The party that claims to push for small government is creating laws to control every crevice of our most personal decisions, determining whether we strain, suffer, live or die.
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It is interesting how, when a law collapses, even though it has no physical substance, it still displaces air. In the months since the fall of Roe, there has been a great and terrible exhale throughout these United States, shuddering through millions of lives. And each of the citizens affected, regardless of age or gender, their experiences with parenthood, their health and wellness and capacity for stress, has suddenly felt a horrible chill down their spines.
In more than half of states and territories, a positive pregnancy test immediately transforms daily life into a crash course in paranoia. Friends must be probed and tested for distrust; neighbors are best kept at a distance; skittish medical practitioners speak in a deliberately opaque code that must be decrypted for their advice to mean anything. It does not matter if you are excited about the pregnancy or not; hopeful parents will be denied abortions when they need them as much as discontented ones. It is not merely those people seeking abortion who have to sense eyes and ears monitoring their every move; all pregnancy is now a tremendous gamble, with everything resting on any given hospital lawyer’s interpretation of “life of the mother.”
This is the so-called “limited” government that Republican rule has delivered across the country: laws and lawyers in every crevice of our most personal decisions, determining whether we strain, suffer, live or die with a thoughtlessly worded statute. And for those who choose to reject this paradigm, their protest of autonomy must be carried out in secret, because bans have made everyone they know into a potential bounty hunter. Punishment lurks in our every day, a permanent shadow above our heads, lingering behind our backs, tracing and tracking everything we do to ensure the “domestic supply of infants” our Supreme Court is so preoccupied with. We may have avoided the dreaded “big government” the GOP warned us about, but we have received something even worse: a nation where the government is simultaneously ubiquitous and hostile, a violent specter merely awaiting an excuse. In their so-called pursuit of freedom, Republicans have made us a haunted country.
We are suffused with restless spirits—not merely of the persecuted and unfulfilled dead—but of the hopelessly constrained aspirations of the living. Rather than reject the mistakes of our collective past, we have chosen to repeat them, and condemned another generation to the misery of their ancestors. There is a deep well of grief from our parents and grandparents, the living memory of history, whose lives were shaped and shattered by the costs of these laws. Their anguish changed the world to prevent it from happening again—and with 50 years of tireless activism, the conservative movement unmade the progress of a century.
It is not a coincidence that some of the laws creating these bans pre-date equal suffrage. These were societies of casual violence, of grinding poverty, of children who worked alongside their parents because that was the only way they’d earn their keep. These statutes have been resurrected precisely for their uninformed cruelty, their lack of regard, the haughty assumption that understanding childbirth or the people who experience it is beneath contempt. The updated 1901 law that currently governs Arizona citizens was passed during a legislative session where an equal suffrage bill never made it to a vote. According to a February issue of local Arizona newspaper The Copper Era, the bill couldn’t survive a ruling from a federally appointed territorial judge who declared that women weren’t citizens, so the legislature couldn’t offer them voting rights even if the law passed. Not even a month later, the front page of the Chochise Review reported that the same legislature passed a law requiring two documented years in an alcoholic abusive marriage for a wife to justify divorce. It was not an era where personhood much existed past white cisgender Christian masculinity. And the modern GOP has ensured that even though the men themselves are dead, their opinions on humanity will be immortalized in law.
And just like that, we become a graveyard of possibilities.
As a child of choice, I am as aware as anyone of the opportunities opened by abortion. Years before my birth, my mother had an abortion to maintain control of the trajectory of her life, to avoid the struggles and difficulties she would have with an unwilling co-parent, to keep intact the dream of having a family on her terms, in her time. The result was a life with the family she had always hoped for, filled with the joys (and frustrations, I am reminded to add) of children who always knew we were loved. To enable exactly these kinds of choices is the purpose of a healthy society and the obligation owed by a government to the people it governs. That is what it means to be equal: a life of decisions, freely made.
Our government has ripped away this natural right from half of the population with a cadre of unelected magistrates chosen by popularly rejected executives. The approaching elections offer them a conclusive chance to codify the past as our future. A Republican House and Senate passes a 15-week national abortion ban with few, if any defections. Republican governors will sign off on even more intrusive, barbaric bills foisted onto their desks by extreme Republican-run state legislatures. And in another two years, they will use every tool of those majorities to support a Republican president who will make it permanent.
It is the task of people supporting autonomy and democracy to prevent Republican efforts to elevate the laws of the dead over the will of the living. We deserve better as citizens than to argue our humanity with people who are steadfastly committed to disrespecting it. Even if you don’t agree with any given person’s decision about their lives, we can all agree that it’s theirs to make. It’s the kind of common sense consensus that gets lost when an issue spends half a century justifying exceptions to banning it instead of asking how it is ever permissible to make a person give birth against their will.
It took more than 50 years to create the architecture of Roe, and it took another 50 to demolish it. Yet, in a few weeks, we have the chance to reassemble this broken infrastructure for privacy, personal freedom, and gender equality on stronger, better defended terms only months after its loss. This is the gift we were granted by the half century it took for conservatives to pry autonomy from our lives. We had years to make decisions about parenthood and childbirth for ourselves, with the advice of a professional, in the privacy of our own spaces. We are horrified by the specter of shame in the room, disgusted by the reflections of chiding politicians over our shoulders, and unaccustomed to the sharp chill of legal prosecution breathing down our necks. We are the generations who first learned what it could mean to breathe freely. Now we can choose not to be the last.
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