Saturday :: Oct 27, 2012

Rape, Abortion, Contraception and Reproductive Rights

by Mary

Garance Franke-Ruta has a terrific article in the Atlantic Monthly titled Richard Mourdock, Mitt Romney and the GOP Defense of Coerced Mating where she makes the point that the reason the discussion about rape and abortion is so salient in this election cycle is because it defines whether people believe women can be full and equal members of the American society. She explains that in many patriarchial societies, women are considered the property of men as well as victims of coerced sexual attacks, through war where women were raped as a tactic of warfare, through punishment of uppitiness or through men wanting to show women who's in charge.

In America, we object to and do not permit any of these approaches, because of what they violate: the right to be free from harm, the right of bodily integrity, the right to sexual autonomy, and, most importantly, the right of a woman to belong to herself and not be able to be claimed as property by a masculine act against her, or by anyone, ever.

Men fought against those who advocated women's rights for close to 500 years in the West by calling them and their vision of female access to these rights -- along with the right to be educated, critically, and to have the same suffrage and property rights as men -- a violation of nature, or even, as one late-19th century American jurist described the idea of a woman lawyer, a "treason against nature." And the critics were not entirely wrong. Women's rights are unnatural, if you think about it -- our natural lot the world over through most of documented human history has been subjection without autonomy or freedom. Coercive sexuality and rape are part of that system of subjection, and sexual coercion occurs in nonhuman primate populations, as well, where -- depending on the species -- it may well persist because it is an effective male reproductive strategy.

But what is natural and what is good and just are not the same. America itself is a rejection of nature, if you believe what many have argued, that the natural form of human social organization is the unjust rule of the few over the many, as the natural aristocracy of talent gives way to rule by heirs. America's genius has lain in moving away from the rule and exploitation of the many by the few toward a more equitable mode of social organization in the name of justice and equality and universal rights.

...The idea that coerced reproduction is God's will is of a piece with the belief that the subjection of women is God's will. The two ideas are inextricably intertwined historically, and the former is stubbornly resilient relic of the latter. To unpack this a bit more: According to Mourdock's thinking, a man who forces a woman to have sex with him against her will is a criminal, but a man who forces a woman to bear his child through forced sex should be permitted to do so, because abortion is murder and every conceived child is a gift from God.

Do we want to live in a country where any man at any time can decide he wants to bear children with any woman and she has no right to stop that from happening if he can overpower her by force? If we do -- and that's the society Mourdock is advocating -- then we have immediately left the society the feminists constructed and re-entered one where coerced mating is rewarded reproductively.

Rape is about controlling women as this piece by John Scalzi so succinctly puts it. To see how well it works, listen to the harrowing second story from the Moth Radio Hour where a woman tells the story of her rape and the years it took her to come to terms with it.

Beyond the controversy over rape and abortion is the other attack on the rights of women to control their bodies. Don't forget that Republicans want to defund Planned Parenthood and destroy the ability for millions of women to get reliable contraception and health care. Another must read piece written by Jill Lahore in The New Yorker, Birthright: What's Next for Planned Parenthood, reviews the hard struggle for women to get the rights over their own reproductive lives starting with the work by Margaret Sanger to make sure even poor women could control their own reproductive destiny.

[Margaret] Sanger and her sister came from a family of eleven children, one of whom Sanger helped deliver when she was eight years old. When Sanger began nursing poor immigrant women living in tenements on New York's Lower East Side, she found that they were desperate for information about how to avoid pregnancy. These "doomed women implored me to reveal the 'secret' rich people had," Sanger wrote in her autobiography.

But according to social norms during that time, if women have sex, they must always be in fear of getting pregnant.

At Sanger's trial, during which the judge waved a cervical cap from the bench, Sanger hoped to argue that the law preventing the distribution of contraception was unconstitutional: exposing women, against their will, to the danger of dying in childbirth violated a woman's right to life. But the judge ruled that no woman had "the right to copulate with a feeling of security that there will be no resulting conception." In other words, if a woman wasn't willing to die in childbirth, she shouldn't have sex.

If Republicans truly wanted to reduce abortions, they would support ObamaCare because studies show that when women have safe, reliable birth control, there are very few abortions. Women who have control of their reproductive future have control over their lives and this issue is both a social and an economic issue for women and their families.

Mary :: 8:12 PM :: Comments (8) :: Digg It!