Women’s issues: Reproductive rights are human rights

Photo credit to the author

Photo credit to the author

By Isabel Gibson Penrose, Opinions Editor

March is Women’s History Month, and in honor of all the women who have fought for the rights I have today I will be writing an article about a different issue facing women every week of March. This week’s topic is reproductive rights.

Over the summer I attended an event put on by a group known as Feminists for Life. Their tagline is “Refuse to Choose – Women Deserve Better Than Abortion.” I went to their event because I was genuinely interested in what they wanted the feminist movement to be and what their alternative to abortion was. Hoping to be pleasantly surprised (would they talk about more education? Free condoms and birth control for everyone?) I went in with an open mind.

Over the course of the afternoon four mothers spoke, each spinning a tale of how wonderful their life as a mother was and how glad they were to have refused to get an abortion. They intoned that society tells young women they are not ready for motherhood, but every young woman is ready. Bizarrely, none of the speakers mentioned a single form birth control. Even more bizarrely, none of the speakers acknowledged that maybe some women don’t want to be mothers. Not when they’re young – ever. They also didn’t acknowledge that 61 percent of women who get abortions already have a child and that maybe there are legitimate reasons to want to get an abortion. They were solely focused (almost to a forceful degree) on encouraging women to have children, which is one of many tactics employed by the anti-choice movement.

Other tactics include passing laws that restrict abortion under the guise of protecting women’s health. Texas is one of the most recent states to put anti-choice views into law, with HB2. HB2 was challenged by Whole Women’s Health, and the case has gone to the Supreme Court for a decision. A few weeks ago I attended a rally outside the Court to show my support for Whole Women’s Health and the women of Texas. While I was there I encountered some anti-choice pushback.

On my way to the rally an older woman stopped me on the street and asked me how I would define abortion. I replied that abortion was a procedure to remove a cluster of cells from a uterus so they do not grow anymore and do not become a fetus. Her reply came swiftly, “Well, if I hit you over the head with a hammer, you wouldn’t grow anymore.”

I was blown away, both by that violence she was evoking and by her sheer unwillingness to understand what abortion really was, but I should not have been surprised. To quote a recent article authored by a member of the Young Americans for Freedom, “To keep it simple, life begins at conception.” This rhetoric is the end all, be all of the anti-choice movement’s. Fetuses are people, women who get abortions are murderers, blah, blah, blah, life begins at conception. Unfortunately, this scientifically and factually inaccurate statement is anything but simple.

Imagine for a moment that life did begin at conception and that the moment a fetus is conceived it is a person in the same sense that I am a person. Even this imaginary scenario would not justify the criminalization of abortion. It would not, because of the concept known as “bodily autonomy.” Bodily autonomy (also sometimes referred to as bodily integrity) is the cultural concept that emphasizes the importance of a person’s control over their own body.

Because of bodily autonomy the government cannot force someone to use their body in ways that person does not want. If my brother were dying of a rare kidney disease, and I had the only kidney in the world that would save his life, nobody could force me to donate that kidney. It would be illegal to force me to donate that kidney. I could choose to, if that is what I wanted to do with my body – but here again is that pesky concept of choice, of letting women decide what they do with their own bodies.

In the same way that the government cannot legally make me donate a kidney, they cannot force anyone to donate blood or even to donate their organs after death – and even after death the person had to consent to be an organ donor in life to make any donation possible. That’s right, dead bodies get more bodily autonomy than women in Texas, Florida, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kansas, Arizona and all the other states that have restricted abortion access. In the last five years 300 abortion restriction laws have been passed. The anti-choice movement’s goal to take away every pregnant woman’s bodily autonomy is clear.

It’s clear because you don’t see anyone out on the streets harassing people who walk past blood centers without donating. You don’t hear conservatives calling for more forced kidney donations. You definitely don’t see any legislation in the works to get rid of organ donor labels on driver’s licenses. These things demonstrate that in the eyes of the anti-choice movement, dead bodies are actually more worthy of control over their bodies than living, breathing women are.

When you accept all these facts the issue driving those who limit access to abortion becomes clear. Restricting abortion access is not about saving babies, and it is not about helping women. It is about control. It is about eliminating choice. The ugly truth behind the anti-choice movement is that they are not interested in anything besides keeping women from making choices about their bodies.

Our moment of imaging life begins at conception is now over. We are back in one of the countless moments where medical science has proven “life begins at conception” to be nothing more than a fallacy designed to manipulate women into carrying out pregnancies they do not want and frequently cannot handle. The anti-choice movement actively and aggressively tells women all across America that they must give up their bodily autonomy, a right that every American has, for nine months, all for the sake of something that those anti-choice individuals view as “life.” This is obviously, painfully, disgustingly unethical, and it must stop.

The battle against anti-choice people is going to be an uphill one, but I know I will never stop fighting. Women need as much (if not more) control over our bodies than corpses. Women are more than uteruses. We are allowed to choose whether or not we have children. We demand to choose, because women deserve the right to reproductive justice.

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