CW: abortion, death
The United States of America is a deeply broken country. This was driven home to me, as it was for many others, by the recent leaking of the potential Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark legal case protecting the right to abortion in the United States.
I could of course fill all the pages of this newspaper with the many sound arguments for legal and safe abortion access: studies have shown that the rate of abortion is similar whether or not they are legal, so criminalisation only prevents safe abortions; a small group of religious fundamentalists should not have the right to impose their beliefs on others, especially in a country which enshrines separation of church and state in its constitution; criminalising abortion is patently about control of bodies with uteruses rather than about protecting life, since otherwise “pro-lifers” (really pro-birthers) would also be interested in promoting policies such as free and high-quality healthcare, given that the US has a remarkably high mortality rate of birthing parents for a high-income country. But to rehearse all these arguments at length would be a waste of time, since at the end of the day it comes down to this: we either believe in bodily autonomy or we don’t.
Ultimately, no one is entitled to use your body for their own survival against your will. This is an accepted principle in ethics and in law. Regardless of whether we think that a fetus is a human being, regardless of whether we think that life begins at conception, regardless of whether the fetus would one day grow up to cure cancer: if we can accept that no one can force you to donate an organ to save someone who will otherwise die (which legally, they cannot), and we can accept that no one is allowed to take your organs from you even after death without your explicit prior permission (which again, legally they cannot), we must also accept that no one can force you to use your body to support the development of a fetus without your consent. Otherwise, we admit that people with uteruses are to us less deserving of bodily autonomy than the dead.
Infuriatingly and devastatingly, this seems to be precisely what the Supreme Court thinks.
I’m sure it barely needs pointing out that there is also a strong intersectional dimension to the fight over reproductive rights. As many have voiced, it is not rich, white, cisgender women who will be prevented from undergoing abortions – many of them will be able to travel elsewhere and pay to have the procedure carried out by a discreet professional. Banning abortion serves primarily to trap the structurally disadvantaged into a poverty cycle, fuelling the already enormous socioeconomic divide in the United States which, it should now be abundantly clear, is a product of political design. The recriminalisation of abortion, which under Roe v. Wade hinges on the right to privacy, is also likely to affect other hard-won legal protections, particularly for the LGBTQ+ community. Furthermore, it has been interesting (and disappointing) in recent months to see how it takes the threat to the legality of abortion – something which affects people of all classes and backgrounds, much as certain parties might like to pretend otherwise – to bring many white middle-class feminists out of the woodwork in fighting against criminalisation of the most vulnerable. The struggle against abortion criminalisation is inextricably connected to the wider struggle for radical reform of the criminal justice system; the prison-industrial complex and its stark inequalities and injustices in the United States is a vast and wide-reaching problem, and yet many people seem only to start to care when they feel personally threatened. Let this dark moment in American history sear into our minds once and for all, wherever we are, the necessity of standing up for each other and for what is right – for what kind of people and what kind of country we want to be – from the very beginning.
The famous assertion in the United States Declaration of Independence of the unalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, now rings so hollow it feels like a cruel joke.
Because whose life? Whose liberty? Whose happiness?
Image credit: Lorie Shaull / CC BY 2.0 via flickr