Political bodies, our choice

    May 4, 2022
    Women holding up signs protesting anti-abortion legislation

    OTTAWA—Under his eye, indeed.

    Across the border, Republicans and conservatives alike are remaking the United States in the image of the Republic of Gilead. On Monday night, Politico broke the story of the year so far, which is that the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) is poised to overturn one of the most defining decisions of the last century, Roe v. Wade. As Justices Sandra Day O’Connor, Anthony Kennedy, and Davis Souter warned in the 1992’s Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision, “An entire generation has come of age free to assume Roe’s concept of liberty in defining the capacity of women to act in society, and to make reproductive decisions,” Politico reminded us. The potential overturn of Roe v. Wade is a white-supremacist attack on women’s health, body autonomy, agency, and rights to a full suite of health-care options. It is deeply misogynistic and solves the problem of how to build a far-right, dogmatic, Christian nation. The Nation points out: “The anti-abortion movement in the United States has long been complicit with white supremacy.” In the 1980s the KKK put out wanted posters for abortion providers. If you force white women to have babies you have systematically reduced their economic power, and therefore their political power, while ensuring the continuation of the white race.

    But anti-abortion laws force all women to have babies, why is this about white women? Because they are the only ones not criminalized for having an abortion, since they are necessary for nation-building. It is the “undesirable” women who are the targets. As an activist in Teen Vogue pointed out, “laws like this especially target Black and brown women, disabled people, people with low income, or working-class people. It’s a structural issue to even get access to abortion.”

    In January, Texas signed into law Senate Bill 8, or the Texas Heartbeat Act, which prohibits abortion “at six weeks on the assertion that it is when a fetal heartbeat can be detected on a sonogram.” NBC News went on to note that medical professionals “say it is inaccurate and misleading to call the activity a heartbeat.” So basically this law is not rooted in science, but in the arrogance of patriarchy to marginalize half of the population and the violence of restrictive and exclusionary political ideologies. The first woman to be charged under this law was a Hispanic woman who was arrested for murder for self-inducing an abortion. Because that’s what women do when abortion is banned.

    In 2014, Purvi Patel became the first woman in United States history to be charged, convicted, and sentenced for feticide. What warranted such a dubious distinction? Patel is an Indian-American woman who claimed she had a miscarriage, but hospital officials contradicted her account and claimed she ended the pregnancy with illegal abortion drugs. The Indiana statute that she was convicted of violating, according to the Washington Post, “bans ‘knowingly or intentionally terminat[ing] a human pregnancy’ with any intention other than producing a live birth, removing a dead fetus or performing a legal abortion.”

    In 2018, a Black woman from Mississippi, Latice Fisher, was charged with second-degree murder for the death of her newborn after delivering a still-born baby in her home. Thanks to the work of advocates, those charges were eventually dropped, but as the racial justice organization, Color of Change, tweeted, “Things would be a lot different if the District Attorney had never charged her in the first place.” The organization contextualizes this criminalization by noting that “Black women die from pregnancy complications at 3 to 4X the rate of white women. Fear of imprisonment should NOT be one of the reasons our people avoid seeking medical care.”

    Just last year, Brittney Poolaw, a Native American woman from Oklahoma, was charged with—and convicted of—first-degree manslaughter for suffering a miscarriage.

    BIPOC women, poor women, rural women, women with precarious status, and women with disabilities are, according to Reuters, “less likely to have medical insurance or the means to meet the extra costs that come with travelling farther to other states.”

    In addition to extra costs, how does one find an abortion provider who is brave enough to perform abortions when the law is so restrictive? How does one access abortion care? In Canada, there is no law that enshrines the right to an abortion and therefore restrictions to access are used in lieu of an outright ban on the practice. This is how the Republicans in the U.S. got to the point where we are now—it began with restrictions to access. In other words, given that we are in the middle of a Conservative leadership race with social conservatives flexing, it behooves us to take our heads out of our collective asses and fight for the right to health care for all women, taking care to address access, cost, and other barriers for women who are more marginalized. It’s time for us to collectively say that abortion is health care and any restriction of it is the misogyny and violence of underfunding and undersupplying health care for at least 50 per cent of the population. This is what anti-woke looks like. Are you ready?

    Erica Ifill is a co-host of the Bad+Bitchy podcast.