Religion and the Law Continue to Blame Women

by on May 4, 2022 · 0 comments

in History, Ocean Beach, Women's Rights

By Joni Halpern

Very few Americans know the history of the Roe v. Wade decision, either legally, socially, or medically.

But the short history is that throughout the evolution of the human species, women have never been the sole determinants of whether they become pregnant. Instead, they have most commonly been treated as the wrongdoers, the flawed, the negligent, the sinful perpetrators of unwanted births.

Yet, from ancient times, the real determinants of pregnancy have been religion, culture, and law, which have either kept women ignorant of their bodies or burdened them with guilt at the mere thought of saying “no” to men under religious or cultural norms that expected them to acquiesce to unprotected intimacy or outright efforts to assault or impregnate them.

Having little personal choice in conception, and bearing full responsibility for any pregnancy, religion, culture and law also forbade a women’s right to choose whether to continue a pregnancy to term, even in a period of pregnancy when a fetus could not have been viable. Of course, the absence of this right to choose was made into law by men, whose peers in the act of conception often abandoned unwanted children, because they could not or would not support them, or because they wished to avoid the consequences of the coercion they exercised to cause a pregnancy in the first place.

I had thought at one time that the conscience of a woman — the conversation she has with God or personal values or whatever source of goodness resides in her — was finally acknowledged and established by Roe v. Wade in a country that observed the separation of church and state.

In such a country, no one would be forced to have an abortion, but those who foresaw they could not bear the burdens of raising a child could still avail themselves of termination before the fetus became viable.

How wrong I was to think, that with such an overwhelming influence of orthodox Catholicism on today’s Supreme Court, there was any hope of acknowledging freedom of conscience for women. On this Court, there is only one conscience — the majority conscience — and it is intent on saving its own soul under the dogma of its own church.

I remember a client I once served who, by culture and law, was forced to bear a child conceived through rape. “I try so hard,” she said, “but every time I look at my son, I see his father. I feel his hand over my mouth, his body on top of mine. I feel the fear. I had my son because I did not have a choice, but I cannot get close to him.”

In the days of old, women from ancient times passed along to their sisterhood the methods of terminating a pregnancy, whether through herbal concoctions or physical treatments intended to cause miscarriage.

With the loss of the right to choose, which really only was unencumbered under Roe in the first trimester of pregnancy, women will return in secrecy and fear to the old methods of abortion, even in the face of fear that their salvation might be at risk. They will try on their own to resolve an unwanted pregnancy, because in their hearts, they will believe that carrying the fetus to term is not what conscience requires.

In those circumstances, we will once again see what physicians saw until Rowe v. Wade established a woman’s right to choose: women entering emergency rooms butchered by non-physician practitioners, often displaying the tools of butchery still stuck in their bodies, and many of these women will die, some of them leaving behind spouses and other children.

All of this carnage will take place to allow the deeply devout members of the Supreme Court to save their souls by supplanting the personal conscience of women.

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