I originally wrote about abortion in May of 2019, when Alabama passed aggressive abortion legislation that permitted abortions only if the mother’s life is at risk or if the fetus cannot survive, but not in cases of rape or incest. I was outraged and saddened and in disbelief. Today, in the aftermath of the supreme courts decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, I feel more numb than anything. Ruth Bader Ginsburg said, “The state controlling a woman would mean denying her full autonomy and full equality.” The overturning of Roe v. Wade not only undermines women’s autonomy and right to equality, but it compromises our health, safety, and livelihood.
Sometimes, I don’t want to believe that we live in a world that is absolutely saturated with sexism. Sometimes, I forget how bad it is because I live a relatively comfortable life and sexism doesn’t punch me in the face every day. But facts are facts. Women’s bodies are being legislated; men’s bodies are not, and that is sexism in a nutshell. I’ve written about rape before: how 1 in 5 women are sexually assaulted each year and how only 1% of perpetrators are ever convicted of a crime. While we normalize violent criminal acts against women, we simultaneously restrict women’s autonomy over her own body. And while the hardcore Christian types argue that if a woman isn’t ready to have a child, she shouldn’t have sex, they routinely overlook that each pregnancy literally couldn’t happen without the specific and intentional actions of a man.
Women are facing very real, very tangible inequalities. Women, we are told, should not have sex for pleasure. This attitude ignores the fact that sex is a completely normal, healthy part of being human. Sex isn’t just a vehicle for reproduction, for men or women. Men are granted more freedom to take pleasure in sex, especially since the side effects (pregnancy) do not always directly affect them.
In reference to the statistics cited earlier, men are overwhelmingly not punished for raping women, yet women are socially punished for sex in general. We are shamed for wanting too much sex, for having multiple sexual partners, for engaging in premarital sex, for the actions we take after sex, et cetera. Every time you see a pregnant woman, she’s had sex. Men don’t walk around with any such marker. I once found myself in a group of men who were joking about how sexy Keira Knightley is. One guy brought up that Knightley is pregnant, and another said, tongue-in-cheek, “Oh never mind, that’s not so hot.” Women live in a space where men continuously proposition us for sex, the side effects of which (pregnancy) render us (in their eyes) undesirable.
I’m angry yes, but I’m more sad. It is glaringly obvious that the undertones of anti-abortion legislation are steeped in patriarchal power dynamics that do not care about or for women. Every other major social political debate: climate change, gun laws, college debt, healthcare, etc, are clouded by considerations of capitalism and classism, yes. But no other debate so viciously attacks and attempts to control the bodies and lives of women. Women’s health, which abortion is an important and intrinsic component of, should not be a political debate. Shining a public light on the personal lives of women is a patriarchal tool meant to instill in us guilt and shame. Guilt, for our sexual actions, and shame for what those actions signify. Namely, that we are slutty, impure, weak, or immoral.
Deeply emotional and controversial topics like abortion will always be divisive because there probably isn’t once answer to the “is abortion ethical” question that can satisfy everyone, which is why it should never be legislated. The most disturbing thing about staunch pro-life advocates is that their stance strips women of the ability to figure out the right answer for themselves, by themselves. Anti-abortion laws render women powerless to control our own bodies, without considering the reality of birthing or raising a child.
Children change the course of a life forever, and women (82 percent) constitute the majority of single parents. Further, access and information about safe sex and birth control are incredibly inadequate everywhere, but especially in low-income schools and neighborhoods. Withholding basic sex education from low-income people is intentional. It is much easier for a wealthy woman to have a safe abortion should she want one than it is for a poor woman. Money can buy a lot, including a degree of freedom over your own body.
One acquaintance celebrated that the supreme court ruling meant that “all lives truly matter now.” But it seems clear that the world we live in doesn’t care about all lives, because:
- About 15 million U.S. children live in poverty
- Nearly 4 million U.S. children do not have any form of healthcare
- 1 in every 30 U.S. children are homeless
- 36,383 Americans perish due to guns each year (about 100 per day)
- 1 in 5 U.S. children live in food insecure homes
- 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually abused before age 18
My point in bringing up these dire statistics is to illustrate that yes, life matters. Life is incredibly, astoundingly beautiful and important. We should not care about life only when or if it suits our own political agenda. If the life of a fetus matters, the lives of rape victims matter. The lives of homeless children, hungry children, and sexually abused children matter. The lives of our elders matter, minorities matter, you and me and everyone matters.
Mattering, though, isn’t the point. The point is that both sides (pro-life and pro-choice) attempt to decide which lives matter more; a pointless, circular exercise. Just as it is pointless to measure the degree of your own pain against someone else’s, it is profoundly inconsequential to argue which life matters more. The patriarchy tells us that women’s lives matter less, that minorities lives matter less, that the lives of the poor or homeless matter less. If we are to truly usurp the patriarchy, we must realize that, while the lives of unborn children matter, they cannot rightfully matter more than anyone else’s.
Instead of focusing so much time and attention on abortion, we should spend time focusing on how to reduce the need for abortions in the first place.
Sex education in the United States is incredibly insufficient: only 13 states require sex education in schools to be “medically accurate,” meaning that many students are taught abstinence if anything, or worse, nothing at all. Dr. Theresa Granger says that comprehensive sex education focuses on, “the emotional, psychological, and economic impacts of what happens when youth and adolescents engage in sexual intercourse and other sexual practices.” But instead of talking openly with youth about sex, we tell them that sex is bad and should be avoided, actively ignoring the fact that teenagers are raging balls of hormones who will have sex whether or not they have access to birth control or the knowledge about practicing safe sex.
Further, nearly half of the 6 million pregnancies in the US each year are unplanned. In 2014, the majority of the 900,000 abortions that occurred were in response to unplanned pregnancy. And, the number of abortions is currently the lowest its ever been since the government started keeping track in 1969. I’m not saying that 900,000 is a low number. I am saying that 900,000 women were at least able to choose whether or not to bring life into this world, and that is an important choice for women to be able to make. Instead of criminalizing abortion, we should talk about sex more, teach our youth about it, and make birth control safe, affordable, and widely available.
The reasons women chose to have abortions are myriad, personal, and often painful, but the reasons don’t really matter. What does matter is retaining the intrinsic right to bodily autonomy.
“The state controlling a woman would mean denying her full autonomy and full equality.”