US law and politics have long ignored women’s demand for autonomy as citizens with equal rights to men. Women were not full rights-bearing citizens From Revolutionary-era republicanism to 19th-century democracy. A dispute in the Supreme Court, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, continued over a century after the 19th Amendment abolished sex as a legitimate barrier to voting (Francis and Rebecca, Par. 2). Dobbs might have strengthened limitations on women’s reproductive liberty.
Women have never enjoyed complete reproductive rights, but the law provided them a more substantial leeway to abort half a century ago than under Mississippi or Texas law today. The standard law paradigm underlying early US law allowed abortions before quickening when a pregnant woman could feel a fetus move. Before this period, the fetus had no legal existence, and terminating a pregnancy with a woman’s permission was permissible (Francis and Rebecca, Par. 5). Contrarily, married women had no legal status under common law. Under coverture, a married woman’s legal life was entwined with her husband’s power and control over her. He had a right to her unlimited domestic work and sexual services, which is why rape inside marriage was not a felony until the 1970s.
Therefore, the old rule of domestic relations impliedly excluded all women by denying them complete command and responsibility for their bodies and lives. Discrepancies in property, wages, contracts, inheritance, guardianship, residence, and nationality status persisted until the 20th century, despite improvements in the mid-1800s to lessen legal limitations on women (Francis and Rebecca, Par. 7). The simultaneous impacts of coverture and abortion criminalization in the 19th century underlay the US legal history of limiting women’s capacity to govern their bodies and lives. Legislative and judicial measures have stalled women’s march toward equality and complete autonomy.
Another example of males manipulating women, denying them physical autonomy, and sexually assaulting them is reproductive coercion. It may not be famous since the #MeToo movement has not highlighted it, but it is more severe and life-changing for women than most of the assaults the movement has uncovered (Freeman, Par. 1). One in four women visiting medical centers is a victim of reproductive coercion. Coercive reproduction involves a person controlling another’s reproductive choices, like whether to use contraception, get pregnant, or prolong a pregnancy. It includes emotional blackmail, destroying contraception, and purposely causing an abortion by poisoning a woman’s food or drink.
The issue is more frequent than previously realized, and younger women are more prone to it, including black and ethnic minority women, especially in the US. Although male partners are disproportionately accountable for reproductive coercion acts, they are not the sole culprits. In certain societies, other family members, especially elder female relatives, regularly conflict with women’s reproductive liberty (Freeman, Par. 3). Many women may not recognize they are victims of reproductive control since some of its manifestations are passive or subtle. Consider a girl whose lover sweet-talks her into letting him have sex without a condom because it feels better. She caves in because he loves her, and she trusts him. Another case is when a male removes his condom mid-sex without the woman’s agreement or knowledge; men have been convicted for this kind of rape. The man can also pretend to have a vasectomy or promise to withdraw during unprotected intercourse but lose control. A guy who wants another kid but his girlfriend does not can pierce the condom and pretend to be surprised once she gets pregnant. Other males scare their women with breakups if they fail to abort, giving them no option (Freeman, Par. 5). Sexual abuse is about power, not sex.
Progressives fear abortion rights groups’ dire predictions are coming true. Alabama recently passed the country’s strictest abortion proscription, followed by Missouri. Other bills have been enacted or debated in legislatures; this impulse has pushed women’s reproductive rights to the political forefront. Currently, 77% of people support abortion in the first trimester in cases of rape and incest (Reston, Par. 4). Women know their rights are threatened and that the ideal policymakers must make decisions. Across the country, there is rising support for recognizing the unborn child’s humanity in the law, based on science and compassion. More than ever, the American public believes Roe is not an established law, which is reflected in state legislatures (Reston, Par. 8). The American people desire a new discourse and direction based on compassion for moms and newborns. The enactment of a close-360 restriction on abortion in Alabama, without any exception for race or incest, was a warning sign for women who pay less attention to the slew of strict abortion statutes that have passed state legislatures in recent years.
The new abortion flashpoint came while women’s rights and state power surged as a protest against Trump. The #MeToo movement had a significant impact on female voter turnout in 2018, as over 100 women were elected to the House initially. Some young women campaigned with their moms for the first time because they felt Trump’s decision and the Kavanaugh hearings threatened their rights (Reston, Par. 35). All democratic women who run for president have highlighted wage fairness, child care costs, racial inequities in maternal death rates, and reproductive rights. Democratic presidential contenders argue that strict abortion regulations in state legislatures threaten Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion across 50 states.
Jackson posts Gloria Steinem’s recorded interview regarding the leaked draft majority opinion related to the 1969 women’s protests in The New York Times. On one night, March 1969, Gloria Steinem reported from Washington Square United Methodist Church. She listened for hours as women spoke about their bodies, pregnancies, and abortions in the church basement. The occasion was before the Roe v. Wade case that legalized abortion in 1973. These women outed themselves as criminals in a gloomy hall in what historians think became the first discussion forum of its sort in American history. Steinem came out reborn hours later that night, an enthusiastic feminist. According to Steinem, restricting reproductive freedom seems cruel but also inevitable since patriarchy is about controlling women’s bodies. Roe’s growing backlash is worrying. Men and women cannot live in a democracy unless they have control over their bodies. Feminism supports the liberty not to abort and to abort safely. Under reproductive rights, women can have children or not (Jackson). The abortion-rights movement is now more organized. New York and many other states did not have reproductive freedom-focused medical systems in the past centuries when abortion was illegal. Instead, women used an underground network. They no longer do that.
Congress must enact the Women’s Health Protection Act to support legal abortion nationwide. The Supreme Court contemplates weakening or reversing Roe vs. Wade following a request by Mississippi, which is upholding its unlawful 15-week abortion restriction. Women in each state have used reproductive rights for millennia (The Times Editorial Board, Par. 1). No American should lose physical autonomy. No one should have to traverse the nation seeking a jurisdiction that permits abortion or go back to the medieval era when women sought risky means to stop their pregnancies.
The Women’s Health Protection Act will protect a person’s right to an abortion and doctors’ ability to operate. It would ban Mississippi’s restrictive abortion laws. Hundreds of extra state abortion bans have arisen in the previous decade. Diabolical legislation has effectively banned abortion in Texas, allowing vigilante litigations against abortion doctors or anybody who assists a woman have an abortion beyond six weeks of gestation when most women do not even realize they are pregnant (The Times Editorial Board, Par. 3). Supreme Court has not blocked the statute yet; thus, Congress must pass the Women’s Health Protection Act. The law is vital for all Americans who cherish their right to self-determination, not just women. The Senate should enact the measure regardless of Roe v. Wade since it will clearly state abortion prohibitions. If Roe is repealed, as it seems likely, this statute will be the sole actual safeguard for the civil freedoms of every pregnant American.
The rising attempts by several politicians and federal judges to invalidate women’s right to equal citizenship rights, especially reproduction, also illustrate the continuing relevance of and the necessity for the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). Fifty years after Congress enacted the Amendment and submitted it to the state government for approval on March 22, 1972, the ERA has finally secured the requisite 38 state ratifications needed for inclusion in the Constitution.
Francis, Roberta W., and Rebecca Dewolf. “Gendered Citizenship and the Struggle for Reproductive Rights.” Ms. Magazine, 2022.
Freeman, Hilary. “Reproductive Coercion is Abuse. But Many Women Don’t Even Know It.” The Guardian, 2019.
Jackson, Lauren. “Where Does the Abortion Rights Movement Go Next?” The New York Times – Breaking News, US News, World News and Videos, 2022. Web.
Reston, Maeve. “Abortion Bills Push Women’s Reproductive Rights into Political Spotlight.” CNN, 2019.
The Times Editorial Board. “Editorial: This Bill May Be the Only Thing That Guarantees Women’s Reproductive Rights.” Los Angeles Times, 2022.