Tag: Abortion

Is the United States Hostile Territory For Women?

A 2018 study by the Thomson-Reuters Foundation ranked the countries where women are most endangered by violence, coercion, and subjugation. India was ranked as the most dangerous country on earth for women, followed by countries like Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia, and Saudi Arabia.

Also included on the list: The United States of America. After the surge of #metoo and #timesup allegations, voters in the survey felt that the US was hostile territory for women. The US tied for third when respondents were asked where women were most at risk of sexual violence, harassment and being coerced into sex.

Thomson-Reuters polled 548 aid professionals, academics, healthcare staff, policymakers, and social commentators across Europe, Africa, the Americas, South East Asia, South Asia and the Pacific. The US was the only Western democracy in the top ten, marking a new low in our global reputation as a protector of human rights; when half of the population is at risk of violence, our status as a world leader on human rights is dubious at best. “People want to think income means you’re protected from misogyny, and sadly that’s not the case,” said Cindy Southworth, executive vice president of the Washington-based National Network to End Domestic Violence.

While abortion rights were not considered as part of the survey, they certainly fit into this larger picture. This past week, Alabama passed a law that forbade abortions past six weeks, even in cases of rape or incest. This draconian law exhibits a flagrant disregard for the wellbeing and life of a woman, as she is forced to carry a pregnancy that is the byproduct of rape to term. Even in countries like Russia and China, where civil rights are impinged upon with regularity, abortion remains available to all women up to twelve weeks.  Where other first-world countries make strides towards equality, the United States continues to lurch backwards to further restrict and complicate women’s healthcare and bodily autonomy.

The unfortunate fact is that there is a strain of misogyny built into the culture and legal framework in the United States. Tracing the lineage of that thinking is difficult, but certainly borrows a good deal from religion. Though a secular nation by definition, the US has always employed religious thinking to relegate women to a secondary role in society.  For instance, the belief that life begins at conception is a relatively modern belief, having been mobilized after Roe v. Wade became law in 1973.  Before that, many Christians believed that abortion was not sinful, and in fact wanted to organize to protect it. In 1971, the Southern Baptist Convention agreed “to work for legislation that will allow the possibility of abortion under such conditions as rape, incest, clear evidence of severe fetal deformity, and…evidence of the likelihood of damage to the emotional, mental, and physical health of the mother” (SBC – St. Lous, Missouri, 1971).

In the wake of Roe, however, the use of abortion as a political issue proved massively effective and became the central, if not sole, issue for many conservative voters. The power of abortion is certainly fueled by some voters’ desire to protect the lives of unborn children, but is also undeniably reflective of a societal desire to control women’s bodies. Outlawing abortion removes a woman’s ability to define her own life. Prioritizing the unborn fetus over the autonomy of the pregnant woman demonstrates a contempt for women’s sexual freedom and civil liberty.

Having said that, it would be hypocritical to highlight abortion without acknowledging that the scourge of #timesup and #metoo allegations are predominantly the doing of well-educated, metropolitan liberals. The rampant abuse by men in positions of power demonstrates that even in environments committed to equality and inclusion, women are subjected to unwanted sexual advances and coercion. These men build trust and goodwill by donating to egalitarian causes and supporting female politicians, only to exploit them to take advantage of women. They are just as demonstrative of the strain of misogyny present in American life as the republican legislators trying to strip away abortion rights.

Uprooting that strain is going to take time and serious self-interrogation, but #metoo was a powerful step in the right direction. As they say, sunlight is the best disinfectant. By giving women the opportunity to speak without fear of reprisal and to legislate in their best interest, the US can work towards reclaiming its status as a leader in human rights.

Of course, that effort is made more difficult by the sitting President. President Trump and his “America First” mentality blocks exactly the sort of honest self-examination that could reverse the tides of anti-woman legislation. He would do well to consider why many of the countries who he characterizes as “rapists” or from “shithole countries” are not included on the Thomson-Reuters list, while the US is.

© Dr. Carmen Schaye

Speaking Out To #StopTheBans in West Hollywood

On May 21, Dr. Carmen Schaye spoke at the City of West Hollywood’s National Day of Action to #StopTheBans and to Support Reproductive Freedom and a Woman’s Right to Choose. Speaking in her capacity, as National Vice President of Diversity of the National Women’s Political Caucus, Dr. Schaye spoke along with Women’s March Foundation and other impassioned other community leaders to protest recent legislation in states like Georgia and Alabama that severely limits access to abortion.

The city of West Hollywood is America’s first pro-choice city, having declared itself such in 1993. It has supported state and federal legislation protecting and advancing women’s reproductive rights, access to healthcare, and funds for preventative health care services. Last week’s event pushed the City even further into the activist cause, as they became the first city to impose financial sanctions against states with retrograde abortion legislation on the books. City officials voted unanimously to pass a resolution that suspended official travel to Georgia.

Lindsey Horvath, the city’s Mayor Pro Tempore, also spoke at the rally. “We will not conduct the city’s business in places that do not honor, respect and protect a woman’s right to choose,” she said. “We will not spend taxpayer dollars on goods, services or travel in or from any state that undermines women’s health, dignity and privacy, and we denounce any and all efforts to endanger the lives of women and girls who cannot survive a pregnancy physically, spiritually, emotionally, financially.”

© Dr. Carmen Schaye

The War on a Woman’s Right to Choose

Across the country, on stages big and small, legislators, activists, and judges are waging a war on women’s right to choose. Though this right has been a settled law for almost half a century, having been decided upon in the Supreme Court in 1973, it has nonetheless become the central issue in the American culture war. And for good reason: for the Christian right, abortion is the immoral termination of a life; for the left, it represents a woman’s right to control her body and adjudicate if they are economically, emotionally, and physically ready to have a child. Each side is uncompromisingly dogmatic about their position on the issue, and equally convinced that it is critical to fight for complete victory.

While Roe v. Wade has ensured Americans’ right to choose on a federal level, some states are adopting limitations on abortion that effectively foreclose the possibility of a safe and legal abortion. There are currently ten states with so-called “heartbeat bills”, which ban abortions once the fetus has a detectable heartbeat, which is typically about six weeks into a pregnancy, when many women still don’t even know that they are pregnant. Some states force women seeking an abortion to have an ultrasound before they terminate the pregnancy; others force women who successfully get an abortion to have a funeral for the remains of the fetus.

Many of these laws flagrantly violate the standards for abortion access laid out in Roe v. Wade, and there is reason to believe that the GOP is deliberately violating those standards as a strategy to bring a case before the Supreme Court. While Roe v. Wade is settled law, it could be overturned if a case challenging a state’s restrictions on abortion is brought before the court. It is unlikely that the court would use that opportunity to ban abortion altogether, but it is entirely possible that it could return the ability to do so to individual states.

There is no telling how disruptive repealing Roe v. Wade would be to our current political system. On the left, women have become the lifeblood of the party, and their representation in Congress is all but certain to grow in the years to come. Rolling back a woman’s right to choose would be received as a direct threat to their equality as citizens of this country. A repeal would divide the country into pro-life states and pro-choice states, essentially creating two Americas.

This scenario is speculative, of course, and Chief Justice Roberts seems to resist the pressure to make the court an activist body. It is perhaps more likely that he will simply allow the status quo to continue, in which abortion rights are eroded and hamstrung but not summarily banned. That strategy spares the GOP the potential blowback of repealing Roe v. Wade while allowing for de facto bans.

Regardless, there is undeniable pressure on Roberts and the other conservative justices to dismantle Roe v. Wade. While running for office, President Trump was clear about his desire to appoint judges to the Supreme Court who would repeal Roe v. Wade, and memorably said that were abortion to be outlawed, there would have to be “some sort of punishment” for women who illegally underwent the procedure. Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, Trump’s two appointees to the Supreme Court, are both conservative Christians, and were both selected in part for their willingness to vote to repeal Roe v. Wade. While a repeal remains hypothetical, the pieces are certainly in place to make it a reality.

© Dr. Carmen Schaye

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