Yearning to return to the 1950s? You may get your wish

Julie Ann Neely is a longtime independent feminist/environmentalist/activist, now Democrat, who became politically active in retirement because she is worried about her grandchildren’s future and believes our democracy is in danger. -promoted by Laura Belin

Iowa Republican lawmakers and Governor Kim Reynolds have long sought to eliminate a woman’s right to choose, and several new attempts were introduced during the 2020 legislative session.

In plain language, this is about increasing unwanted pregnancies and trapping women in cycles of menstruation and reproduction that, once again, deny them control of their fertility and the autonomy to be free and creative agents of their own future. Anti-abortion extremist rhetoric professes protection for women and future “unborn” (an emotionally loaded euphemism for the medical term, fetus).

In reality, it means anyone who styles themselves as a fetus protector will be in a position to control women’s lives. Their stance is two dimensional:

1) all pregnancies must be carried to term at all costs                 

2) nothing else matters.

Feast your eyes – these are just the beginning:

Senate Joint Resolution 2001: Amending Iowa’s Constitution,  “…(5) to defend the dignity of all (6) human life, and to protect mothers and unborn children from (7) efforts to expand abortion even to the day of birth…this Constitution shall not be construed to recognize, grant or secure a right to abortion or to require the public funding of abortion.” (1)

Senate File 523: “A person who causes the (5) death of an unborn person without the consent of the pregnant (6) person during the commission of a felony… (13) intentionally… (25) unintentionally by any means…” The measure defines “…unborn person’ to mean “an individual organism of the species homo sapiens from fertilization to live birth.”  (Is this the 21st century version of a homunculus?  Keep reading) (2)

Senate Bill 2215: This bill “…adds requirements around providing an ultrasound before abortion, requires a 3-day waiting period between ultrasound and abortion” It requires obtaining and retaining in the pregnant woman’s medical “… (24 )file written certification from the pregnant woman that an (25) ultrasound was performed on the pregnant woman and the pregnant (26)woman has viewed the ultrasound images, listened to the (27) fetal heartbeat of the unborn child if the fetal heartbeat is audible, or has declined to do so.” (3)

House Study Bill 660  The House Human Resources Committee approved bill would require those in charge of the medical facility or the woman who has had a miscarriage, abortion or still birth to choose burial, interment, or individual cremation for fetal remains and to get a fetal death certificate for pregnancies that end after 12 weeks.  Current law requires a fetal death certificate starting at 20 weeks. (4)

House Study Bill 678 This legislation requires state licensure and inspection of individual abortion facilities.  License fees would be up to $2,000. (5)

Editor’s note from Laura Belin: State lawmakers suspended the 2020 session in mid-March for at least 30 days, due to the novel coronavirus outbreak. However, several of the bills mentioned above cleared the legislature’s first “funnel” deadline and could be debated when legislators come back to Des Moines.

Let’s be clear. The implicit message here is that women need to be protected from themselves. Currently, abortion is a choice for those experiencing an unintended/unwanted pregnancy. It is a decision made after considerable soul searching and thought.  The right-to-choose in no way forces women to have an abortion.  Multiple delays, plus mandating scripts for doctors and other medical professionals, questions a women’s abilities as rational beings.

When making their case, anti-abortion extremists stop any meaningful conversation before it starts by equating all abortions to third trimester abortions. Very late abortions present thorny issues that need to be dealt with separate from first and second trimester discussions. Third trimester abortions have long been illegal in Iowa, and almost all abortions after 20 weeks have been illegal since 2017. Women are not giving pregnancy little thought and deciding willy-nilly at the last minute not to have a baby. It is time to put knee-jerk reactions aside and have a rational discussion based on accurate information.

Beware! When the government establishes laws for control over a person’s body by forbidding a medical procedure, it then establishes the precedent for that government to establish laws mandating medical procedures. In addition, the proposed legislation sets up a false moral equivalency, with the fetus having primacy over the woman. Upon birth, should the fetus be female, she will then be relegated to a secondary equivalency.

It’s Time To Talk About Abortion in the Context of Reproductive Justice (6)

Reality:  Republican efforts to guarantee fetal protection are nothing more than a social judgment about women’s roles and ownership of their bodies. They blather on about protecting mothers and fetuses, but if Republicans were truly concerned for women and children they would do what is necessary to facilitate the prevention of unwanted pregnancies and support the wanted pregnancies.

They would:
∗ guarantee affordable, comprehensive, and plentiful healthcare and contraception for everyone;
∗ support rural hospitals so they could remain open;
∗ women’s pay would be on par with men’s;
∗ quality childcare would be plentiful and affordable for all;
∗ workers would make a living wage so families would not face hunger on a regular basis;
∗ our schools and teachers would be a realistic budget priority; and
∗ family farms would not be going bankrupt.

If Iowa Republican “protections” are codified to grant full personhood to a fertilized egg, Iowa will become a treacherous world for women, and create hardships for families.  It will open the door for those in power to indulge their obsession with the fetal environment. 

Sound extreme? What about Roe v Wade you may ask?  Consider a few representative cases below.

“Alabama woman loses unborn child after being shot, gets arrested; shooter goes free” (7)  An unarmed woman, Marshae Jones, 27, was indicted on manslaughter charges after being shot in the abdomen by 23-year-old Ebony Jemison during a fight. The grand jury’s indictment concluded that Jones, knowing she was 5 months pregnant, intentionally caused the death of her fetus (8) by initiating a fight.  Although the charges were later dropped, many questions remain, not the least of which is, do the people of the State of Alabama give a fig about the hell they put the wounded Jones through?

“Missouri’s State Health Department Kept Spreadsheets Tracking Menstrual Periods of Planned Parenthood Patients”(9) The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services Director, Dr. Randall Williams, testified Tuesday that the state health department kept a spreadsheet tracking the menstrual periods of women who visited Planned Parenthood in St. Louis.

“Whose life is it, anyway? Angie Carter lived a very simple life…and died a very complicated death” (10) Twenty-seven-year-old Angela Carter had been fighting cancer since age 13. She was twenty-six weeks pregnant when hospital administrators and Judge Emmet Sullivan, forced her to undergo a C-section in Washington, D.C., in the slim hope of saving the fetus, despite the serious risk to her. Both died.

Iowa Police Almost Prosecute Woman For Her Accidental Fall During Pregnancy…Seriously.(11) After leaving a Burlington, Iowa emergency room, twenty-two-year-old Christine Taylor was charged with attempted feticide after falling down the stairs at home.


Question: Who are the leading and most powerful forces against a woman’s right to choose?

Answer: Republican legislators, our governor, and some very patriarchal religions. (Trivia: There was a time when the most powerful of these religions taught that a male deposited a homunculus (12) (a complete little male person with a soul) in a female during intercourse where it would only be housed until it could safely reach male hands, and be baptized, without any developmental contribution from the mother. Female births indicated something had gone wrong.)

What Our Foremothers Knew:(13) Our foremothers knew that pregnancy is not a totally benign state, with everyone living happily ever after when much anticipated bundles of joy arrive. Their reality – women could expect to bear a child every two or three years until menopause. Childbearing occurred primarily at home and was the domain of women and midwives.  Maternal and infant mortality rates were high. Many children died young. Gender and marital status determined women’s legal standing, with civil and property rights being withdrawn upon her marriage.

There is one crucial point to be made here. Until 1869, laws did not address abortion; it was not a criminal offense. No matter what kinds of regulations were created by governments, churches, families or other authorities, girls and women have always done what they could to shape their reproductive lives. It was considered a woman’s decision, eliciting little discussion or controversy until the first sign of fetal movement, called the “quickening.” All women in all societies knew of herbs they could use to “bring on blocked menses” when a period was late. Until the quickening, abortion was a widely accepted practice, even by the Catholic Church.

Uppity Women: Laws that politicized and controlled women’s reproduction coincided with women’s demand to have a political voice and exert control in their own lives. When abortion was criminalized in 1869, it was not out of concern for women and children, but for political reasons.

American-born, white male elites became concerned with the “ethnic character of our nation” and preserving their political power, wealth and control.(14) They felt the need to increase the numbers of children with a Northern European heritage. In short it became a numbers’ game at a time when African Americans were declared full citizens and hundreds of thousands of desperate immigrants were coming to the U.S. looking for a better life. They attacked women’s demand for the vote, and mounted an offensive campaign condemning birth control and abortion as immoral, unwomanly and unpatriotic.  Their campaign focused on forcing appropriate white women to perform their “…marital and maternal obligations…” and protect “the national identity of the United States as a white country.” The 21st century version: white supremacists, anti-abortion legislation, Trumps’ wall and measures to block legal and illegal immigrants coming from Mexico and Central America. 

The late 1800s spawned an era that was fraught with reproductive injustices and hypocrisy.  In 1873 Congress passed the Comstock Law, (15) which criminalized discussing and disseminating family planning information, including the primitive methods of contraception available at the time. Control of childbirth was shifted from a woman/midwife’s domain to that of a white male medical system that was in sympathy with the political powers. There was no obstetric training at the time. In truth doctors were rarely able to treat any illnesses and save lives.

At the same time little thought was given to the poor, people of color, or immigrants, unless it was to restrict their numbers.(16) Considering them to be defective, criminals or degenerate, those in power mostly turned a blind eye to their continued use of midwives and herbs.  Forced sterilization, adoption, and institutionalization became legally accepted practices to preserve white primacy. Depending on ethnicity and socioeconomic status, women’s healthcare and resources were differently rewarded or punished. The 21st Century version: The removal of funding for contraception, gag rules that effectively increase unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections. Trump calling Mexican immigrants criminals, drug dealers, and rapists. Separating children (17) from their parents at the border. Denying Title X (18) funding to clinics that provide abortion referrals.   

“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” –William Faulkner (19)

Here we are again, being forced to revisit the battles our foremothers won. (20)  For more than a decade, women demonstrated, were arrested, went on hunger strikes, and changed laws so they could talk about and use contraception.

So – what’s up with our governor supporting the anti-abortion legislation? Reynolds is standing on the shoulders of the women who went before her; women who refused to let biology relegate them to second class status.  Doesn’t she realize the whirlwind she will unleash, or does she just not care because she has hers?

Does she not understand the injustice of jeopardizing the use of contraceptives that we rely on today? (21) In U.S. Senate confirmation hearings, Brett Kavanaugh referred to contraception as abortion inducing drugs. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has pointed out that supporters of “personhood” legislation contend that most methods of contraception act as abortifacients because they may prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus.

Our grandmothers’ past could be our daughters’ and granddaughters’ future. Ultimately this is about women having control over their bodies and lives. With today’s medical advances, that include contraception, little girls have a future full of possibilities that their great-grandmothers could only imagine. Statistics (22) show there were 862,000 abortions in 2017, down from 1,058,000 in 2011, and the abortion rate is still going down. We need to continue moving forward in preventing unwanted pregnancies, not go backward.

If Republicans have their way, men too will feel some of the pinch. If women were forced to carry unwanted pregnancies to term, consider the economics: women forced to leave careers, higher education cut short, increased childcare costs, the expenses of another child, and another 862,000 people added to a planet in danger.

Men once again could be forced into the role of sole breadwinner. In the U.S., from 1983 to 2016, the aggregate share of wealth (23) held by middle-income families was cut nearly in half, falling from 32 percent to 17 percent; low income down 7 percent to 4 percent. How many families could survive on a single income?

Would arguing with a partner open the door for homicide charges in the “death” of a fetus? What about tobacco and alcohol, since they affect sperm? (24)

We need to take a stand, but it shouldn’t be a battle for women to face alone.  Although controlling reproduction is still primarily a woman’s domain, men share equally in creating a pregnancy. Yet legislators don’t feel the need to mandate male responsibilities. In fairness, many men, in varying degrees, assume their responsibilities, but what’s to prevent legal mandates for male reproductive responsibility, with felony sanctions when the mandates are not met?

And what about “Mr. Macho” who equates manliness with sexual conquests? Shouldn’t concerned fetus protectors consider limiting his ability to impregnate women as an effective way to prevent abortions? Alabama Democratic Reprepresentative Rolanda Hollis thinks that would be a good idea. She has introduced a bill requiring men to be sterilized after age 50 or after the birth of their third child. (25) There are more possibilities, but you get the idea.

The takeaway:  It’s time for Democrats to get tough and take back government at all levels. What we are up against is about politics and who’s controlling whom. Republicans, supported by some patriarchal religions, are trying to hide their narrow ideological legislation in a cloak of moral concern for women and children. That’s baloney. Let’s not let them get away with it.

Please, we must get involved in supporting Democratic candidates and make our voices heard.

And please, please, please, vote. Thank you.

Top photo by Robin Marty taken during the pro-life march in McAllen, Texas in front of the Whole Women’s Health clinic on January 21, 2017, available via Flickr and published with permission.

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