I rarely write about so-called women’s issues. I think this is because I don’t really feel qualified since I am not a woman. That’s the effect identity politics has had on me and much of the rest of the left( and not so left). However, this is one of those instances where what appears to be a women’s issue is actually much more than that. Much much more. I’m talking about the recent law passed by the South Dakota legislature outlawing abortions. This law, which makes all abortion illegal in the state of South Dakota, is one of the most reactionary pieces of legislation ever passed in the United States.
It seems like it came from another country–perhaps a protofascist version of Superman’s Bizarroworld. Or maybe Hitler’s Germany. You know, the place of the three K’s (that’s right KKK). Those K’s stood for Kinder, Kirche und Kuche (Children, church and kitchen)–the only three places women belonged in the mind of the Nazis.. The sad truth is it did not originate in either of these places. It’s happening here in the United States. And the opposition is quiet. Or at least it isn’t being heard.
Now, I’m no fan of abortion. Then again, I’m not a woman or a girl, so I will never get pregnant. So, I am a supporter of women’s right to choose. The way I remember the whole abortion question is that it started with a demand for free and accessible birth control to all those capable of creating a child. Somehow along the way it became a demand for abortion on demand. Ultimately, it resolved itself in the Supreme Court decision known as Roe v. Wade. Which brings us back to that recently passed law in South Dakota. Roe v. Wade is a decision that should stand. The legislators who passed the South Dakota law (and the interests they represent) have made it very clear that the primary reason they wrote and passed the law was so that it would be challenged in court. Of course, their hope is that it will end up in the Supreme Court–where it will be heard and result in the end of women’s right to choose in the United States.
This is hard for the young people of today to comprehend. They have always lived in a society where a girl or woman could get an abortion if the circumstances of her life necessitated it. Until recently, in fact, making that choice was a decision made by the girl or woman and her doctor (and family if she desired to include them). The past decade has seen some restricting of this right–most notably for girls under the age of 18. Some states have even amended their laws to require that the woman seeking this procedure notify the man that impregnated her, even if she had nothing to do with him after the sexual encounter.
For you hetero men out there, imagine this. You are a single person with minimal means of support (a more common situation than many people know) and you have just discovered that you will be required to raise an infant from birth to adulthood. You have no idea who the mother of the child is and, even if you did, you know that she wouldn’t give you the time of day, especially now that you have a child. Furthermore, you are barely able to afford your rent and have no idea how you will pay for the child’s food, clothing, diapers, and child care. If you quit your job and go on assistance, you know how difficult it will be to ever get yourself out of that merry-go-round, since they make you work and then barely give you enough money for expenses. You parents might help but they have their own monetary problems. After all, they’re not rich either. When you look around, you see the hypocrisy of a culture that pretends to love children yet fails to provide the working poor with the means to care for them. Then imagine (just for a minute longer here guys) that you were a woman in the same situation who had the possibility of ending the pregnancy eight months earlier. It’s not that you would have done so, but it’s also important that you have that choice. Like the graffiti says: “If men got pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament.”
The phenomenon represented by the passage of the South Dakota law is at least as old as St. Paul. I’d say it goes back to the Garden of Eden, but that whole Genesis story was written much later to serve the purposes of a hierarchy that continues to inform our thought today. Somewhere in Genesis there is another woman named Sofia (in the Greek) and she didn’t come from any body’s rib. Indeed, she came into being either before or at the same time as that guy named Adam. But that’s another story. Back to the one where I mention St. Paul. The phenomenon represented by Paul and his descendants is in a word misogynist. Women’s only role in that world is to bear children, raise them and serve man. Decades of struggle over the last two centuries erased some of that impulse. It’s hard for many folks born after 1965 in the US and other parts of the world to remember a time when women didn’t drive buses, work construction, wear police uniforms, and assume prominent positions in government. While it’s still mostly white men that are employed in most of the aforementioned professions, their numbers are less than a half-century ago.
In terms of sexuality, women were expected to be docile and keep their body covered. St. Paul instructed women to keep their heads covered in church and keep their bodies covered everywhere else. The Puritan fathers in the American colonies insisted on chastity and obedience from all women in the colony. Those who acted otherwise risked being hung as witches. The Victorian image of women placed them on a pedestal with the queen or in the brothel with the prostitute. The United States of the 1950s kept their women under suburban house arrest while it ogled Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell on the silver screen. Working women were somewhere between the suburban queen and the red light hooker (another kind of working woman). Women of color were not even on the larger radar screen. Birth control was illegal in most places, abortions were dangerous and illegal, and divorceés were damaged goods.
So, what’s my point? Simply this: the campaign against abortion is but the most obvious front in the fundamentalist right’s war to put women back where they belong. Like I said before, Hitler’s propaganda people lauded the three K’s for the women of the Third Reich. That’s right–Kinder, Kuche, und Kirche. Children, kitchen and church. These were the boundaries of the sphere for Nazi womanhood. These are the boundaries that most of those in the fight against women’s right to choose would like to impose on the women of the United States. If they succeed on this issue, how long will it be before they ban other more preferable forms of birth control? Already, a battle over so-called morning after pills is taking place in state legislatures and pharmacies across the nation. The struggle to maintain choice should go back to include its original demand–accessible and safe birth control for all those who wish to avail themselves of it. If this happened, abortions might really become the last choice of women and girls forced to make that decision.
Most of the folks behind the fight to make abortion and other forms of birth control illegal don’t care that much about human life. Indeed, many of them are the most vocal supporters of Washington’s “war on terror.” There are exceptions. For example, Daniel Berrigan and some other Catholic antiwar activists oppose abortion on the same grounds that they oppose war. Since they believe life begins at conception, they believe that they must be consistent in their belief and oppose the procedure. However, most of the men (and most of the predominant figures in the anti-choice movement are men) who oppose abortion have no problem sending young adult men and women off to kill and die. No, their opposition to choice stems from a desire to control women and the evil an independent woman represents. South Dakota may seem far from where you live, both geographically and culturally, but its closer than you think.
RON JACOBS is author of The Way the Wind Blew: a history of the Weather Underground, which is just republished by Verso. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s new collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org