Thoughts on Roe and Beyond

My cultural anthropology professor in college told us about a conversation she overheard between two men from Africa. One was from a patrilineal tribe, the other from a matrilineal tribe. The matrilineal man explained, “Of course the baby belongs to the mother. She carries it, births it, and it’s only right that her family name and inheritance should come down through her.” “Oh no!” said the patrilineal man, “you are wrong. If you have a bag of coins, who owns the coins —you or the bag?” This sums up the different perceptions concerning women in matrilineal and patrilineal societies.

Our society has changed slowly toward more rights for women over the centuries. The musings of the tribesmen seem lightweight compared to what the new radical right has in store for women here in the US. A Supreme Court zealot named Justice Alito has written a draft to overturn Roe v Wade, which would outlaw abortion. The draft was leaked.

If passed, half the country will immediately ban abortion. And because the Republican party is no longer benign, the red state Trumpists are falling all over each other to see who can be more cruel. Most say no abortions with no exceptions. The Texas law encourages vigilantism. Missouri is writing a law that would outlaw travel to a neighboring state to have an abortion. In Missouri the total ban includes ectopic pregnancy, which is fatal to the mother. This ugly conversation now pivots to birth control. One low IQ senator from Tennessee said out loud that birth control should only be allowed for married couples. A Florida representative wants to outlaw IUDs. He also wants to join Missouri in barring women from interstate travel for abortions. In Idaho a rapist’s family can sue anyone who helps the rape victim get an abortion. Louisiana wants abortion to be felony murder.

A representative from Missouri who helped pen the ban on all abortions admitted he did not know what an ectopic pregnancy was. My guess is that a lot of the extremists don’t know or don’t care that, for instance, pregnancy can be fatal to breast cancer survivors. The flush of estrogen needed for developing a fetus is poison to a woman who has had estrogen-receptive breast cancer. She will likely not survive after that pregnancy. D and C’s (a D and C is the the surgery used for abortions) are performed to remove fibroids, cancerous tumors, and infected tissue. Will these important procedures be outlawed?

Alito’s leaked draft references a 17th century English misogynist named Mathew Hale. Hale did not believe rape could happen in a marriage. Women, wrote Hale, were formed from Adam’s rib as helpmates to men —how can men rape themselves? In the US, rape in marriage could not be prosecuted until the late 20th century. Oh yes, we have a history with Hale. He also convicted two women of witchcraft and had them hanged. Shades of The Handmaid’s Tale. In the eyes of this man, and his current fanatic followers, women are not fully human.

Mathew Hale, Justice Alito’s words, and the merciless laws being written in the red states leave me with the same queasy feeling as the patrilineal tribesman left me with; women are bags to carry something belonging to men, or the state. We are not more important than what we carry in our wombs.

Let’s dispense with the term pro life to describe the new right. Forcing a thirteen year old rape victim to carry her rapist’s child is not pro anything. It’s flat cruelty. To forbid travel to another state is authoritarian. Putting the fetus above a woman’s life is misogyny. Announcing that life begins at conception, then imposing laws to enforce this belief is fundamentalist Christian theocracy —not democracy. Once the theocracy takes hold, women, non-Christians, non-heterosexuals —we are all in danger. Whatever the Republican party is today, it’s not pro life. A minority of nihilists and fascist friendly right wingers want to hold power. And they will do anything to grasp it. When extremists come to power, women’s rights go out the door. Mussolini, Franco, and Hitler outlawed abortion. Limiting women’s rights is one of the markers of fascism —along with calling the press an enemy of the people, violence against peaceful protesters, and trying to steal elections. All of these have happened in the Trump era.

It’s hard to describe the level of anger, sadness, and fear many of us feel right now. It’s our country. And Roe was a right we grew up with. So was democracy.

So I meditate. Every day. And I relish that moment when all fleeting thoughts recede. And at the end of fretful thinking and regret —all that’s left is goodness. Love. Joy. The act of connecting to that ultimate love exists in every religion. In my own spiritual path we believe this earthly life is sacred. The gods and goddesses are loving aunts and uncles, warm and close. I’m a pagan. Every season offers a reason for joy, for reverence, for acceptance of change. Every celebration ties us to the earth, to land spirits, to our ancestors, and our gods. We revel in the magic of it all. The multiverse is beautiful.

All world religions provide guidelines for being a better person. Even people who aren’t religious can find deep meaning and points of light. One friend, an atheist and alcoholic in recovery, pictured her dog as her higher power. Good choice. The judgement-free love of a dog has no equal. Another friend dances to find oneness with the ether. Some people look to philosophy, reason and science for well-being and illumination. A man on death row told me he never he had never been moved by a religious feeling — until he read Plato.

Now we can talk about the real meanings of pro life and pro choice, which are not mutually exclusive.

If your inner wisdom guides you to believe that life is serendipitous, and if you find yourself pregnant unexpectedly, you may want to choose to bring that life into its full mystery and meaning. Or perhaps, because of a condition listed above, your love for life informs a difficult decision to end that pregnancy for self preservation. Both decisions are OK. Both are life affirming. Both invoke life and choice. Both may be difficult. And women must be trusted to decide. We are not bags.

Right now, at this difficult juncture in our country, we need to pursue what inspires us to love life and make clear choices. What’s at stake here is not just fetuses or a woman’s right to self determination. Our democracy is in danger. The rising tide of callous power-grabbers on the right want to turn us into an ugly authoritarian country. Climate change legislation, private choices, access to books and honest history in schools, freedom of the press —all in danger. The left/right spectrum reminds me of those flitting thoughts during meditation. It’s a distraction. What matters is good people meeting a dangerous moment with grace and determination.

We should harness ourselves with the connection to whatever higher power we own and step forth into the fight of our generation. Vote these fanatics back to the fringes of society where they can lurk, disgraced and shunned. Other actions may include marching for women’s rights, growing flowers for bees, volunteering for an animal shelter —anything that nurtures life and makes our world better. If the red states turn into authoritarian laboratories, some of us may help women get to friendly states for their healthcare. Maybe all you do is treat others kindly and with respect —and tell the truth. It’s all good. As long as we are aware and engaged.