How Long Will It Take For Women to be Free to Control Their Bodies?


Originally posted to JACBLOG!

How long will it take for women to be free to control their own bodies?  How long will it take before government backs out of bedrooms?  How long will it take before women rise up and fight the assaults on their freedoms?  History and 2011′s increase in reproductive restrictions do not present reassuring answers to these questions.

Despite Abigail Adams’ admonition to her husband to ‘remember the ladies’ as he attended the Constitutional Convention, the rights of women were not laid out during the very founding of our county; thereby not granting them equal parity legally and allowing abuses to occur.   In the 1800s, women began organizing and achieved some minor successes, but no equality either legally or socially.  After years of struggles and a bitter fight for the right to vote, the 19th Amendment was ratified in 1920.  Three years later the Equal Rights Amendment was proposed. 83 years after its initial introduction, the ERA has yet to be ratified.

Throughout most of the 20th century, women were prisoners of their own biology.  In many cases, they were unable to legally purchase contraception, husbands could force their wives to have sex and it was not considered rape, and women could not obtain safe, legal abortions.  Finally, on January 22, 1973, American women won a major victory with the Roe vs. Wade decision by the Supreme Court.

For those of us who remember the days before Roe vs. Wade, this decision changed the landscape for women.  I can remember hearing sirens on my college campus as young women resorted to coat hangers, stairs, or medication to handle unwanted pregnancies.  I can remember women pooling their funds and going to clinics where doctors performed abortions at night.  I can remember women who lost their ability to have children or who lost their lives to back alley abortions.  Roe vs. Wade offered a life line, freedom to choose.

Sadly, Roe vs. Wade did not stop the war on women’s rights.  The fight against abortion has not ended, and it worsened drastically in the last few years.  According to the Guttmacher Institute, 2011 had a record number of anti-abortion measures proposed.  Across the 50 states, there were more than 1,100 reproductive health- and reproductive rights-related provisions introduced.  While in the U.S. House of Representatives, draconian laws, such as HR 358: the “Let Women Die Act,” passed easily.

The anti-abortion forces have launched full-scale attacks on a number of fronts.  One tact targets coverage of abortion and/or contraception in health insurance plans, insuring that people of modest means are unable to pay for these services.  Another abuse of privacy is the requirement that women undergo abortion counseling.  It is the ultimate paternalistic reasoning that women are not smart enough to make informed decisions on their own, and it is another example of the government invading the most private of spheres. 

According to the most extreme laws, a woman must go to a crisis pregnancy center, where her medical privacy is invaded and where non-medically trained personnel give incorrect information and may even proselytize if she is of another faith. In a number of states, “personhood” has either been proposed by the legislature, is scheduled to be proposed, or is on a ballot initiative.  This measure would give the fetus more rights than the living woman carrying it.  It regards her as a vessel that has no worth except as an incubator for the fetus.  “Personhood” conveys all rights to the fetus.  That means if a woman needs a life-saving abortion due to an ectopic pregnancy, she cannot get it because it would be considered murder. 

Now mind you, the fetus would not ever survive in that case, but under “personshood” the fetus would be considered more important.  It would also mean that many types of contraception would be outlawed and that in vitro fertilization, as well as stem cell research, would not be lawful procedures.  In fact, if a woman did not know she was pregnant and she fell or engaged in what the state considered “risky activity,” she could be charged with murder if she had a miscarriage.

These laws should strike fear in anyone who is female or who loves a female.  There is no regard for the safety and value of a woman’s life and rights.  The anti-abortion forces speak of the sanctity of life without any regard for the life of a woman.  They impose their own convictions on her and are willing to sacrifice her for their own religious beliefs.

The time has come.  The time is now.  We must work very hard to support those who value women’s lives.  There is not one candidate running in the Republican presidential primary who is pro-choice.  Not one of them supports the right to choose.  In fact, most of them vow to appoint judges who would overturn Roe vs. Wade.  A number of them would like a constitutional amendment banning abortion. Every Congressperson in the House of Representatives is up for reelection this November, including each and every Representative who sponsored and voted for HR 358 and other outrageous bills to curtail women’s health and freedoms.  One third of the Senate is up for reelection as well.  Now is the time to make sure those who are against reproductive rights do not get sent back to Washington to continue their harsh attacks on women.

This is not only about the right to choose, it is about the right to be and the right to be free.  How long will it take?  The time to stop asking and start answering that question is now.  Give your time and your money to candidates who believe in women.  

This year marks the 39th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade.  Let’s make sure there is a 40th anniversary, a 50th anniversary, a 100th anniversary.  The time is now.

Gail Yamner
President, JACPAC

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