Women's Rights

Women Never Took Their Rights for Granted

Women have always led the fight against gender oppression. So why are we being blamed for not doing enough?

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“Abortion today… all of our rights as Women next ladies, so speak up now. This is not the time to be quiet!” — Lisa Rinna on Twitter

We read the statement above and a dozen others just like it through scrolling through reactions to the abortion bans passed in Georgia and Alabama. We read exhortations for more women to run for office to fight for access to abortion services, or at least oppose attempts at restriction. We read.

You know what we didn’t read?

Anything that didn’t subtly imply that women would have to, once again, clean up a mess we didn’t make. Like clueless children scattering socks and snack wrappers strewn all over the house in total confidence that Mom will sweep and mop and tidy, the largely male overseers of our national collapse into Gilead—Alabama’s abortion ban was signed into law by a female governor but written and enacted by that state’s all-male Republican caucus—seem to think women should make up the entirety of the uprising to stop it.

And far too many women are reinforcing that idea.

“This bill would make women who seek abortion guilty of homicide, and subject to life in prison or the death penalty,” wrote Tina Smith, the Democratic senator from Minnesota. “It’s terrifying and part of a larger, coordinated effort to overturn Roe v. Wade. We need to pay attention and can’t take our rights for granted.”

Women did not cause the current clusterfuck by “taking our rights for granted,” and we don’t get any further along in a fight we are already expected to fight alone by implying that if we’d simply been more vigilant, Republican men wouldn’t have been so evil.

Women, especially lower-income women, especially women of color, have always voted in the majority for any candidate who promises to protect abortion rights. Those women do not bear sole responsibility for cleaning up after the men who are marching through statehouses burning down every legal protection women have fought and died for.

In the days following the Georgia and Alabama abortion bans, we’ve read statements of anger and outrage from female legislators, female journalists, female entertainers, and female public figures. All of them called out the injustice of expecting women to bear the entire burden of child-rearing without any say in how and when it happens.

“When I was growing up, people got abortions. Desperate women turned to back-alley butchers or even tried the procedure on their own,” Senator Elizabeth Warren wrote. “Some were lucky, but others weren’t. They all went through hell. Access to safe, legal abortion is a constitutional RIGHT. Full stop.”

From men? Tepid statements of the kind we’ve grown used to hearing from politicians. “Roe v. Wade is settled law and should not be overturned,” said former Vice President Joe Biden. Mayor Peter Buttigieg asked his followers to donate to NARAL. Senator Bernie Sanders tried to turn the Alabama fustercluck back into a reason to support Medicare for All.

New York City Mayor Bill deBlasio, who recently announced his candidacy for president, hasn’t mentioned Georgia, Alabama, or even the word “abortion” once on his prolific Twitter feed.

Male pundits, meanwhile, largely either retweeted statements made by others or kept their focus on other things: Trump’s latest cruel nickname for an enemy, the ongoing machinations of the Mueller investigation, emoluments, a thousand other outrages.

Some even dared to assure women that the courts packed for decades with Republican appointees will surely interpret the law fairly and justly.

“If signed by Alabama’s governor, this law criminalizing all abortions, without exceptions for rape or incest, is too extreme to make a decision upholding an injunction against its enforcement a likely case for SCOTUS to agree to hear,” wrote Harvard Law School’s Laurence Tribe.

The bill was signed into law, and now we can look forward to justices whose interpretations of the law have already gutted critical constitutional rights like voting to make the appropriate legal decisons. Dr. Tribe will have to pardon those of us who are not exactly feeling optimistic.

Those that did speak up often did so in generic terms, or credited mothers and sisters and daughters and college girlfriends and other assorted womenfolk in their lives with opening their eyes to the idea that cisgender female bodies work a certain way, or need certain things, or suffer indignities cis male bodies do not.

Their weaksauce attempts at solidarity left women to tell their deeply personal, sometimes painful stories of abortion in hopes of inspiring sympathy among politicians who’ve already demonstrated they have none.

“Elect women. Elect Democratic women,” wrote Tariq Smith of Run for Something. “If you care about the health of women, mothers and infants. If you care about safe pregnancies and safe births.”

Let’s never say no to more female legislators, especially at the state level, especially in red states. But let’s also elect more men who give more than lip service to women’s freedom, who aren’t just allies but accomplices in women’s fights, who author legislation to expand access to birth control and childcare subsidies instead of just signing on as co-sponsors at the last minute, who stand up not just because their own wife or mother or child nags them about it but because they recognize it’s right and just that they do so.

After all, not all women are pro-choice, as we’ve seen. Alabama’s governor is a woman and she didn’t hesitate a moment before signing this bill into law. Abortion-rights activists right now are mobilizing against the virulently anti-choice Wendy Vitter, nominated by Trump to the federal bench. Vitter’s supported long-debunked claims that abortion and birth control cause cancer and inspire women to seek out relationships with abusive men.

And let’s not blame young women for this, either. Every third comment on every article about these bans is from an older woman victim-blaming anyone born after Roe—as I was—for not remaining eternally vigilant and radicalized in a fight we were told had already been won.

Let’s not for once be the patient cleanup crew, enabling the destructive forces strewing these laws from sea to shining sea. Women will fight this because we have to, but we shouldn’t have to fight alone.

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