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Repeal of Roe V Wade

Jul 28, 2022

When I saw the headlines yesterday about Roe V Wade being overturned, I didn’t want to click. I didn’t want to read the words I knew would follow that would confirm what I already knew had happened.

There’s part of it that doesn’t make sense to my brain, being white in the US has caused me to feel entitled to many freedoms that other peoples in the US and outside of it have not been lucky enough to experience. What I didn’t realize though was that some of these freedoms were illusion.

The other part of me, who’s apparently seen through the illusion the whole time, feels not one ounce of surprise at the decision made regarding the rights of women’s bodies. Of course it was overturned, you naive little woman. The constitution, nor the declaration of independence, was not drawn up to protect you, your rights, and your freedoms. No, silly girl, it was drawn up to protect men who look and believe the same as the ones who wrote it. As I researched, so was my stereotype adjusted ever so slightly.

Let’s start with the Declaration of Independence. The historic document approved on July 4, 1776 — two days after the American colonies were declared to be independent of the British Empire.

“[This] document has been immortalized as one of the opening salvos in the ongoing fight for human freedom that continues to this very day. Without this seminal text, every social justice movement that has followed would never have come to pass. source.

Despite the fact that it was a document preaching independence, it did not condemn slavery, it did not protect the rights of women, and it blatantly excluded Native Americans from its benefits. Seems quite like the opposite of a document representing human rights.

A few months before the document was approved, Abigail Adams, John Adams wife, wrote him a letter urging him to consider women in the development of these legal provisions. He laughed at her and told her, men are the masters, why should we give up this title to be controlled by women? He notates that the “tribe” of women is more numerous and powerful than all the others who were seeking equal rights and independence while completely ignoring what she says about using the laws to take away the ability for those who are vicious to use women cruelly and without punishment. He focuses solely on what she says about men being naturally tyrannical and argues it, saying that most politicians would surely plot against governments built around tyranny. Which, knowing what we know about the innate corruption of politicians, is laughable.

When the constitution was written in 1787 women were still completely under the thumb of their fathers or husbands. They had little say in what their husbands did with their assets but in some states, like NY, a married man was required to have his wife’s signature on any deed to her property before he sold or transferred it. The law also required a judge to meet with the wife privately to confirm her approval. WOW, what power she had. WOW, the wife’s approval had to be confirmed before her husband sold her own property? Seems obvious right? But at the time, this was progress! Oddly enough, during this time women weren’t even technically allowed to own property, so there must have been an exception on inherited property.

In the same year as the constitution was created, Massachusetts passed a law allowing women, only if married and only in limited circumstances, to act as “femme sole traders,” which means they were allowed to conduct business on their own, especially if their husbands were out to sea or away from home. source.

In 1787, when the constitution was drawn up by all white men who neither respected nor cared much about the experience of women or people of color, it’s easy to understand why this document is so vague about who it actually applied to. According to an article by Jan Ellen Lewis who studied whether or not this document was inclusive to women, she was expecting not but after careful research found that,

“The issue of gender, make no mistake, was rather far from anyone’s mind. In Congress and then in the convention, when the delegates hammered out their formulas for representing and accounting for slave property, nobody spoke up when the term “sex” was mentioned. And, there is no record of any discussion about women, their rights, or their duties, at any point during the Constitutional Convention. On this, the standard interpretations have been correct.

“As feminist scholars always note, gender is always there. In any political theory or any form of government, women are either included or excluded; the only question is on what terms, and whether those terms are explicit or implicit. The Constitution presents an interesting case, for the explicit–but unexamined–inclusion of women was quickly obliterated, making the presence of women in the Constitution even more shadowy. Unless the light is very bright, you cannot see them at all. Still, they are there, and the terms of their inclusion have important implications.

“Once representation was shifted off the ground of property and onto that of persons, there was no longer any obvious rationale for excluding women. It would have been quite easy to use the word “men,” but the delegates chose instead the more inclusive “persons,” and in their debates, if not the final, edited version of the Constitution, they made it clear that “persons” included women.

“They did so, I believe, for two reasons. First, many of them believed that the purpose of government was to protect society.

[The second reason,] in the context of these debates, the language of sex was an instrument for taxing–or not taxing, as the case might be–slaves. To propose counting only tax-paying males between sixteen and sixty was to exclude a significant part of Southern wealth–and wealth-creating laborers, including female slaves–from taxation. To counter, as Dickinson did, with a proposal to tax everyone, whatever their age, sex, or status, was to advocate that slaves be taxed. Hence, Dickinson’s “every Age, Sex and Quality” meant “tax the slaves.” To those words, Congress eventually added the Three-fifths Clause, which represented a compromise between Franklin’s proposal (tax none of the slaves) and Dickinson’s (tax them all). Had the clause gone into effect, it would have exacted a partial tax on slave property. But then, when James Wilson suggested exactly the same language as the basis for representation in the House, it gave the South a bonus for holding slaves, increasing their representation in the House by about 25 percent. When it would have inflated their tax bill, the Southern states quite obviously would have preferred not to have their slaves counted, but when it would increase their representation in Congress, they just as obviously would want all of their slaves to be counted. Women, then, were brought into this debate not for themselves, but only to enable the delegates, first in Congress and then in the Convention, to deal with the divisive issue of slavery by embedding it in more general, less inflammatory terms.

Looking back on these debates and political maneuverings more than two centuries later can make one dizzy. The delegates to the Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention were always aware of both the philosophical implications and practical effects of any proposal they made, and although they tried always to gain the practical point without sacrificing ideological consistency, they sometimes impaled themselves on the horns of their own contradictions. So it was with gender and slavery. Between 1775 and 1788, democrat after democrat laid out the rationale for broad representation, one that implicitly included women and accorded them civil rights. But these same democrats, in order to create a form of government that best protected both liberty and their own states’ interests, made or resisted a series of compromises with slavery. In the process, the inclusive language of gender–“every age, sex & condition”–was twisted to sustain slavery.

“Implicit, then, in the Constitution’s doctrine of representation was that the new government, in securing the happiness of society, was to look after women–not as women, but as members of society.

Okay fine, so, though these men weren’t explicitly focused on including women, unless of course it was for their own benefit (taxes), it apparently, was implied.

One of the duties clearly stated in the first paragraph of the constitution though, is to “promote the general Welfare” of its people, a group that, as we’ve clarified, included women. And, one of the only two reasons for including women in the constitution was for protection. So, the decision to overturn Roe V. Wade, defies the constitution on two counts because by allowing states to make abortion illegal it directly harms the general welfare of women and puts them at risk. Cause and effect.

According to this article by Our Bodies Our Selves,

“Historically, women around the world have tried to end unwanted pregnancies whether abortion is legal or not, often jeopardizing their safety and health by self-inducing or seeking a dangerous illegal procedure.

“While there is very little relationship between abortion legality and abortion incidence, there is a strong correlation between abortion legality and abortion safety.

“Women who have unsafe abortions are at risk of serious medical problems, including incomplete abortion, hemorrhage (heavy bleeding), infection, uterine perforation (caused when the uterus is pierced by a sharp object), and damage to the genital tract and internal organs (by inserting dangerous objects such as sticks, knitting needles, or broken glass into the vagina or anus). Each year around 7 million women are admitted to hospitals for complications of unsafe abortion and between 4.7% – 13.2% of maternal deaths can be attributed to unsafe abortion. 

“Highly restrictive abortion laws are not associated with lower abortion rates. According to the Guttmacher Institute, the abortion rate is 37 per 1,000 women in countries that prohibit abortion altogether or allow it only to save a woman’s life, and 34 per 1,000 in countries that allow abortion without restriction as to reason.

Whether you morally believe in abortion or not, if you believe in freedom, protection, and general welfare of all humans, then you believe the federal government should protect the right of women to choose to abort should they see fit. Anything to the contrary is simply ideological inconsistency.

Bottom line, I feel slighted. I feel angry. I feel unprotected and attacked in a country that has always been my home. I imagine this is the tiniest taste of what people of color have been experiencing for centuries. We’ve been making progress in civil rights and this is definitely a backslide for all races and genders.

 

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