Sexual Freedom and Reproductive Rights in the Land of the Free

Alabama, Mississippi, Ohio, Georgia, Missouri, Kentucky, Arkansas, Utah and Iowa —the nine states in the U.S that have attempted and/or succeeded in passing a “heartbeat” bill, policing women’s bodies and denying them of sexual freedom.

A “heartbeat” bill bans abortion after the heartbeat of the foetus can be detected, this stage is usually 6 weeks into a pregnancy; most women do not experience symptoms until they are 8 weeks pregnant. Louisiana, South Carolina, Florida, West Virginia and Texas are underway in attempting to pass complete anti-abortion laws in their states. As of May 21st, Alabama State passed a law on banning abortions with the exceptions of ectopic pregnancy, a serious risk to the mother, or a lethal anomaly to do with the foetus. They failed to pass an exception for rape and incest, with doctors who perform abortions facing up to 99 years in prison.

On Friday 24th May, the Trump administration announced a proposal to cut explicit health care protections for transgender people and those who have had abortions. Earlier this week, Trump’s administration also announced that homeless shelters now have the right to turn away transgender people, and health care workers have the right to refuse transgender patients on religious grounds. This ban leaves transgender people even more vulnerable than they already are — the Human Rights Campaign reported that at least five black transgender women have been killed in the U.S already in 2019. The group observed the likelihood of the murders being a targeted hate crime, therefore “the victim’s transgender status may have put them at risk in other ways, such as forcing them into unemployment, poverty, homelessness and/or survival sex work”. The life expectancy of a transgender woman of colour in the U.S is thirty-one years old.

Stripping women and transgender people of their basic right to health care and protection leaves a gaping hole in their safety and freedom, not only does it go against fundamental human rights, but also denies them the opportunity of safe, private, sex lives. Their personal sexual freedom has been policed by the government as well as the fact that they now have to fit a certain criteria for medical assistance in the case of a sex crime.

A comment on Planned Parenthood Action’s Facebook page listing a step-by-step guide to avoiding punishment in accessing an illegal abortion has gone viral over the past few days. The “rules” include instructions such as “take a mini vacation to another state” and assumes everyone is “protected by HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act)”. However, this raises a few problems. Firstly, it is not going to be feasible for all women to afford a “mini vacation” let alone sacrifice work pay on holiday. Secondly, not all women have access to health care — and even if they do, life insurers, employers, most schools and school districts, most law enforcement agencies and many municipal offices have the right to access one’s private health care documents through HIPAA.

Of course, this is an attack on all who identify as a woman in the U.S, but we cannot glaze over the fact that upper-class women are only affected to a certain degree. It is objectively more likely that a woman from a wealthier background can find the means to terminate an unwanted pregnancy than it is for one of a lower working class. As of the United States Census in 2016, Asian and White citizens have the highest median household income, and Native American and Black citizens have the lowest. Looking at this alongside 2018 midterm exit polls reveals a very telling truth: forty-nine percent of white women voted Republican, opposed to ninety-two percent of black women voting Democratic. Since the Republican Party are creating and passing anti-abortion laws, it is not hard to determine why white women would so happily vote against their own interests when they have the financial stability to endure it.

Denying poorer women the right to sexual freedom prohibits the likelihood of safe, consensual, casual sex lives and reiterates the idea that sex is merely for procreation, dehumanising their body and criminalising sexual desire. With this, we will also witness the decline in proper sexual education in schools and lack of healthy discourse surrounding sexual health. Not only are lives in danger from unlicensed abortions, but women deserve to be allowed sexual freedom; abortion is often due to traumatic experience, but just as much it is merely unplanned and not feasible for the mother to carry it on. Self-proclaimed “pro-lifers” are extremely vocal on the policing of women’s bodies, but deafly silent on the 20,000 young people who leave the foster care system unprotected each year. These policies that seem to fall under the guise of caring for human life are nothing more than declarations and reminders of power and control — Margaret Atwood did warn us.

If you wish to donate to reproductive rights charities and help aid women in getting safe abortions, please have a look at the following non-profit organisations:
The NNAF (abortion funds)
The Mississippi Reproductive Freedom Fund
GWA Fund (Missouri based)

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