“There is more than one kind of freedom,” said Aunt Lydia. “Freedom to and freedom from. In the days of anarchy, it was freedom to. Now you are being given freedom from. Don’t underrate it.” – Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale
The Handmaid’s Tale is a novel written in the 1980s’ but still relevant today. The main character, a woman who’s name is never revealed in the book, is living in what was the United States after a violent coup. The country is run by right-wing religious fanatics. Women no longer are allowed to read, go to work or school, or be out in public by themselves. They must be under the control of a man, and the main character is forced to become a surrogate mother for one of the ruling families in the new regime.
Atwood was inspired to write the novel during the administrations of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. Both made speeches about returning to traditional values, and religious conservatives fought to overturn Roe v. Wade, contraception, and the sexual revolution, among other things they didn’t like about the 60’s and 70’s. Women gaining more freedom with their own reproductive rights was certainly high on the list of things they didn’t like. Then, On January 22, 1972 the United States became a little more civilized when the Supreme Court ruled that a woman’s health care choices were protected by the 14th amendment’s due process clause.
Before Roe v. Wade, anyone working in the health care in the 50’s and 60’s knew the truth about how much women suffered under laws designed to make it impossible for them to end an unwanted pregnancy. Unless you had enough money. The even more ironic thing was a safe method for ending pregnancy existed, but doctors were forbidden to use it. Unless you had enough money. Instead, women relied on unsafe methods that often did terrible damage or even killed the woman. Most ambulance calls at this time were responding to a woman bleeding to death from a botched, self-induced abortion.
Laws banning abortion didn’t exist in any state until the 19th century. By 1900, every state had a version of a law banning abortion, but the exception was always in cases of rape or incest, or if you had enough money. Birth control was also widely used to stop unwanted pregnancies once safe contraceptives became available. Couples who chose to use them were considered being responsible, not murderers.
The United States is seeing another offensive from the religious right anti-choice faction trying to force women into becoming an underclass in this country. States like Michigan with Republican majority legislatures currently want to pass personhood laws with the false claim that life begins at conception. Last year the infamous “rape rider” insurance law was passed through a loophole, depriving Michigan women of insurance coverage for abortions even in cases of rape or incest. Right to Life lied to people that Obamacare would allow federal tax dollars to pay for abortion, despite the Hyde Amendment banning that since 1976.
Right to Life wants people to forget what it was like before Roe v. Wade made it legal for all women to receive abortions, especially if they didn’t have lots of money. Today, it’s becoming more difficult for low-income women to receive reproductive health care thanks to the efforts of the anti-choice religious right, the tea party, and politicians who say they don’t like abortion to get people to vote for them. In the media, the false term, ‘unborn baby’ is used instead of the proper clinical term, ‘fetus’, cementing even more in people’s minds that an infant is being killed. Nothing of the kind happens with an abortion at all.
The anti-choice movement has nothing to do with preserving life. It’s purpose is to shame women for being independent and making their own choices about their bodies. When politicians talk about “traditional” families or roles for women, they mean women staying home and doing what a man tells them to do. A local church held a mock funeral for all of the aborted fetuses the Sunday before the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, complete with a tiny coffin on the altar. There were the usual demonstrations, and politicians attempting to pass abusive laws restricting women’s reproductive freedom. All of this is done claiming they have to do this or suffer the wrath of their deity.
If someone doesn’t want to have an abortion, they don’t have to have one. That’s what the word choice means. For all of the conservative rhetoric about allowing people more freedom to make choices, when it comes to women making their own health care choices these same conservatives become very expansive with the law. Anti-choicers don’t care about children. If they did, they wouldn’t demand cutting the very services that help women raise healthy children. The purpose of the anti-choice movement is about controlling women, depriving them of their civil rights and rendering them into an underclass in society. Pro-choice Michiganians need to become active again and put an end to this dangerous trend. Don’t want an abortion? Don’t have one. Your invisible sky alien doesn’t give you authority over my body.