Bodily integrity and the conservative right


Six months after Brett Kavanaugh was elected to the Supreme Court despite several allegations of sexual harassment and attempted sexual assault, American law has once again displayed its growing anti-women’s rights sentiments as part of its national embrace of conservative values.

Alabama has joined Georgia in passing an incredibly restrictive abortion ban that criminalises abortion procedures at all stages, allowing for an exception only when the mother’s life is at serious risk.

No exceptions for pregnancy as a cause of rape or incest are permitted.

Similarly, Georgia passed the controversial ‘heartbeat law’ that bans abortion procedures (with exceptions for cases of rape and incest, providing a police report has been filed) once a heartbeat can be detected, which is usually at 6 weeks, long before many women know they are pregnant.

Women in Georgia and Alabama now enjoy less bodily integrity than corpses and blood donors; it is illegal to force someone to donate blood or organs against their will, yet it is increasingly common to not only force women to carry babies to term but to criminalise them if they refuse to do so.

Not to mention that under Trump’s administration contraception is fast becoming harder to access for many women.

The laws have sparked backlash from feminist, pro-choice groups, women across society and even pro-life supporters who do not believe that such an absolutist approach towards abortion is the correct one.

We cannot ignore the role played by women

America as a nation does not support Alabama’s and Georgia’s decisions, with a Politico poll finding 56% of Americans to be disapproving and only 33% in support. Aside from the obvious; that the lawmakers involved in both cases are overwhelmingly straight, white men, as is so often the case when it comes to the reproductive rights battle, we cannot ignore the role that women have also played in supporting these laws.

Out of 27 white, male Republicans that make up the 35 member Alabama Senate, 25 voted in support of the bill. Georgia’s senate tells a similar story. And yet, the Governor who signed Alabama’s bill into law is a woman, Gov. Kay Ivey, who directly acknowledges that the purpose of this law is to overturn the monumental Roe vs. Wade decision that protects women’s right to choose.

America is a democracy, with a democratic voting process that women can participate in (some more easily than others) and women therefore made up half of the electorate that voted conservative men into the senates of Georgia and Alabama.

Not all women fight for other women

The American pro-life perspective is not, as some like to suggest, simply a male-dominated movement to dismantle protected reproduction rights. Women are inextricable from the pro-life movement, including pro-life feminists.

In January the March for Life, parallel to the Women’s March, took to the streets. Led by a woman and comprised of many female pro-life advocators, the march was addressed by Donald Trump himself, committing to expand pro-life protections and veto any pro-abortion bills. 47% of women consider themselves pro-life, according to 2018 Gallup Polls, and the pro-life movement is strongest amongst conservative, religious women. The crack down on abortion rights is therefore not only a gendered issue, but a religious one.

It is easy to produce a narrative that negates the role of women in reducing the bodily integrity of other women. After all, men have historically been the ones making decisions over women’s healthcare and reproductive rights, with devastating consequences for many.

Men are generally held to a lower standard than women when it comes to responsibility over unwanted pregnancy or safe sex; and are often absent from the experience of pregnancy, childbirth and child caring, given that women tend to be the primary carer of their children.

How could men understand the terror of finding out about an unwanted pregnancy, with no options available other than giving birth?

Yet, the belief that presents pro-choice as being representative of the interests of all women is incorrect, as demonstrated above. And suddenly, the argument that women should be the ones making decisions about women’s bodily integrity is presented with an uncomfortable truth; not all women fight for other women. Some chose a foetus over a fully-formed woman who already has a life to live. And as feminists, our duty is to respect such choices, even if we find them incomprehensible or abhorrent.

I am not suggesting that this in any way justifies the attack taking place on the rights of women in America; far from it. To me, the choice of a women over what she can or cannot do with her body supersedes any right of an unborn foetus and any discomfort or outrage such choice may provoke amongst religious or conservative groups.

Yet the fact remains that America’s recent abortion stance is a patriarchal attack on women’s rights spearheaded by both men and women, facilitated by religious belief, class divide and racism. That does not make the debate more justifiable, but it does make it more dangerous. As women’s political representation rightly continues to strengthen, the assumption must never be made that all women will be better off as a result.

I’ll say it once again: women do not always fight for other women.

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