Thirty years ago American feminist, journalist and author Susan Faludi made clear the connection between a war on women and the attack on reproductive rights: “It is inevitable that even the most modest efforts by women to control their fertility spark a firestorm of opposition [because] all of women’s aspirations — whether for education, work or any form of self-determination — ultimately rest on their ability to decide whether and when to bear children.”
So why is it that when the reproductive future of American women has never seemed darker, many seem unable to articulate what’s being done to them in a way that packs an emotional punch?
The problem is the loss of feminist language and with it the centuries of feminist analyses of precisely the social, political, legal and medical fertility predicament we face now.
In Pro-Publica’s piece about men using the fall of Roe v Wade to coercively control their former partners by suing them for long-ago abortions, Nicole Santa Cruz dryly notes: “The National Right to Life Committee’s model legislation … suggests that people who have had or have sought to have an illegal abortion, as well as the expectant father and the parents of a pregnant minor, be allowed to pursue wrongful death actions.”
When Texas passed a law that allows armed citizen vigilantes to collect bounties for turning in anyone helping a Texas woman to access abortion, US President Joe Biden’s immediate but uninspirational tweet read: “Texas law SB8 will significantly impair people’s access to the health care they need — particularly for communities of color and individuals with low incomes.”
Even MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace’s expert reporting on the forced border crossing of a 10-year-old rape victim to get an abortion was defanged and became hard to follow when the highly gendered nature of what had befallen a little girl with a woman’s problem was stripped from the frame.
Wallace: “The vitriol, the disdain for the truth, and the willingness to sacrifice the youngest victims in our country, a rape victim who is 10 and a half years old does represent a terrifying low.”
Mini Timmaraju, president of pro-choice body NARAL: “There is a girl within this story who deserves to be treated with respect. She deserves to be cared for. There are pregnant people across the country who deserve the same. But this extremist GOP does not want to acknowledge that.”
Wallace: “This feels like it goes beyond disinformation to erasure.”
In fact, what both Wallace and Timmaraju erased when talking about this case, and denials of service across the country, is the highly gendered context in which abortion rights — rights that only one half of the population need — are withdrawn. To put it simply, no country that truly accepts the equal place of women in society continues to attack the right to abortion.
But when little girls become pregnant people, and pregnant people are the ones at risk, the assault on abortion rights as a tool to degrade, repress, insult and ultimately enslave the female half of the species is lost. Indeed the non-gendering of the term was the point, to allow discussions of pregnancy, lactation and childbirth to be more inclusive.
Which is fine and nice in a society where the worst thing that can happen to a person is that they feel hurt or excluded by reproductive language that isn’t gender-neutral or non-binary. But is bat-crazy in a society in which the assault on women because they are women is being conducted by the same conspiracy-fattened, armed and dangerous white supremacists who are assaulting the democracy on which everyone’s rights depend because they can’t win playing fair anymore. With, the evidence suggests, considerable success.
You can’t fight what you don’t understand. You can’t explain what you’re unable to name. How can we expect the global sisterhood to rally around the religious and racist assaults on American women as if their own status as full citizens depended on it if the best American women do to explain their plight is bleat about abortion as a medical procedure and “people’s” rights.
The assault on abortion rights is always and forever an assault on women. If Americans are too busy minding their pronouns to properly raise the alarm and repel it, then the rest of the world’s women can bet their bottom dollar that the same reactionary forces in our own countries will be coming for us, too.