On Being a Woman (IV) & Being Stripped of Our Rights

This piece was written on the 24th June 2022.

Today is a monumental day. It is a monumental day in the same way that for our grandmothers, just shy of fifty years ago, it was a monumental day. It’s not even taken half a century. In under half a century, a progression of maybe two generations, women’s autonomy is again no longer a constitutional right.  

It seems laborious to have to outline yet again just what is at stake here. I am twenty-eight and I feel like I’ve addressed this problem far too many times for someone who lives in a world where the National Organisation for Women has been around for fifty-six years. NOW was founded on the 30th June 1966 and had a simple message: ‘The time has come to confront, with concrete action, the conditions that now prevent women from enjoying the equality of opportunity and freedom of choice which is their right, as individual Americans, and as human beings.’

The equality of opportunity and freedom of choice which is their right. As in 1966, now, all these decades later, the time has come yet again to confront, to dissent, to rage, to demand and to mourn. The abolition of Roe v Wade is a death sentence for hoards of women, a state-sanctified sentence in that most ironically named Land of the Free. 

It’s tiring to write this again; I wrote it last year when the state of Texas made abortion legally inaccessible past the six-week point. It’s hard not to start getting worn down by the idea that simply being alive, especially as a woman, is a depressing state of affairs. Access to safe and legal reproductive healthcare should be a human right, especially as it affects the traditionally oppressed half of a population. Start considering other factors; class, race, disability, and things are much more dire.  

I’ve said it before, but I will say it again. Women have been having abortions for as long as they have been getting pregnant. The difference is whether they are doing it legally or unsafely.  

It is the right to choose what an individual does with their own body that is the moral argument at stake here, not whether the actual act of abortion is right or wrong. The right to choose whether someone brings another human life into this world is integral to not only their dignity but their sanity. As abortion rights are further curtailed the second-class status of women is further enforced. As is the notion that we are less than, disposable, unintelligent, irrational or stunted in our decision-making capabilities.  

There are a myriad of subtle ways that women are told that they are less important than their heterosexual, male counterparts but this is an act that is utterly brazen in nature. It is predicted that twenty-six of the United State’s fifty-two will make abortion unattainable, not only meaning that the women living in those States are now living in a hostile environment but that those twenty-six States unlikely to make any imminent change in their law will now face unprecedented pressure and influx from women in desperate need of life-changing and life-saving healthcare in a State where they do not usually reside. This is not financially or practically viable for many women, meaning thousands of women will either endure unwanted pregnancies and births, or face being labelled criminal for the simple act of knowing what is best for their body. And that is before we begin to consider those who will not make it.  

Consider all those women who will be forced to try alternative methods of termination; the ones that end in haemorrhages, infections, or permanent damage to an individual physically and mentally. To be honest, I was about to type and they’re the lucky ones, but I don’t think luck comes into any of this. You are lucky if you survive an unsafe abortion but living with any of those consequences seems downright horrific. In this situation there are no winners. 

These are just the basic and straightforward immediately quantifiable statistics. This doesn’t begin to touch on the socio-economic effects of a forced pregnancy and birth. Some families are simply unable to afford another child, and this would affect the unborn and their existing family detrimentally. It keeps families in a cycle of poverty which is already notoriously hard to break. A forced pregnancy can leave women in no other position than to leave education or stall their career progression, again reinforcing their second-class status and limiting their opportunities and advancement. A newly dependent child can make it infinitely more difficult for women to escape abusive relationships, another hostile and potentially life-threatening situation for them to be in.  

There is nothing pro-life about enforced birth. In forcing an individual to go through giving birth against their will you strip them of their humanity; you reduce them to a machine and all those horrific dystopian ideas Margaret Atwood gave us in The Handmaid’s Tale start to look like a reflection of reality. It also strips the newly born of a potentially loving and full life if it is born out of a lack of autonomy.  

More seriously, the issue does go beyond the simple act of letting an individual choose their own life. It means that the thousands of women and children who are sexually assaulted each year will have to endure a constant reminder of their abuser and a point in their life that was nothing but traumatic. This is inhumane and shows those six supreme court justices to be out of touch with reality and shrouded with privilege. You can only assume (and hope) that it has never or will never happen to their own daughter, wife, mother, or sister otherwise the true gravity of their decision-making will start to become all too painstakingly clear. 

Forty-nine years after our grandmothers demanded the law be changed to constitutionally recognise their right to bodily autonomy and freedom, the children they so readily fought for are about to bear the burden of knowing that the patriarchy is still very much intact; thriving and oppressing in equal measure. I believe our feminine ancestors thought they were fighting the good fight, a hard fight and enduring ridicule and making many a sacrifice because they knew that in the end it would be worth it. Sometimes one can’t help but think that those sisters of ours who have passed on to (hopefully) more peaceful plains are blessed to have been spared this blatant display of disrespect. And then there’s the other part of one that wishes we still had the steady, powerful, honest, and daring voices of those like Ruth Bader Ginsburg who would have most certainly exclaimed not on my watch.  

We can be grateful it didn’t happen on her watch; we can be grateful that for those fifty-six years since the formation of the National Organisation for Women we have had the likes of her, and Gloria and Shirley and Betty and Bella taking stock, standing guard, and maintaining some semblance of dignity for women across the Western World. We can be grateful whilst mourning the fact that it wasn’t enough. Grief is a funny thing. There are those five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance. We can’t allow ourselves to reach that final stage. There is nothing about this that we should be willing to accept. To accept this ruling is to lie down and let all that hard work, which was so admirably accomplished, be for nothing.

It cannot be for nothing.  

Nothing can be for nothing.  

Everything must be for something, otherwise why else did my mother choose to have me? 

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