Ancient female axiom: if men were A the ones who had to give birth, there wouldn't be any babies. Modern feminist axiom: if men were the ones who got pregnant, there wouldn't be any argument over abortion. It's probably fortunate for all concerned that there's been no opportunity to prove this one way or another. But Florida State Sen. Pat Frank has come as close as anybody to giving the gentlemen in her statehouse an idea of what it would be like to have the shoe, as it were, on the other foot.
The occasion arose recently when a senator tried to correct an unconstitutional law restricting abortions for adolescents. In the same section of the statute was a requirement that a woman who wanted an abortion must first give notice to her husband that she intended to abort.
Frank proposed excising the requirement, arguing that the husband might not be the father. "We do have a section in our constitution that individuals do have a right to privacy. I maintained that violated the right of privacy."
Her colleagues argued that the husband has the right to know of his wife's pregnancy, even if the child were not his, because there is a legal presumption that he is the father and he might want the child.
The Senate tried to cut off debate, but failed after Frank pointed out that she was appalled at the prospect of a male-dominated Senate limiting to five minutes a debate affecting women throughout the state. The debate continued but the amendment removing notification was defeated on a voice vote.
Then, Frank turned the tables. "I said, all right, if you want to maintain that one partner has the right to know, what's good for the goose is good for the gander. If a husband has gotten another woman pregnant and she intends to abort, the wife of that husband should be given notice of the intent of that woman to abort. If the husband has the right to the possibility of preventing the abortion because he wants to have a child, then a woman who has a fertility problem may want to have a child that is her husband's by another woman."
There was, she says, "almost a gasp that came from the senators. It was, 'How could you do this?' " One of her opponents, she says, just stood up and said, "That's not fair," which is something women have been saying about some of these rules all along. There was, says Frank, applause from the galleries.
Then, she announced she had the votes to obtain a recorded vote on her proposal. "Several members around me said, 'Don't do that, please don't do that.' I said, 'Yes, I am.' So, we have a recorded vote with several members scuttling out of the room."
Her measure lost by only two votes, and it gave her a splendid opportunity to make a point about the inequity of some laws.
There are 36 men in the 40-member Senate. She wanted them to recognize that if the same bills that are being passed governing the behavior of women were written to govern the behavior of men, those laws would not have a chance of passage. "I just felt it was necessary to show how much of our legislation that deals with the rights of the body is so one-sided," she says.
The abortion bill is now off the calendar.
Frank describes herself as a moderate Democrat who has strong feelings about individuals' rights to privacy.
An opponent of homosexual rights recently came up with a bill aimed at making fornication between members of the same sex a more severe crime. It was headed for a committee on which Frank serves. "The chairman of the committee asked me what I was going to do. I said I was going to vote for it and was going to tack an amendment on." She said she didn't believe in extra-marital relations and had an amendment providing for the removal from office of any state senator violating the fornication statute.
The bill was quickly withdrawn.
Frank was appointed to fill an unexpired term in the Senate and was later elected in 1980. She remembers when voters, including women, did not support women candidates and when she had to run for the school board using the name "Pat," with no campaign pictures. That has all changed, she says, and women are "the backbones of my campaigns."
In a move that showed a certain confidence on her part, Frank demonstrated that if men insist on making up rules for women, women legislators can make up rules for men. It's a ploy that left her open to ridicule. But by risking ridicule she neatly nullified the ridiculous.