Abortion: 10 Facts and An Oath

Right to the point. Alabama has fired the first nuclear weapon in the out-and-out war over women’s right to bodily integrity. Georgia and Missouri are close behind. These three, and the other states trying to enact so called “heart-beat laws” about women’s right to terminate unwanted pregnancies, have made increasing forays and assaults for a long time now.

The white supremacist right, the religious right, and the cynical we-really-don’t-care-about-the-issue-but-will-use-it-to-stay-in-power Republican right have never stopped taking pot shots at women’s reproductive rights since Roe v. Wade was passed in 1973. Their tactics have ranged from sophisticated lobbying and PR campaigns to flat-out terrorism: bombing clinics and murdering medical staff. They have skillfully used this issue as a fundraising tool; as a political wedge to field, fund, and elect candidates; and as a hammer to chip steadily away at Roe, via pressure for executive presidential orders, (contested) legislation outlawing emergency abortion, demands for parental notification, etc. By 2006, fewer medical schools required proficiency in pregnancy termination—and 86 percent of all U.S. counties had no abortion provider whatsoever.

This time is different. With a creature in the White House who will say and do anything to stay there, violent bigots and racists in our society feel validated, supported, even encouraged, and the anti-choice crusaders have similarly been emboldened.

You know, of course, that Alabama has in effect outlawed abortion. No exceptions for rape. No exceptions for incest. Permitted only if the woman’s life is in “serious” danger. Even some anti-choice organizations, evangelical churches, and anti-choice senators and congressmen expressed disagreement with the Alabama law. Someone said to me yesterday,”Oh, but that won’t stand up in court.” This misses the point entirely. Because such rulings defy federal law, naturally it will go to court, and even in Alabama it is likely to lose. But whichever side wins, the decision will be appealed. And appealed again. And will make its way to the Supremes—which is precisely what the anti-choicers have planned all along, breathlessly waiting for the moment when the Court majority was far-right enough to overturn Roe. The claimed justification will be “It’s up to the states,” and then women have to hustle to ensure that their state legalizes the procedure—along with other targets of the right wing, like the right to health insurance coverage for contraception, because that’s up next.

Although many younger women are fiercely feminist and decidedly “woke,” there still are women, and not only young ones, who have no idea how many American women died—10,000 a year, more than in Vietnam—from illegal, backstreet, butchered abortions. We fight on multiple fronts: state, federal, and international—since the gag rule affects U.S. foreign policy and our United Nations participation. The Trump regime managed to open up a whole new front by appointing and defending Scott Lloyd, Director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, who is responsible for the care of young, undocumented immigrants who enter this country without their parents. Lloyd spends much of his time trying to stop young women who want abortions from leaving refugee shelters, even though such requests are almost always the result of rape. One such case that made it to court because the ACLU became involved elicited a statement from a federal judge saying she was astounded the government was so insistent on keeping someone from obtaining a constitutionally protected procedure.

The state level is where most restrictions take place and if Roe is erased each state will make its own laws (some, like New York, legalized abortion even before Roe, and recently broadened rights to the procedure, including late-term emergency abortion). The argument that a woman in a criminalizing state can always pop next door to a state where abortion is legal is a flat-out lie. The other state isn’t always next-door—think of the size of Montana or Texas—and the money needed to travel is considerable, whether by air, public transport, or gas for the car. Plus the cost of a hotel and meals. Plus a woman having to leave her job for a week instead of for a day or two, risking being docked or fired. Plus if she has kids, who will watch them. All of this is totally beyond the financial reach of low-income women who, pre-Roe, suffered most. Women with means could always go elsewhere, even another country.

So below are some arguing points that we all better begin sharing with people, including nice liberal types who might think we’re exaggerating disaster, running around with our hair on fire. For instance, when asked, Bernie Sanders stated his support for a woman’s right “to control her body” (as if it was unleashed and running away), then added that after all this was “one issue among many,” and that if preference about the sex of the fetus was the reason for the procedure, that should perhaps be a restriction. It’s not only people on the right who need to be educated.

There are so many stereotypes out there! The anti-woman anti-choicers have been successful at portraying abortion as dangerous, abortionists as money-grabbing gangsters, and women who seek out abortions as selfish, sluttish, or at best bewildered. So each of us needs to know and share some hard facts. You can find many on the websites of NARAL or Planned Parenthood. Here are ten to start with:

* The vast majority of Americans favor a woman’s right to make her own reproductive health choices.
* The vast majority of women who have abortions never regret it.
* 59 percent of abortions are obtained by women who already have children.
* Abortion does not cause breast or any other kind of cancer.
* Abortion does not cause future infertility, suicide, or other such negative side effects.
* The claim that tissue constituting an embryo or fetus can feel pain is unscientific propaganda.
* There is no mention of abortion in the Bible.
* Most people believe the Roman Catholic Church’s position on abortion is 2000 years old and infallible. Yet the 15th-century church considered abortion moral. Not until 1869 did Pius IX define it as an excommunicable sin, under pressure from Napoleon III, who was concerned that the birth rate was dropping and France might face a depletion of soldiers for its wars and colonizations. Furthermore, and also contrary to popular belief, the prohibition of abortion is not governed by claims of papal infallibility, which leaves more room for discussion than is usually assumed.
* There is no mention of abortion as a crime or as a woman’s right in the United States Constitution. This is because: a) there is no mention of women in the Constitution, and b) abortion was both legal and practiced at the time.
* The risk of death due to childbirth is 14 times greater than the risk of death from abortion.

Bear with me now for a brief aside on childbirth risks. Thirteen European American women die for every 100,000 live births. The rate for Latinas is lower, 11.4. For Native American/Alaskan Native women, it’s 32.5. The rate for African American women is a horrifying 42.8 for every 100,000 live births. Age increases the risk: women age 40 and over have a pregnancy related death rate of 76.5 per 100,000 live births. And while the death rate for women in childbirth is decreasing dramatically around the world, it’s actually increasing in the United States.

So if the fanatical right has its way, women—especially women of color—already and absurdly dying in childbirth in the world’s richest country, will also be dying from abortion again soon, bleeding out in an agony of terror and paralyzing cramps on the bathroom floors of campus dorms, on kitchen tables where Mafia doctors ply their implements, or if lucky in secret safe provider offices arranged by an underground women’s movement again willing to risk 99-year prison sentences to save women’s lives.

Women are different now, too. We’re openly enraged. And we’re organized.

Criminalizing pregnancy management will provoke women in far greater numbers than we showed before Roe passed. We will demonstrate massive civil disobedience—women of all ages and ethnicities, all classes and beliefs, corporate execs and farmworkers, plumbers and flight attendants, teachers and sex-industry survivors, clergy and athletes; celebrities in Jimmy Choo shoes and welfare recipients in frayed sneakers, college students and trade school graduates, women pushing baby carriages and women pushing walkers, physicians and nurses, every sort of woman (and every man of conscience who cares about justice) hitting the streets in open defiance of those who are bent on ruling women’s bodies. We will boycott, we will strike, we will bring this government to a grinding halt.

We don’t want this, we don’t long for civil strife. There was a day when I’d hoped to grow old with a bit more quietude in my life, more space for contemplation, more time for writing.

But today I swear, as 2020 nears with the 100th anniversary of suffrage for many American women and also brings the 50th anniversary of Sisterhood is Powerful’s publication; today I swear on my own head as the grey hair silvers toward white; today I swear it, I swear to you that if they think they will take down a woman’s human right to her own bodily integrity, I swear they will have to take me down first.