Women’s Bodies–Back to Barbarism?

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Can you get the death penalty for having an abortion? You could in Assyria, 3,000 years ago. I recount such an execution in my next book, A Meteor Shower, which will be available in mid-June. You’ll get a preview of the book below. But first, consider that we may be heading back to that level of barbarism in the near future, right here in the U.S.

Today the Alabama legislature has passed a bill banning all abortion, even in cases of rape or incest. It punishes doctors who provide this service with up to 99 years’ imprisonment, but doesn’t penalize the pregnant woman—yet. I expect that if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, Republican politicians will begin to target the women. Their public statements certainly suggest that:

Rep. Todd Akin, Missouri, 8/19/2012, stated that women rarely get pregnant from rape: “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut the whole thing down.”

Trump on 3/30/2016: “There has to be some form of punishment [for the woman].”

Texas Republican Rep. Tony Tinderholt, January 2019, proposes a bill that would have allowed capital punishment for both physician and patient.

Speaker of the Florida House Jose Oliva, 2/28/2019: “As technology moves along, a human body can exist outside of its host body earlier and earlier.” He uses the term “host body” five times in an interview, never referring to the pregnant woman as a human being. I can only think that he sees male fetuses as human bodies and female fetuses as future “host bodies.”

Rep. John Becker, Ohio, April 2019, proposes a bill that would allow insurance coverage for a procedure for an ectopic pregnancy, that is intended to reimplant the fertilized ovum into the pregnant woman’s uterus.

Gov. Brian Kemp, Georgia, 5/7/19, signs bill outlawing abortions when fetal heartbeat can be detected, usually before a woman knows she is pregnant. Under Georgia law, if the woman does anything that could contribute to a miscarriage (smokes, drinks, is obese, or works long hours) she might be investigated for inducing an abortion.

In addition to their misogyny, both Reps. Akin and Becker display colossal ignorance of medicine and women’s anatomy. Yet ignoramuses like these write our laws.

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The Assyrian laws prescribed death by impalement for a woman who had an abortion. On the other hand, a man may commit infanticide without punishment. The child is his property, as are the woman and her unborn fetus. Here’s the scene from my novel that I promised you. A bit of background: we’re in the 9th century BCE. The physician Tamar has traveled from Israel to the Assyrian capital to ransom her lover, who was taken prisoner in a recent war. She is shopping in the public square. With her is Elon, a soldier she hired for protection on the hazardous trip across the desert:

Tamar heard screams of agony from the direction of the city gate. Suddenly other shoppers were rushing past her. Somebody’s hurt. Sounds real bad. She hesitated. I’m too tired. This isn’t my country. But what if they need a doctor? She bit her lip and followed the others.

Before she reached the gate the screaming had stopped. The crowd had come to a halt as well. She was too short to see over the people in front of her. “What happened?”

“Execution,” a man said curtly.

“Serves them right,” a woman added, her voice dripping with grim satisfaction.

“But what did they do?”

“Abortion. The one on the right, the older one, that’s the midwife. The other was her client.”

“Such a shame,” another woman sighed. “She has eight children already. She’s left them without a mother, and with mud on the family name.”

“Too bad she didn’t think of that before,” the first woman replied. She addressed Tamar again. “Here, go on in front of me and take a peek.”

The condemned women had been impaled on spears and then planted standing up on a raised platform. The crowd was beginning to disperse. A few soldiers—those who had no doubt performed the execution—were walking away. Someone in the crowd picked up a stone and bounced it off one of the corpses.

The sky started to turn black. Tamar bent over to keep from fainting and felt Elon’s strong hands under her arms. “Come on!” he growled. “Let’s get out of here.”

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