From the September-October 2022 issue of News & Letters
by Terry Moon
Now that the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) has overturned women’s right to abortion, the profound ramifications of that unprecedented decision are becoming known. We are learning anew exactly what it means when a person does not have the right to control what happens inside her own body, when we are not considered worthy of human rights.
There is no question that when abortion is made a crime, anyone who can become pregnant will be negatively affected. Transmen, people who are gender fluid and nonbinary will all feel the pain. In fact, getting an abortion will be even harder for those who are LGBTQ+. And while no one should deny this truth, the SCOTUS decision on abortion was definitely an attack on women. The fact that other groups of people will suffer is icing on the cake for Republicans, who also despise and aim to punish them. But they were not the reason for the nuclear attack on women’s freedom. The spate of new laws are being written to strip women of childbearing age of their status as full human beings.
LAWS WRITTEN TO TERRIFY AND TORTURE
In Texas, abortion—from the moment of fertilization, which is even before a fertilized egg is implanted in the uterus!—is now a felony for providers punishable by up to life in prison. The exception for a woman’s health is restricted to “a life-threatening physical condition aggravated by, caused by, or arising from a pregnancy.”
What if it isn’t “life-threatening”? And how does a doctor say it is unless the woman is already dying? What if it will “only” cause a loss of a limb, or an organ, or drive a woman insane? Another law mandates that the attorney general ‘“shall’ seek a civil penalty of not less than $100,000, plus attorney’s fees.” And Texas still has their vigilante law where any citizen can sue anyone who “aids or abets” an abortion and get $10,000 from their victim if they win.
Idaho has only three exceptions to their abortion ban: rape and incest survivors could abort if they “file a police report and share that with their doctor,” which is unlikely given the reality of what these crimes do to the women or girls. The third exception to a felony prosecution is for “Any medical practitioner attempting to save the life of a pregnant patient, which…results in the unintended death of an unborn human being…” But not for the health of the woman, which is never an issue to these fanatics. She will have to be on death’s door. Who will be the one deciding if that is true?
Tennessee’s total abortion ban has no exceptions for rape or incest. As for the life of the woman, according to WPLN News quoting criminal defense attorney Chloe Akers: “a physician who provides an abortion opens themselves up to being charged with a class C felony. Period. No matter the circumstances. But—if they are charged, they have an opportunity to prove that the procedure was necessary—either to prevent the patient from dying or to prevent serious risk of what the law calls ‘substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function.’”
Akers asks: ‘“What is a serious risk? What does a substantial and irreversible impairment mean? What’s considered a major bodily function? These are all questions that are not answered by the statute. And they’ve put that burden on the provider, but they’ve given the provider absolutely no direction about how to prove it.”
YOUR BODY: A CRIME SCENE
These are only three examples of the kind of laws SCOTUS unleashed. As we go to press, fully one third of American women and girls have already lost their right to an abortion. Nine states now ban abortions from the moment of conception and 19 more ban abortions before fetal viability, which would have been unconstitutional under Roe. Abortion has been made a “crime” that some want punishable with the death penalty for the woman as well as the abortion provider.
Women, by their very biology, become suspect—their bodies become crime scenes. This is a misogynist’s dream. It is akin to, but not the same as, people being criminalized because of the color of their skin or their ethnicity. And some of the same epithets are applied, especially to women of color: women are liars, they are sluts; they can’t really be raped; are selfish; stupid; don’t know what’s best for themselves; can’t be trusted; can be talked into an abortion; can be talked out of having an abortion; etc., etc.
The horrendous ramifications are now becoming known. Just in the last few weeks the news highlighted several cases:
⁕ How fanatical and anti-human anti-abortionists have become is seen in the experience of a 10-year-old girl from Ohio who was raped. Before it was discovered, she was six weeks and three days pregnant. She could not get an abortion in Ohio, which has a six-week ban. She got it from Dr. Caitlin Bernard in Indiana. Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost told Fox News that the case was “unbelievable.” After the rapist was arrested and confessed, Fox News attacked Dr. Bernard, posting her picture with an outright lie, saying she “has a history of failing to report child abuse cases.”
⁕ In another well-known case, 26-year-old Nancy Davis had the misfortune of being pregnant in Louisiana after its 20-week abortion ban. According to The Guardian, “a 10-week ultrasound revealed that her fetus was missing the top of its skull—a condition known as acrania, which kills babies within minutes or hours of birth.” But acrania was not on the approved list of fetal abnormalities okayed for an abortion. After the hospital treating her refused the abortion, Davis had to set up a GoFundMe campaign to afford to travel all the way to North Carolina. She said of her experience: “It’s hard knowing that… I’m carrying it to bury it.”
Louisiana’s disgusting bill is full of misinformation about fetuses feeling pain when they don’t. Just as these extreme lawmakers don’t care about the pain of actually born living children, much less women, they don’t actually care about the pain, not of a 20-week fetus, which does not experience pain, but of a fetus of seven to nine months which can, but must not be aborted because of ignorance coupled with fanaticism.
This law mimics the monstrous words of Poland’s Christian nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party leader, Jaroslaw Kaczynski: “We will strive to ensure that even pregnancies which are very difficult, when a child is sure to die, is severely deformed, end with the mother giving birth so the child can be baptized, buried, and have a name.” That cruel attempt at controlling women’s lives led to one of the largest abortion rights demonstrations in Polish history.
⁕ Then there is what happened to “Amanda.” The New York Times tells us that Amanda had a miscarriage eight months before Texas passed their draconian abortion ban and was treated well. After the law, she experienced another miscarriage. “She said she went to the same hospital… doubled over in pain and screaming as she passed a large blood clot. But when she requested the same surgical evacuation procedure, called dilation and curettage, or D&C, she said the hospital told her no.” Though the “embryo had no cardiac activity during that visit and on an ultrasound a week earlier…[the hospital] sent her home with instructions to return only if she was bleeding so excessively that her blood filled a diaper more than once an hour.”
The kind of “care” that demands a woman hemorrhage, kills women. Withholding care in a miscarriage can cause sepsis, leading to death. While Amanda was not criminalized, others have been, even before Roe v. Wade was overturned.
According to the American Bar Association: “There have been more than 1,200 women arrested across the U.S. based on their pregnancy outcomes—including miscarriages, stillbirths, abortions, or neonatal losses—since Roe was decided.” That women who miscarry or lose a fetus because of health reasons will be criminalized is not an unknown outcome. Over 180 women who experienced obstetric emergencies languish in jails in El Salvador. It has taken the Citizen Group for the Decriminalization of Abortion decades to win the release of 65 of them, some of whom spent up to 30 years in jail.
EVERY STEP YOU TAKE, THEY’LL BE WATCHING
Women of childbearing age are now entering a new, restricted and highly monitored reality. This is not incidental to the anti-abortion movement. It is a goal, if not the goal. Now what women eat or drink, what prescription drugs they take, what kind of birth control they use, why and when they have sex, was it really rape, where they travel and when and most importantly why, what are they searching for on social media, what comes into their snail mailboxes—all this and more can be monitored. All of it can become fraught. All of it becomes a way to control women.
There is no question that women in the U.S. will die, as they have in other countries with similar laws. Can anyone imagine the testosterone-heavy U.S. Congress passing laws that would force wealthy white men who need a medical procedure to wait until they are near death to get it? Or to wait until one of their bodily functions fails to prove that they actually need it? The barbarity of what Republicans are doing is stunning.
What will happen to women who travel to another state to get an abortion, or get abortion pills in the mail, or self-manage their abortion? There is precedent about what ruthless people with power who aim to subjugate others can do in the fugitive slave laws. Before the U.S. Civil War, escaping slavery was illegal, as was helping someone escape. These laws allowed slave owners to send henchmen to free states to capture human beings and drag them back to servitude. Slave owners could even do that to people who had been “freed.”
There is no doubt that anti-abortion fanatics will strive to stop women traveling to another state for an abortion as well as severely punish them and those who help them. They are now trying to pass laws to do just that. Will they set up roadblocks? Require a pregnancy test to cross a border? Monitor cars of suspected pregnant women? We can expect the worst.
The fact that these laws are wildly unpopular will not deter the die-hard anti-abortion legislators. They don’t care and they are no longer interested in democracy, if they ever were.
Republicans have made a home for fanatics of all stripes—from anti-abortion zealots to antivaxxers to election deniers to white nationalist racists and anti-Semites. Moreover, they have gerrymandered and stripped down the vote so that many fanatics believe they don’t have to worry about being voted out of office. And if by chance they are, they will most likely deny it, claiming Democrats rigged the election.
OPPORTUNISTS HIDING DEADLY POLITICS
Yet the reality that they can’t escape is that most people in the U.S. want to keep abortion legal, especially in the first trimester. That truth persists no matter how much Republicans have undermined democracy. What brought this reality home was the vote in Kansas.
Kansas legislators proposed an amendment to the State Constitution to remove the enshrined right to an abortion. It would have allowed them to ban them. Despite a confusingly worded amendment, Republican lies about their intentions, and even a lying last-minute text to voters that said a “yes” vote to pass the amendment would preserve “choice,” the vote was 59% in favor of keeping abortion legal vs. 41% opposed—and this in a deeply red state. So determined were citizens to make their will known that some stayed in line three hours after the official poll closing time to cast their ballot. The Republican Party takeaway is: 1. Make sure voters never again have the right to decide about abortion rights; and 2. Lie, lie, lie, about what they believe and what they will do.
Feminist activist and writer Jessica Valenti wrote recently in her blog “Abortion, Every Day” about how raving anti-abortion fanatic Arizona senate candidate Blake Masters is frantically scrubbing his social media posts clean of his extremist misogynist views. He wants a total abortion ban and a Constitutional amendment that, to quote him, “recognizes that unborn babies are human beings that may not be killed.” But now, running scared, he released an ad claiming: “Look, I support a ban on very late-term and partial-birth abortion. And most Americans agree with that.” Masters is not alone in trying to soft-pedal his anti-abortion extremism.
On the other side of the aisle, Democrats, every bit as opportunistic, are now—after 50 years—actually using the word “abortion,” a word President Biden has been loath to say. They are, finally, doing what they should have been doing for decades, including the eight years of Obama’s presidency: talking about the harm to women that happens when we are denied the human right to control our own bodies.
THE FIGHT BACK
Every time a state has imposed one of their deadly abortion bans, or drastically limited when women can terminate their pregnancy, there have been large, militant demonstrations. They often included many men, including Transmen as well as Gender Queer and Nonbinary people. Demonstrators have made their way into Republican-controlled state houses and tried to disrupt votes. These demonstrations continue.
The Women’s March, arising in opposition to the “election” of Donald Trump, helped build the largest march in U.S. history to that point, which was also international. It plans a “weekend of action” for Oct. 7-9 in Washington, D.C., to “fight for our fundamental rights.”
Forced pregnancy is particularly heinous for Black women who die in childbirth at 2.9 times the rate for non-Hispanic white women. The Washington Post reports, “Nearly three-quarters of Historically Black colleges and universities…are in states that have banned or mostly banned abortions. Those 72 schools enroll more than 166,000 students. Meanwhile, 21 HBCUs are located in states where abortion is currently legal but could be under threat.”
Black women and women of color have repeatedly made the point that they and poor women will be most affected by these new laws that disregard women’s health. Black women like Loretta Ross, founder of Sister Song, created the concept of “Reproductive Justice.” Dorothy Roberts, author of Killing the Black Body, explained that “Reproductive justice includes the right to abort a pregnancy and also to raise a child in a safe and supportive community….Recognizing the interconnected nature of these challenges is essential. We should welcome reproductive justice activists’ leadership as we build a more collective movement.”
Black women on Chicago’s South Side created We Are Jane, to help women in anti-abortion states bordering Illinois obtain safe abortions. Tamar Manasseh, who also founded Mothers Against Senseless Killings, explained: “When you’re Black and in Chicago, you’re always in danger. I’m more worried about what would happen if we didn’t do this. We can’t be shy or scared. We have to take the risk.”
COLLEGE AND HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS TAKE THE LEAD
Nina Giddens, a 21-year-old student at a Black Catholic college in New Orleans, spoke for many, saying, “I’m more determined to fight for reproductive justice knowing it’s going to disproportionately impact my community.”
Four high school girls in Tennessee organized themselves into Teens for Reproductive Rights just days before the state banned all abortions. Alyson Nordstrom contacted Emma Rose Smith, the organizer of a Black Lives Matter protest of over 10,000 shortly after George Floyd was murdered, asking if she wanted to work together. They brought in two other high schoolers and founded the organization. Its online presence has exploded.
To them, reproductive rights also includes sex education, which is woefully inadequate in Tennessee and in most if not all of the abortion-banning states that emphasize or mandate “abstinence-only” sex education. Teens are organizing in several states to demand factual sex education, knowing that without it the need for abortions skyrockets.
When asked in an MSNBC interview what she would like to change in their school’s sex education, Alyson Nordstrom said, “I want them to focus on things other than abstinence because obviously that’s proven that focusing on it just isn’t going to stop people from having sex. And I also think that we all want the shame to be taken out of it. Sex Education and sex should not be something that shameful. And the focus seems to be on shame and that should not be at all.”
Her response to the next question about how effective is their movement, is a warning to abortion fanatics everywhere: “I definitely think it’s going to help create change. We’ve gotten so much support and love from people all over the country, honestly, of people who want to help support us, as well as teens both at our school and across Tennessee who agree with us. And I think that what we really want to do is have boys’ teams because they want to be heard and I really think that this is definitely going to promote change.
“We’ve had a lot of people from all over Tennessee reach out to us and even say they want to start chapters of Teens for Reproductive Rights across Tennessee. And I definitely think that’s something we want to do. We love the idea of expanding chapters all over Tennessee to just get the word out and gain support.” Emma Rose Smith added: “I think it’s really awesome that so many teens from other states, have DMed [direct messaged] us asking if they can create their own chapters, too, because it’s recognizing that this is a national problem, too, not just Tennessee’s problem. So it kind of helps us grow a community even outside our backyard.”
The struggle for the right to abortion—which is a fight for freedom and women know it—is clearly not over. Hegel had it right when he said: “When individuals and nations have once got in their heads the abstract concept of full-blown liberty, there is nothing like it in its uncontrollable strength, just because it is the very essence of mind, and that as its very actuality.” This is the lesson that Republicans and their neo-fascist friends are going to learn.