In 1968, when I was an undergrad at Temple University, I was asked to create an illustration for an article about abortion to appear in the first issue of the Philadelphia Free Press, the City’s first “underground” newspaper. Hard to believe, this was before Roe vs Wade.
I had not yet had an abortion; that would come years later. But I knew what was at stake. My mother told me about coat-hanger abortions performed in hotel rooms. It seemed to me the choice was clear: women’s reproductive rights could not, should not, be legislated by government. Separation of church and state was sacred and the voices wishing to ban abortion had a distinctly religious overtone.
I viewed their opposition to abortion as the last vestige of patriarchy, an attempt by religious fanatics to keep women barefoot and pregnant, chained to the stove and out of the workforce. My illustration for the Free Press article showed three women, covering their eyes, ears and mouth, replicating the postures of the three monkeys: hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil.
Barefoot and pregnant
If anyone had told me then that reproductive rights and the very fabric of our Constitutional democracy would be at risk almost a half century later, I would have laughed. Yet here we are again, at the very same tipping point, poised to take a giant step back into the Dark Ages, into an Orwellian state in which the U.S. populace is controlled by propaganda, denial of the truth and historic revisionism.
Donald Trump’s presidential campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again,” is a far-right euphemism for a time when white Christian men ruled the land. A pregnant woman stayed pregnant, even if she already had six kids and was struggling to put food on the table, or even if she was raped or was a victim of incest.
A teen pregnancy meant the end of school and/or a shotgun wedding. It also meant shame. Pregnant women were shipped off to “homes for unwed mothers” and their babies were put up for adoption or introduced as a younger sibling. However, if a woman had enough — or was given enough — money, there was always a willing doctor hiding in the shadows (though there was no guarantee she’d be able to conceive again or survive the procedure). Those were the days!
Even in the late 1960s, not all of my friends escaped the trauma of unwanted pregnancy. Not long after I introduced my friend Leslie to Hank (not their real names), Leslie vanished. It was typical of people to drop out of college, but not to disappear without a word. Months later, I got word that Leslie had gone home to the midwest to bring her pregnancy to term and put her baby up for adoption.
I was shocked; Leslie was like me. Upper middle class, bright, with a great future ahead of her. My mother would never put me through that. If I went through with a pregnancy, I would be encouraged to keep the baby, or I’d have the option of an abortion. Leslie’s fate struck me as barbaric. As it turned out, her decision reflected her parent’s strict Lutheran values. Now those values have made their way into the halls of Congress, and if Trump follows through on his pledge, to the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade.
Time to grab back
This isn’t just about defunding Planned Parenthood. This is about disenfranchising millions of women from ownership of their own bodies. It’s a government grab for — Marx forgive me — the means of reproduction. You thought it was bad when Trump said he likes to “grab ‘em by the pussy?” Wait until he grabs your ovaries!
The most convoluted part of this process of politicizing and limiting women’s reproductive rights is that it goes against the Tea Party and Christian-right’s tug-of-war regarding the separation of church and state. On one hand, they do not want the federal government legislating their personal rights, especially when it comes to guns or whom they can refuse to serve or hire in their businesses. But when it comes to what goes on between my legs or how many kids I can afford to feed and clothe, they are foaming at the mouth to seize control.
We are told Trump is “pragmatic.” That he is really a New Yorker at heart and doesn’t share the far right’s draconian approach to social issues. But looking at his cabinet of predominantly old white men, I am not so sure. It feels a lot like 1968.