Who Does Your Body Belong To?

As usual, the events of the past week offer plenty of serious subjects for comment. I could choose an upbeat tone and express cautious optimism about the promise of Chicago’s new mayor, Lori Lightfoot. Or, I could head in the opposite direction and talk about Donald Trump’s threatened war with Iran or the growing potential for his impeachment.

But instead I’ve decided to write about something that’s a bigger and a much, much older story than any of those hot topics — a woman’s autonomy over her own body. The battle for that control has come into the spotlight in recent days with the passage of outrageously restrictive abortion laws by several conservative-controlled state legislatures.

When you think about the words, “your autonomy over your own body” they really do sound nonsensical…like “your autonomy over your elbow” or “your ankle” — I mean, seriously, your body is your body. Controlling what happens within its “boundaries” is strictly your business. No one else should be able to claim that power.

For some perspective I should note that, with a few historical exceptions, it wasn’t until recent times that women could expect any equitable treatment concerning their bodies. (In some cultures women were little more than chattel or slaves.) 

Even just a few generations ago virtually every American woman’s body was controlled in most ways by a patriarchal society. The life options a woman’s body might have…the level of education it could receive…the smattering of professions it might pursue…who it might marry…the subservient role it must play as a wife and mother…all those facets of that body’s life were usually controlled by someone else.

Sadly, those grim scenarios still describe the lives of millions of women in many parts of the world, but at this moment in the United States the control of a woman’s body is focused on one thing, their reproductive rights.

There’s no question that one of the most impactful events in the 20th century was the growing acceptance of equal rights for women. It inspired millions of women worldwide to more clearly recognize their potential and pursue it. At the same time such a shift in societal norms caused tradition-bound men and women to react strongly against such change. I believe the growth of energy we’ve seen within fundamentalist religions — Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu — is, to a great extent, a reaction to the growth of women’s rights. 

Today in the United States there are still numbers of men and women with strong feelings against these inevitably changing times. They are voters with a strong incentive to show up at the polls. Appealing to their emotions is a very attractive campaigning tool for politicians, whatever their real agenda might be. 

The extreme anti-choice stance of Republican legislators in states like Alabama, Mississippi and Missouri and among certain Republican members of the U.S. Congress is disturbing. A woman’s demand for the right to control her body’s reproductive system is portrayed by abortion rights advocates as a heartless, quasi-criminal act against the fetus in that woman’s womb — whatever the trimester. Some of the most extreme laws would include a single-cell zygote for legal protection!

I know I’m not the only one who finds it ironic that these anti-choice people and the Republican politicians courting them are so concerned about the sanctity of life in its earliest stages — yet they have no qualms about ending the lives of felons, the bombing of populations or the support of policies that result in the starvation and death of innocent civilians. It seems the moral outrage of such Republicans is quite selective. — If you’re going to talk the talk, you should walk the talk. Protest against capital punishment. Raise your kids to be conscientious objectors. Donate big to NGO’s that feed victims of conflict.

The recognition of the complete personhood of women, not just in America but around the world, has created ripples that have become waves and in some cases tsunamis. 

Conservative forces may tell themselves that their actions to turn back the clock and remove hard-won rights for women are a result of them riding one of those waves. But the reality is their wave is about to be wiped out by a tsunami of inevitable positive change even larger than the one that hit our nation in last November’s election. And when it arrives it will bring a better future for every body in America.

Nels Howard, NTD Member Since 1973