Roe V Wade


Abortion

Abortion

Speaking bluntly, I believe our nation is deeply conflicted about a woman’s body, especially her reproductive organs. While this conflict can be traced to a Platonic duality of mind and body whereby a man and his mind is valued as superior to a woman and her body, the ensuing cultural impact has situated man as subject/actor and woman as object/acted upon. In the United States, this duality is particularly curious because our nation embraces the value of autonomy as reflected in broad social and political changes of the voting rights for women, the civil rights movement, second-wave feminism and constitutional right to abortion for women. But, a cursory review of media research illustrates this duality in media’s ambivalence toward women who are too thin or too thick, casting them, respectively, as either deviant or normal or in media’s proliferation of make-over television programs for (mostly) women who fail to conform to socially constructed notions of beauty. Brenda Cowlishaw*  warns that we can easily fail to notice its controlling, limiting, structuring presence because of the ubiquity of the subject-object binary in modern western thought. Amused and amazed by entertainment, we often ignore the hegemonic forces that view white, heterosexual males as authority figures and render others as less. Her warning is relevant for the argument I want to make in this post. Despite years of progress toward full citizenship, women’s bodies are increasingly under the panopticon of male regulation and control regarding their reproductive organs, which, consequently, diminishes a woman’s subjectivity and full citizenship. Managing women’s reproductive organs is enacted through gender management called paternalism. As Gurevich**** explains, gender management, in the form of paternalistic body regulation and control, is a way to benevolently limit women’s freedom through social regulation for her own protection. And there’s historical precedence for regulating and controlling women’s bodies, much as we controlled the bodies of slaves, from popular culture’s expectations to the Supreme Court’s rulings to various presidencies and state legislators discourse. I’ll begin with an overview of the expressions of ambivalence toward women’s bodies and continue with a brief overview of the function of legal proceedings then move to Supreme Court’s paternalistic discourse in the Roe v Wade decision and then finish with current discourse about how paternalism impacts women’s bodies in the abortion war.

Ambivalence over Women’s Reproductive Organs

People often freely assert their opinions and policies about a woman’s bodies, particularly her breasts, her uterus, her ovaries and fallopian tubes, and her labia and vagina. Recall the local kerfuffles that have occurred in various municipalities over public breastfeeding or the intrusive school policies against young schoolgirls displaying excessive cleavage or the lingerie manufacturers’ padded bras designed to eliminate the stigmatized nipple. These kerfuffles are more easily recognized as absurd politics when framed against popular culture’s enthusiastic support of film and television representations of female cleavage and full frontal nudity or the tolerance of the multi-billion dollar pornography industry.

A woman’s labia and vagina are another part of anatomy for which there seems to be much conflict. While it’s hard to forget the public outrage and titillation when actress Sharon Stone revealed a crotch shot in Basic Instincts, it’s easy to recall the derogatory terms (like pussy, sugar jar, cunt, bearded clam, beaver, camel toe) people use describe this female territory. The current cosmetic surgery offering, labial reconstruction, illustrates the assumed flaw with a woman’s anatomy. According to most plastic surgery web sites, the procedure is meant to rejuvenate the structure and appearance of a woman’s genitalia.  But the message is clear: Your labia and vagina are disgusting. Despite this disgust, it seems important to point out that most of us have made the trip through a woman’s vagina on the first day of our life. Pardon my pointing out the ick factor of your birth.

As for ovaries and fallopian tubes, little media coverage, popular expressions or snarky remarks are made about them. Think about it. When was the last time you heard a joke about a fallopian tube? When did you share a snarky remark about some woman’s ovaries? But, let’s not deceive ourselves into thinking that these body parts are unimportant. Two examples should suffice to illustrate their importance to my argument. First, if a young woman, say 24 years old, requests a tubal ligation because she has no interest in becoming pregnant, she will encounter resistance and, often, disappointment because physicians are disinclined to oblige believing that they know better than the woman knows herself. “She might change her mind about becoming a mother,” the thinking goes. Second, ovaries and fallopian tubes are key players in producing viable eggs and in transporting a fertilized egg to the uterus for implantation. This second action is all too often overlooked in the war of the womb, the site of normal implantation. So, let’s give accolades to the ovaries and fallopian tube then pause to ponder the common denominator in this national angst over these body parts.

The common denominator, I argue, is gender management through paternalism. In examining how legal strategies use gender narratives about defendants who are mothers, Liena Gurevich**** calls gender management a form of paternalistic body regulation and control to benevolently limit women’s freedom through social regulation for her own protection. We can look to the function and discourse of legal proceedings to unpack the power of paternalistic regulation and control.

Legal Institutions as Bastions of Male Power and Control

Consider that legal institutions and their proceedings are forms of governance and normalization to maintain the social and political order and advancement of the interests of professional groups. Simply put, they are bastions of male power and control So, to name two examples, legal decisions have drawn, in the past, on the standards of moral purity with the enforcement of the Comstock Laws against birth control for married couples until Griswold v. Connecticut invalidated the law. The decision that legalized abortion, Roe v. Wade, is another example of male power. Often viewed as a legal decision to give women a choice about reproductive options, Roe v. Wade, written by Justice Blackmun, framed the decision as inherently and primarily a medical decision with basic responsibilities resting on the physician. As Katie Gibson** has noted, the decision has two central constructs that justified his decision: “a controlling ‘doctor knows best’ philosophy and the characterization of the ‘woman-as-patient’ in the apotheosis of medicine. Decades later, we see again the courts deference to male authority and the subjugation of women’s agency. In fact, in a more recent article, Katie Gibson*** claims that Justice Ginsburg’s dissenting opinion in the 2007 Gonzales v. Carhart conveys that majority decision was profoundly wrong and also exposed the law as an instrument of patriarchy led by the Roberts’ rightward leaning court.

Today, the discourse circulating in all levels of legislative activities denies agency to women (particularly if pregnant), confers rights to a rapist over the rights of a woman, compares the fetus to the slave who needs to be rescued while symbolically annihilating the woman, conflates consent to sex to consent to pregnancy and scorns the sexuality of women as shameful and deserving of retribution. In 2013, despite years of progress toward full citizenship, women’s bodies are increasingly under the panopticon of male regulation and control regarding their reproductive organs, which, consequently, diminishes a woman’s subjectivity. Comparing the man or woman who was in the involuntary servitude of the slave owner to women forced into involuntary servitude to the fetus, Kuswa, Achter & Lauzon**** conclude that the state has no justification to exert biopower. The paternalistic rhetoric, that slavery was good for the slaves, that slave owners were benevolent in exposing their superior culture, finds resonance in the management of women’s reproductive organs through the regulation and control to benevolently limit women’s freedom through social regulation for her own protection.

For Her Own Protection

Benevolently limiting women’s reproductive freedom through social regulation for her own protection is evident in targeted regulation of abortion providers that require ambulatory surgical standards such as wide hallways, hospital admitting privileges, drinking fountains and state-mandated (mis)information called counseling. The smokescreen, that these regulations are mandated to protect women, is bogus. These regulations do nothing to facilitate access to abortion, do nothing to ensure a doctor’s quality healthcare, do nothing to improve the lives of women, and do nothing to protect the universality of human rights for women. More to the point, laws against abortion are a form of sex discrimination, a heinous attempt to essentialize woman-as-womb and a de facto denial of women’s full citizenship.

Citations

* Cowlishaw, B. (2001). Subjects are from Mars, objects are from Venus: Construction of the self in self-help. Journal of Popular Culture, 35(1), 169-184.

**Gibson, K. (2008). The rhetoric of Roe v. Wade: When the (male) doctor knows best. Southern Communication Journal, 73 (4), 312-331.

***Gibson, K. (2012). In defense of women’s rights: A rhetorical analysis of judicial dissent. Women’s Studies in Communication, 35, 123-137.

****Gurevich, L. (2008). Patriarchy? Paternalism? Motherhood discourses in trials of crimes against children. Sociological Perspectives, 51(3), 515-539.

*****Kuswa, K., Achter, P., & Lauzon, E. (2008). The slave, the fetus, the body: articulating biopower and the pregnant woman. Contemporary Argumentation & Debate, 29, 166-185.

Abortion

Abortion

Before I embark on my next award winning column, I want to inform our readers that my co-blogger, DRK8blogginfem, is now on sabbatical.  As most of you know – especially you pro-lifers out there – she is a professor at a local college in Pennsylvania and it’s just become a matter of time management.  So, she will be on the sidelines for a bit.   Meanwhile, however, I’m pleased to report that I will soon be joined by two other bloggers – and one of them is from Ireland where things are hot and heavy.  Stay tuned.

So, Tuesday is the 40th anniversary of Roe v Wade.  I live down here in Alexandria, Virginia so by the end of the week pro-life activists will be streaming into town for their annual “March for Life” (they are marching on the weekend).   Of course, it’s more than one march.  It’s a series of prayer vigils, concerts, visits to Capitol Hill (more on that later) and protests at local abortion clinics.  A fun time will be had by all.

Abortion

Abortion

To this day, however, I do not understand how the pro-life movement has made this day theirs.  I mean, if I recall correctly January 22, 1973 was a day of liberation for millions and millions of women, wasn’t it?  It was the day that ended the era of illegal abortion.  It was a day that guaranteed that women would no longer have to resort to back-alley abortionists or self-induced abortions.  Roe v Wade saved the lives of thousands and thousands of women over the years.  Now, I know pro-lifers will point out that women have died from legal abortions and that is unfortunately true, but the number of deaths after Roe is miniscule compared to the epidemic of deaths that occurred pre-Roe.

So, how is it that the pro-choice movement never organized an annual “March for Choice?”  Well, the answer is simple.  Most people get energized when they are losing, when they are fighting FOR something.  In the case of the pro-lifers, it’s seeking an “end to abortion.”  They envision saving all of those “little babies,” giving little or no thought to the millions of women who each year feel compelled to abort.  Nope, they just love those babies and we’re the “baby killers” so let’s go to Washington, D.C. and march!

Abortion

Abortion

On the other hand, pro-choicers find themselves in the fortunate position of having to defend legal abortion and it’s harder to get people energized when you’re defending something that young people in particular have been living with all their lives.  As we have recently seen, the murder of 20 children with a semi-automatic assault weapon is a much more immediate and compelling image than the grainy black and white photos of a women lying in her own blood, the victim of a self-induced abortion in 1964.  It’s just not the same.

So, the anti-abortion crowd has basically kidnapped this day from us.  They’ll go up to Capitol Hill on Friday and hand out red roses to all of the congressional offices (we used to take them, put them in water, then bring them home to our spouses).  They’ll talk about how every woman who has ever had an abortion has regretted it and is on the verge of suicide.  They’ll talk about dismembering fetuses, partial birth abortion (which, ironically, does not dismember a fetus), Obama wanting to mandate abortion and how ObamaCare is going to force all of us to pay for abortions up to 42 weeks.  It will be the same ole, same ole.

But, damn, I wish we could take this day back!

Decades from now, what will the historians say about the morality crusade? How will the movement, led by religiously hysterical conservatives be recorded? The movement of a minority, intending to pass laws impacting the majority population, certainly will be evaluated for its intended and unintended consequences. I’m arguing that the scribes of cultural movements will note, no doubt with regret, that the oppressive laws stimulated the growth of illegal activities. And in the footnotes, some historians will wryly add that many of those who championed the draconian laws were privately against them. I’m not talking about abortion (yet). I am talking about the campaign that was the essence of the mostly failed alcohol prohibition here in the United States. But the similarities between prohibition and the current morality movement against abortion are disconcertingly similar. While there are many to consider, here are just a few.

Culture

Prohibition was fueled by the grim reality that people were dying from extreme forms of alcoholism. The move from drinking beer and wine to guzzling distilled spirits created a nation of drunkards. Those who called for temperance believed it would reduce illness, absenteeism at work, accidents in cities and on farms and, generally, improve the moral character of our nation.

Abortions were available prior to Roe for women of means. For other women, abortions were illegal, unsafe and often deadly. Curiously, there was little to no concern about abortion until Roe. Once it passed, anti abortion sentiment was fueled by images of fetal remains that scavengers collected out of garbage bins and out of clinic freezers. This sentiment was furthered with the misnamed partial birth abortion frenzy debated by hysterical and uninformed legislators. Current anti abortion turmoil has extended to legislation impacting clinic facilities. It’s really a bit of irony to think how similar this is to what finally nailed the coffin on alcohol. Rather than anti drinking campaigns, the anti saloon league worked better by closing all the saloons. It’s conceivable that current legislation might be headed in the same direction to not make abortion inconvenient but to make access impossible by closing clinics.

And when the cultural history of celebrities in the United States is written, the books will note the prohibition stars like Al Capone and Lucky Luciano, and the abortion celebrities like Abby Johnson and Troy Newman. They will be featured as single-issue stars who rose to fame then burned out.

Politics

Women were central figures in public protests against drinking alcohol. While the initial movement urged a form of moderation that came from a sincere desire within, rather than a forced decision, the women’s temperance groups eventually urged absolute abstinence.

Women continue to be central figures in public praying and protests outside abortion clinics. Being faithful heterosexuals, they also urge abstinence from sex until marriage.

Prohibition lobbying attracted single-issue voters like abortion attracts single-issue voters. Like Prohibition, the movement toward the repeal of Roe v Wade was started by Republicans and joined, later, by a few conservative Democrats.

Religion

Prohibition was energized by religious fervor, especially Protestants. Abortion is both a Protestant and Catholic issue in general. In the minority, Evangelicals and Fundamentalist Protestants and conservative Catholics have been vocal opponents of Roe.

Language

Prohibition gave our nation new terms like bootlegger, scofflaw, teetotaler, the drys and the wets, and rum running. Legal abortion has provided new vocabulary terms like anti, choice, prolife, and partial birth.

The above are just a few of the similarities between prohibition and abortion. The people who believed in prohibition thought that government could make life better. It’s no different than those who believe the government should overturn Roe to make our nation a more moral nation. But, like those who thought the government had no right to interfere with alcohol consumption, there are those, a majority, who believe that government has no place in legislating morality, including abortion. Prohibition was a failed social experiment that ignited organized crime, killed thousands of innocent citizens in the name of morality and law, and during the period leading to WWI, linked booze with anti-German war propaganda.

It stands to reason that if abortion is outlawed, there will be similar unintended consequences, some quite deadly.

Stop Bullying Women

For many years, anti-abortion activists have lobbied their state legislatures to pass laws that require abortion clinics to share certain information with their patients.  These so-called “Right to Know” laws take many forms:  giving the patient a brochure that shows the stages of fetal development, taking an ultrasound and showing it to the woman, reciting a script to the patient that is a litany of things that can go wrong with an abortion, etc., etc.

Although the pro-choice movement regularly opposes these laws, I have written in the past about how the affect of these laws on the woman is rather minimal.  For example, most women casually look at the brochures, if at all, then toss them into

the garbage.  I’ve been in the rooms with woman as they observed their ultrasound, asked questions about the fetus then proceeded to have the abortion.  It’s all a rather big waste of time if you ask me, but if the anti-abortion movement wants to spend their time on this kind of stuff, go for it.  And, after all, it’s all well-intentioned, isn’t it?  Sure, they would prefer to make that woman’s act totally illegal, but since they can’t do that they want to make sure that a woman is making an informed choice.  How compassionate of them, huh?

Meanwhile, up in New York City, the City Council has taken a great interest in the activities of a number of “crisis pregnancy centers” that, according to testimony provided in a hearing, are engaging in “deceptive” practices designed to convince the woman that they are actually medical facilities.  It seems that the staff in some of these cpcs a

Ultrasound Before Abortion Procedure

re doing some interesting things.  For some reason, they are collecting personal and insurance information in the waiting room, the consultations are taking place on examination tables with the woman in the stirrups and “scrub suited consultants” are giving free pregnancy tests and ultrasounds.   On its face, it sounds a little deceptive to me but I’m sure these reports are not accurate because we’ve been told so many times that cpcs do not engage in this kind of behavior.

Still, this crazy ole City Council is concerned about this alleged behavior so they passed a law requiring the cpcs to post signs saying they have no doctors on site and don’t’ give advice about abortions or birth control.  Sounds kind of like the “Right to Know” laws that are being imposed on abortion clinics.

But, lo and behold, here comes the Alliance Defense Fund, a conservative Christian advocacy group, and they challenge the law, saying it would have violated the center’s right to free speech.  And, recently, a local judge agreed with them and slapped an injunction on the new law.

Putting aside all the legal mumbo-jumbo and the current status of the law, what I cannot sort out is why anti-abortion advocates want abortion clinics to inform women of everything but the kitchen sink, but when the NY City Council wants to ask them to give out just a little information about their centers, they balk at the idea?

Somebody help me here, please!

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