by Bina Ahmad, Calla Wright and Nicholas Laccetti
We thought this battle was over. And that we had won. In 1972, the Supreme Court ruled that even unmarried women could use contraceptives. In 1973,Roe v. Wade continued this momentum by granting further reproductive rights. These were supposed to be the stepping-stones on the path to equal human rights for all U.S. residents, regardless of our sex or gender. The early 1970s were perceived by many as the turning point after centuries of struggle. Suddenly the government lost its ability to police women’s bodies, or tell us we were unfit to make our own decisions. We seemed well on our way to a society where our health, opinions, and autonomy mattered. Roe v. Wade was supposed to signal the end of man’s dominance over woman, not the start of a protracted battle.
And yet, if the current political climate reveals anything regarding the rights of women, it’s that the well-coordinated, multi-pronged assaults once thought of as a thing of the past, are alive as they ever were. Since 1973, conservative forces have continuously chipped away at the progress we’ve made. Plan B could have been made widely available in 2003, but was not offered over the counter until 2006 . We’re still waiting on an over the counter emergency contraceptive for individuals under the age of 18. Many states require waitingperiods for individuals seeking abortions, and parental notification/permission if the patient is under 18 years. In 42 of the 50 U.S. States, you are more likely to live in a county without an abortion provider than ina county with one. Abstinence-only sex education prevents young people from beingprepared to protect themselves when the time for intimacy comes. Combine these facts with the recent string of murders of abortion providers and the subsequent closing of even more clinics, and you have a climate that can only be described as antagonistic, aggressive and hostile.
This is not a climate created by those who respect life. If it were, Joe Pitts of Pennsylvania would never have proposed a bill allowing hospitals receiving federal funds to refuse to provide abortions when the procedure is necessary to save women’s lives. And when the anti-choice movement reached a seemingly all-time low by supporting and provoking the murder of abortion providers (Dr. Tiller’s for instance) we thought we had seen the “pro-lifers” at their worst. That is, until legislation was introduced in three separate states to include“defense of an unborn fetus” under the definition of “justifiable homicide.” Translation: not only are anti-choice individuals committing murder, they may very well get away with it.
This is also not a climate promoting equality. Federal funds no longer finance abortions provided at Planned Parenthood, yet conservatives still wished to defund the nonprofit organization entirely. For many low-income individuals, largely people of color, Planned Parenthood is their only option for pap smears, cancer screenings, HIV tests, contraceptives and prenatal care. Though there is a conservative push to ensure equal protection of fetuses—some government officials have proposed spending resources to investigateeverysinglemiscarriage—government programs that promote equality of U.S. citizens are losing support. The public school lunch program, healthcare for low-income children, community health centers, the public education system, the Center for Disease Control, and the WIC (Women, Infants, Children) Program are all facing potential cuts. And to make injustice a truly global phenomenon, a recent House resolution seeks to defund family planning groups working abroad to prevent infant and maternal deaths.
This is not even a climate conducive to reducing the number of abortions provided each year. Therecent push to defund Planned Parenthood was particularly egregious given that its affordable and accessible birth control has prevented hundreds of thousands of unwanted pregnancies and abortions annually. According to a March 3rd article, “Planned Parenthood helped prevent 973,000 unintended pregnancies, which would have resulted in 433,000 unplanned births and 406,000 abortions in 2008.”
This is a climate openly opposed to the progress women have made. Thisis an assault on our bodies: a doctor may conscientiously object to providing an abortion, but not conscientiously object in any other medical procedure. This is an assault on our sexuality: the original draft of one federal bill sought to deny federal funds for abortions of rape victims who were not “forcibly” raped, but raped nonetheless. This is an assault to our integrity: one Georgia bill seeks to redefine victims in rape, stalking and domestic violence cases as “accusers”. This is an assault on our intelligence: women find themselves forced to go through “abortion education,” waiting 24 hours, and “thinking” deeply on their personal decision to abort because women just aren’t seen as intellectually capable of deciding what is best for their bodies, their families, and themselves without government intervention.
As humorous as it seems, the news about an unborn fetus summoned to testify in Ohio in support of banning abortion after the first detection of a fetal heartbeat is not an Onion article. It is an unfortunate reality of the 2010s. As Alice Walker once put it, “The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.” Nearly 40 years after the Supreme Court ruled we could take control of our own lives, we are dangerously close to finding ourselves back at square one. We live in a society where the anti-choice movement, conservative political figures, and popular culture proclaim that the power women have recently gained is just an illusion. But we cannot give in to these lies and we cannot back down from this fight—as redundant a fight it may seem. It’s easy enough to concede your rights, but once they’re gone, no one is going to offer them freely back to you.