In her memoir “Recollections of My Nonexistence,” Rebecca Solnit writes, “To be a young woman is to face your own annihilation in innumerable ways.” Nothing proves her point more powerfully than the debacle of the Supreme Court as it debated the likely demise of legal abortion in this country.
With stunning ignorance of and disregard for women’s lives, five men and one woman in black robes pontificated and danced around the real issue before them — women’s bodily integrity, agency and personhood. Instead, they reprised the overwhelming oppression of females that has existed for millennia in fear of women’s autonomy, thereby joining the generations of (mostly) men who view women as nothing more than state-owned semen vessels.
The argument before the court aimed at gutting 50 years of precedent in the matter of abortion reminded many women of the medieval practice of disappearing women into convents and monasteries and later into asylums where they were diminished, demoralized and drugged into passivity.
Imagine this: You are a woman with three children living in poverty when you have a contraceptive failure and are forced to carry the pregnancy to term. You are a woman 19 weeks pregnant with a much-wanted child when you learn that anomalies render the fetus unviable and continuing the pregnancy could endanger your own life, but you are denied an abortion. You are a college student who has been awarded a scholarship for advanced study when you realize you are pregnant. Denied a safe abortion, you schedule a clandestine, illegal one. You are a 13-year-old child who has been raped by her stepfather and is now told she must bear her rapist’s child.
Try to imagine living with the crippling fear these scenarios engender.
And yet the Supreme Court is trying mightily to hold women hostage because macho-male powerbrokers are so threatened by the idea of female agency that they must control women at all costs and condemn them for believing they are entitled to fully lived lives grounded in equality and human rights.
There is, of course, one woman among the six justices chomping at the bit to effect the demise of legally sanctioned abortion. She should have been able to relate to issues relevant to pregnancy, for she too has borne children, felt them wiggle in her belly, done the hard labor of delivering them into the world and loving them when they arrived. Yet she argued that women don’t need abortions because they can easily dump their newborn babies into adoption or foster care like so much detritus, while her male colleagues grappled with numbers, the vagaries of viability, and the rights of fetuses over living women.
The reckless and dangerous disregard for women’s lives and lived reality during the justices’ discourse was nothing short of staggering as it showcased America’s Taliban.
It was also shocking to hear Scott Stewart, lawyer for the state of Mississippi which seeks to limit abortion to 15 weeks as a gateway to overturning Roe v. Wade. His responses to questions from the justices were befuddled, obfuscating, superficial and just plain ridiculous. This is the man Donald Trump put in charge of immigrant detention centers without any qualifications for the job. Still, he was kept busy keeping monthly updated logs of females’ menstrual cycles during their incarceration to prevent legal abortions from happening.
How draconian can you get?
The foundation of entrenched, continuing misogyny women face yet again is what women like Emmeline Pankhurst and Alice Paul fought for when they risked their lives for women’s suffrage, what Margaret Sanger sacrificed in her fight for contraception and sex education, what Second Wave feminists fought for when they marched in every country in the world before, during and after the UN Decade for Women. It is what women like Virginia Woolf, Tillie Olson, Betty Friedan, Carol Gilligan, Carolyn Heilbrunn, Audrey Lorde and the multitudes who preceded or followed them wrote about: the trivialization, objectification, marginalization and silencing of over half the population in this country and elsewhere.
None of us who have been in the trenches for years fighting for equality, autonomy, economic justice, reproductive health care (which includes abortion), privacy, choices and other basic human rights — all of which are at risk with this Supreme Court — thought we’d find ourselves back to Square One in this moment, living in fear, facing limited opportunities and the denial of our chosen paths. Never did we imagine that in the 21st century we would again live with the oppression of patriarchal power, such that sexism, racism and violence prevail.
When Justice Sonia Sotomayor asked this question during the SCOTUS debate, “Will this institution survive the stench that this creates in the public perception that the Constitution and its reading are just political acts?” she was asking a question so vital that it could have an impact on the outcome of the case being considered.
That question also invoked the patriarchy and misogyny that once again prevail as a dominating force in women’s lives. Sadly, especially for our daughters and granddaughters, the stench of annihilation is likely to be with us far into the future.
Elayne Clift writes about women, health and social issues from Vermont. Learn more at www.elayne-clift.com.