We have returned to the situation of 50 years ago, when abortion was available only in some regions of some states. As an abortion counselor in southern Illinois in the 1970s, the author raised money to pay for women to travel to St. Louis for an abortion and took the journey herself on two occasions. Now Missourians, faced with a total abortion ban, travel to that same Illinois town to get abortions.
We are reprising women’s struggle to access abortion and other forms of healthcare. Although misogyny has never faced death in the United States, female gendered persons, cis or otherwise, are under renewed assault.
We live in an era where reproductive rights are increasingly limited for people with uteri. Not only was federally guaranteed legal access to abortion reversed by the Supreme Court (SCOTUS) in June 2022, but contraception access also is under threat, and pregnant and potentially pregnant people are being surveilled and incarcerated by some states.
Hospitals are refusing to perform tubal ligations mothers request after giving birth. State government and private agencies in Missouri, for example, are using digital technology to peer into search history and GPS data on phones and texts and are monitoring online shopping habits and social media activities to see how women are strategizing to access abortions.
Texas civil law provides a bounty of up to $10,000 to those successfully suing anyone who has helped a pregnant Texan get an abortion. Florida just narrowly defeated a requirement that female high school athletes would be forced to share detailed menstrual information to school administrators—to show they’re “real” women and to monitor their pregnancy status.
The Centers for Disease Control’s just published Youth Risk Behavior Survey found that 18% of teen women experienced sexual violence in the past year, up 20% since 2017; 14% had been forced to have sex, a 27% increase since 2019.
Eleven states that have outlawed abortion do not grant an exception for pregnancies resulting from rape and incest. Even in states that do, victims are discovering that authorities are loath to give and hospitals are afraid to apply for these exemptions.
Every year, about 50,000 ectopic pregnancies end up in hospitals. These pregnancies are never viable and always lethal to the mother if not aborted.
Some states now require the end of fetal heartbeats before an abortion can be performed. And that means taking time to convene a death panel to decide when ectopic abortion can be performed and the mother’s life saved.
The most common form (54%) of abortion in the United States now, via two Food and Drug Administration–approved medications, a form that has been used millions of times since 2000, could be made illegal at any moment. A Trump-appointed right-wing evangelical judge in Amarillo, Texas, will rule in late February on a lawsuit that would make mifepristone, one of the two drugs, illegal. The second drug, misoprostol, can be used alone.
An increasingly powerful tripartite of players is involved in the contemporary reproduction legal battles.
One group is the dark money–funded organizations that are designed to file lawsuits. Three among many are the Alliance Defending Freedom, the Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine and the Christian Medical and Dental Associations. The Alliance Defending Freedom has had 14 wins at the Supreme Court in 12 years. One of those wins protects such organizations from disclosing its donors.
A second group is the Christian right-wing law firms who represent the filers.
The third is the group of right-wing judges willing to hear these cases.
Many times, central players in these cases have histories with all three groups. In the mifepristone case, Matthew Kacsmaryk is the theocratic Trump-appointed judge in the northern Texas district court in Amarillo. He comes from representing exactly the kind of Christian legal advocacy group that argues such cases and is a member of the Federalist Society.
Moreover, designated as the only judge in the northern Texas district to receive cases, Kacsmaryk has total control of which cases go forward. He has exercised his unlimited authority many times. Twice he has ruled that the “remain in Mexico” policy had to be reinstated.
He has struck down new guidelines protecting transgender people in the workplace, and he ruled that teens under 18 need parental protection to get contraception from federally funded clinics. Appeals of his decisions go to the Fifth Circuit, which is full of Republican appointees, and we now know how appeals to SCOTUS will likely turn out.
Concern for the well-being of fetuses does not extend to the bodies and persons of those—overwhelmingly women—who carry and nurture pregnancies and deliver and care for babies. Fetal content of uteri has assumed nearly holy status, and fetuses are gaining legal protections.
Women are being sent to jail for aborting and miscarrying. Alabama is using a chemical endangerment law designed to prevent children being raised in meth labs to accuse women of making their wombs toxic.
At least 44 women with addiction issues have been imprisoned in Alabama, South Carolina and Oklahoma after miscarriages or stillbirths, even when fetuses were too young to be viable. These are nearly the only cases where drug use, not possession or sales, has been criminalized.
Apparently, women are to be pure vessels for holy fetuses. No one imprisons sperm-producing bodies for using drugs.
Feminist Activist Strategies
Reproductive justice entails that we need to work for subsidized childcare, guaranteed paid sick leave and an expansion of the Family and Medical Leave Act. And to counter the trends outlined above, the following work is necessary:
- Redefine how legislative districts are redrawn and monitor election processes and vote counting.
- Increase the number of justices on the Supreme Court.
- Pass laws that go beyond the Constitution’s limited protections.
- Expand access to medication abortion, clandestinely where necessary, where they are illegal.
- Strengthen legal education that produces lawyers who work for reproductive justice.
- Support SisterSong, the women of color and indigenous women’s reproductive justice network.
- Support Women on Waves and its spinoff, Women on Web, which provide abortion services to women who can’t access them.
- Reclaim know-how and the right to do our own low-tech abortions and teach others these skills, underground, if necessary, as did the Federation of Feminist Health Centers in the 1970s and 1980s. Educate ourselves to take our healthcare into our own hands, to manage contraception, abortion, pregnancy, birth and post–birth care so that we are not dependent on finding willing doctors and hospitals.
The late Democratic Socialist activist and author Barbara Ehrenreich, who earned a Ph.D. in cellular biology, once quipped that given the Supreme Court’s interest in fertilized eggs, and the fact that 60% or more of those are washed out of uteri in menstrual blood, women ought to send their used menstrual pads and tampons to SCOTUS so they could protect possible future geniuses. Indeed, as life doesn’t begin at conception—both eggs and sperm are alive—sperm producers too should be monitored for ejaculation when baby-making will not result.
French writer Annie Ernaux, the 2022 Nobel Laureate in Literature, provides another suggestion. In an October interview, she observed that the United States, which legalized abortion before France did, has “returned to savagery.”
In her book about her abortion, she noted that she feels a total lack of guilt. For years, she held anniversary celebrations! The more we speak of our abortions and for abortion access, the less shame and greater freedom exists.
National Condom Week occurred in mid-February. Sadly, another marker of women being burdened with full responsibility for the outcomes of heterosex is revealed as some California women’s health centers are handing out condoms to their clients—women. It seems men can’t even be relied on to find and use these.