Abortion has emerged as a leading rallying cry for the GOP conservative right at a time when Americans are increasingly expressing pro-choice views; yet they show zero signs of driving cautiously. Instead, in the fight to wrestle support from the ever dwindling base, GOP contenders are choosing to turbo-charge their rhetoric. Fealty to God is a must. Protector of the innocent and unborn is promoted as a badge of honor. Adherer to the traditional family is the only righteous path. And the enemy? Planned Parenthood and a woman’s ability to make an informed decision about her body and reproductive rights.
While the Bible is waved about as undeniable proof that their crusade is a just one, therein lies a much more troubling tradition in which a woman’s body is still being viewed as public property. Despite the fact it is the 21st century, people like Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Mike Huckabee, Ben Carson, and the conservative right still feel it is their duty to ensure women are behaving properly and, if necessary, make sure they are protected against their own decision-making.
When contraceptives were originally criminalized in the 1870s, moralists invoked God, ultimately denouncing the use of contractive as anti-family and linking them to illicit images of adultery, sex before marriage, pedophilia, and erotica. Sex was limited either to the sole enjoyment of the man or as a means of procreation. Both relegated women to objects of use. A woman’s place was beside her husband, bearing his children, and allowing him the right to continue his family name. Birth control and abortions were a direct affront to this legacy-building and the role of mother.
Similar arguments were made in the 1960s when the birth control pill was first made available for public distribution by the FDA. At that time women were starting to come out from under the oven, making strides both academically and in the professional fields in what has popularly come to be known as the Women’s Liberation Movement. A series of campaigns addressed reforms on issues such as domestic life and violence, equal pay and maternity leave, sexual violence, and reproductive health. Everyone has their opinion, but for me, no one issue is more representative of women breaking away from the strict confines of female oppression than control over our own bodies.
Fast forward 50 years later and we’re still fighting for that right.
When the decision in Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973) was handed down, the Supreme Court not only legalized abortion but found that under the Fourteenth Amendment a woman had a “right to privacy” over her own body and healthcare decisions. It was a decision that pushed female autonomy forward, allowing for further social and economic gains. It instilled a renewed sense of empowerment and women chose to push the boundaries rather than sit quietly and content with their single win.
The linkage between access to birth control and abortion is not happenstance. Since Roe v. Wade, opponents have strategically linked both, putting forth false claims that the use of contraceptives or “abortifacients” induce abortion and ultimately will cause infertility and cancer; while abortion will cause irreparable emotional harm and regret (when the fact is it is the very opposite). Their aim is to not only ban abortion but contraceptive use as well.
When the Obama administration mandated that health insurance companies cover contraception, the House Oversight Committee held an all-male panel to discuss whether or not the administration’s decision infringed on religious freedoms. The outrage was palpable and demonstrated how the use of religion is still used to limit a woman’s access to family planning health services. For those who bravely spoke up in support of the mandate, they were instantly “slut-shamed”. It’s a tactic that has fore stood the test of time. If a woman expresses sexual desire than sex itself is no longer a sacred act reserved for the family but something wanton.
The most current attack against Planned Parenthood, one of the single largest providers of reproductive and preventative healthcare services for women, is part of a broader campaign to bring down the organization. Abortion makes up only 3% of the services performed by Planned Parenthood. But with all the screaming you would think it was walking around coat-hangers in hand and offering every single pregnant woman on the street a way out. Not only does the organization provide preventative care, such as birth control, annual pap smears, and cancer screenings, but HIV/AIDS screenings and counseling services as well. Most of the women serviced by the organization are low-income, young women and teenagers, and women of color. To deny them access to care by defunding Planned Parenthood would be a huge step back in the fight for affordable and equal access for all women.
I am of the mind that opponents will never be able to outlaw abortion and contraceptive use 100%; but that doesn’t mean that their efforts don’t harm the very women they profess to protect.