As a feminist activist, back in grad school and today, my pet cause has been reproductive justice — not reproductive rights, but reproductive justice, “the human right to maintain personal bodily autonomy, have children, not have children, and parent the children we have in safe and sustainable communities.” I’m quoting here from the website of the Sistersong Collective; they first coined the term to incorporate the lived experience of WOC.
Now, I don’t mean in any way to co-opt this term or downplay the singular struggle of WOC and other marginalized women — especially given that many who share my identity of WWD are always in danger of having their reproductive rights violated. But as we get further into the new millennium, there has been a unilateral erosion of reproductive rights for all women in the United States. And yes, that includes the college-educated, married, Caucasian ones.
Recently, word came down from our Beelzebub-in-Chief that as of Oct. 6, an interim rule was now in effect that, in the words of Aaron E. Carroll of the Times, “weakens the mandate for health coverage of contraception under the Affordable Care Act, giving more leeway to employers with religious or moral objections.”
Terrific. Moving on.
The following is a passage from an article that ran last week in the Washington Post:
Abstinence-only education — which attempts to teach young people not to have sex outside marriage and often does not include material on birth control and safe sex — began receiving federal funding in the 1980s. Funding increased when George W. Bush was president. His successor, President Barack Obama, attempted to end the program and direct money to comprehensive sexual education, but the Republican-led Congress kept it alive. Now abstinence education gets about $90 million in federal funds annually, and this past summer, President Donald Trump cut more than $200 million in federal grants to scores of organizations that work to decrease teen pregnancy rates, which could affect sex education programs in some areas.
I did a massive research project on sex education during my freshman year of college. And I can tell you that AOSE, as opposed to comprehensive sexuality education, is, unequivocally, the worst thing you can do for your child if you want them to be in good health and stay that way throughout their reproductive lives. Keep this in mind.
And that’s not all: Earlier this month, Congress passed a bill outlawing abortion taking place 20 weeks or more post-conception: It “would punish abortion providers with up to five years in prison for terminating a pregnancy after 20 weeks’ gestation.”
What motivates this? An interest in human rights for unborn children? Science tells us that’s not so: To quote a Mother Jones article from 2016, “The majority of the scientific literature on the subject finds that the brain connections required to feel pain are not formed until at least 24 weeks,” i.e., a full month later.
Now, you will recall that Roe v. Wade (1973) solidified legal protection of the right to have an abortion up to 12 weeks into a chronological pregnancy; by that measure, we’re no worse off than we were before. What I find troubling about this is that some of our lawmakers have now gone on the record vis-à-vis their feelings about expanding women’s rights related to reproduction — and they aren’t feelings of support.
It seems to me that this is part of a more significant, more insidious effort to create a culture that responds punitively to the exercising of one’s reproductive rights, which arises from an ultimate desire to revoke such rights — and with it, our reproductive justice — altogether.
A real-life ‘Handmaid’s Tale’
This past spring, my mom and I became obsessed with the adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s novel The Handmaid’s Tale that aired on the streaming service Hulu. Every Wednesday afternoon (she and I both work from home), we’d sit in the family room and watch the newest installment of this jewel of small-screen speculative fiction, pressing ‘pause’ about five times over the course of an episode to discuss the feminist implications of a particular moment or commiserate over how hauntingly close to home the show was hitting.
After watching the first few episodes (the initial ones were released simultaneously), my mom, who read the book years ago, asked me, a newcomer to the story, what I thought.
I told her that I liked it, but, of course, it wasn’t very realistic. In real life, I reminded her, we don’t have to worry about a backward revolution overthrowing the U.S. government, tearing up the constitution, and effectively reducing women to their reproductive function, allowing them neither jobs nor even hobbies requiring any appreciable amount of intellectual engagement.
However, my mom explained how in danger we, in reality, are in the current U.S. political climate of losing our liberty. And last week, she started saying out loud what I think many of us have subconsciously feared for a long time: that these moves to erode our reproductive rights exist to force women out of the market, i.e., the labor market. No pun intended.
By treating each attack on American reproductive rights as regrettable but existing in a vacuum, we inure ourselves to the concept of undermined reproductive justice as a normal fact of life under the fascist regime that is the Trump administration. If we’re not careful, we’re going to end up just like Atwood’s eponymous handmaids: isolated, powerless, and nothing more than glorified incubators.