If you have been listening to discussions of politics in the US media in recent years, you have likely heard of the political right’s “war on women.” One dimension of this “war” has been to curtail women’s access to legal abortion in accordance with federal law as outlined by the 1973 Roe v Wade Supreme Court case and ensuing cases.
As we note in Chapter 2: Bodies and Chapter 6: Health and Illness, women’s bodies are continually a site of political contestation with powerful institutions, such as political institutions (state legislatures) and economic/medical institutions (health care providers),targeting women’s bodies for control. Importantly, religious institutions figure prominently in the politics of abortion as anti-abortion activists and organizations draw heavily on fundamentalist interpretations of Christian religious doctrine while they recruit and organize within religious institutions that constitute the “religious right” in the US.
According to the New York Times, “Anti-abortion legislation in the states exploded after the major conservative gains in the 2010 elections…resulting in more than 200 measures in 30 states over the last three years.”1
Examples of measures or policies state legislatures have passed include:
creating waiting periods;
requiring that women receive an ultrasound before being granted an abortion;
requiring women to undergo in-person counseling before receiving an abortion;
limiting or omitting abortions via taking medications (e.g. “morning after pill”);
closing clinics and/or disallowing women to communicate long-distance with a doctor via video conferencing in order to self-administer abortion-inducing medication2;
restricting private health insurers from covering abortions in their state;
requiring abortion providers to meet specific surgical criteria even when they perform low-risk early-term abortions or may not perform surgical procedures at all.3
As you can probably surmise after reading about intersectionality and healthcare in Chapter 6 Health and Illness, these policies do not affect all women in the same way. As you can imagine, the experiences of middle-class women in urban and suburban areas differ from those of low-income women in rural areas who do not have the resources to travel long distances to the closest abortion clinic4 or of women who do not have the economic resources to pay out-of-pocket for an abortion not covered by health insurance.
Policies such as these also have an impact on decisions other than abortion. For instance, Marlise Munoz, who doctors had declared brain dead, was kept on life-support for two months against her husband and other family members’ wishes because the hospital was following their interpretation of state law pertaining to pregnant women.5 Ultimately,her family accessed the court system to have her declared officially dead so the hospital could remove her from life support.
We obviously have strong opinions about these issues, but we encourage you to bring your gender analyst skills to assess one or more of the above policies and draw your own conclusions. Select one of these policies and weigh the following:
1. Where does the power for the decision over a woman’s body reside?
2. How might social location (e.g.age, disability, race, social class, or geographic location) affect women differently?
3. In what ways does the policy fit with the socially-just healthcare provision we discuss in Chapter 6: Health and Illness?
After your review, consider what changes,if any, you would make in the policy to give women power over their own bodies,to minimize the gap between women of different social locations, and to create socially-just healthcare.
1 Eckholm, Erik. 2014. “Access to Abortion Falling as States Pass Restrictions.” The New York Times (January 3). Retrieved February 14, 2014.
2 Keller, Michael and Allison Yarrow. 2013. “The Geography of Abortion Access.” The Daily Beast (January 22). Retrieved February 14, 2014.
3 Keller and Yarrow, cited above.
4 Keller and Yarrow, cited above.
5 Goodwin,Michelle Bratcher. 2014. “Marlise Munoz wasn’t alone: The growing persecution of pregnant women.” Salon.com (January 31). Retrieved February 14, 2014.