The War On Women
This country has never been for us.
We were property sold by fathers to husbands, changing our surnames from one patriarch to the next. We could not inherit, own a house, or conduct business without a man by our side until the 19th Century. We couldn’t serve in the military or even on a jury until the early 20th.
And, of course, we couldn’t vote.
We means white women like my white women ancestors on my mother’s side who were denied equality simply because they were not men. My female ancestors on the other side — my father’s side— didn’t have property rights either. My great-grandmother and her mother and her mother before that were regarded as property, enslaved by white men as chattel. For these African American women, freedom was the goal before the rest of it.
This War on Women is not ancient history. My mother still talks about being unable to travel alone in the 1950s. She could not open a checking account in her name without my father (i.e., her husband) on the account. Same with a credit card. It wasn’t until the 1970s that she could open her bank and credit card accounts independently and in her name.
That same decade, in 1973, the United States Supreme Court handed down one of its most significant rulings, the one everyone has been talking about this week: Roe v. Wade, finding a constitutional right to abortion.
To be clear: unwanted pregnancy and abortion were nothing new. Indeed, abortion, which went back in this country well before the Founding, was not illegal until the anti-abortion crusade of the 1800s, with states seeking to criminalize those who sought the procedure or providers who performed it. There was little to no regard for the well-being or lives of women. It was all part of a piece: women had no value as fully formed humans who could and should control their bodies. Instead, we were meant strictly for women’s work: housekeeping, cooking, and farming. First and foremost, we were vessels for childbearing.
Desperate women had long found ways to terminate pregnancies that arose from sexual assault, amidst financial hardship or after too many prior pregnancies (which can endanger a woman’s life). Wealthy women had access to illegal but medically sound procedures. Poor women, however, resorted to horrifically macabre methods — the “back-alley” abortion, performed in make-shift spaces often by self-trained or untrained midwives. As with so many things in our country, a woman’s class was a barrier to good healthcare, including safe abortion, poverty a corridor to her maiming and death.
The notion that women cannot make informed decisions about our reproductive lives is deeply rooted in a hostile culture toward female autonomy. From the story of Eve as the temptress responsible for Original Sin, to Shakespeare’s shrew who needs to be tamed, to the Disney princess waiting for her Prince Charming to awaken her, to Hollywood’s Housewives, Desperate and Real, women are seen as appendages of their men, sexually available and ready to reproduce, but otherwise distracting those same men from their purpose which is to participate in the capitalist economy.
Our purpose is to serve the home, specifically in the bedroom and birthing room.
But when women dare to challenge men outside the home, in the workplace, women still can’t access the boardroom. We earn 82 cents per dollar earned by men. (That’s according to Payscale.) Black and brown women face far more significant gaps in career opportunity, growth, and wages. See Payscale.com.
Sojourner Truth wisely said, Truth is powerful and it prevails.
Here is the truth.
This decision is coming down, one way or another. We always knew it would. Draft or no draft, Roe v. Wade is not long for this world. It never was. Because women have never been valued as total participants in this democratic experiment. We should think about Roe as we would a loved one dying a death of a thousand cuts. Eventually, it is going to succumb.
When that death knell comes with the Supreme Court’s inevitable reversal of Roe, the limited cease-fire that has been in effect for 50 years will be over. The War on Women will resume in earnest.
The urgent question is: what are we going to do about it?
The War on Women looks like this: If the Supreme Court issues anything along the lines of the draft opinion leaked Sunday, it will leave our right to an abortion up to the states. Thirteen states are poised to severely limit or ban abortion on the day the decision comes down. But that’s not all. At least half the states have plans to impose some restrictions on abortion access in the wake of Roe’s demise.
What does this mean in practical terms? It means a return to the Bad Old Days in which wealthy women find their way to the procedure, but poor women — primarily Black and brown women — do not enjoy equal access to health care. They will be denied equal protection of the law. Women will be denied a right they enjoyed just the day before. And some states plan to go so far as to criminalize the act of helping a woman to cross state lines in search of an abortion provider in states that will still allow the procedure.
What is that, if not a war on women?
There is nothing Democrats on Capitol Hill can do to secure abortion rights for women. There are not enough of them there. Democrats simply don’t have the votes to pass federal legislation to codify Roe v. Wade.
What’s worse, Republicans are talking about passing federal anti-abortion legislation if they gain control of Congress.
The only way to avoid that disastrous outcome is to turn out and VOTE. Progressive voters must be as motivated by the abortion issue as much as Republican voters have been inspired to snuff it out.
It’s time to end this War on Women.
Abortion has been a motivator for conservative voters for 50 years. It helped propel Donald Trump, over Hillary Clinton, to the White House in 2016. He then made good on his promises around the abortion issue, appointing three conservative justices in just four years.
Let this Supreme Court opinion, draft or not, be a tipping point.
It’s time for us to end this War on Women. It’s time for us to use our power.
The POWER of the vote to shift the balance in statehouses across this country, on Capitol Hill, and thereby in the courts.
The POWER of our purse to show America’s corporations we mean business.
And the POWER of our voices — in the streets to demand our right to control our bodies and lives.