In the wake of the leaked Roe opinion there have a lot of people scrambling to prepare for the inevitable impact. Most people are trying to figure out how they are going to protect women and the other parties who could also possibly be impacted by the decision, but there are some people, specifically some state legislators, whose reaction has been to shift into high gear and prepare to eliminate abortion rights completely.
One such state is Louisiana. Louisiana’s proposed anti-abortion bill has gained a lot of attention because it is one of the harshest and strictest, and frankly the most oppressive, bills dealing with this issue proposed in years. But even more harrowing than just the abortion restrictions are the further impacts of this bill that has people concerned, if not terrified.
Ashley White writes about the original bill,
House Bill 813, sponsored by Rep. Danny McCormick (R-Oil City) and named the “Abolition of Abortion in Louisiana Act of 2022,” would define “life” as beginning at fertilization.
It would allow state prosecutors to bring homicide charges against anyone who terminates a pregnancy, including medical personnel.
The bill defines a person as a “human being from the moment of fertilization” and an unborn child as “an individual human being from fertilization until birth.”
The bill also directs the state to ignore the U.S. Supreme Court if it disagrees with any high court decision on abortion. It declares that any federal statute, regulation, treaty, executive order or court ruling that tries to supersede the bill’s changes would be in violation of the U.S. and Louisiana constitutions and therefore void…..
If the bill were to pass, it could criminalize some forms of birth control, emergency contraception and in vitro fertilization (IVF), a complex series of procedures that help with fertility.
The impacts of this bill are far-reaching. What was once a choice would now be murder. And there aren’t exceptions for things like rape or incest. And the life of the mother is not exactly loosely translated. And criminalizing some forms of birth control is straight-up oppressing women. The most common interpretation is that IUDs would be illegal. But not every woman can take the pill, or hormonal birth control. Many women need IUDs for health reasons or the way it regulates periods. Denying women birth control is taking away control of their bodies in ways they haven’t had to fight about since the early ‘60s. When women can’t control their bodies, they can’t be full-fledged citizens. And in many people’s eyes that’s what bills like this are about. Stripping women of their citizenship.
Caroline Kitchener reports,
“I just want to sort of level-set here first: This is a homicide statute,” said Ellie Schilling, a New Orleans-based attorney who represents abortion rights groups. “What this bill does is to specifically amend the crime of homicide and the crime of criminal battery to enable the state to charge people, including the pregnant mother, at any stage of fertilization.”
The antiabortion movement developed a reputation in the late 1980s and early 1990s for being “anti-woman,” said [Mary] Ziegler [ a visiting professor at Harvard Law School specializing in the history of abortion law] as antiabortion advocates became known for their violent tactics at abortion clinics, establishing blockades and, in a few cases, murdering providers. The media broadcast videos of women crying as they tried to get past protesters and access abortion care, Ziegler said, which did not play well for the antiabortion movement.
“Americans have usually been pretty unhappy about the idea of punishing patients,” Ziegler said.
After that, antiabortion advocates started to emphasize “pro-woman” policies aimed at protecting women’s health, Ziegler said, with leaders beginning to use slogans like, “Love them both.”
Since then, she said, there has been very little legislation targeting abortion patients. When Lizelle Herrera was charged with murder for a self-managed abortion in South Texas last month, for example, antiabortion groups quickly distanced themselves from the situation. The murder charge against Herrera was later dropped.
“The Texas Heartbeat Act and other pro-life policies in the state clearly prohibit criminal charges for pregnant women,” said John Seago, the legislative director of Texas Right to Life, referring to the Texas law that allows private citizens to sue anyone who helps facilitate an abortion after six weeks of pregnancy.
While some in antiabortion circles occasionally discuss the idea of punishing abortion patients, Ziegler said, that idea has not gained much traction.
To see a bill like this moving through a state legislature is “definitely new,” she said.
To the conspiracy minded this is even more pernicious than just homicide charges. Women who are on birth control and have abortions are murderers. Murderers are felons. And felons can’t vote.
Now, I’m not convinced that is the goal of bills like this. But it IS the effect. So when I say bills like this strip women of their citizenship, I mean that in the most literal sense. Women may have to choose between control of their bodies and the most basic right of citizenship – the right to vote.
After national backlash, some Louisiana lawmakers have backpedaled quickly. According to Julie O’Donoghue , on May 11,
Louisiana House Republicans intend to remove language from a high-profile bill that would allow prosecutors to charge pregnant patients who undergo abortions with murder when the legislation comes up for consideration on the House floor Thursday. They also want to strip provisions meant to restrict certain forms of birth control and that could affect people who use fertility treatments to get pregnant, according to interviews with Republican lawmakers. …
Louisiana’s leading anti-abortion groups have started aggressively lobbying legislators this week to make dramatic changes to McCormick’s proposal, possibly fearing it could create a backlash to other abortion bans locally and nationally if it isn’t scuttled.
So even lawmakers in Louisiana have realized that the original bill is an overreach. But the reasoning is interesting – it’s not to protect women or any of the people who will be affected by this. Anti-abortion activists are worried that the backlash to this bill could make it harder to pass other abortion bans. So it’s simply a “less is more” approach. If they ease up on the specific restrictions of this bill, then they can pass more restrictions across the board in the future. This isn’t an attempt to restore rights and citizenship – it’s a long game to make sure they can pass more bans and restrict women’s actions and choices. This isn’t a win for anyone.
It’s tempting to ask “why?” in all of this. What do these people have against women? Why do they not want women to be full-fledged citizens? What is it about women that is so repugnant or terrifying that they have to be kept out of the political sphere?
The answer to that question is multi-fold, but some explanation can actually be found in the leaked Alito opinion. There’s a lot in that opinion that women could take umbrage at, but the thing I think that is most concerning is Alito’s reliance on 17th century jurist Matthew Hale.
Dr. Janet Bartholomew writes,
Justice Alito’s invocation of Sir Matthew Hale in his leaked majority opinion is so, so much more fucked up than people realize. I’m a professor with a PhD, and my area of expertise happens to be women and gender in the early modern era (1500-1700). Here is what you need to know.
Matthew Hale, just like a lot of Christian extremists today, believed that women were made from Adam’s rib. God did not make her as an autonomous being with rights. She was a physical extension of his body, made to be his ‘helpmeet,’ namely to exist to help him to whatever he wants.
Hale therefore wrote in his posthumously published book Historia Placitorum Coronæ (1713) that marital rape was totally legal. In fact, because a man owned a woman’s body as it was an extension of his own to do with whatever he willed, he was incapable of marital rape.
The logic was that you can’t rape something that isn’t considered an independent human being. Your wife’s body is yours and you can’t rape yourself. This is the logic Alito is upholding when he invokes Matthew Hale. But it gets worse.
Let’s say a woman vocalized her opinion and it ran contrary to her husband’s. She didn’t want sex. Hale believed that this put her in violation of her marital vows. She was literally breaking the law. Women who denied men sex needed to be punished.
There was a whole set of laws at the time specifically on the punishment of women who spoke up against the men in their lives. They didn’t have the legal authority to say no to sex because they were not legally independent human beings….
Women without a man to tightly control their behaviors were viewed as extremely susceptible to immorality and becoming a Satanic force in the community. Hale believed it was in society’s best interest for men of the state to step in and control these women.
A woman’s primary purpose in adulthood was to be married, be obedient to a man, & to have children. Alito invoking Hale in his opinion made it clear that he also thinks this too. It’s his duty as a man to put the bodily fate of women in the hands of states run by white men.
Keep in mind that Hale was only talking about white Christian women. Women who didn’t fall into this category were debated as even being women. They were viewed as less than human with even less rights. The rule of thumb didn’t apply; they weren’t worthy of such restraint.
Are you starting to see why Alito’s invocation of Hale is so deeply, deeply fucked up on so many insane levels that there isn’t a way to possibly overreact to how shitty his legal standing is here? Rage, horror, disgust, etc. are not deep enough reactions to his legal opinion.
And if you think Hale being invoked by Alito was something out of left field, think again. Hale is all over our legal system. The easiest application to find was the Salem Witch Trials, but his influence on our laws is much more insidious than that. Marital rape was not completely outlawed in the United States until 1993.
When Alito talks about going back to what the founding fathers meant, he is talking about all of this shit. Women’s bodies being legally owned and controlled by men. He knows many Christian white women are groomed theologically to agree and will vote for this patriarchal control.
Alito knows that by kicking reproductive control back to the states that he is putting an incredible amount of power in the hands of the men who control these communities. He knows that white men are disproportionately in charge of these places.
Alito knows how much power and influence local churches have on local leadership. He knows most of these institutions are controlled by men. He is counting on it. He knows the biggest threat to women are the men in their homes and communities.
Justice Alito and men like him do not see women as independent human beings with their own human rights. They see us as incapable of making our own decisions. They consider men to be divinely appointed to rule over women. This is not an exaggeration.
If they think of white Christian women this way, imagine what they think about women of color, women of non-Christian groups, or trans women and men. The utter disdain towards them is deep, disturbing, incomprehensible, and violent.
Alito’s reliance on Hale gives us some insight into the hopefully defunct, but still terrifying Louisiana law, and the laws that are to come. It explains why it makes sense for these laws to move beyond abortion and to birth control. Because women’s bodies are literally not their own. A woman isn’t valuable until she is associated with a man. And then she isn’t valuable on her own, she is owned by the man – her value is that she is a possession of the man’s. If a woman’s value is what she brings to a man, then the question is what can she produce for him? Women can produce domestic labor and children. And if her value is what she can produce for the man, then there is no reason for her to control her body – the man should be in control of her body because it is his property and his to make a profit off of.
There is no room for citizenship or rights in this scenario. Women don’t have their own rights in this relationship because they are not their own person. They can’t make their own choices because they are not people. So the Louisiana law is the natural progression from Hale and Hale’s reasoning. The fact that people like Alito are citing and reasoning from Hale means there will be more laws like the Louisiana law because women are not people.
Bodily autonomy is the most basic right there is. We take it very seriously. You can’t be forced to donate blood, even if it would save somebody’s life. Hell, you can’t even be forced to donate your organs after you are dead. We take bodily autonomy so seriously we give it do dead people. Even if it would save somebody else’s life.
But even if you don’t buy that – even if you don’t think a woman should be able to choose whether or not to share her body with something else – surely most people can agree that a woman should be able to decide whether she can GET pregnant to begin with? Women deserve that much control over their bodies, surely? And that means birth control.
These laws that outlaw ALL forms of choice, from birth control to abortion, outlaw bodily autonomy. And that means stripping women of their basic citizenship. Without the right to control their own bodies, women hardly have the right to partake in the state and the market. This is something I don’t think men can even imagine. I don’t think most men even have the capacity to understand what it means to not have bodily autonomy.
So we can’t be surprised by laws like the Louisiana bill because Alito laid out the reasoning for it clearly and blatantly.
But we have to fight it. And this can’t be a women’s issue. We need men to step up and say, “this isn’t right. People shouldn’t be treated this way.” If you can’t imagine it, then nobody else should have to live it. This has to be a unified, concerted effort. Citizenship has to be bi-partisan.
Music in this episode is “Fearless First” by Kevin MacLeod at https://incompetech.filmmusic.io/song/3742-fearless-first.