The Body of Choice

When Women Empowerment
Was Written Into the U.S. Law

Forty years ago today, abortion became legal in the U.S. through the landmark Supreme Court decision, Roe v. Wade. It was the culmination of years of struggle to strip the issue of religious undertones and move it to the realm of women’s health.
Although abortion may serve as springboard for deranged arguments against a woman’s right to preside over her own body, most Americans wouldn’t support turning back the clock on the law of the land.
That’s because there are two undeniable facts about abortion: one is that it’s still one of the hardest decisions any person would have to make. Secondly, its legality has saved thousands of lives, and is potentially a deterrent factor in preventing pregnancy.
At the end of the day, when all the hypocritical and moralist rhetoric about ‘right to life’ and other fabrications have died out, what’s left is only the health and social implications the decision to end an undesirable and unprepared pregnancy ensues. And that affects everyone.
It’s enough that in many parts of the world, what’s erroneously considered a ‘woman’s mistake’ will cost her health, social standing, and often her own life. She will meet the utmost punishment, regardless if she was raped by one of her community’s patriarchs or by a gang of drunken youth: if she survives, she’ll still be an outcast.
In the U.S., despite a spat of state-level rulings, in some instances, even seeking criminal prosecution, we’re not about to return to such tribalistic reality. Although such rulings aim, ultimately, at preventing women from exercising their self determination, we’ve already too far down the road to equality to back down now.
Let’s keep in mind that, even though the issue of abortion is an integral part of the overall fight for reproductive rights, it also concerns the very fabric of society. For a family, beyond its ability to generate income to sustain itself, it’s the economics of birth control what will determine its chances to succeed.

There’s something expected but no less curiously common among the many ways women had to deal with unwanted pregnancy in the past: they were mostly alone at it. More, all methods employed were heavy on belief and fear of the almighty, and tragically short of what only science brought to the table: trial and error.
Thus the infinite wisdom (except on this instance) of Egyptians prescribed a pessary (we’ve looked it up, so can you) of crocodile dung to prevent pregnancy. Aristotle is said to advise using olive and cedar oils mixed, whereas lemon and onion juices, tar, nettle leaves, elephant dung, cat testicles, and an assorted variety was blindly recommended throughout the ages.
That, when the poor woman was not forced to ingest the froth of a camel’s mouth, sheep’s urine, or rabbit’s blood, to protect herself, while men could always withdraw it if they wanted to, probably no questions asked. To be fair, some natural remedies did have spermicide properties, such as Queen Anne’s Lace seeds which is still used in a few backwater communities.
Even as laboratories were busy working on the combination of estrogen and progestogen that would originate today’s oral contraceptive pill, through much of the 1920s and 30s, women were stuffing all sorts of junk up their vaginal canal in order to avoid pregnancy, including Coca-Cola (well, doesn’t it dissolve teeth, too?). Coitus interruptus was also very popular.
As with Lace seeds, some of these primitive methods are still being used with highly limited rates of success. But only after the FDA considered the pill safe at least for the great majority of women, in May of 1960, the very first corner on our ability of controlling when and how to have our babies was turned. And there’s no way back.

Still, it took another 23 years until the other part of the equation was also addressed, that of accidental or criminally forced, or simply unwanted pregnancy, by the Roe v. Wade ruling. Until then, most women would have to go the underground way or, even worse, seek unscrupulous amateurs in the proverbial back alley.
The pill may have been the single greatest step towards female empowerment ever taken, give or take a few gender-specific therapies. But in itself, it’s just one more prescription drug, incapable of promoting any social changes. That would only come with the Supreme Court 1983 decision.
Similarly to what happened with the Aids crisis 10 years later, it was only through activism that what had been achieved in medical laboratories fulfilled its social function of healing society. Otherwise, even today few would be able to afford it or even have access to either contraceptives or HIV medication, or both.
Now, whether we’ll ever settle discrepancies about what a trimester represents in fetus development, why should religion even have a saying in medical and state decisions, when there won’t be any questions about equality for women, or that abortion is a social issue, not a moral one, only time will tell.
And frankly, we shouldn’t care much about it either. Part of the beauty of living in an open, democratic society is that every one may live according to their own conscience, for as long as it’s not imposed on anybody else’s. And that, as long as you don’t hurt (or shoot) anyone, you’re really free to do almost all you damn well please.

The health and well being of a woman is the health and well being of her family, community, and country. But that doesn’t mean that she’s a slave of her body, and can’t treat it according to her own convictions. In other words, instead of self-appointed guardians of the unborn, we should be taking better care of the seven billion that are already around.
This world is for the living. You may believe in a prior life, a post life, a heaven above, and a ‘hell below us.’ It’s OK, there’s no need to tell us why. Just remember that, it’s while we are here that everything counts. It is this shared reality, which you and everyone you know are part of, that needs to be nourishing to every human being.
What Roe v. Wade finally acknowledged was that, in the name of a super-reality, of the power of the invisible, or of a presumed future life, women were being penalized for being the ones capable of bringing babies to life. Deaths by childbirth, violent rape, or lack of medical care, were already rampant before the decision. What it did was only to extend the society’s protective arm to women too.
The landmark ruling assured, once and for all, that every woman has the right to decide when and how she’ll have children, if ever. Not her father, brothers, family, priest, governor, country, council of nations, or divine authority. That’s why the majority of Americans support this law; because it acknowledges that women, like this country, are sovereign, and can not be invaded.

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