A family friend of ours, my grandmother once told me, used to shuttle women to the clinic. This knowledge followed the release of my book, a collection of short stories of which all proceeds—hundreds of dollars—I donated to Planned Parenthood. I never found abortion to be a question of morals, but rather an issue of human rights. And any attempt to erase or remove this right is a direct attack not only on women but everyone. Reproductive rights, and the right to choose what one does with one’s body, is a staple of any society that even seeks to hail itself as egalitarian. In a world where about 60 countries have serious bans on abortion, and others like the U.S. place it under some inspective spotlight, laws proposed by Alabama, Georgia, and Missouri do well to exhibit the collective treatment of women.
Logistically, there are a slew of justifications for the legal right itself. Obviously there’s the standard set by our Supreme Court and the overwhelming majority of Americans who claim to be pro-choice. There is the science of what classifies an embryo versus a fetus, and what can feel what during a pregnancy. Also there is even the ethical argument, that if women are truly equal to men, and men cannot suffer unwanted pregnancies, then a woman has the right to terminate hers. Abortion is a valid and positive reproductive choice, and keeping it legal promises that it will keep it safe. Prohibiting abortion will not stop it, as history shows. I understand just how nuanced politics can be, and how many layers build certain debates, but this is an issue that has a clear right and wrong side.
I don’t like to even provide “pro-lifers” a space to propose their viewpoints; everything these zealots spew is just more and more anti-woman rhetoric. They don’t care about life; they never have and they never will. They’re self-righteous sadists who wish for women to suffer. If you observe the boards creating these laws, particularly in the South, you will moreover notice a common theme: the severe male majority. The idea of being “pro-life” is a product of the patriarchy and laws that restrict or regulate abortion are the result of a constant policing of women’s bodies.
There has always been some male obsession, or fear, of the pregnant female body. Fixations on purity and virginity, on birth control, on lactation, on sex education, on producing an heir. It is one of the few spaces where male power fails to seep through, for men are forced to rely and be dependent on women. Long before paternity tests men had to take women at their word for whose baby was whose, and—as Freud would admire me for pointing out—men are dependent on their mother’s milk. The only means that men can produce a male heir is for women to birth them. So of course they seek to regulate it: They wish to control the one aspect of society they have no control over.
But, and this is one topic many love to gloss over, it isn’t only men who patrol women’s bodies; sometimes, and unfortunately, it is women too who are guilty. Look at Alabama Governor Kay Ivey as an example. She is the one who furthered the misogynist law in the legal process after twenty-five old, white men passed it along to her. It is a sad reality that many women are against women, and it is something often ignored. Yes, men are to blame for the power structures and systems in place, but we must not avoid women who are agents of the patriarchy. We must not perpetuate the false belief that it is only men who dictate women’s oppression. Conservative women like Ivey are just as culpable and act in their own self-interest rather than for women at large. When we say we must elect more women, of course, but we must elect progressive women. As much as the Republican party is against women so are Republican women—who are mostly, need I add, white. These women would prefer to uphold the patriarchy and white supremacy, and it is not enough to hope their legacies are destroyed because of it.
Which leads me to my next point. We do nothing when we tease Alabama and Georgia as being products of an age-old South, full of ignorant, illiterate hicks. No, we are seeing some of the most restrictive laws against abortion in America’s history, and it does nothing to dumb it down to bigoted rednecks. This is a calculated attack against women that has been years in the making, these leaders waiting for the perfect moment for American culture to fluctuate enough to pass their anti-human legislature. We must answer and react as so.
Because abortion rights are much more than a subject of surgical procedures. When we think of reproductive rights we must also think in terms of what activist Loretta Ross coined in 1994 as “reproductive justice.” Removing safe and legal healthcare is as much classist and racist as it is misogynist. As I pointed out, Republican women like Ivey are conservative white women who care nothing for the poor women and the women of color whom this disproportionately affects. When they claim they’re pro-life, what are we to make of their avoidance of infant mortality among black women, of the women who can’t afford to travel across states for a procedure and instead submit themselves to back-alley treatments? What are we to make of the LGBTQ person, of the transgender man who becomes unwillingly pregnant? Of course this is an issue that has a clear source in the systemic policing of women’s bodies, but we need to also view it as the intersectional dilemma it is.
And there are those who argue for abortion only in the context of rape or incest, which these new laws fail to care about. But I see this as being as detrimental to the cause as anything else. Why should abortion only be available as a product of women’s suffering? Why should women have to be punished in order to be granted bodily autonomy? When people argue that these aborted fetuses could grow up to be prodigies or geniuses, why do we forget they would also grow up to be constant reminders of the mother’s trauma? Pregnancy shouldn’t turn women into second-class citizens.
I don’t even desire to address the abstinence idiots who spit, “If you don’t want to get pregnant, then don’t have sex!” These people don’t even deserve any of my time, but I will say this: Women should not be penalized for pleasure. Women have the right to do with their bodies as their wish, and that means consenting to or withdrawing from copulation. Even those who argue on a grounds of religion don’t care about what’s right and what’s wrong—they only care about themselves, as usual. There is no religious justification to being “pro-life”—there is only hate and fear.
I am pro-choice and I am more than proud to be. I am pro-choice because I am a feminist, and I am for the freedom and liberation of people everywhere. The truth is, “pro-life” kills and maims women, and these new perils to reproductive freedom are omens for what is to come. So what is there to do now? It is not enough to kick these Republicans out of the legislative process and elect progressive women in their places. We must petition, we must protest. Donate to organizations—nonprofit, local, grassroots, nationwide, any and all—that are pro-choice and pro-woman. I already have and I plan to continue to. Volunteer as a client escort like my grandmother’s friend, or if you can’t, help and support the women around you. Organize, like the Jane Collective so many decades ago. Most important, speak out. Anyone who doesn’t should be ashamed. One should be criticized for silence, but never condemned for speaking too much.