Medical professional holds Viagra pills on an open palm.
Medical professional holds Viagra pills on an open palm.
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Early last week, Mary Lou Marzian, a Democratic member of the Kentucky House of Representatives, introduced a bill that would require the married men of Kentucky to obtain the consent of their wives before purchasing Viagra. If passed, the bill would require that men in Kentucky not only be married but also visit a doctor twice before being prescribed medication for erectile dysfunction.

It’s worth noting that while this bill—which would essentially require men with erectile dysfunction to be married in order to be sexually active—is mired in controversy, bills that similarly limit women’s sex lives to procreation by limiting the availability of contraception and abortion easily pass state legislatures across the country, with a particular impact on poor women and women of color.

Meanwhile, the chances of Marzian’s bill passing through Kentucky’s House of Representatives seem fairly low. America’s patriarchal political climate is largely governed by middle-aged white Christian males disinterested in infringing on the personal freedom of straight, cisgender men like themselves. That being said, the bill will still make a powerful political statement.

Restrictions on access to reproductive health care—from Republican attacks on Planned Parenthood and the Affordable Care Act to increased legislative and economic attacks on abortion access in recent years—are all blatant attacks on the human right to bodily autonomy.

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In essentially forcing those capable of bearing children to be the prisoners of their own biology, the message anti-choice lawmakers are really sending is that they shouldn’t be having sex unless they want children. That’s where Rep. Marzian’s Viagra bill comes in to give them a taste of their own medicine. Her bill, in turn, sends the message that if sexual relations for women must have the goal of birthing children, this must be the case for men, too.

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Parenting for Anti-Racism

That the bill requires the consent of a man’s wife veers close to laws that were recently passed in Arkansas and Oklahoma earlier this month. In Arkansas, on top of blocking the objectively safe dilation and evacuation procedure, which is technically protected by Roe v. Wade’s guarantee of the right to an abortion until fetal viability, the misleadingly named “Unborn Child Protection From Dismemberment Abortion Act” additionally encourages women’s husbands to sue their wives’ abortion providers for civil damages or “injunctive relief.” This would allow men to bar their wives from having an abortion.

Similarly, in Oklahoma, a bill is currently being considered by the state’s predominantly male, conservative lawmakers that would require women to present abortion providers with the express, written consent of the father of the fetus in order to go forward. Oklahoma Rep. Justin Humphrey even went so far as defending the bill by telling The Intercept in an interview that while women might “feel like that is their body,” he “feel[s] like it is a separate — what I call them is, is you’re a ‘host.’” That the anti-choice lawmaker would defend the bill from criticisms that it dehumanizes and objectifies women by stripping them of autonomy and decision-making power, reducing them to the property of their male husbands, and calling them “hosts” is certainly ironic but hardly surprising.

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Laws like the Hyde Amendment, attempts to defund Planned Parenthood that deny poor women the means to exercise their reproductive rights, 20-week abortion bans, mandated waiting periods and counseling for abortions, heartbeat bills, TRAP laws that shut down clinics, and all such restrictions on abortion are already in themselves overt attacks on reproductive sovereignty and human rights.

As a brief but important refresher, the Hyde Amendment essentially strips low-income women and a disproportionate number of women of color of all decision-making power by prohibiting federal funding for abortion except in cases of rape, thus ranking poor women’s human rights, objective science, and public health lower than some people’s religious ideologies. The bill selectively respects the consciences of abortion opponents by portraying women who make decisions about their bodies as murderers while billions of taxpayer dollars continue to pay for wars that kill born, living humans.

Legislation that curtails women’s reproductive rights ultimately dehumanize women by sending the message that fertilized eggs have human rights while incontrovertibly living women don’t and that the ideologies of some hold more clout that women’s health and safety. On top of this, male partner consent laws assert that a woman’s bodily autonomy comes second to the wishes of her husband and thus takes the dehumanization of women to a whole new level.

That women aren’t the property of their husbands and that their right to bodily autonomy shouldn’t depend on the permission of their male partners might seem obvious. But the success of such laws fundamentally predicated on the idea that women’s bodies belong to men suggests this isn’t how many people perceive women. We can only hope that by turning the tables, Rep. Marzian’s bill will offer anti-choice lawmakers a fresh perspective.

Kylie Cheung is a freelance news writer covering politics and feminism, with a focus on reproductive rights. She has written for The Frisky, Ravishly, ATTN:, Pajiba, and others, and is currently based in Los Angeles. Follow her on Twitter at @kylietcheung, and on Tumblr at www.kyliecheung.tumblr.com.