Roe v. Wade abortion rights protester Washington

Ending Roe v. Wade: It’s about control over women, not the sanctity of life

“There’s a direct line between misogyny and this desperate, maniacal desire to control women’s bodies. You aren’t pro-life if you care about a baby when it’s in a woman’s womb and then you don’t give a damn about it after it’s born.”

Women’s rights advocates were shaken earlier this week by the news that Roe v. Wade could possibly be overturned. A leaked ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, obtained by POLITICO, indicates that it has voted to strike down Roe v. Wade, according to an initial draft. If the ruling by the Supreme Court does come into effect, abortion would then be a matter for individual state legislatures and Congress to rule upon.

In the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that “the Constitution of the United States protects a pregnant woman’s liberty to choose to have an abortion without excessive government restriction.”

Attack on women’s rights

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Washington D.C. abortion rights protester, May 2019

The recent backsliding on women’s reproductive rights in the U.S. has many women — including me — reeling. It, of course, shouldn’t come as a huge surprise because the writing has been on the wall for years. I have been deeply concerned this would happen ever since Donald Trump was elected. His campaign breathed new life into conservative political platforms and right-wing organizations. 

His vice-president, Mike Pence, explicitly stated during the campaign that he intended to “consign Roe v. Wade to the ash heap of history.” Trump’s presidency worked hard on defunding Planned Parenthood, a major source of affordable healthcare for millions of American women. It was all there for anyone willing to pay attention and not quick to dismiss the fight for reproductive rights as something no longer relevant or necessary in today’s world.

This backlash against feminism and the advancement of women’s rights — particularly of reproductive rights — has been going on for a while now and gaining momentum among the fiercely anti-abortion Republican Party and the religious right. It almost always affects the most vulnerable and marginalized among us and there’s no question that limiting access to abortion will have a devastating impact on the most powerless.

They say it’s about the “sanctity of life” and protecting unborn babies. We know it’s about control and misogyny. 

Abortion is vital healthcare

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Pro-choice protesters in Ottawa, 2019

I have reached a point in my life where I no longer believe there will ever come a time where we won’t have to defend our reproductive decisions. I am frankly sick and tired of reading personal testimonial after testimonial by women who share their rapes or their harrowing medical stories of fetal abnormalities or their deeply personal reasons for why they had an abortion — just so they can convince complete strangers about their right to their own decisions about their own bodies and their own lives. As if simply wanting to have an abortion isn’t enough of a reason to get one. As if I should have to explain to some random legislative body why I’m entitled to a future that I have decided upon and designed based on my wants, my needs, my dreams, my capabilities. Who else should get to decide that but me? 

A normal medical procedure (far safer than pregnancy and labour) that allows women to take control of their bodies and lives has been vilified and politicized by legislators and religious leaders. 

Women (and anyone with a uterus) are not human incubators. If you can’t medically force me to donate blood or donate an organ, you have no right to force me to carry a baby to term for the simple reason that I have the biological ability to conceive and carry life. I am not a temporary host to a future human. A fetus does not have more rights than a fully formed human. Pregnancy and giving birth come with myriad of medical complications and risks and immediate and long-term expenses and women should not have to be subjected to one unless they make the decision that they want to have a baby.

“Pro-life” is essentially anti-choice

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Pro Trump, anti Roe v. Wade protester at the 47th annual “March for Life” in Washington, D.C., 2020

There is a clear and direct line between misogyny and this desperate and maniacal desire to control women’s bodies. You are not “pro-life” if you only care about a baby when it’s in a woman’s womb and then you don’t give a damn about it after it’s born. 

You are not “pro-life” if you don’t advocate for and support birth control and sex education, methods reliably proven to prevent and decrease pregnancy and therefore abortion rates. 

You are not “pro-life” if you conveniently ignore the fact that a vast majority of women who seek out abortions are already mothers. They’re not “baby killers,” they simply don’t want to have a baby on your terms and on your schedule.

You are not “pro-life” if you vote against free and universal maternal care or paternal leave, but still want people who can’t afford babies to carry them to term and give birth to them. 

You are not “pro-life” if you advocate for legislation that punishes and puts women at risk, forcing them to seek out unsafe and dangerous procedures that have caused and will continue to cause women to die. 

It’s about control

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Outside the Supreme Court following Politico’s Roe. v Wade leak, May 2, 2022

The World Health Organization (WHO) says a woman dies every eight minutes from an unsafe abortion. None of this was ever about the “sanctity of life.” It was, and continues to be, about control. Like writer and feminist Laurie Penny wrote, “We live in a society that is comfortable letting men get away with sexual violence but determined not to let women get away with consensual sex.” 

That sentence marked me when I first read it because it clearly pointed out the blatant misogyny and double standards in the anti-abortion movement that vilifies all sex, all consent, all pleasure, all sovereignty by women. There is nothing more terrifying to religious zealots and misogynistic conservatives than a woman in command of her own decisions and her own path. 

Having the right to control your body, your sexuality, your choices, your ability to walk away from situations that don’t serve you and your future are the very basic and elemental factors that determine a woman’s life and power. It’s why Hillary Clinton has often repeated during her political career that “reproductive rights are human rights.” Because a woman’s ability to control her reproductive freedom speaks to the fundamental right to control her own destiny. No one’s life is more affected by the birth of a child than a woman’s life is. It can completely and irrevocably alter its course. It should be her decision and hers alone to make. 

Access to abortion is freedom of choice

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Gloria Steinem, 2019. Photo by Tara Todras-Whitehill

When Gloria Steinem —who’s been at the forefront of the feminist movement and who has often said that ”If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament” — published My Life on the Road in 2015, she included a dedication to a Dr. John Sharpe. That doctor helped her obtain an illegal abortion in 1957 when she was 22. His only condition — other than anonymity — was that his young patient go on to achieve what she wanted in life.

“He said, ‘You must promise me two things: First, you will not tell anyone my name. Second, you will do what you want to do with your life.’

Dear Dr. Sharpe, I believe you, who knew the law was unjust, would not mind if I say this so long after your death:

I’ve done the best I could with my life.

This book is for you.” 

Steinem’s dedication moved me because it demonstrated how one simple act — access to one simple medical procedure — the ability to design your own destiny, shaped her life and path. 

She’s not alone. I know many women (myself included) whose lives were irrevocably defined and altered by that simple, yet fundamental, ability to choose. It’s that power to self-determination that anti-abortionists want to squelch. It’s what they fear and hate. ■

Read more editorials by Toula Drimonis here.