Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Turns Out Roe v Wade Was Never A Guarantee of Women's Reproductive Rights

Individual freedom and the right to bodily autonomy - the principles behind our understanding of consent - were the principles upon which many of us assume the Supreme Court's Roe v Wade decision was based, although the case itself was focused on a citizen's right to privacy around making decisions concerning her bodily autonomy and medical care.  Laws which deny a woman the right to bodily autonomy - including laws that deny a woman the right to control what happens to her own body in favor of giving any potential fetus the "right" to use her body against her will or without her consent - are an unconstitutional denial of individual freedom because they relegate a woman to a legal status that is less than human. The legal precedent that a woman actually has the right to consent to the risks and responsibilities of pregnancy, and an equal right to decline consent to those risks and responsibilities was erroneously thought by many to be finally established. But since Roe v Wade was argued as a case for privacy, it has never been a guarantee of women's reproductive rights. It has always been vulnerable to attack, either through court challenges or through legislation which has chipped away at it.

One way or another, the
Republican Party will find
a way to control those sluts!
From the moment Roe v Wade was decided, the religious right began working to overturn it. Outraged that women had at last been granted the right to choose if and when to be pregnant -  a right which conflicted with the patriarchal order which demands that men have complete authority over women - the "moral majority" began a campaign of slut-shaming, raising the specter- never far beneath the surface in any misogynist culture - that uncontrolled women would engage in wildly promiscuous and "irresponsible" sex and darkly warning that the new law would bring about the downfall of American civil society  However, when this tactic initially only gained traction within the most conservative and misogynistic segments of society, conservatives realized that the problem was that a majority of Americans in the late 1970's actually respected a woman's right to choose - and that most Americans believed that the consensual sexual activity of women was no more society's business than the consensual sexual activity of men.

Religious conservatives soon zeroed in on "consent" as a potentially malleable concept that they might be able to use to drive a wedge between women and their human rights, thereby setting the stage to put women back in their traditional place.  In order to overcome the legal issue of consent, religious and political conservatives began working tirelessly - using tactics including slut-shaming, abstinence-only purity campaigns inserted into public schools, and falsely equating microscopic blastocysts with full term babies - to entrench the notion that recreational sex involving the conscious avoidance of pregnancy is shameful and that only marital sex which welcomes the prospect of conception should be recognized and supported by society. Their aim was to increase public acceptance of explicitly Christian sexual mores in order to garner voter support for their social agenda. The ultimate goal was to get this explicitly Christian theology enshrined into law: that whenever a woman has consented to sex, she has automatically consented to pregnancy, too.
That's right, ladies, when you consent to sex, you consent to
pregnancy. And when you don't consent to sex, you
consent to pregnancy, too! You and your uteri are in a perpetual
state of consent to pregnancy! Ain't patriarchy grand?

Eventually, extreme conservatives began to worry that exceptions for rape and incest could possibly become a loophole through which some lying women could escape unwanted pregnancy, leading to the push for the elimination of exceptions for rape and incest as legal justifications for abortion. Building on the false premise that a conceptus is equal to a full-term baby, conservatives argued that a fertilized egg, no matter how it came into existence, is an innocent life deserving of protection. Completely ignoring the question of whether a woman who has been raped is deserving of society's protection and adroitly sidestepping Roe v Wade, forced-birth groups wrote bills denying abortion rights to women even in the case of rape or incest which their political arm, the Republican party, sponsored in state legislatures. In one giant leap of cruel imagination, conservatives managed to establish as a serious idea that even when a woman does not consent to sex, her consent to pregnancy should be automatic in the eyes of the law.

Lest there be any doubt about the intentions of the religious conservatives and their hired guns in the state and federal legislatures to render the legal notion of female consent completely irrelevant and completely powerless, forced-birth organizations created "personhood bills" which they instructed their Republican lackeys to sponsor and pass in various states. "Personhood" bills, if signed into law, would confer the full rights of a "person" - a deliberately vague term, but generally considered to be equal to a live-born child - to all fertilized ova. Such laws would criminalize most forms of female-controlled contraception, emergency contraception, assisted reproduction and, of course, all abortions. They would also open the door to state-sponsored invasion of women's privacy and health care rights since legally protected "persons" could potentially be "murdered" before a conception is discovered to have taken place. Furthermore, such laws would criminalize anyone who attempted to help a woman abort the conceptus "person" either by performing a surgical procedure, providing medical abortifacents, or driving a woman across state lines to obtain an abortion in a non-"Personhood" state.
Got that, gals?

"Personhood" laws are the holy grail of the forced-birth movement and the ultimate goal of religious conservatives. If passed, such laws would strip women of all bodily autonomy in matters of reproduction. Women could be denied female-controlled birth control, they would be denied emergency birth control if their partner's birth control fails or he refuses to use it and they would be denied abortions - even if they are impregnated by rape and even if their health or lives are endangered by a pregnancy. In short, thanks to the twisted culture of "life" pushed so ruthlessly onto them by religious conservatives, women would be compelled to sacrifice their happiness, risk their health and even lose their lives because a single-celled conceptus has been granted a right to occupy her body which supersedes all of her rights including her humanity, her dignity and her right to life.

Keep that contraception out
of those sluts' hands!
The Republican Party, which has degenerated to little more than the political arm of the conservative religious right, has been striving relentlessly to ensure that women will be legally forced to bear all of the negative physical, social and most of the financial repercussions for any unplanned pregnancy, while the churches themselves underline and enforce the subordinate and inferior position of women in the culture. Through tireless efforts to withhold access to contraception from women, the religious right ensures that reproductive control remains primarily in the hands of men. Thanks to ideologically-driven appointments to the FDA and the business interests of both drug companies and the medical establishment, only male-controlled methods of reliable contraception are available without a prescription, forcing women to navigate (and pay for) "care" from layers of medical and pharmacy gatekeepers before they are permitted to obtain reliable female-controlled contraception.

Religious patriarchy allows society to label unplanned pregnancy a "women's issue" in spite of the fact that it takes both a man and a woman - both failing to use effective contraception - to create an unplanned pregnancy. The fact that society allows unplanned pregnancy to be framed as a women's issue reveals the depth of the unconscious misogyny which lays the responsibility for - and the consequences of - an unplanned pregnancy squarely in the woman's lap, while little thought - and almost no censure - is directed toward the "guilt", the "promiscuity" or the "irresponsibility" of the man involved.

The old joke about keeping women
barefoot and pregnant?
Not so funny anymore.
More insidiously, when pregnancy and the laws restricting women's rights over when and if they will become pregnant is framed as a women's issue, conservatives ensure that half the population at least may ignore the very real danger to women's health and safety. Few men pay attention when women's rights are being stripped away because the phrase "women's issue" is unconsciously received as a signal that the subject is unimportant and less than men's other concerns. Even men who love the women in their lives are lulled into a false sense of "nothing to worry about" as their wives, their sisters and their daughters are slowly but surely reduced to the legal status of walking wombs compelled under threat of criminal prosecution to gestate the offspring of any man who succeeds in impregnating them - whether by mutual and loving consent, by accidental failure of birth control or by force.

In this way, the religious patriarchy ensures both that women cannot control their own reproduction completely (since women - even abstinent women - can be, and often are, the victims of forced impregnation) and that no man - not even a rapist - needs to accept the decision of a mere woman on the question of whether or not he can use her body to reproduce. That is because the "right to life" of a conceptus is, in fact, really just an extension of men's rights. A conceptus is always some man's potential offspring, and at its core, religious teaching is all about enshrining the right of every man to reproduce. If women are allowed the freedom to choose, some men would almost certainly have difficulty finding a willing mate with whom to procreate. Religions which enforce the authority of men over women and which restrict the freedom and choices of women therefore speak to the root of cultural misogyny - men's fear of the potential power of women to control their (men's) ability to reproduce. "Right to life" is actually the trojan horse by which male rights over women are being inserted directly into women's uteri. That's right. It's a great big legal 'fuck you, women'!

While religions pay lip service to condemning male brutality and offer assurances on how a "godly man" behaves, they strenuously resist efforts to enact laws which could increase rape prosecutions or extend protections for women against sexual assault, citing concerns about - you can guess - men's rights. The ultimate social priority of religion is to confirm and enforce the authority of men over women. To that end, religious conservatives - and their men in government - are willing to grant even rapists and abusers privileges over women, to safeguard the authority of "godly" men. In short, in order to protect the privilege of all men, themselves included of course, even "godly" men who profess to abhor rape willingly award rapists and abusers the right to reproduce using women's bodies against their will. As always, there is no thought spared for the humanity of the women who would be sacrificed to this Christian ideology. At best, they are dismissed as the "blessed" recipients of a "gift from God".

This is already a real thing in
the conservative Christian world
In the Republican vision of the future - as in the past it idealizes - "freedom" and "rights" will only fully belong to men and to the potential offspring of men, while women will be, at best, reduced once again to second-class citizenship, and, at worst, returned to sexual and reproductive slavery. Political, financial and social oppression of women, reproductive slavery and viciously misogynistic church-mandated rules of correct behavior and dress (for women only) are the unceasing reality for millions of women in theocracies around the world.  All of these forms of oppression of women are rooted in the desire of these conservative societies to control the sexuality and reproductive freedom of their women. Almost without exception, societies based upon religious laws which both deny women fully human status and hold them accountable for the sexual activity of both genders strictly limit female freedom and impose exaggerated requirements for modest dress on their women and girls.  If a Christian theocracy is successfully installed by conservatives in the United States, ever-deepening oppression will become the inevitable future for women and girls here.

Religious conservatives want Roe v Wade overturned because they oppose the principles of individual freedom and the right to bodily autonomy for women upon which the decision was based. That denial of those rights would relegate women to less than human status is exactly the point. Second-class status for women would be a feature, not a bug, for Christian conservatives since the Bible commands that women are not equal but subordinate to men. Bible-based religion asserts that man is the original human and woman, taken from man, is less than human. This is the reality of Bible-based governance. It seems like a nightmare from the dark ages, or some dystopian futuristic novel, but this is really happening right now in the land of the free and the home of the brave.

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