"No woman can call herself free who does not own and control her body. No woman can call herself free until she can choose consciously whether she will or will not be a mother." -- Margaret Sanger
The assault on women's rights in America has reached epic proportions. The decisions that women make every day in the privacy of their own homes, consulting with their partners, families, and physicians has now given way to state mandated laws that are taking away personal liberties and freedoms which are essential and fundamental to our democracy.
Some members of Congress have beefed up their legislative efforts to pass laws that are intended to chip away at rights that were upheld by the Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade. At the same time, there is a push to roll back women's rights in state houses across the nation. Representatives from several states including Arizona, Arkansas, Kansas, North Dakota, Texas, and Virginia, and others now brag that because of their efforts restrictions have been placed on legal and safe abortions, rights to privacy, birth control, and cancer screenings. North Dakota just became the first state to pass "personhood" legislation, declaring that life begins at conception and banning all abortions without exception. Some states have even gone as far as passing laws that mandate invasive medical procedures to determine if a fetus is viable.
The passage of these laws is taking us down a road to compulsory pregnancy in the United States. Legislation, regulations, and budget cuts are all tools that right wing conservatives are using to control who is having children and under what circumstances.
The ability to decide when to have children is fundamental because it is tied to the ability of women to control their economic viability and security. Often times, it can be a determining factor impacting one's ability to support her family, pursue an education, purchase a home, and build wealth for future generations. Women who seek abortions often do so because of medical issues or out of a concern that they will not be able to take care of another child. Most women who seek to terminate a pregnancy already have at least one child and they generally terminate the pregnancy within the first eight weeks.
Women who have economic means have access to their own physicians, have private medical insurance or can travel to get the medical care that they need when they need it. So it isn't a coincidence that the states engaged in rolling back women's rights are also places that tend to have high infant mortality rates, high rates of teenage pregnancy, high unemployment, large gaps in student achievement, and growing income inequality.
At the same time regulatory changes are being made to restrict women's rights, Congress is trying to balance a budget that will surely result in cuts to services to women and children rely on. Cuts to Head Start, pre-kindergarten services, Medicaid and Medicare, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and programs that assist struggling students are all in jeopardy. These programs are essential for our nation's survival because single-women heads of households and their children are the fastest growing segment of our population who live in poverty. All women are impacted by these decisions but they disproportionately affect women of color, poor women, women who live in rural areas, and those who have been struggling financially since the recession.
What these struggling families want and need are jobs that pay a living wage, jobs that will provide opportunities to move out of poverty, a chance to provide a high-quality education for their children, access to affordable housing and transportation, and quality health care options. Income disparities, lack of opportunity and income inequality for so many can trace its roots back to a family struggling to put food on the table, pay the rent, and just get by.
As Women's History Month comes to a close, let us remember the brave women who fought for our rights as women to have control over our own bodies. The great Margaret Sanger, who was the founder of the Women's Reproductive Rights Movement, opened the first birth control clinic in the United States in Brooklyn, New York almost 100 years ago. What she said then is true today, "Our fight is for the personal liberty of the women who work. A woman's body belongs to herself alone. It is her body. It does not belong to the Church. It does not belong to the United States of America or to any other Government on the face of the earth. The first step toward getting life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for any woman is her decision whether or not she shall become a mother. Enforced motherhood is the most complete denial of a woman's right to life and liberty." (The Woman Rebel, article "Suppression" Vol.1., No.4., June 1914).