There is no privacy in a small town, even though there are many secrets.
And for some reason, it is this understanding — gained early in the hometown of my childhood — that comes to mind as I read about the new wave of legislation essentially outlawing abortion in more and more states across the country. The bans are happening fast and furiously, mostly in red states to be sure, but the laws are being signed by, in a couple of cases, a woman (!) and a Democrat (!) who happen to be governors, so there’s plenty of credit (or discredit) to go around. The goal appears to be to destroy the women’s rights enshrined by the U. S. Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade.
Today’s abortion foes are absolutists, using beyond-the-pale terms (no exclusions for rape or incest or a mother’s health, 99-year jail terms for physicians, prohibitions from six weeks into a pregnancy the woman may not even know exists) to force their challenge back into the now-carefully-and-dutifully-packed Court.
I don’t know what to make of this. It makes me sick, of course. And frightened. Not because at age 71 I need birth control, much less an abortion. Rather, because I need my privacy and my freedom, and the not-so-subtle secret behind this rabidly regressive anti-abortion legislative blitz is that it will take both away.
Like most women our age, I have spent more than 50 years crawling out from under patriarchal oppression. I’m battle-scarred by sexism, and I have finally found — and given myself permission to use — my voice. Our work as women for access to and equity in education, the work place, health care, the body politic, the playing field and all the possibilities Life suggests — was far from complete. But I thought we had made some progress. After all, my high school and college friends had to “go away” to homes for “unwed mothers,” give the child up for adoption and return a semester later midst whispers and shame. I came of age when there was no birth control available and then, once there was, when it still seemed unseemly to ask your family doctor for a prescription. This is the world these state legislators would have us restore? Really? What are they thinking?
Well, to ask that question is to assume they are thinking — and that may be a stretch. At the same time, to ask that question is to strike terror into the heart of every woman I know who embraces, nay, assumes the freedom of a woman to control her own body, her own life. Because there are apparently plenty of men (and yes, some women), who are intent on taking that freedom away. And they’re using the state to do so, interposing the government in the most intimate, the most private of relationships between man and woman, between mother and child, between a woman and her doctors. Some extremists consider birth control an anathema, too. Not sex, mind you (there’s no protest against government support for the drugs that mitigate erectile dysfunction) — just any control a woman might exercise about getting pregnant. They even give the male rapist and the male who engages in incest more agency and power than the woman they would force to carry her rapist’s or her uncle’s baby.
It makes my head spin, this fervent anti-abortion campaign is so irrational, so preposterously oppressive, insulting and unfair. It’s why that “There is no privacy in a small town, even though there are many secrets” comes to mind; it makes no sense; it involves no moral, political or social integrity. But neither rationality, morality, nor fairness is the medium of exchange in today’s battle over abortion. Nor, I hasten to add, is religion. Today’s legislative effort is about nothing more than power, power over others — the 20th century power men exclusively once held to grant and to destroy freedom; the power to grant and to destroy human rights; the power to respect and the power to invade privacy; the power to oppress fully half of the country’s population and to deny their creative force and equality.
I’ve been upset about this before. I was especially outraged several years ago when male legislators in Texas determined in their own infinite wisdom that women needed “help” and a 24-hour cooling off period to make any decision to terminate a pregnancy. I mean, really. Says who?!! But that legislation was child’s play in comparison to what we’re seeing today. Respect for life? No way. It’s No Respect for Nobody who’s not white, male and bitter that the power-over-others that he believed was once his birthright no longer exists.
This battle can be framed as one between two possible ends-of-an-era. Either it’s the end of reproductive freedom as we have known it in this country since 1973. Or it’s the end of the arrogance of presumed power over women. I am not sanguine.