by Sakura Shinjo
Abortion. The word with which no male need associate, and the medical procedure over which every female is shamed. Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Missouri, Mississippi, and Ohio this year alone have passed what many of us have heard as “fetal heartbeat bills.” But why be up in arms? They don’t explicitly ban abortion, right?
In one way, females should feel shaken to the core by new restrictions on bodily rights. A “fetal heartbeat bill” prohibits abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected. This generally occurs starting at six weeks of pregnancy, or, in other words, before the individual knows they’re pregnant. Put plainly, how can I receive a medical treatment unless I first know that I need the medical treatment? These “fetal heartbeat bills” are a measure to flat out prevent female bodies from asking for and receiving the medical procedures they need by tightening the window of opportunity for detection and action on unplanned pregnancy to a space so small that very few could successfully do so.
In another way, these restrictions are nothing new. Since Roe v. Wade (1973), states across the country have passed impediments to abortion rights through imposing necessary mental health counseling prior to receiving the procedure, subjecting the woman to degrading mental health evaluation for her desire not to care for a child. Another method, such as waiting periods that force women to come to clinics multiple times in a short period, causes risk to her job and income, as well as personal obligations, as she struggles to find time and resources to access distant clinics to receive a procedure.
While we do not have the space here to discuss women’s history or the trajectory of abortion rights, the purpose of this note is to answer two key questions on the “abortion issue”, which will hopefully be expanded in coming issues of Left Turn:
Why do women choose abortion?
Logically, abortion is not the preferred method of birth control. It’s time consuming, humiliating, scary when women are not educated on it, and shameful. Society shames women for the accident of becoming pregnant and not being “responsible” enough to prevent it. Society then shames women for not wanting to bear an unexpected child. Society shames women from seeking an abortion even after rape or incest. Society simply shames women for making any autonomous decisions about their body that does not agree with what women’s bodies can do: bear children.
So why choose it? Abortion is most often the last-minute resort — the “Oh shit, the birth control didn’t work, I’m not ready for a child” option. Abortion can also be the “I’m fifteen years old and no one taught me about birth control. I only had sex for the first time, and now look what happened” option. Or, abortion in the worst cases is the “A man raped me and now I have to deal with the consequences of someone else’s crime” option. Women choose abortion because they have to choose it. Because the alternative is to have a lifetime commitment for even fifteen minutes of love, pleasure, fun, and/or to live with outcomes of mistakes or the crimes of someone else.
Who does abortion affect?
It affects everyone — female and male bodies alike. Maybe one may say, “well, if a woman doesn’t want to face an unplanned pregnancy, she shouldn’t have sex.” Let me pose, what seems to be the necessary hypothetical trope, to try to elicit an empathetic response from men who do not have strong opinions on the issue: A straight couple lives in a state that has passed the fetal heartbeat bill. They have lived together for two years. She takes the pill, but it fails and she gets pregnant. She doesn’t know until eight weeks into the pregnancy. The state effectively forces her to carry the child to term. She feels guilt at the thought of submitting her child to the foster care system, rife with child abuse, and chooses to raise the child herself. He does not want a child and leaves the relationship. She becomes a single mother, forced by state regulation to care for a child that may otherwise be abused and traumatized in foster care, and he must pay child support.
In the above situation, everyone involved is affected. While women’s bodies, psyches, bank accounts, personal lives, and careers are disproportionately affected by being barred from abortion, the male in this story must still “pay” for his actions, quite literally, through child support. While perhaps in a long-term and monogamous relationship, she will be forced to “pay” for the “crime” of having sex. The state may “pay” for her “crime” as she struggles to care for a child alone for nearly two decades, perhaps needing food stamps or Medicaid.
The point here is that the woman in the story could be someone’s sister, daughter, or niece. Better yet, to any of the men who have gotten to this point in the article, imagine if you were this woman. Imagine a world where every single sexual encounter came with the risk of serious consequences for your own body, and imagine the state telling you that you do not have a right to do what is best for your own body after that single act. Imagine that, as a woman, at the end of the day, you will be solely responsible for handling an unplanned pregnancy, despite taking the correct precautionary measures. Imagine that those who have difficulty empathizing with your situation — that people who can never face pregnancy and the decisions it entails — are the ones making decisions about what you do when the unplanned does happen.
While I would like to say more, I will leave readers with a few broader comments that may impact the direction of future conversations on abortion, women’s bodies, and feminism in the future of Left Turn:
Restrictions on women’s rights have existed in the United States and abroad for most of recorded history. Let us not believe that women “had it good” prior to the Trump era, and that a particular political party is protecting our rights and another is after our rights. The control over women’s bodies is a structural issue. It is a problem produced by patriarchy, which has anchored itself into our culture on every level. Patriarchy is the reason most women do not receive paid maternity leave in the United States. It is the reason that maternity leave, when it exists, often does not exceed eight weeks. Structural patriarchy is the reason there remains a pay gap between female and male wages. It is the reason little girls are not encouraged to study math and the hard sciences. It is the reason young women are made to feel shame over their bodies at reaching puberty, while young men are introduced into the world of toxic male adulthood rife with catcalling and slut shaming. It is the reason we say, “boys will be boys” at the sound of Trump’s “locker room talk,” rather than shame and excoriate the male who would disparage female bodies simply for their being female.
Structural patriarchy is the illogic that permeates the atmosphere of our society. And as meme culture aptly reminds us, “if men could get pregnant, abortions would be available at gas stations.” Let us remember that women are not the only ones who suffer the consequences of what males might see as harmless sexual interactions. They do, however, suffer far more than men. More importantly, let us remember that women’s struggles to own their bodies, their incomes, their ideas, and their successes are directly related to the poisonous proposition that men don’t have to deal with these problems. Oriented toward a future exposition on the indispensable role in women’s rights that men must take up, I leave you, the reader, to ask yourself to think about the ways in which women in your life have been affected in ways that the men in your life haven’t, and to ask yourself how men have responded to these problems. For the future of my capacity to receive reproductive health procedures and to pursue a life of purpose and autonomy is directly tied to how your father, brother, husband, son, nephew, or yourself views the legitimacy of a woman’s right to determine the trajectory of her own life.
Sakura is a second year PhD student of political science at Temple University. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.