By Soraya Chemaly
Abortion, Yes or No?
This is how we’ve reduced the issue of women’s fundamental rights to a bullet point. It’s also how we’ve ended up asking our representatives the wrong questions and using words that are not rooted in the reality of women’s every day lives. “Will you make abortion illegal in all circumstances?” is the wrong question to ask Barack Obama or Mitt Romney. Consider the difference if we ask, instead, “How will your policies criminalize pregnancy and infringe on women’s rights?” or “How will your beliefs about “life” help millions upon millions of girls and women feed themselves and their existing families?” Or “How will this decision help them survive their high-risk pregnancies?”
We use three words “Abortion.” Then “Life.” Then “Choice.” When the real words at stake are Women. Bodies. Freedom. Health. Who gets the benefit of being considered morally competent? What about “Citizenship”? And last but not least, “RIGHTS”?
Take Ann Romney
Consider what Mitt Romney’s presidency would mean for a contemporary Ann Romney. On August 20th of this year it was revealed that Ann Romney suffered a miscarriage and depression between the births of her fourth and fifth sons. One week later, she walked into the GOP Convention to make her speech. I was amazed. She might as well have basted herself in sugar water and walked naked in to an apiary. Here is why:
If she miscarried today, she could be charged with manslaughter or murder, like Christine Taylor who fell down the stairs in her house, went to the hospital to make sure her she wasn’t miscarrying and, at the discretion of a nurse, doctor and members of the local police force, was arrested, jailed, publically shamed and charged under Iowa’s feticide law. Thirty-eight states have these laws and they are being used to prosecute women instead of protect them from abusive spouses as originally intended.
If Ann Romney miscarried today, she would have to consider living with being at the mercy of an overly personhood obsessed pharmacist, police officer, nurse…well, anyone, really who thought her actions or medication contributed to her miscarriage.
If she miscarried today, if she needed to see a doctor for her miscarriage, she’d have to think twice since doctors, in order to protect themselves or act according to their consciences, could either lie to her or turn her in to the police for investigation.
If she miscarried today, like Amanda Kimborough, and hundreds of others she could be charged with “chemical endangerment” and imprisoned. Now, Ann Romney wouldn’t be accused of being a meth lab, but could be investigated using the same laws for using medication for illness just like hers. Women with cancer will die if her party succeeds in its openly stated objectives because they will be denied treatment, like chemotherapy, as happened to Angela Carder and others in parts of the world that have already gone down this path. Why do people think this cannot happen when it already is?
You might think, some of these problems don’t apply to you, because you are a good woman and mother and only “bad” women are imperfect and personally irresponsible. They should deal with the consequences of their behavior, have personal responsibility for their sins, lose their freedom, and not get the medical help they need. Leaving aside the question of who defines what makes a woman good or bad (including the racial implications) according to personhood tenets the specific circumstances or the illegality of certain behavior or substances are irrelevant. A chemical is a chemical and endangerment is endangerment.
If she hadn’t miscarried, but like many women experienced depression (which she did), sadness or despair during her pregnancy, the situation would be equally full of risk in some states. Homocide and suicide are the two leading causes of death among pregnant women. Bei Bei Shaui, who attempted suicide and whose baby died three days after emergency Caesarian, was been imprisoned and charged with feticide in a situation that bodes ill for all women.
If she hadn’t miscarried, but wanted to decide how to give birth, like Laura Pemberton, a “pro-life” mother of seven in Florida, she might today find herself arrested during labor, taken to a hospital, tied to a bed and forced to have surgery because the state had an interest in her birth decision.
It’s Not About Criminalizing Abortion. It’s About Criminalizing Women
“Abortion” is only the very tip of the iceberg. The same people who have fetishized fetuses have made it possible, in some cases, necessary, for doctors to lie to their patients, for women to pay for unnecessary medical procedures, for health care clinics to misinform deliberately, and for women to be denied healthcare entirely.
Obstacles, taxes and shaming procedures do nothing to reduce abortions, they just infringe on rights, make women vulnerable and their lives more precarious. The toll that these measures take on girls and women is immeasurable. It’s also criminal. History will take note even if we fail to this week. Regardless of whether you root the right in liberty, privacy, or autonomy, until women have agency over their own bodies they are not liberated - a word we’ve forgotten. We might as well be living in 1969.
What was baffling to me was how Ann Romney could reference so openly her experiences with miscarriage and illnesses at a convention where personhood-for-fetuses was part of the Republican party platform. Because of the Republican party’s explicitly stated beliefs, intentions and actions women are being investigated, jailed and prosecuted for exercising their legal constitutional rights and also for experiencing miscarriages and illnesses like Ann Romney’s. How could she mention her children and grandchildren when these same beliefs in separate fetal rights from the time of conception would criminalize her own sons and their wives and, in the foreseeable future should the Romney/Ryan ticket win, deny them the right to have the children that are now her grandchildren?
Reproductive Rights Are Basic Rights