Meredith Carroll: Choice is for men, pro-choice is for the privileged
“It’s both historic and futuristic at the same time,” Peggy Scott said of the glow from the first building she ever saw illuminated by electricity.
Scott’s remarks, although in HBO’s historical 1880s drama “The Gilded Age,” remain applicable in the 2020s with the unraveling of women’s reproductive rights. The steaming pile of men — and Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert — trying to legislate control of women is like a relic of yesteryear mixed with a dystopian tomorrow except that it is, in fact, happening now.
Last week, I spoke with one of my dearest friends of 30-plus years about the abortion she had when we were 16.
“I remember picking you up that afternoon,” I told her. Her boyfriend had taken her for the procedure on a Saturday morning and then afterward she reported to her part-time job. He lost track of time playing basketball with friends so she called me for a ride home when her work ended.
“I remember the protesters screaming at me when we walked in and out of the clinic,” she said.
Even though that was when the newly elected President George H.W. Bush threatened to drag women back to the dark days of clothes hangers and back alleys, I don’t think it occurred to either of us that getting an abortion would have been more difficult than figuring out the fundamentals of logistics.
Of course we knew then that it would not have been impossible: We were upper middle-class suburban white girls who once made it to a Grateful Dead show one state away in a car where neither the driver nor the passengers were old enough for an actual license — and we got back home by curfew. If we had needed additional funding, transportation or even parental permission to terminate a pregnancy, we had the extraordinary benefit of options as well as many loving adults in our lives who I just know would have ultimately helped facilitate a safe resolution.
It is the preposterous way that women are being controlled and involuntarily divested of choices that makes access to safe abortions increasingly hapless. Take Alabama, for example, which would like women to pee in a cup to prove their wombs are empty before buying medical marijuana. The Idaho Senate approved a bill that would entitle “a sibling of the preborn” to sue the abortion provider for a minimum of $20,000. On Tuesday, Oklahoma lawmakers made it a felony punishable by up to 10 years in a prison and a six-figure fine to perform an abortion except for “medical emergencies.” Missouri is trying to outlaw residents from obtaining abortions out of state. Texas, bless its heart, dropped the murder charges on Monday against a woman who allegedly performed a self-induced abortion. Colorado is one of the few beacons of reproductive hope thanks to Gov. Jared Polis, who signed into law guaranteed access to reproductive care before and after pregnancy and prohibited local governments from imposing restrictions.
If only all the lawmakers were legitimately trying to protect women’s health, or even the contents of their uteruses. Rather, what is happening is a misguided imposition of narrow religious beliefs coupled with a tsunami of “anti-woke” legislation that is the chosen political dog whistle of the 2022 midterms elections. Alas, it has been proven endlessly that eliminating legal abortions does not mean more women will safely carry their pregnancies to term. As well, there is not less underage sex when sex education is forbidden in the classroom. Likewise, banning free birth control pills and condoms does not reduce the frequency of unwanted pregnancies. (While we’re at it, suppressing conversations about sexuality and gender identity does not prevent gayness. Really.)
Not one of the anti-abortion legislations forcing women to give birth would also guarantee her social supports for an easier life. On the contrary, the oppressive measures all but ensure more problems. Abortion would still not be impossible for my friend or me today despite laws weakening access to it in dozens of states plus a mass of other pending laws that threaten to strip women of the liberty to make private medical decisions.
Should the Supreme Court overturn or dramatically subvert the constitutional freedom women have enjoyed over their bodies for 49 years, as they are expected to do this summer, abortion will still never be entirely unachievable. It will just be dirty, difficult, demoralizing and dangerous, especially for women of color and poor women, for whom the difference between impossible and impractical can be devastatingly life-altering.
“Reproductive justice has always been more than just being ‘pro-choice,’” Monica Simpson, executive director of SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective, wrote in a guest opinion essay for The New York Times. “To be pro-choice you must have the privilege of having choices.”
More at MeredithCarroll.com and on Twitter @MCCarroll.