WOMEN v. LIBERTYEQUALITY DAY 2022
Women’s Equality Day
After The Supreme Court’s reversal of the constitutional right to make personal decisions about childbirth, one of the largest groups effected by this decision — American women — face century-old questions: what is their role in the society and why is there no lasting support for their rights?
The Constitution v. 2022
In January of 1973, the Supreme Court issued a decision in Roe v. Wade that any state law that prohibited abortion, up to a certain point in pregnancy, was unconstitutional. The argument was won on the premise that a right to an abortion was based on the right to privacy protected by the 14th Amendment which forbids depriving any person of liberty without due process of law or denying any person the equal protection of the law. The Supreme Court through history used the 14th Amendment to endorse many rights that are not explicitly stated in the Constitution of 1787, including the right to privacy.
Indeed, the Constitution does not contain the word “abortion” and the 14th Amendment doesn’t explicitly mention the right to privacy – the two arguments that the conservatives around the country are making today. We can also argue that the Constitution does not define the word “liberty”, nor does it explain which parts of liberty we should and should not include in its meaning. In addition, for half a century, The Supreme Court recognized privacy as a natural part of an individual’s liberty, and Americans have built their lives around that assumption. Were American women wrong in assuming that the Constitution’s language about liberty included them as well?
Politics v. Abortion
Today, abortion is one of the most divisive issues in American politics. In the early 1970s, however, Republicans were largely pro-choice, and the majority of both parties agreed that abortion was a decision to be made by a woman and her physician.
Also, in the 1970s, evangelic citizens, who comprise the backbone of today’s pro-life movement, were politically indifferent, and even Roe v. Wade did not galvanize them into politics. After all, the Bible was silent on abortion, and the anti-abortion movement belonged mainly to Catholics. However, in the mid-70s, the IRS finally withdrew a tax exemption status from all religious institutions engaged in discriminatory practices, such as segregation. It pushed white evangelicals to organize against the government to defend racial segregation in evangelical institutions. Conservative activists jumped on the opportunity to recruit dissatisfied white evangelicals to grow the Republican party. But how can one build a narrative that the overreaching government is bad on the premise of defending racial discrimination? What could be offered to the religious white conservatives as a solid cover for their racism?
The eureka moment hit the Republicans in 1978, five years after Roe — abortion was a palatable way to form the religion right in American politics. The Moral Majority Group was born, and it threw its support behind the Republican party and their presidential candidate – Ronald Reagan. Regan, who prior supported abortion, was forced to change his views and become the father of the pro-life movement, turning a personal moral dilemma and bodily autonomy into a political argument. Like Reagan – Bush, Clinton, and Biden reversed their stances on abortion to match their party’s ideological views when they sought presidential nominations.
The Supreme Court v. Public Opinion
The majority of Americans today support some form of abortion. The Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe goes against the view of most Americans. Supported by this ruling, many republican states are gearing up to ban all forms of abortion, with no exception.
The Supreme Court was meant to be insulated from public opinion to protect minority rights. Nevertheless, we grew accustomed to trust that The Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Constitution is grounded in the evolution we have made as a nation.
To the contrary, Justice Alito, who led the overturn of Roe, cites in his opinion several texts from the 12th to the 19th centuries to establish that the early American legal system was opposed to abortion. He also quotes a legal authority who presided over a witchcraft trial in the 1600s, where he sentenced two women to death. One struggles to understand why ancient and obsolete legal practices should govern our existence today. It also creates a concern that the current Supreme Court and its interpretation of the Constitution will rollback other established rights and protections.
Rethinking Pro-choice Activism
At its core, Roe v. Wade was about how much states were prohibited from regulating and banning abortions. By reversing Roe, the Supreme Court sends the decision back to the states. Therefore, local politics and state courts present an opportunity to organize, mobilize and defend abortion access for anyone who can become pregnant and needs such choice. Contemporary Americans have a great ability to influence mass communication and the political environment. People are more open to being persuaded by peers and family members than by politicians. And there are a lot of arguments we can make: forced pregnancies are crimes against humanity, overturning Roe violates the principle of judicial restraint; if fetuses have personhood, why can’t we deduct them on our tax returns? Ruth Ginsburg pointed out herself that the right in Roe should have been grounded in equality rather than in privacy. It is another opportunity to organize and support the proposed 28th Amendment to the Constitution on equal rights to ensure that the Constitutional language of “We The People” is truly inclusive.
We are facing long political struggles in many states and the federal government, which will require our commitment for the long haul, and our votes are going to matter more than ever.
On the end of Roe v. Wade:
Abortions save lives. The reversal of Roe v. Wade will not stop abortions; it will just put more women and people with uteruses at risk. This decision is one of the most regressive the Supreme Court has ever made. Not only does it prevent women and people with uteruses from having complete autonomy over their bodies, but it threatens their very mortality. It’s simply not an issue that old white men should be making any decisions about.
On the intersectionality of social progress issues:
Some other causes I care about are climate change, and wealth and class inequality, which are all intersectional at their core. Even before this ruling, it was hard for poor people and BIPOC women to get abortions. It’s impossible to address one issue without leading into another and finding a common denominator. I don’t feel like it’s specifically the responsibility of women to get us out of this situation, because it’s on everyone to educate themselves and commit to providing safe health care for everyone.
On overturning the right to an abortion:
The realization that this issue was still being debated in this present day world felt surreal to me. It was extremely disgusting and upsetting to observe the extent to which those in authoritative positions would go to further suppress the people they are elected to protect. Bodily autonomy is a human right and people should be able to make their own choices about childbirth.
On affordable access to period products:
Period poverty is a cause of inequality I care about a lot right now. Menstruation is a normal biological process that people experience, however essential products for managing it are unaffordable and taxed on top of that, which makes it difficult for some to have access to appropriate resources. This lack restricts people from achieving good quality of life. This is another issue that could be addressed with comprehensive reproductive healthcare and legal rights.
On the elimination of right to choice:
It’s a decision that will impact this country in ways we can’t predict. As a trans woman, I’ve seen the hurt and suffering the Supreme Court’s decision has had on the LGBTQ+ community. So many trans men, nonbinary, and intersex people are left feeling even more abandoned by the government than ever before. Personal decisions about childbirth impact women of all paths. Cis women are the largest group to be historically denied their bodily rights and I’ve always felt our sisterhood burning in our hearts, especially when fighting these battles.
This all stems from old white men making decisions about all of our bodies. Women should have been in charge of their own bodies from the beginning. Everyone should have bodily autonomy and no one else should get to police someone else’s. I’m an intersectional feminist because I believe that in this patriarchal society, we all have common enemies we have to fight together to be able to be left alone to live our lives, and not merely survive as we’ve been made to.
On addressing the insidious international problem of domestic violence:
So many women have faced constant violence throughout their lives. The cause I care most about is stopping the rampant abuse of women. It’s bad here in the US, but it’s even worse in countries like Mexico, where I’m from. I’ve seen the cruelest of violence and brainwashing. It’s terrifying. Women think it’s their fault when they’re abused, leading them to stay in these situations until they’re impossible to endure.
What we can do is try to show them the way out: congregate, be a pillar of strength, and a light at the end of the tunnel for these victims. Show them the resources, help them come forward, and leave these situations. In the grand scheme of things, we have to teach each other to not take anymore abuse. It is not “normal”. We can build more resources, have these conversations, be more present in the media, and break the evil spell of our abusers. The only way to move forward is to learn from the past, heal, and never look back.
On democratic representation in the Supreme Court:
If this is a true democracy, I would like to see significant representation in the demographics of the individuals coming to these Supreme Court decisions. It’s imperative to see women who look like me, you, and all the other women in this country at the center of these conversations regarding our own health and bodily autonomy. These critical advancements in the law regarding women’s rights should only ever be the result of discussions made by those who have an understanding of human rights, medicine, and the importance of intersectionality.
I strongly believe in the right to safe, legal, and effective access to all health practices and procedures that support a woman’s right to health, a right that we are all entitled to under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
On fostering successful American immigration stories through education:
My parents immigrated here from Algeria as recipients of the US diversity lottery. With less than $200 and no English language ability, it was their unwavering commitment to education that allowed them to realize their goals, and provide me with the opportunities to achieve the same. This instilled within me the life changing value that education can have on someone’s life and inspired me to be an advocate for the right to equal access to education.
This year in New York City, I started a mentorship program dedicated to first generation immigrant and refugee high school girls. The Older Sister Initiative is designed to pair young women from these backgrounds up with a mentor or “older sister,” from our diverse team of graduate women working in various academic and professional fields. Through one-on-one mentorship and English as a Second Language (ESL) support, we aim to help these young women cultivate the tools they need to navigate the US education system, and achieve their academic, career, and social-emotional goals. It’s been incredibly motivating to work on this collaborative project with such a diverse network of female mentors, many of which are also children of immigrants.
On the Supreme Court’s reversal of the constitutional right to make personal decisions about childbirth:
It’s devastating. A part of what makes it so devastating is how tired we are. A complete and total shit-storm has been engulfing this country for years, and when things keep piling up and getting worse, it feels like they go away quicker or are discussed less, because everyone is so exhausted. Since the Reagan administration, the religious right and people like Karl Rove, have been planning systemic change like this. The growth of the Evangelical movement (there’s a new super-church every two days in America) has been completely primed for something like this to happen. I think it’s disgusting.
On inequality in women’s rights spaces:
As a dyke, I’ve always been very sensitive to conversations about women’s movements and lesbian, bi, and transgender inclusion in women’s rights spaces. Too often, conversations about women’s rights don’t consider or encircle gay and trans people. Some groups have limits on what constitutes womanhood and some believe that to define womanhood, politically or sexually, means to deemphasize the word entirely. The exclusion of women that blur the edges of whatever people consider “legitimate” in terms of womanhood goes very intensely against the point. It makes women’s rights spaces smaller and more inaccessible, especially to voices who could provide context and points of view that are essential to consider when striving for genuine economic, political, and social change.
On being a full-fledged feminist and ally:
It’s not enough to just say, “We should listen to each other!” You can’t listen to someone who is different from you, really listen, until you consider, wonder, and deconstruct what has you apprehensive to hear them out in the first place. Consider why you might think you’re a real feminist comparatively to groups of queer women. It’s hard work.
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