This War on Women and a Strategy to Defend Choice

May 19, 2019

In Texas last month, male lawmakers introduced a bill that would give women the death penalty for having abortions, even if they were the victims of rape or incest. The news coming out of Ohio, Georgia, Alabama, Missouri and other “red” states is even more frightening as laws restricting a women’s control of her body have actually passed. What the hell is happening? Is America becoming Gilead? Are these states controlled by the Taliban? Is Donald Trump’s wet dream of turning the country into a misogynistic dictatorship coming true right before our eyes?

The 1973 Roe v. Wade decision didn’t settle the debate about abortion access. Supreme Courts can over-rule previous “established law.” Liberals have been hoping for a president who would appoint judges that would overturn the 2010 Citizens United decision that gave personhood to corporations. The 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson decision that made racial segregation constitutional was reversed by the the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision that ruled racial segregation unconstitutional. So don’t think the high court sets anything in stone. And now that Trump has placed two conservative white men on the court (Please don’t die, Judge Ginsburg!), expect more backwards motion.

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The abortion debate runs deep. I totally understand the pro-life position. The first day we heard my unborn daughter’s heartbeat changed my life. But their position has two major flaws. The first is that outlawing abortion will not end abortion. It will push it back into alleys (and on to the internet) where women will die from not having doctors and trained professionals carry out the procedure. (You can buy RU-486 on line, by the way.) The second is that these “pro-life” advocates could not care less about these “babies” once they are born. Alabama, for example, comes in 46th in health care for children and 50th for education. While the Cotton State was ruling that rape victims must carry their rapist’s child, they were executing a guy who committed his crime when he was a teenager. Pro-life!

So what do we do?

All the screaming in the world is not going to convince the “pro-life” (Really the pro-forced birth, pro-illegal abortion) crowd to let women have control over their bodies. They’re convinced that that clump of cells is a “person” who needs to be protected. They are dug in and we are dug in. How do we appeal to enough people in the middle to make sure this frighting trend doesn’t end up as a real-life Handmaid’s Tale?

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The good news is that the vast percentage of Americans (79%) are pro-choice. According to a May 2018 Gallup poll, 50% of Americans believe abortion should be legal under certain circumstances and another 29% believe it should be legal under any circumstance. Only 18% of Americans surveyed think abortion should be illegal. I’m going to guess that recent news coming out of places like Alabama is going to push the May 2019 numbers even more towards the pro-choice column.

We have a road map here. It’s the incredible shift in attitudes towards homosexuality and gay marriage. Over the last twenty years, American attitudes have flipped on gay marriage. It’s been one of the biggest and fastest attitude shifts in American history. How did that happen? How did we go from Ellen DeGeneres’ sitcom being cancelled because of outrage over a gay character on prime-time TV to marriage equality in all 50 states? Because people came out. There was a time when middle-America thought gay people were only in San Francisco, dancing in ass-less chaps in the streets of the Castro district. Now, LGBT folks are their family members, friends, co-workers, and (gasp) even their kids’ teachers. The movement to come out (even in Alabama) has certainly had casualties, including violent hate crimes, but the end result is that it’s a lot harder to scream about “homos burning in hell” when the family member you love comes out and asks, “Are you going to be with me or against me?”

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What’s been happening this week on social media feels a lot like the start of the #metoo movement in 2017, when women began telling their stories of harassment and rape. The genie of truth was out of the bottle. In the last few days, so many of my female friends have come forward with their stories of terminating pregnancies, including in red states. For some, it was a gut wrenching-decision. For others, it was a medical procedure that was just a step in retaining control over their lives. Some had been victims of rape. Others were not ready to add a child (or another child) to their lives. All were allowed to make the decision for themselves. Their right to dictate what went on in their bodies was not challenged, because, as Leslie Jones said on SNL, “You can’t control women because — I don’t know if y’all heard — but women are the same as humans.”

Men need to step up and join their sisters (figurative and literal) on the front lines. As a man without a uterus, I’ve learned to take a back seat on the abortion decision itself. To be 100% honest, I have had the front seat in this discussion on a personal level. Since it’s not my body, my only job has been to be supportive and respectful. Fragile men pass these laws but they can also be dicks when they should just shut up and make some tea. So, as a man I can’t say, “Women, you need to do this…” But as a sociologist, my hunch is that the more women and girls come forward with their stories about exercising their right to make choices, some hard, about their bodies, the more people in the middle will not see pro-choice women as “baby killers” or any of the other pejoratives that are hurled at females who are often just trying to get through a rough patch. The bottom line is that men have to both defer to women but also ramp up their initiative and effort to defend those women. If women and girls are going to tell their truths, we dudes have to make our brothers listen.

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Thirty years ago I volunteered as an escort for an abortion clinic in Atlanta. This was a time when a so-called “Christian” group called Operation Rescue was harassing women who were entering women’s clinics, some just for simple pap smears and OB-GYN appointments. I would walk the women in as these maniacs would scream the worst things imaginable at them. I would try to provide a distraction by talking about the weather or the latest episode of Cheers. It was clear that these “pro-life” harassers were more traumatizing to the women than the actual task at hand. 

I think that’s what’s going on now. Men are losing their long grip on patriarchy. From Title IX to #metoo, their assumed authority is eroding. They will recruit a few willing women who need a “strong man” to shape their shifting world, and flock to a pussy-grabber president who will take them back to the “again” America, before Brown v. the Board of Education, before the modern feminist movement, and before Roe v. Wade. Their best weapon is to traumatize girls and women again. To weaken them with threats of returning to the back-alley past. To bring back Father Knows Best. To reach into the femaleness of females to terrorize their humanity. To proclaim them less than human.

But it’s different this time. Women and girls are different. And so are many of the men and boys who now stand with them. The old men have lost their control over us. We won’t go back.

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