Abortion & the Battle for Women’s Reproductive Freedom

By | December 9, 2011

By Charles L. Rulon,

Emeritus professor of Life and Health Sciences at Long Beach City College, California.

Millions of Americans still want to force women with unwanted pregnancies to stay pregnant against their will — in effect, to be unwilling breeding machines.

For millennia, women’s reproductive rights have been legislated, adjudicated and religiously controlled by those who would never have to experience an unwanted pregnancy —men.  For millennia, poor young unskilled mothers had to do whatever it took to find food and shelter for their children. This often meant becoming sexual and domestic slaves to men.  Also, for literally millennia, unwanted pregnancies were often followed by extremely dangerous abortion attempts and/or by the wrenchingly painful smothering to death or abandoning of new-born infants.

But as science and technology continued to advance, particularly in the last century, birth control methods became increasingly effective, early abortions finally became much safer than giving birth, and powerful religious patriarchies began to weaken. The long sought for reproductive emancipation of women was finally beginning to take giant steps forward.  Since Roe v Wade (1973), over 40 million American women have opted for an early safe legal abortion. That’s more women than there are people in the entire state of California! That’s over 40 million women who had a major second chance to control their own destiny.

Yet, four decades after Roe there still remains in the U.S. a powerful backlash by America’s religious-political patriarchy and their followers.  The overwhelming majority of anti-abortion voices in power today—in our pulpits and political machines—are white, conservative, Christian male voices—the same voices that once opposed both suffrage and birth control for women.

Today, abortion facilities still remain in only 13% of our nation’s counties, while state and national efforts to further weaken Roe continue unabated.  The right of women with unwanted pregnancies to not be forced to stay pregnant against their will continues to lose ground to nation-wide campaigns like Personhood-USA with its well-financed attempts to have embryos, blastulas and microscopic zygotes protected by law as persons.

Pro-choice politicians, of course, recite their support for elective abortions (“safe, legal & rare”).  But then most hurry on as though they are uncomfortable with their position, or believe that there are more important issues to debate.  But is a woman’s right to be freed from reproductive enslavement really a less important issue?  After all, the right to excellent birth control backed up by early safe abortions is about the right of women to decide for themselves their own futures, a right that is fundamental to female equality and human liberty.

Valuing Women’s Lives

Two decades ago a State of the World report documented that globally, “what consigned so many women to death or physical impairment was not a deficiency in technology, but a deficiency in the value placed on women’s lives.” Today, the suffering to women and girls due to ancient religious dogmas, entrenched patriarchal laws and customs, plus the desire to punish “loose” women, coupled with abysmal ignorance and grinding poverty is simply staggering.  Anti-abortion laws, which try to force women with unwanted pregnancies to be unwilling embryo incubators, in effect, treat women as obligatory breeding machines. They place women in a permanently and irrevocably subordinate position to men.

Throughout history the large majority of women with unwanted pregnancies have been willing to risk almost anything to escape from such reproductive enslavement.  As a result, anti-abortion laws across our planet have been major public health and social disasters.  In just the past 30 years over 150 million girls and women filled the hospitals in these anti-choice countries with life-threatening infections, massive hemorrhaging, perforated intestines and uteruses, and kidney failure as a result of illegal abortion attempts.  Several million died.  In the U.S. before Roe, hundreds of thousands of women each year with botched abortions filled our hospitals. Medical costs soared, families were torn apart and disrespect for the law intensified.

The world’s lowest rates of abortion by far are found in Japan and Western Europe where few legal restrictions are placed on abortions and where contraceptive use and comprehensive sex education are widespread.  In fact, today it is increasingly rare to find anti-abortion laws outside of totalitarian, militaristic, and /or religiously fundamentalist societies.  Do we really want the United States to have the same laws suppressing women’s reproductive equality as do countries like Afghanistan and El Salvador?

A World of Wanted Children

Our world is already up to its ears in unwanted, hungry and abandoned children. In the last 30 years restrictive laws and coercive pressures have resulted in over one billion unplanned and mostly unwanted embryos carried to term. Tens of millions of abandoned children now wander the streets.  Poverty soars.  Crime escalates.  Massive ecological destruction, social unrest and militarization continue.

In the U.S. over 500,000 children have already been taken from their parents and placed in foster homes, and over 15 million children now live in poverty, with hundreds of thousands abandoned. Yet, most of our 2012 Republican Presidential contenders, plus tens of millions of Americans continue to try to pass laws that would force women into having more children than they really want, even though we can’t or won’t take care of the children we already have.

Mostly because of religious/moralistic obstacles, a depressing half of all pregnancies in the US are still unintended; for African-American women, it’s 70%.  Roughly half of all such unintended pregnancies are aborted. The abortion rate among Black women is five times higher than among White women; for Latinos it’s three times higher. Poverty remains a major factor. Thus, the passage of anti-abortion laws in the U.S. would heavily discriminate against poor minority women.

In this 21st century of science and human enlightenment to claim that microscopic human fertilized eggs and blastulas(!!), or even half-inch limbless, faceless embryos(!), much less 1st or 2nd trimester mindless, senseless fetuses are somehow equivalent to children already born and, thus, should have the same right to life and that this is America’s Holocaust is rationally absurd and ethically repugnant.  Fundamentalist religious insanity comes to mind.  Most Americans know this “absurdity” at some level. That’s why very few Americans want to send women who abort to prison, not even for a day!

Furthermore, to claim that human embryos have some kind of God-given sacred right to life is not even a biblical teaching according to most Christian theologians and millions of pro-choice Christians.  Instead, such pronounce­ments are basically incendiary propaganda generated by America’s powerful religious patriarchy with the ultimate purpose of controlling the religious/political thinking of tens of millions of conservative Christians.

 Closing Thoughts

The politician who gets my vote is the one who makes female equality one major part of his or her platform. After all, an investment in global economic opportunities for women, plus reproductive health care (including sex education, contraception, emergency contraceptive pills and early abortions) would provide one of the greatest benefits to humanity in the history of civilization.  Few other measures could make such a contribution to the health and well-being of women and children, reduce poverty and the threat of war worldwide, plus improve our chances of achieving a sustainable future, yet cost each of us in the affluent world only a few dollars a year in foreign aid.

The uncompromising position of the Christian Right and their political allies puts an ugly face on democracy and on the religious spirit of love and compassion. It’s a position that demeans the intelligence and moral character of women and returns them to the Dark Ages of dangerous illegal abortions.  How long can civilization continue to tolerate undemocratic, authoritarian pronouncements from male popes, ministers, televangelists, born-again politicians and others who demand religious obedience?  How long can we continue to tolerate men who are concerned primarily with the maintenance of ancient institutions and belief systems in a modern scientific world they do not want to understand and where the need to preserve their power has priority over all else?  How can any society ever expect its citizens to live in a way that is higher, nobler and more spiritual when it continues to try to force women with unwanted pregnancies (a persistent and major reality throughout the entire history of human­kind) to stay pregnant against their will?

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