This month marks the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment, which finally granted American women suffrage- the right to vote.
For many today, the sad fact that roughly half of our country’s citizenry were not allowed to exercise this basic franchise as an inherent and unalienable right may seem incredible. History forgotten is history repeated. Rights of any kind are not permanently etched in stone. What might seem to be a basic and impermeable right could prove to be fragile and vulnerable to regression, and ultimately extinguished all together.
After Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy retired and was replaced by Brett Kavanaugh, legal scholar and commentator Jeffrey Toobin predicted that within months a number of Red States would move aggressively to outlaw abortion. Mr. Toobin’s words were prophetic. The Supreme Court now has a decided five out of nine justices who have a history of questioning a woman’s sovereignty over her own body. Since Roe V Wade was ratified forty six years ago, the Religious Right has been fixated on reversing it. Ohio, Kentucky, Mississippi and Georgia were quick to react, but the true opening salvo to the broadside of Roe V Wade was fired by Alabama, where virtually all abortions are illegal, including where pregnancy was the result of rape or incest. Unbelievably, abortion laws in Saudi Arabia and a number of other Muslim countries are less restrictive and punitive. It quite literally is a religious war waged within our own country. The anti-abortionists believe that human life begins with conception, and that a zygote should have the same right to life as a fully mature, autonomous person. Any doctor who performs an abortion in Alabama has committed murder, and could spend the remainder of his or her life in prison. Alabama’s new abortion law, incredibly, has even been described as Draconian by no other than Pat Robertson (yes, that Pat Robertson, who in the wake of the 9/11 attacks opined that New York City was being punished by God because the Big Apple was a haven for gays, atheists and, yes- abortionists).
The Alabama law has been challenged with law suits and will undoubtedly go to the Supreme Court. As other states follow in Alabama’s footsteps, there will be other litigation. Roe V Wade may go down, not in one fell Supreme Court swoop, but in increments, until it is whittled down to nothing. It would be a great day of glorious celebration, not just for the Religious Right, but for back alley quacks wielding rusty coat hangers.
And so the struggle continues. The warped patriarchy that wanted women in the kitchen but not in the voting booth is the same that would shackle women who want freedom and autonomy over their own bodies.
Framing the battle as between Progressives and Conservatives is a misnomer. It is a battle between Progressives and Regressives. And as the slippery slope of regression grows steeper, those of us on the side of reason and justice must remember: Achieving freedom is only half the battle- keeping it is the other half.