Listening to Stewart, the lawyer arguing in front of the Supreme Court for Mississippi brought back so many rallies and demonstrations where women have tried to protect their liberty and ownership of their own bodies. Stewart offered an originalist argument that the right to an abortion is not protected by the Constitution. And that is true – because as we know women’s rights are not protected anywhere in the original document. Women’s right to vote is only 100 years old. And the definition of man as also meaning woman is even more recent than that.
It was almost an out of body experience to hear this Mississippi man answer the questions of various members of the Supreme Court. At least this time there are women on the court, but not all the women are even old enough to remember a time before Roe v Wade became law. Amy Coney Barrett is not old enough. She did not take part in the women’s liberation movement that was a celebration of the birth control pill and of women’s new sense of freedom. She is a rather radical Catholic who testified that she would not be influenced by her religion, only by her politics. Her politics, however, are, I would argue, informed by her religious beliefs.
Scott Stewart, Solicitor General of Mississippi, did not want to make the intent of the Mississippi law to set back the date of viability for a child to 15 weeks a matter of religion. He claims that this is about science. He claims studies have proven that fetuses feel pain at 15 weeks. He claims that as our scientific methods improve, we will most likely learn that the date when human life begins is even sooner. Some rallying outside of the court want to set the date for the beginning of life at conception. Studies about fetal pain are not yet accepted science, though, since the only scientists who have observed this reaction are doing it to prove a pro-life argument, and because there is no way to know if there is an emotional response to a poke, or if it is simply a reflex. The cerebral cortex is not yet present at 15 weeks.
This case was brought by the Attorney General of Mississippi who explains that she is doing this for women also according to an article in The Washington Post . Since the world has changed and women are accepted as equals, women don’t have to give up their “beautiful babies” to “have it all.” They don’t have to commit murder in order to use their intelligence. Of course, the woman is a well-to-do white woman, but because she got divorced and had to raise three children on her own and hold various public offices, the conclusion she drew is that if she could do it anyone can. Apparently, we are going to vacate Roe v Wade, a law for 50 years, because of one governor’s anecdotal experience. Elizabeth Preloger, US Solicitor General, said, also according to The Washington Post, “the court has never revoked a right as ‘fundamental’ as abortion.”
Affluent women can travel to get an abortion outside of Mississippi. The women who will be hurt most by a revocation of Roe v Wade are women who are poor, women who work for low wages, women who may be in abusive relationships, women who are victims of rape or incest. The Attorney General of Mississippi may be a woman, but her life is very different from the women who will be most hurt by any changes to Roe.
The court is also contemplating letting each state decide about the point at which a fetus becomes viable whether it is when it can experience pain or when it can live outside of the womb. Although the case will not be decided today, given the composition of the court, women’s rights may take several steps or one big giant step backwards fairly soon. In fact, some Americans argue that since feelings on each side are so fraught, we really should not be tackling this with a Court that is considered to have political leanings. That seems like a very sensible observation. This Mississippi case is not the case on which the Court should be basing any decisions of such significance.
Here are some things that have been said about these issues by politicians and others in the not so distant past:
“Rape and incest are ‘minor problems’ when compared to abortion.’ GOP strategist Matt Mackowiak mansplained.
“Women who have abortions should be hanged,” according to conservative columnist Kevin Williamson.
“No doesn’t always mean no, if the man decides it doesn’t,” says aging right-wing slob Rush Limbaugh. (deceased).
“Emergency rooms erase rape,” claimed Texas Rep., Jodie Laudenberg in 2013.
“Women who use contraceptives are sluts and prostitutes.” Rush Limbaugh said in response to Sandra Fluke.
“Legitimate rape.” This oxymoron comes to us courtesy of Todd Akin. “From what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let’s assume maybe that doesn’t work or something. I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment should be on the rapist.”
“On this contraceptive thing, my Gosh, it’s such [sic] inexpensive. You know, back in my days, they used Bayer aspirin for contraception. The gals put it between their knees, and it wasn’t that costly,” said Foster Freiss a donor for Rick Santorum in 2012.
There are many more of these sadly uninformed male statements about crimes against women and about pregnancy in general. You can do an internet search if you want to be shocked some more.
If we take these backward steps, we will most likely find that we regret it and will have to protect women’s right to liberty once again. Abortion is not something a woman decides to do without anguish and careful consideration, but it is a woman’s issue and each woman who makes the decision takes on the consequences, whatever they may be.