As a woman, I find the increasing, unrelenting assault on women’s reproductive rights infuriating. Especially the assault on abortion. Why the focus on this one issue? What are the anti-abortion proponents really after?
I’m certain there are many people, including women, who believe that abortion is morally wrong. They are certainly entitled to their beliefs. I know people who believe that many legal things are morally wrong – for example, drinking, gambling, and getting blood transfusions.
So, they just don’t do them. In the past, our country has not had much success in trying to legislate moral behavior for everyone, what happens in your bedroom is one example & abortion another. The U.S. has a well-documented history of the “back-alley” abortion slaughter of women before the passage of Roe v Wade. So why the continued emphasis on abortion?
I believe two basic principles are at play here – and neither of them have anything to do with the sanctity of human life. They are control and power.
The first reason for the focus on abortion is control. And specifically control of women. Let’s face it ladies, females have always been a powerful force, in the past and still today. Forcing women to carry babies to full term can be a useful tool in the effort to discriminate against women.
Becoming a mother can be a life-altering experience since women are most often the primary caregivers. Being pregnant for 40 weeks and giving birth greatly impacts a woman’s life. Hence the old adage “keep women barefoot and pregnant” to keep them in “their place.” This isn’t a new idea. Before 1860, abortion was, if not totally legal in every state, at least not criminal. About 1860, states started passing anti-abortion laws. Why? Because white males were concerned that non-white immigrants coming to the U.S. would soon outnumber them. Problem solved! Take away a woman’s ability to have a legal abortion performed by a doctor.1 At the time, this was easy, because women had very few rights on their own, such as voting.
Currently in the U.S., women exerting their power in traditionally male dominated areas is stronger than ever. For example, in 2016, Hillary was the first female Presidential nominee of any major political party. The Women’s March after the 2017 inauguration was a seminal moment in the demonstration of women’s power and resolve against the election of a sexist president. And then came the 2018 elections which saw record numbers of women elected to political offices at all levels of Government. Currently 101 women serve in the U. S. Congress. That is 23.7% of Congress which is the highest percentage in history and more than twice the density 22 years ago. (Incidentally, 89 of those 101 women are Democrats.)2
The second reason for the assault on abortion has to do with power. Even though women have made strides to close the gender gap, those in power in our Government are predominantly men. Folks in power typically don’t like to share it with those not in power. Rather, they prefer to keep them powerless.
Right-wing conservatives found a sure-fire way to do that – they scream that abortion is murder. It doesn’t matter whether they believe it or not. It doesn’t matter if they appear hypocritical. It doesn’t matter that the definition of when life begins is subjective.
It also doesn’t matter what they do when they get into office. They aren’t accountable to the people who voted for them. They can raise taxes, cut healthcare, take all the money they want from self-interest groups and their voters don’t care. Because they don’t kill babies and those horrible liberals do.
What matters is they have made this the defining issue of right and wrong, good and bad, Republicans and Democrats. If the right-wing can sway voters to cast their vote according to this one issue, it doesn’t matter what else they say. And it doesn’t matter what anyone else running for office says, or how many lies they tell.
This along with some pretty ingenious gerrymandering and voter suppression works to further isolate the disenfranchised. Now these politicians hold all the cards. They get elected and they stay in office, keeping and building upon their power.
According to a May 2019 Mother Jones article, “A 2016 analysis by Rewire News found that 22 states had passed new restrictions on both voting and abortion since the 2010 election, which pro-choice advocates don’t believe is a coincidence. Many of the constituencies that strongly support abortion rights—such as women, young people, and voters of color—are among the most likely to be impacted by tactics such as gerrymandering and voter suppression.”3
Now, I realize the abortion issue has been made to seem complicated, but I don’t think it is complicated. I think it comes down to one thing: Regardless of the cost of such legislation to our society, powerful conservative forces are using a woman’s right to determine what happens to her body as the touchstone issue simply because it makes it easier for them to get elected. The more of these like-minded, amoral individuals that get into office, the more restrictive legislation they can pass. Legislation that discriminates against women, LGBTQ, people of color, middle class, the poor and the sick. All so they can stay in power.
So what’s a girl to do? Well, this girl calls it like she sees it. When someone tells me they don’t vote for Democrats because they only vote pro-life, I confront them. What are they doing to support food banks for hungry kids? What are they doing to help sick and uninsured kids? What are they doing to make sure every student has a nutritious school lunch? What are they doing to make sure kids aren’t homeless? What are they doing to help parents in need of childcare? Because if they aren’t doing any of this, they are not pro-life – they are only pro-birth. Further, they are not pro-child, they are only anti-abortion and woe be unto any child in need! To me, this is much more immoral than abortion.
I will have no part of that. I will work to elect Democrats because I believe there are many more people who care about real issues that affect all of us every day than care about some made-up ploy to get elected.
I heard a question lately that made me think about a woman’s autonomy and her ability to make decisions for herself from another angle. If we believe, as some do, that abortion is killing a sentient being who has rights, then answer this question: “How can two distinct legal persons with absolute rights to self-sovereignty occupy the same body?”4
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg put it this way during her 1993 confirmation hearings: “It is essential to woman’s equality with man that she be the decisionmaker, that her choice be controlling. If you impose restraints that impede her choice, you are disadvantaging her because of her sex.”5 I couldn’t agree more.