Did you read about Mississippi State Rep. Doug McLeod’s assault on his wife? Apparently, the man got drunk and ordered his wife to remove her clothes because he wanted to have sex. When she didn’t follow his orders quickly enough, he punched her. It’s no surprise, really. McLeod believes he has the right to control women. He’s one of a gaggle of men currently making a run on women’s rights. And he is typical of these men.
Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Ohio, Kentucky, Utah, Missouri, and Arkansas have all passed bills severely restricting abortion. This sudden flurry of legislation has nothing to do with protecting women or saving babies. It has everything to do with controlling women and stripping away their rights.
The Supreme Court passed Roe v. Wade in 1973. I was four years old. I don’t remember the law being passed, but I do remember the years of debate that followed. I grew up in Mississippi and while abortion was technically legal, it was never going to be convenient or uncontroversial. There was a Planned Parenthood clinic across the street from the swimming pool where I baked in the sun and flirted with boys. On Saturday mornings, the protestors were loud and aggressive. They were ugly.
I understood that this clinic was the place where a woman might go to have an abortion. I understood that this clinic was the place I would go if I ever needed to have an abortion. I never did. I was lucky. But I knew girls in high school who went to that clinic. I knew girls in college who went there or who went to some other clinic. These girls made the choices they made for various reasons, none of them frivolous and all of them private. These bills strip away a woman’s right to privacy.
Some of these state bills provide no exception for rape or incest. Even when the exception exists, how does it work? How does a woman prove that her pregnancy is the result of a rape? How does she prove that the pregnancy is the result of abuse by her father or her brother or her uncle? If men don’t trust women to make medical decisions, why would they trust women when they say they’ve been raped? They won’t, of course. They don’t. There are numerous and horrifying examples of women who’ve come forward to report rape and been further victimized by our legal system. If a woman says her pregnancy is the result of rape, what will be the burden of proof? Will we question her about how much she drank? Or what she was wearing? Or why she made the choice to be alone with a man? If the accused man denies the rape, will we believe the woman over him? You know we won’t. We hardly ever do. This is why so many women don’t report rape. We don’t want to subject ourself to the continued trauma.
Most of these laws do include some exception when the life of the mother is in danger. But there’s no standard for determining that. Suppose a doctor decides that the mother’s life is in danger, but a legislator like Doug McLeod disagrees? Who will make the final call about whether the woman lives or dies or experiences terrible health problems for the rest of her life? It definitely won’t be the woman. Not under these laws.
These laws say that women are not equal to men. We don’t have the same rights. We don’t have the same freedoms. No man ever has to seek third party consent to have a medical procedure. Can you imagine what would happen if a man were forced to get outside permission to take Viagra or to justify having a vasectomy? Suppose we made men stand before a court of mostly women and argue for permission to make medical decisions. Perhaps we’d ask men to explain in great detail why they have so much trouble maintaining an erection or why they’ve decided to eliminate future potential children. Maybe we’d tell men that impotence is a sign that God doesn’t want them to have sex and that they have no right to interfere with God’s plans.
I will be 50 years old this weekend. I am past the age where I need to worry about an unplanned pregnancy or a pregnancy with terrible complications or pregnancy in any form. But for all of my reproductive years, I knew I had a choice. It’s possible that my generation will be the only generation that can say we always had the choice. I fear we are headed to a future where Roe v. Wade is overturned and where only a few states will be safe places for women to live. I fear for the girls growing up as I did in Mississippi, a state with astronomical rates of teen pregnancy, STDs, single mothers, poverty, and men like Doug McLeod. Many girls in Mississippi never have great choices; now they will have fewer.
Maybe Doug McLeod has the right idea. Better to go ahead and punch women in the face. At least a punch is unambiguous. At least a punch is honest. It says: You are worthless. It says: I hate you. It says: I’m in charge here. And it does so without hiding behind the false dignity of the legislative process. So go ahead, men. Sock it to us. Your message is clear.