Letter to the editor/other voices July 18, 2022
by Lynn Wenzel
Letter to the editor/other voices July 18, 2022
by Lynn Wenzel
By Lynn Wenzel
This article originally appeared in the Union, Tuesday, July 5.
In 1972 I marched for the right to control my own body. We carried signs. We were loud. And we were angry. Then came Roe. And we relaxed, at least for a while. Folded as it was into the larger fight for women’s rights, we took our eyes off the ball in the mistaken belief that Roe was “settled law.” Now we know the dreadful truth.
Yesterday, a young woman in her thirties said with a mystified expression on her face, “I just took it all for granted. It never occurred to me that things would change.” Those of us, battle-scarred and wary, had often warned young women to stay alert. And now, they are shocked. The antis have not rested during this 50-year political project and organizing tool—calling themselves “originalists” they have plotted and planned to remove the personal autonomy of all except white men.
Rights and privileges guaranteed to citizens in the Constitution are mostly covered by the 4th, 5th, 9th and 14th amendments and include: protection from unreasonable seizures by the government, including the seizure of bodies; being compelled to provide private information about oneself, including pregnancy or its termination; the federal government NOT giving over any rights belonging to citizens, in this case women; and not being deprived of life, liberty or property without due process.
I am no Constitutional scholar, but it seems to me that under those rights women’s bodily autonomy may not be violated in any way. Roe, regardless of how it was decided, has been standing on these amendments, which also led to the protection of the rights of Black, Indigenous, and LGBTQIA+ people. The three Court liberals wrote, “The right Roe and Casey recognized does not stand alone. …the court has linked it for decades to other settled freedoms involving bodily integrity, familial relationships, and procreation…in turn, those rights led…to rights of same-sex intimacy and marriage. They are all part of the same constitutional fabric.” Justice Thomas, in his opinion, took aim at three other landmark cases that relied on that reasoning: Lawrence v. Texas, invalidating sodomy laws, Griswold v. Connecticut, declaring married couples’ right to contraception, and Obergefell v. Hodges, establishing the right of gay couples to marry. Justice Thomas has now said the quiet part aloud—the end of Roe is the beginning of the end of all other personal rights.
Justice Alito based his “most convincing” arguments for banning abortion on the work of Sir Matthew Hale, a 17th century English jurist whom Alito called “a great and eminent” legal authority. Really? Hale detested women, despairing of those who “learn to be bold” or “talk loud,” accusing them of faking rape and proposing the legal notion that women cannot be raped by their husbands. In 1662, Hale also presided at a witch trial, instructing the jury that “witches were real.” He then sentenced two women to hang. Hale considered women should temper their wit and spirit, writing that young women “make it their business [life] to paint…their faces, curl their locks and to find out the newest and costliest fashions.” Alito’s leaking contempt has wet the paper he wrote upon.
Alito claims historical precedent for his position, but contraception and abortion have been widely accepted practices for thousands of years. Ancient communities used sponges soaked in lemon juice or the seeds of Queen Anne’s Lace to block progesterone rendering the uterus incapable of holding on to the fetus. The Navajo and Shoshone women used Western Stoneseed and False Hellebore that caused sterility. Dong Quai catalyzed uterine contractions and induced miscarriage.
For now, women who live in blue states such as ours, are safe. But, as the Washington Post recently reported, anti-abortion groups and their congressional allies are already planning for a nationwide abortion ban if Republicans take power. In an interview with USA Today, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said a national abortion ban was “possible” and “worthy of debate.” Thinking of getting around it by ordering pills that now account for more than half of U. S. abortions? Think again. States are already cracking down on mail-order. Tennessee Governor Bill Lee signed a law that criminalizes mail-order abortion pills, fining anyone who sends pills “via courier, delivery or mail service up to $50,000.” Other states have already banned the use of telemedicine.
History tells us that women will not stop ending their pregnancies no matter what laws are in place, no matter the price, even unto death. In Texas, for example, a 2020 study found that local women were three times more likely than those in other states to try do-it-yourself abortion, including using herbs. A 2021 study revealed that some American women are using herbs to self-manage abortions. The conservatives on the court will not be able to render women invisible in their need. They will simply make life more dangerous and deadly for wives, mothers, sisters, and friends. Perhaps that is their goal. Shall we let a small group of men (and one woman) take autonomy and freedom away from us—men whose justifications rest on the words of medieval witch hunters. Vigilance requires us to name their end game—the erasure of all personal rights.
A bitter Clarence Thomas, resentful of media coverage during his confirmation hearing, told his law clerks that he intended to serve on the court to make the lives of liberals “miserable” for 43 years. What an estimable and honorable goal for this antediluvian specimen. Maureen Dowd wrote in The New York Times on May 8, “Alito is a familiar type in American literature; the holier-than-thou preacher, so overzealous in his attempts to rein in female sexuality and slap on a scarlet letter that one suspects he must be hiding some dark yearnings of his own.”
The Supreme Court is likely soon to overturn Roe v. Wade. With its fall, 49-year-old protections for abortion rights under our U.S. Constitution will end. The imminent fall of Roe is shining a light on how central abortion rights are to women. Under Roe, abortion rights have been rooted in our Constitution and protected by our courts. If people no longer have control over their own pregnancies, if they don’t have privacy rights preventing laws that criminalize or forbid their decisions, where does this rollback of rights take us? Are there other ways to protect abortion access?
The answer in California is that our state must and will step in. A 2002 state law provides protections similar to Roe’s. Our courts have said that the right to privacy in our state Constitution protects abortion rights. And specific protection for abortion access in California is being proposed in a Constitutional Amendment that may go before voters this November.
So, if Roe is overruled, California will be among the states with their own abortion rights protections. And California is moving beyond legal protections. Our state legislators are working on a raft of measures to expand abortion access. Those measures are an outgrowth of the California Future of Abortion Council. The Council was formed late last year in response to the risk that Roe would fall. Citizens for Choice actively supports the Council’s recommendations. To view the Council measures we are supporting, and our full advocacy agenda and successes, visit the Advocacy page on our website at https://citizensforchoice.org/advocacy/.
We are committed to pushing for California to be a haven for women living in states where they do not enjoy access to safe and legal abortion care. If Roe falls, about 26 states are expected to have bans or restrictions on abortion in place soon afterward. Such laws will place women’s health and lives at risk. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 1.4 million women of reproductive age might find California to be the nearest state where they might access abortion care (currently 46,000). Already, tragic stories are being told of pregnant women residing in Texas under a six-week abortion ban. In one case, a woman whose pregnancy became unviable after 19 weeks had a harrowing experience, forced to travel to another state to terminate her pregnancy despite the extreme danger to her health.
We invite you, our supporters, to stand with us, to ensure that California becomes a safe-haven state. Because we believe that abortion access is a basic, fundamental human right.
Public Policy Director
By Lynn Wenzel
In 1972 I marched for the right to control my own body. We carried signs. We were loud. And we were angry. Then came Roe. And we relaxed, at least for a while. Folded as it was into the larger fight for women’s rights, we marched on to advocate for specific issues such as work equity, access to loans in our own names, the Equal Rights Amendment and so on. We took our eyes off the ball in the mistaken belief that Roe was “settled law.”
Yesterday, a young woman in her 30s said with a mystified expression on her face, “I just took it all for granted. It never occurred to me that things would change.” Those of us, battle-scarred and wary, had often warned young women to stay heads-up. And now, they are shocked. Well, the antis have not rested for those 50 years—they have plotted and planned to remove the human rights of all people (except white men) and to own only for themselves the right of bodily autonomy.
OUR CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS
The Fourth Amendment, protects people from unreasonable searches and seizures by the government.
The Fifth Amendment guarantees that an individual cannot be compelled by the government to provide incriminating information about herself – the so-called “right to remain silent.”
The Ninth Amendment states that the federal government doesn’t own the rights that are not listed in the Constitution, but instead, they belong to citizens. This means the rights that are specified in the Constitution are not the only ones people should be limited to.
The Fourteenth Amendment, adopted after the Civil War, prohibits the states from depriving “any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”
All the rights and privileges guaranteed to citizens in the Constitution are covered by these amendments—and this includes women. According to the amendments, women should be protected from unreasonable seizures by the government, including the seizure of their own bodies; women may not be compelled to provide private information about themselves, including pregnancy or the termination thereof; the federal government does NOT own any rights not listed in the Constitution as they belong to the citizens, in this case the woman; and no woman may be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process (see the 1st and 4th amendments).
Now, I am no Constitutional scholar, but it seems to me that under our rights women’s bodily autonomy may not be violated in any way. Roe has been standing on these amendments, which have also protected the liberty and rights of Black, Indigenous and Native, People of Color and LGBTQIA+ people. So, as Roe goes, so go all the other rights and protections? Women’s rights are the pathway to liberation for everyone else. The termination of those rights may quite possibly be the beginning of the end of all others.
Alito’s leaked opinion that privacy and liberty must be rooted in ”this Nations Anglo-American history and tradition” is misogynistic and racist. Alito, as a privileged white man, obviously wants to return to early centuries when women were property and Black and Brown women were slaves. As Maureen Dowd wrote in The New York Times on May 8, “Alito is a familiar type in American literature; the holier-then-thou preacher, so overzealous in his attempts to rein in female sexuality and slap on a scarlet letter that one suspects he must be hiding some dark yearnings of his own.”
For now, women who live in blue states as in ours, are safe. But, as the Washington Post recently reported, anti-abortion groups and their congressional allies are already planning for a nationwide abortion ban if Republicans take power. In an interview with USA Today, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said a national abortion ban was “possible” and “worthy of debate.” And he suggested that most Senate Republicans would support a national ban. Thinking of getting around it by ordering abortion pills which now accounts for more than half of U. S. abortions? Think again. States have already been cracking down on mail-order. Last week, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee signed a law that criminalizes mail-order abortion pills, fining anyone who sends pills “via courier, delivery or mail service up to $50,000.” Other states have already banned the use of telemedicine. Some GOP lawmakers are already beginning to reconsider access to contraceptives.
We cannot rest until all women and girls across the country are assured of their rights under the Constitution. We cannot let a small group of white men decide to take autonomy and freedom away from us. Vigilance requires us to recognize and call out the first steps of power erasure. Remember the poem by Martin Niemoller—“and then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak.”
Nevada County Citizens for Choice joins with the country in grieving the loss of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She was a trailblazer for women, of course, but also for all people in this country. As a student, a professor, a lawyer and a judge, Ginsburg was a pioneer for women in the legal field and beyond. She was one of the only women in her law school class at Columbia and during this time she cared for her young children and her seriously ill husband while excelling in her coursework. Ginsburg graduated first in her class at Columbia Law and went on to found the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project where she argued five sex discrimination cases before the Supreme Court.
Ginsburg was not a fancy woman and she asked little for herself alone. So, it is incumbent upon all of us to ask for ourselves and our posterity what she mirrored by her work on the Court—to commit to the fight against injustice and to value and respect all human lives; to be brave and to stand for reproductive justice; to continue to work to remove barriers to reproductive health care; to support women’s and family’s rights to decide when and how to have children and to treat family’s with dignity and respect in those decisions; to protect the rights of all people—women, people of color, LGBTQ people and people with disabilities; and to mirror Ginsburg’s kindness and compassion by attempting to understand the plight of those less fortunate than ourselves and to work for their betterment.
Such decisions as Reed v. Reed which challenged the automatic preference of men over women as administrators of estates, resulting in the first time that sex discrimination was viewed as a violation of the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment; as the Virginia Military Institute decision in the 7-1 opinion that the Institute could no longer remain an all-male institution; and as the Lily Ledbetter Dissent in Ledbetter v. Goodyear that spurred the creation of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act were norm-setting.
Nevada County Citizens for Choice (C4C) supports the right of all people to make their own informed choices about reproductive health. The free/low cost Clinic C4C supports and that is staffed by Women’s Health Specialist’s professional medical staff, provides a full line of reproductive services, including STI testing and treatment, HIV testing, pregnancy testing, contraception and emergency contraception, breast, gynecological and testicular exams and health care referrals. Ginsburg blazed many of the trails that we follow now and will continue to follow. The laws she championed are the legal backbone of what we do. She once said, “I wasn’t going to sit in the corner and cry.” We, too, are finished crying. We owe it to her to rise up, to give little girls today role models for strength and justice. Joe Hill said as he walked to the gallows, “Don’t mourn. Organize!” In honor of Ruth Bader Ginsberg, let us go forward with even more resolve, unafraid, secure in the rightness of our work for gender equity and reproductive justice.
For information on Nevada County Citizens for Choice or to donate, go to www.citizensforchoice.org or www.facebook.com/CitizensforChoiceNevadaCounty. . For an appointment or to speak with a medical professional call 530-891-1911 or 800-714-8151 ~ 24/7. And don’t forget to VOTE!