In the South and Midwest of our country, an evil struggling against female freedom is winning ground. In Mississippi, a woman is charged with murder for giving birth to a still born. In Alabama, a mother of three awaits a ten year sentence for a Cesarean that resulted in the death of her baby. In South Carolina, over 300 women have been charged with some form of fetal homicide. In Indiana, a young woman who tried to kill herself by taking rat poison is in jail, charged with murder and attempted fetal homicide.
These cases are but a few examples of the way women’s rights have come under assault in this country, land of the supposed “free.”
Since the Tea Party takeover, these rights can’t be taken for granted. Whether it’s taking a law meant to protect women from spousal abuse misused to prosecute her for attempted murder or fetal homicide laws as a direct attempt to push back on Roe V Wade, women’s rights in America are being swept away on a Tea Party tide with nary a cry of notice. Grain by grain, with each new law, women are being relegated to citizens without rights or choices over their own bodies.
Today is the 39th anniversary of Roe V Wade, in which it was determined that abortion was a fundamental right under the United States Constitution. The court ruled that a fetus is not a person within the meaning of the 14th amendment. Anti-choice groups tried to argue and continue to argue that personhood begins at conception; however, even if this were accepted, it would not override a woman’s right as a person to have authority over her medical decisions, her health, and the use of her body.
One could argue that forcing women to carry a fetus to term is a form of involuntary servitude and thus violates her rights under the 13th amendment.
While many people will tell you they are not “pro-abortion” (in fact, there are few “pro-abortionists” out there- this is a myth designed by the anti-choicers to demonize and emotionalize the issue), most people can’t get around a woman’s right to made her own medical decisions. After all, the precedent should make all citizens nervous; who would determine at which point the state would come between our doctor’s and ourselves if we suggest that we have the right to put the state there for pregnant women.
And then there are the complicating issues of rape, incest, and health problems that could cause the death of the mother. It’s simply not possible to restrict the rights of half of the population in order to impose a religiously based morality on the entire population without stealing liberty and freedom from those individuals. Furthermore, these laws don’t just impact women. Of the women mentioned at the beginning of this article, many of them have children and families who depend on the woman the state has arrested for fetal homicide.
The Supreme Court ruled that women had a right to privacy under the due process clause in the 14th amendment to have an abortion. At first, they attempted to balance the state’s need to protect prenatal life and protect women’s health by suggesting that the state’s interest becomes bigger as the pregnancy progresses, but this was later struck down until the right to have an abortion existed until the fetus was viable; able to live outside of the mother’s womb without artificial aid.
Roe V Wade kicked down the religious politicization door for the Republican Party, who went to work immediately to further politicize religion and morality and define their party as the “family values” party. Every year, they use abortion as a get out the vote tactic and yet we note that their Presidents do not, even with an activist conservative Supreme Court behind them, overturn Roe v Wade. The reason they don’t do this is because until now, they haven’t wanted to lose this easy emotional appeal under which they can hide their blatantly anti-family policies. But the times are a changin’ with the introduction of the Tea Party and the race to the bottom for the Republican Party. Newt Gingrich just won the South Carolina primary. What does that tell you about the state of the party? Morality isn’t really the driving force for these folks, but division and fear are.
Since the hard won freedom on January 22, 1973, the abortion debate has been framed very successfully as an emotional issue rather than a legal issue of liberty and rights of the individual. Anti-abortion activists frame taking away a woman’s medical right over her body as a morality issue. But it is not an issue of morality. Laws are put into place for the betterment of society, not to legislate religious or moral beliefs, although there is often crossover between the two. The issue is where does the need for the law originate? We have laws (supposedly) against beating women. These laws are intended to preserve women’s rights and freedom. They are not in place because the Catholic Church supports them, although many religious leaders might support protection of women in theory (deed is another matter).
Religious conservatives supporting criminalizing pregnancy for women are using the state and the government as a blunt object of force to get their way. This is odd, coming from people who espouse to want to get government out of their lives, but the truth is, they very much want government to do their bidding. They want to empower the state to use force against pregnant women, to violate the woman’s right to consent over her own body and life choices. They seek to impose their beliefs forcefully by using the power of the government to restrict women’s freedoms.
These Tea Party conservatives want the state to have the powers they imagine God to have, and to punish the “sinner” with the force of the government as they believe (but cannot prove) God would want. Hence, they use laws intended to protect women from abuse in order to prosecute women for fetal endangerment while allowing men who beat pregnant women to walk free. They abuse the very intention of the law and use it to force their version of morality and sexuality onto women.
These Tea Party conservatives think Government is their personal weapon of mass destruction that they can unleash on those whom they have deemed sinners. It never occurs to these folks that what they have deemed sin is not sin to another, and often enough in the above mentioned cases, has not even occurred. One wonders what their reaction would be if we were to legislate Sharia Law based on the Quran, if men were being arrested for violating the moral sensibilities of Muslims. Or let’s say we made into law that to accuse a person of crimes they did not commit would land you in jail until you could prove your innocence.
There’s a reason we don’t legislate morality, for we are entitled to religious freedom in this country and as such, morality is for each individual to determine on their own. Yes, some laws can be said to be serving to uphold morality, but they are in place in order to uphold order, security, and justice, not for the purpose of inflicting a religious belief all citizens. And when taken in the full context of the balancing act between personal liberty and the government, the moral beliefs of some do not have the right to infringe on the individual liberty of others.
It’s ironic that the people legislating morality are the same people who tout immorality as a family value on every other level, from cutting medical and food programs for poor children to being pro-war. Murdering innocents happens in war every day, so if abortion were really about the moral decision, then we could expect some consistency from the folks championing it. But these same people also hold greed up as a moral value of worth. They worship people like Newt Gingrich (serial cheater) and Sarah Palin (serial liar). These are not people whose values are consistent. It becomes even more clear that their real agenda is control and theft of liberty from women.
It is not consistent, of course, to be “pro-life” and pro-war, really. Or to be anti-choice but pro-gun rights. One doesn’t get to pick and choose which amendments they like and which they don’t, or which sex deserves a say in their medical decision and which does not.
What we are seeing happen in America is a rush to strip women of their personhood, their freedom, their liberty, and their rights.
If you want to stop the infringement of the states upon the 14th amendment rights and liberty of American women, you need to be careful when you vote. You can’t assume that just because someone is a Democrat they are pro-choice. In fact, it seems as if women’s rights are the ugly stepchild of the Democratic Party these days, with just a few champions willing to take a stand for half of the population. Et tu, Brute?
Where’s the outrage over the theft of our civil liberties? Buried, perhaps, beneath the combined weariness of dark economic clouds and endless wars. But it is a fact that in this country, right now as you read this, women are in jail for having a miscarriage. It’s not an anomaly anymore. It’s an abomination of big government intrusion courtesy of fundamentalists who seek to impose their warped version of morality onto the entire country over the rights of individual liberty. They want their guns but your baby can starve once it’s born. They want their wars but you may not have a miscarriage without proving that you did not try to harm your fetus. These rights matter, but these others do not, and these folks believe they have the right to make that distinction for all citizens.
There’s something wrong in America. Who needs Sharia Law when some very misguided fundamentalist Christians want to turn their political cult/religion into law and are actually doing it while most Americans stay silent, thinking it’s not their sister, their wife, their mother, their daughter or their spouse sitting behind bars today for a “suspicious” miscarriage.
You don’t have to be “pro-abortion” to be terrified by what’s going on in this country right now. You don’t have to believe that abortion is the right choice under any circumstances for you to see that it’s wrong for the state to criminalize miscarriages. It’s an issue of at what point do we think the state’s right to tell a person what to do with their body overrides that person’s right to liberty? For to stand with the conservatives on this issue, you must believe that the state has the right to investigate you for your last doctor’s appointment, regardless of the nature. That your neighbors have the right to turn you in for suspicious medical results. That the state has the right to force you to father a baby by any person they choose. And so on. Where would it end?
If you value freedom, you might want to get yourself in the front line on this battle before it’s you they’re coming for. I’d suggest you start with your representatives, especially if they are Democrats. Let them know that we will not tolerate the theft of our fundamental right to privacy and freedom over our bodies and we will not tolerate the criminalization of pregnancy. Pro-choice isn’t a choice; it’s the only viable option when we weigh personal liberty against the purpose of the government and law. Someone who already exists has their personhood established and protected and cannot be forced to die or imprisoned for failure to carry a fetus to term.
After the screaming has stopped, in the end we are left with the fact that allowing the government to restrict a woman’s freedom and liberty in order to legislate the morality of some sets a precedent most would not like to have exercised upon them. Abortion is a fundamental right that allows each woman to make a personal choice for her health and life. You don’t have to agree that it is the right choice, simply that legal and safe abortion must be an option open to women in order to preserve all individuals’ freedom over their bodies.
Correction: (Today is the 39th Anniversary of Roe V Wade).
Ms. Jones is the co-founder/ editor-in-chief of PoliticusUSA and a member of the White House press pool.
Sarah hosts Politicus News and co-hosts Politicus Radio. Her analysis has been featured on several national radio, television news programs and talk shows, and print outlets including Stateside with David Shuster, as well as The Washington Post, The Atlantic Wire, CNN, MSNBC, The Week, The Hollywood Reporter, and more.
Sarah is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists.