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Voices / Column

Anti-abortion laws remove any sense of agency

Like domestic abuse and sexual assault, current proposed and passed laws are about power and control, and men’s fear of losing that power and control

Elayne Clift has written about women, politics, and social-justice issues from the earliest days of this newspaper. For more of her work, visit elayne-clift.com/blog/.

Saxtons River

Reading Facebook posts these days has become an exercise in masochism for many. Daily horrific posts reveal various forms of violence against the least powerful among us.

Among the victims of such violence are young women and “emerging adult” females.

A recent post referenced an 11-year-old girl in Ohio, pregnant by rape. Given Ohio’s newly proposed anti-abortion legislation, she could be forced to carry the fetus to term. That’s nothing short of state-sanctioned child abuse.

State after state, the same kind of cruelty could be repeated.

We have heard little about the full impact of Draconian measures aimed at overturning Roe v. Wade on women’s mental and physical health, but of this you can be sure: The impact will be more drastic the younger the girl or woman subjected to such measures.

* * *

Research reveals that having a safe, legal abortion does not pose mental health problems for women. According to Lucy Leriche, vice president of public policy for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, “over 95 percent of women who have had an abortion report feeling relief that outweighs any negative emotion they might have, even years later.”

In contrast, a statement last month by the Activism Caucus of the Association for Women in Psychology (AWP) makes clear the psychological damage that will be inflicted on girls (and women) from restrictions on their reproductive rights, none more so than the hideous laws Alabama and other states want to impose.

“Growing girls learn that in crucial, life-altering ways, the government has more control over their bodies than they do,” write psychologists Paula J. Caplan and Joan Chrisler on behalf of the AWP.

“This is important for many reasons, one of which is that a sense of control has been shown repeatedly in psychological research to be important to mental health and well-being,” they continue.

“Rape and incest are examples of extreme loss of control, and at least in some cases, making the decision to have an abortion after rape and incest are important parts of healing, which the Alabama law prohibits.”

Like domestic abuse and sexual assault, current proposed and passed laws are about power and control, and men’s fear of losing that power and control.

The laws aim to remove any sense of agency from women, over their bodies and their lives. In their worst form, they are a manifestation of terrorism in which a women’s body is owned by the state, as it was in the chilling novel The Handmaids Tale.

Laws that attempt to incarcerate a woman for crossing state lines to have an abortion, laws that can send her or her physician to jail for life, laws that in the extreme could result in executing a woman for having an abortion — all reveal the pure evil underpinning their passage.

* * *

Let’s remember that the same men (and, yes, some women) who want to torture girls and women in these ways are the same men (and women) who legislate against ensuring the health, safety, education, and well-being of the babies born of this unspeakable coercion, and who rabidly support capital punishment.

Even if these reactionary attempts to challenge women’s reproductive and human rights were to fail, “the blaming and shaming of girls and women who choose to use birth-control measures or who choose to have abortions causes fear, self-doubt, low self-confidence, feelings of being unsafe, and beliefs that others consider [women and girls] unable to make major or ethical decisions,” the AWP points out.

The truly heartbreaking thing is that once shamed, fearful, self-doubting, and depressed, it is almost impossible to regain a sense of personhood or control over one’s life.

That kind of despair, in which it seems impossible to envision a way out, is especially prevalent in the young. It can easily lead to self-destructive behavior, including suicide.

* * *

Some years ago, when I worked in Romania on reproductive rights, I saw the damage done to girls, women, and children during the time of the dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. His regime required that each girl graduating from high school undergo a pelvic exam to determine if she was pregnant. Every working woman was also subjected to monthly pelvic exams in their workplaces.

These cruel practices were enforced to ensure that all pregnancies were carried to term.

I saw the results of that grotesque policy in the Casa de Copii orphanages where unwanted babies were dumped.

Many of the children were visibly impaired, physically and mentally. Others suffered in ways that can only be imagined. Very few of them, I’m certain, had any vision of a happy future.

It was worse than Dickensian, and it broke my heart.

What is happening in this country now is not far removed from the tragedies that have occurred because of pro-natalist policies elsewhere.

The lack of humanity, morality, and ethics inherent in such policies is stunning. It leaves one speechless. Incredulous. Furious. Grieving.

But it must not leave us silent.

We must march in unity, speak out vociferously, resist mightily, vote, and support the #SexStrike movement together.

Most of all, we must refuse to sacrifice our young and our females on the altars of misogyny and in the chambers of violence. Our survival as sentient beings depends upon it.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #513 (Wednesday, June 5, 2019). This story appeared on page E3.

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