your comment!

____________
Kelsey Wallace, contributor

Ask me about our Comments Policy!

Using science?

If they shouldn't use science to decide restrictions then what should they use? It's standard practice to define pregnancy from LMP because it's the only clear thing to go off of, so the title of your article is misleading. And most of the article focus on the title and barely touches on other issues.

I would be more interested in the cases of women with irregular periods (where their LMP is say 6 wks before conception), or on how it's being challenged since you make it sound like many women may need one around that time, or on what that life threatening problem is. Because the last time I checked, abortion was legal in cases where it normally wouldn't be if the pregnancy is a tube pregnancy and therefore will result in the death of both mother and unborn child.

And I say this as some who is pro-life because I believe you have to live with the choices you make.

*pro-choice. that has to be

*pro-choice.

that has to be my WORST typo EVER.

Okay, I just have to weigh in here because

I am currently pregnant and scheduled to take the first dose of the abortion pill tomorrow. (So what a timely story! And no, I'm not kidding about this.)

The whole last-menstrual-period dating practice is bizarre to me. When I first went to the clinic, they told me I must be around eight weeks pregnant, based on my cycle, even though I knew I couldn't be more than five weeks pregnant. I was freaking out because I thought that they might not give me the abortion pill in time, because you can only take that up to 9 weeks. (At least in my state.)

Then, after my ultrasound this week, the doctor told me, "You're seven weeks and one day pregnant." But at that point, I had had sex exactly FIVE weeks and 2 days ago. And, no, I hadn't had any sexual contact any other time in the last few months. So that was just false, even though she said it as if it were very accurate. I assume there's a valid medical/scientific reason for these kinds of practices, though ...

But there's a big difference between a medical/scientific justification for backdating a pregnancy and a religious-ideological one, which is what I understand this post is about. The point is that Republicans -- who otherwise love casting doubt on science -- have seized onto this practice with glee, as a way to further limit women's reproductive rights. It fits nicely in with the concept that women are always potentially-pregnant -- and, therefore, they shouldn't be allowed to work, play sports, think hard, etc.!

I guess I see how this post might be misleading if you don't know everything. (Hey, I didn't know about the backdating practice til I got pregnant!!) But I think the point is right-on.

Okay, I just have to weigh in here because

I am currently pregnant and scheduled to take the first dose of the abortion pill tomorrow. (So what a timely story! And no, I'm not kidding about this.)

The whole last-menstrual-period dating practice is bizarre to me. When I first went to the clinic, they told me I must be around eight weeks pregnant, based on my cycle, even though I knew I couldn't be more than five weeks pregnant. I was freaking out because I thought that they might not give me the abortion pill in time, because you can only take that up to 9 weeks. (At least in my state.)

Then, after my ultrasound this week, the doctor told me, "You're seven weeks and one day pregnant." But at that point, I had had sex exactly FIVE weeks and 2 days ago. And, no, I hadn't had any sexual contact any other time in the last few months. So that was just false, even though she said it as if it were very accurate. I assume there's a valid medical/scientific reason for these kinds of practices, though ...

But there's a big difference between a medical/scientific justification for backdating a pregnancy and a religious-ideological one, which is what I understand this post is about. The point is that Republicans -- who otherwise love casting doubt on science -- have seized onto this practice with glee, as a way to further limit women's reproductive rights. It fits nicely in with the concept that women are always potentially-pregnant -- and, therefore, they shouldn't be allowed to work, play sports, think hard, etc.!

I guess I see how this post might be misleading if you don't know everything. (Hey, I didn't know about the backdating practice til I got pregnant!!) But I think the point is right-on.