Abortion Bans and Rape Culture

This morning as I was scrolling through Instagram, I saw three headlines from my favorite feminist satire website, Reductress: “Senator Says The Only Acceptable Way To Kill A Fetus Is With a Gun,” “Get Him To Notice You by Being A Small Clump Of Cells In A Uterus,” and finally, “What Surprised Me Most About Becoming a Parent Was That I Was Forced To By The Government.” Just the day before, I had celebrated my final day of high school with my best friends. In our liberal Los Angeles private girls school bubble, the idea of potentially having to get an illegal abortion is very far from our minds. But as we all venture off to different colleges across the country, I can’t help but feel scared.

I told my English teacher I was planning to write a piece on the Alabama and Georgia anti-abortion legislation, and he said maybe one day I’ll look back at this blog post and everything will be fine and I’ll chuckle at my once-concerned teenage self. Even if that’s the case, these laws set a precedent that will have far-reaching consequences.

These laws violate due process clauses in the 5th amendment and the 14th amendment. A 1992 Supreme Court Case, Planned Parenthood vs. Casey, clarified the right to privacy, explaining that, “It is a promise of the Constitution that there is a realm of personal liberty which the government may not enter.” The decision of whether to have an abortion is a personal choice that the government should not have jurisdiction to regulate.

These laws also violate the idea of separation of church and state that the U.S. was founded on. As Alabama Governor Kay Ivey writes, “This legislation stands as a powerful testament to Alabamians' deeply held belief that every life is precious and that every life is a sacred gift from God." Forcing one’s personal religious beliefs onto the entire state of Alabama is reminiscent of so many other examples of religiously justified oppression: slavery, genocide, the Salem Witch trials, the Crusades... the list goes on.

Even more concerning, the Alabama law offers no exception for victims of rape or incest to get abortions. It is horribly unsettling to read about this and realize that the people writing these laws have absolutely zero regard for the women whose lives will be irreparably harmed. When asked if the new law would outlaw in vitro fertilization, Alabama Senator Chambliss responded “The egg in the lab doesn’t apply. It’s not in a woman. She’s not pregnant.” In writing a comprehensive abortion ban, I would think that the “egg in the lab” would be extremely relevant to the conversation—I.V.F. is at the crux of the debate about when “life” begins, and when fetuses have rights. This Senator’s response reveals the chilling truth that the sole purpose of these laws is to regulate a woman’s body, not to “save lives.”

Restrictive abortion laws demonstrate the entitlement that men and the government feel they have over women’s bodies. Simply put, this is rape culture. People get squirmy when they hear this phrase, but these new laws are only greater proof that it exists. One in five women will be raped at some point in their lives, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. During the first six weeks of my freshman year this fall, I will be in the “red zone,” where I, and other freshman women around the country will be at the highest risk of rape or attempted rape. College is supposed to be the best four years of your life, right? Instead, as I prepare to leave the nest, I’ve been offered loads of advice: “you should carry pepper spray,” “never go anywhere alone,” “don’t drink for the first 6 weeks,” “make friends with people you can trust,” “here’s my number in case anything bad happens to you.” I’m certain that no boy my age is offered these pieces of advice.

I hope that my generation will do its part to advance equal treatment under the law. The United States was founded on admirable ideals of freedom and liberty from oppression, yet 243 years later, we are still fighting for true equality. Just as it is critically important to vote in local elections and to make your representatives aware of your concerns, it is equally important to be thoroughly versed in how new laws, like these anti-abortion laws, will impact your life and the lives of others across the country. Laws should never restrict one’s bodily autonomy or force a fraction of the population’s religious beliefs on others, and these anti-abortion laws do just that. In this coming year, I hope that we can not only reverse the effects of these bans, but also go even further to make abortions and healthcare accessible for all.

This piece was written as part of JWA’s Rising Voices Fellowship.

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How do we reconcile the two equally crucial ideals of "saving lives" versus elimination of "rape culture". How do we promote either without sacrificing the other? Are these mutually exclusive? May we shift the discussion away from either/or to both?

How to cite this page

Jarkow, Amy. "Abortion Bans and Rape Culture." 1 July 2019. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on July 19, 2019) <https://jwa.org/blog/risingvoices/abortion-bans-and-rape-culture>.

#StopTheBans rally participant dressed as a Handmaiden, holds a sign at the May 21, 2019 event in St. Paul Minnesota.

Photo by Lorie Shaull.

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