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. Some 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. Also in Missouri, the original law made no exception for ectopic pregnancy, which is fatal to the mother. A representative who helped pen the law admitted he did not know what an ectopic pregnancy was. Texas pharmacists, as of this writing, are afraid to fill abortifacient prescriptions for ectopic pregnancy for fear of reprisal from SB8-empowered vigilantes. My guess is a lot of the extremist republicans don’t know or 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 may not survive after that pregnancy.

The ugly onslaught of repressive laws now pivots to birth control. A low IQ senator from Tennessee said out loud that birth control should only be allowed for married couples. A Florida politician wants to outlaw IUDs –he also wants to join Missouri in barring women from interstate travel for abortions.

Alito’s leaked draft references a 17th century English misogynist named Mathew Hale. Hale did not believe rape could happen in a marriage. Women, Hale opined, 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. Indeed, limiting women’s rights is one of the markers of fascism. During the Trump era, fundamentalist Christians ascended to a majority on the Supreme Court. Under the Trumpist Republican Party, the ultimate goal is a coast to coast ban on abortions.

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 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 your love for life informs a decision to end that pregnancy for self preservation. Both are OK. Each is life affirming. Either option may be hard. And women must be trusted to decide. We are not bags.

Right now, at this difficult juncture in our country, we need to embrace 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 a fascist-friendly country. Climate change legislation, private choices, access to books and honest history in schools, freedom of the press —all in danger.

Remember the flitting thoughts –those distractions during meditation? The left/right conversation is one. It’s false because it assumes the Republican Party is normal. The pro-life and pro-choice arguments also distract from the task at hand. I have shown that one of the two main political parties is not pro-life. What matters is good people meeting a dangerous moment with grace and determination.

We should harness ourselves to whatever higher power we aspire to. Then we must step forth into the fight of our generation. Vote these fanatics and Trump cultists 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.

Post Script:

On June 24th, 2022, Roe versus Wade was overturned by the rogue Supreme Court of the US. Discounting almost fifty years of precedent and against the opinion of the majority of Americans, they forged ahead with a theocratic minority rule by edict. Christo fascism has arrived. Most every woman I talk to feels like I do: half burning anger and half devastated. Men share our sorrow and our outrage. I will continue to write about events as they happen. Will we slip into authoritarianism or will we claw our way out? Nobody knows right now. I hope for the best.

Laurel Owen

July 1st, 2022