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Georgia Lawmaker: Women's Voices Not Being Heard


I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. Coming up, you've heard the phrase: A mind is terrible thing to waste. That's the longtime slogan of a group that worked to get more African-Americans into college. Well, now a group is saying: Ice time is a terrible thing to waste. There's a new scholarship to try to get more college students of color into hockey. We'll hear more about that in just a few minutes.

But first, we want to talk about an issue that creeps into the national consciousness about every election cycle. That is the issue of reproductive rights. A number of state legislatures are either considering, or have passed new laws restricting women's access to abortion.

Georgia has been reexamining the issue. Just last week, the State House of Representatives passed legislation that would ban abortions after 20 weeks, with exceptions for pregnancies that seriously threaten the life or health of the woman. Now one Georgia lawmaker has proposed greater oversight of men's reproductive choices.

Democrat Yasmin Neal is with us to talk about a piece of legislation she offered in an attempt to broaden the discussion of the abortion issue. And we'd like to say that because of the subject matter, some may not consider this appropriate for all ears, particularly young ears. So with that being said, Representative Neal is with us from Atlanta. Thank you so much for speaking with us.

STATE REPRESENTATIVE YASMIN NEAL: Hello. Thank you. Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: So tell us about the legislation that you proposed.

NEAL: The legislation is the vasectomy bill, as it's been called. It makes it where men can't get vasectomies unless it's to avert a death or a serious bodily injury.

MARTIN: And a vasectomy, of course, is a procedure that inhibits the ability of a man to have children.

NEAL: Yes.

MARTIN: This is what you are quoted as saying. You are saying: "Thousands of children are deprived of birth in the state every year because of the lack of state regulation over vasectomies." You said, "It is patently unfair that men can avoid unwanted fatherhood by presuming that their judgment over such matters supersedes the judgment of the general assembly, while women's ability to decide is constantly up for debate throughout the United States." This is something that you published in a video - so, online. So can we fairly assume that you that you mean to draw attention to what you feel is a - what, a sexist anomaly?

NEAL: Yes. It's just unfortunate that every year, in some capacity or another, the abortion issue comes up. And I just feel that whether it's abortion or anything else dealing with an invasion of a person's private decisions with their body, I don't think that's something that a legislature should even entertain or deal with.

MARTIN: So, in essence, you're saying that you are in favor of a more expansive view of abortion rights. And you're saying that if governmental entities of politicians, political leaders are going to regulate women's access to abortion, then they should also regulate men's access to vasectomies. Is that correct?

NEAL: Yes. Yes.

MARTIN: So are you meaning to be humorous?

NEAL: Not necessarily humorous. I wanted to shed light on a serious issue in a different manner. The goal was simply to identify a medical procedure dealing with the men's ability to reproduce, and then drafting a comparative bill mimicking the intent of the abortion bill just to demonstrate to our male counterparts how it feels to become the topic of debate.

MARTIN: I think there were some who would argue that this isn't really equivalent, because the argument that the supporters of the Georgia bill make is that you're talking about another being at this point, whereas the vasectomy bill only addresses the male. It's something that would only happen to the male, whereas the other bill, they're trying to balance the interest of the woman with the interest of the fetus. Could you just address that?

NEAL: Well, I've heard that as well, and people have referenced, oh, she doesn't know what she's talking about. It's not the same. Of course it's not the same. Of course man can't reproduce. I just hope that people understand what I was trying to do here with the bill. What I was trying to do was draw a comparison between the ability for a governmental body to be able to invade upon a person's reproductive rights. So vasectomy was just one of many other types of comparisons I could have drawn. When it comes to that, I do get it. Everybody needs to understand, I do get it. I got it from the beginning, of course. Men can't reproduce. We were just simply drawing a comparison between one medical procedure versus another - one dealing with men versus one dealing with women.

MARTIN: Representative Doug McKillip, who's a Republican, a colleague of yours in the legislature there, told CNN that - he said he was disappointed in my colleague, that they would take this opportunity to make light of a very important topic. And you said that - he said it feels like a poor attempt at humor.

NEAL: Yes, I do recall that, and I think even I - as I mentioned in my CNN interview, as well, it's unfortunate that when we start to debate the men's rights, it's considered funny or comical or humorous. But when we decide we're going to debate women's rights, it's a serious issue that everybody needs to be involved with. And I just find it ironic how it's funny or entertaining when we're talking about men and their rights, and it's not when it comes to women.

MARTIN: We're speaking with Yasmin Neal. She is a Democrat. She represents a suburb of Atlanta in the Georgia House of Representatives, and she's telling us about a piece of legislation she authored, she says, in an attempt to broaden the discussion around abortion.

What gave you the idea for this, by the way?

NEAL: When it comes to the process and when I noticed the direction it was geared towards, I then tried to figure out what' a medical procedure that would be invasive for men, but equally comparable when it come to reproduction. And that's when I just came up with the thought of vasectomies. And I just simply kind of jotted down the idea and how I wanted it to go.

MARTIN: You said you were surprised by the response. What has been the response?

NEAL: Well, it's been overwhelming for women all over the nation. You wouldn't believe the phone calls I get from women crying, and Twitter messages from people from as far as South Africa, Australia, Norway. It's been unreal, because the minute - it's like we literally drafted and dropped the bill, went to lunch, came back and the world had exploded. So I'm very surprised at how far this reached and how much it touched so many different women and the fact that I - even amongst the emails and a lot of the comments I'm getting is women feel empowered. They feel like someone's fighting for them. They feel like finally men knows what it feels like, because I notice that even in some of the comments I've been getting from men, oftentimes they're saying, well, this women shouldn't be proposing a bill dealing with men, or our issues. She's out of touch. She doesn't know what she's talking about, this, that and the other.

But that's exactly what we want them to understand when it comes to us. You don't what we go through, either. So why are you proposing legislation when it deals with us?

MARTIN: Do you feel that you've changed the debate in any way?

NEAL: Oh, definitely. People look at this completely different. And I know - I've even got a fan base of men who have offered support and things of that nature, as well. And oftentimes I've had the response, as far as, you know, I hear the comment: You know, I never even thought about it that way. And that's the kind of conversation we want people to start to have.

MARTIN: Has a hearing - I'm sorry. Has a hearing been scheduled on your bill? Is there any other opportunity for public debate other than the interviews that you've been doing?

NEAL: To my knowledge and the little birdies that I hear, I hear it might not be entertained. But if it's not entertained, it'll prove a lot of points, actually. So I'm just - I'm not going to pull it, but I'm just going to let it stay in the system and see what happens. But either way, I meant no offense to anyone, and I'm actually pleased that how mature Georgians and my fellow comrades in the House of Representatives - even the Senate, as well - had been when it comes to this issue. I'm very pleased at how we were able to do this in a civil manner and not get out of hand similar to, you know, the way I've seen these types of things happen in other states.

MARTIN: Yasmin Neal is a Democrat. She represents Jonesboro, Georgia in the Georgia House of Representatives, and she is with us from member station WCLK in Atlanta. Representative Neal, thanks so much for joining us. Please do keep us posted.

NEAL: Yes, I will. Definitely. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.