Laws “protecting” women often end up harming them, instead.
That’s because limiting liberty is the real aim.
In 1905 a laundress sued her employer for making her work more than 10 hours — Oregon’s legal limit for women back then. The case eventually wound up at the Supreme Court, where her employer made this feminist argument:
Limits on women’s work hours discriminate against them.
But the Justices upheld the law, saying that women are like children, both needing special care. Read the rest of this entry
That’s what you’re called if you vote your principles on gay rights and reproductive rights.
So long as you vote anti-gay and anti-choice, anyway.
Are those the only values? And are they good ones? Read the rest of this entry
A 39-year-old mom from rural Pennsylvania is serving 9-18 months in jail for buying a pill online to help her daughter induce a miscarriage.
It all began when Jennifer Whalen’s 16-year-old daughter came to her after learning she was pregnant. Jennifer said she’d support any decision her daughter made. After taking a few days to think over her options, the teen determined she couldn’t have a baby so young, and asked her mom to look up clinics, according to the New York Times.
But Pennsylvania’s strict abortion laws left few options. Read the rest of this entry
Truth is, I don’t really like abortion, and I wish that no woman ever felt a need to get one. At the same time I know that accidents happen, mistakes happen, that women become desperate, and that one third of American women have an abortion at some point in their lives.
I also know that criminalizing abortion doesn’t stop it.
A global study by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Guttmacher Institute found that abortion rates are about the same in countries where it is legal and where it is not.
While protecting Big Oil and billionaires, right-wingers brazenly push cuts to programs – many life-saving – that largely affect women: Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, nutrition programs for women and children (WIC), and prenatal care. A woman’s right to choose is under intense attack with Planned Parenthood and Title X on the chopping block, despite providing low income women with birth control, cancer screenings, and tests for STDs, including H.I.V. And then there’s Rep. Joe Pitts’ proposed bill allowing hospitals to refuse to terminate pregnancy even to save a woman’s life. All famously reported in a New York Times piece entitled “The War on Women.” Nothing’s gotten any better since.
Why attack women?
Balancing the federal budget on the backs of the middle-class and poor (where so many women reside) so that wealthy interests and campaign contributions may thrive seems like a good deal to many politicians.
But why the laser-like focus on limiting women’s reproductive rights? Not a lot of money in that. But it’s a vote getter. Still, why is this stance so appealing?
Karen McCarthy Brown, Professor of Anthropology of Religion at Drew University, suggests that limiting women’s reproductive rights creates a sense of stability and empowerment for many. In command of the bodies of women, the power of the flesh, and life, itself, it’s a big deal. Plus, those who value order and stability benefit by “understanding” that men are men and women are women, each in separate spheres, and each knowing their place. So the world becomes simpler and more manageable in black and white. It can all be a huge psychological relief to those doing the controlling and for those who feel the world is under control.
Pretty sad that some coerce others to gain this relief. Surely there’s a better way.
Relatedly, on an interpersonal plane, men who seek to feel empowered by dominating their partners sometimes destroy contraception, hoping their wives or girlfriends will feel more trapped and dependent by the need to care for children.
And then there are your political tyrants. Steven Conn, Associate Professor of History at Ohio State, tells us that in the 20th century the most despicable regimes were fixated on controlling women’s reproductive lives. Outlawing abortion and closing family planning centers were among the Nazis’ first moves. Eventually abortion became a capital offense. Stalin outlawed abortion in 1936. Romanian tyrant Nicolae Ceausescu banned contraception in 1966. By 1986 miscarriage became a matter of criminal investigation. China still coerces women into abortion and sterilization. Interesting that Conn observes:
The day after the evil Ceausescu had been executed, the National Salvation Front issued two decrees; it lifted the ban on the private ownership of typewriters, and it repealed the laws that policed pregnant women.
The eerily similar workings of right-wing extremists lend an ironic twist to their claim of being all about freedom through free markets. Women must be controlled, but markets must be free?
But what’s a little nonsensical hypocrisy among right-wing despots?
This post is part of a web carnival promoted by a coalition of women’s organizations to discuss the current attacks on historic gains for women and mobilize women voters in 2012. See the Twitter hashtag #HERvotes.
A woman’s right to safe, legal abortion has created a world of missing women, according to the most recent anti-choice talking points.
A new book by Mara Hvistendahl, Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls and the Consequences of a World Full of Men reports that in the natural scheme of things, 105 boys are born for every 100 girls. But those numbers are skewed in many countries: In India 112 boys are born per 100 girls, in China 121, in Azerbaijan 115, in Georgia 118 and in Armenia 120.
Hvistendahl does not blame the right to chose. But others do. Conservative New York Times columnist Ross Douthat and Jonathan Last of the Weekly Standard (writing a book review for the Wall Street Journal) look at this study and blame abortion rights. Feminists cannot be consistent advocating the right to choose while criticizing sex-selective abortion at the same time, they say. In their view, abortion must be restricted in order to save the world’s girls and women and regain the natural sex ratio.
But the right to choose is not the problem. The core culprit lies in valuing male children over female. When girls are esteemed as much as boys, parents will no longer seek to have sons and not daughters.
Douthat wrongly claims that patriarchy isn’t the core problem. He sees women’s empowerment as leading to more sex selection, not less, with many women using their increased autonomy to choose sons. Somehow he fails to see that patriarchy lies behind the phenomenon. Strange, since his next sentence admits that sex selection occurs “because male offspring bring higher social status.”
Unfortunately, patriarchy becomes embedded in women’s and men’s minds alike. If males are more valued in a society, women unconsciously pick that up at a young age. Or they may ask their parents, who are likely to reinforce the status quo. Is it any surprise, then, that so many women choose sons over daughters, hoping to increase their own worth?
Meanwhile, the proposed remedy of abortion restriction would only devalue women further.
Another recent New York Times article introduces us to Danielle Deaver of Nebraska, a state which restricts abortion after 20 weeks. She was devastated when her water broke at 22 weeks, leaving her fetus little chance of survival. She risked serious infection without induced labor, but that wasn’t allowed under the new law. She had to wait another 10 stressful days until she went into natural labor. The baby only survived 15 minutes, while Deaver developed an infection. Angered, she said, “This should have been a private decision, made between me, my husband and my doctor.”
Last year, there was another even more horrifying instance of how restrictive, moralistic abortion policies impact women’s lives. In this case, a Polish woman named Edyta died because doctors felt that treating her colon condition could lead to miscarriage or force an abortion. As writer Brittany Shoot explained,
Poland is one of several countries (along with Italy, Hungary and Croatia) in which doctors, not unlike pharmacists in the U.S., can refuse to treat someone on moral grounds.
Do these restrictions really value women? Or do we become disposable nothings whose bodies, hearts and minds don’t really matter?
Despite what Douthat and Last say, feminists are consistent in being pro-choice while criticizing sex-selective abortion. We must get at the root of the world’s missing women–the devaluation of women–and not try to remedy it with a “cure” that exacerbates the core problem.
I originally wrote this piece for the Ms. Magazine Blog. It appeared June 29, 2011
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