Many of you readers either have had abortions or, if not, a good number of your friends have. I never did get pregnant during those times when I was trying to be bisexual. But it seems that every other woman I know had that experience. From the days when it was illegal: My mother, at age 42, when she had three children and two disabled parents to care for. A thirteen-year-old girl, raped by her grandfather—I heard her story from the nurse who assisted in the procedure. A lesbian friend who had never slept with a man but was raped on the way home from work. A straight friend, young and poor, who almost bled to death after the abortionist shooed her out. A college student seduced and abandoned by her professor. The list is long but I won’t go on—you’ve all known or read such stories.
In 1970 abortion became legal in New York State. It was still illegal elsewhere in the United States until Roe v. Wade in 1973. Back then I worked with a feminist group that assisted women who needed an abortion coming to New York from other states and from Canada. Later on I met and interviewed a woman from Jane, the collective in Chicago that actually performed abortions during those years.
Like the rest of you, I’ve been reading about the leaked SCOTUS draft that will eliminate Roe v. Wade. Many op-ed columnists and commenting readers recall the days of illegal abortions, when women often died or suffered long-term consequences to their health. The writers observe that “Right to Life” spokespeople and politicians do not propose any legislation to offer financial help for women struggling to support actual children—and in fact these anti-choice politicians often oppose such legislation. This is an important observation, and true. However, it focuses only on the results of the anti-abortion laws, and not the underlying motivation.
Those who argue that the real intent of the anti-abortion crowd is to control women’s bodies are, in my opinion, closer to the mark. What they still miss, however, is the reason for it all: the fact that American culture is mired in misogyny, in the actual hatred of women.
Consider that in the United States, the leading cause of death in pregnancy is homicide—not complications of pregnancy or birth. A pregnant or post-partum woman is 16% more likely to be killed than a non-pregnant woman. These murders take place in the home. The women are murdered by husbands or boyfriends.
Consider, too, that the U.S. is, for women, the tenth most dangerous country in the world. The list, from most horrific to slightly less horrific, by degrees: India, Afghanistan, Syria, Somalia, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Yemen, Nigeria, and the United States. Eighty-one percent of American women report having been harassed, abused, stalked, raped, or beaten during their lifetimes.
I have known anti-abortion people who genuinely believed the propaganda put forth by their churches, but were open to listening to other opinions. The unreachable ones are those who scream spittle-flecked epithets at women going into a Planned Parenthood clinic for birth control. The proto-fascist anti-abortion politicians and “Justices” are cynically opportunistic. They know exactly what they’re doing, but care only about power.
All of us, however, were born and raised in the atmosphere of misogyny. We begin to notice how polluted the air is only when someone points it out to us—and then only when we aren’t desperate to maintain whatever little advantages we have in the hierarchies of cruelty.