Policy Analysis United States

What do Recent Abortion Laws Mean for the Future of Women in America?

Throughout different historical periods female sexual desire has often been perceived as inherently evil; an attribute that must be repressed at all costs. However, opinions regarding female sexuality have fluctuated as social customs and fashions have fundamentally changed over time. Significantly, in the past century the struggle for female emancipation has been frequently discussed and examined by men and women alike; recently coming to a forefront with the passing of Alabama’s controversial abortion bill on May 15th 2019.

People protesting against restrictive Alabama Abortion Bill

Women around the world have voiced their outrage against the archaic amendment passed by Alabama; meaning that abortion, even in cases of rape or incest, is prohibited. The 2016 Presidential candidate Hilary Clinton has used her sizeable platform to critique the legislation, taking to Twitter to voice her discontent; echoing the cries of Pro-Choice women and others around the world.

” The abortion bans in Alabama, Georgia, Ohio, Kentucky, and Mississippi are appalling attacks on women’s lives and fundamental freedoms. Women’s rights are human rights. We will not go back. “

Hillary Clinton on Twitter May 15th 2019

This new and restrictive form of legislation is not localised just to the state of Alabama – as similar bills have become prominent in states such as North Dakota, Ohio, Kentucky, Arkansas, Mississippi and Georgia . This new form of prohibitive bill is perhaps a wider reaction to more progressive and lenient attitudes to female sexuality, that have developed internationally during the 21st century; attitudes which more conservative minded individuals are opposed to. The new abortion bills passed in the US are perhaps evident of a fluctuation in the general perspective on female sexuality – suggesting an attempted transition away from the recent more dynamic customs to the restrictive codes of the past. This new restrictive legislation could be perceived as a bold attempt by conservative Republicans to restrict and repress the ability of women to have casual sex; ultimately curbing the liberality enjoyed since 1973 by women in America. Fundamentally, these antagonistic actions towards women could have stemmed from a largely misogynistic mindset as well as an ultimate belief that female sexual desire is inherently evil.

Repressive Abortion Laws in the US

This assumption may have derived from the portrayal of Eve in the book of Genesis; where in being tempted by the Snake, she eats from the Tree of Knowledge, in order to become wise like God – hence corrupting the garden and resulting in the fall of Eden. She is also generally perceived as being responsible for the demoralisation of Adam, ultimately portraying women as morally impure beings who are intent on corrupting and exploiting men. Significantly, Adam blames his sinful actions on Eve, saying that ‘she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate’, presenting himself as a vulnerable and innocent character. In reality, Adam – as a being with free will, could have chosen to not eat the fruit; through his claim he puts sole responsibility upon Eve – effectively avoiding any accountability.

In subsequent forms of organised Christianity, male figures dominated over women; resulting in a male-positive perception of the Genesis story, leading to women being represented in society and in works of literature as malevolent temptresses. Causing the ultimate belief that female sexual desire is unnatural, and must be suppressed.

Eve being tempted by the devil

If female sexuality is perceived as an inherently negative attribute, then women who have sex both outside of marriage, and also for pleasure, will be a controversial prospect in the more conservative aligned factions of politics and society. Hence, by passing more restrictive abortion bills perhaps the rulers of states such as Alabama hope to discourage women having casual sex outside of marriage and repress the prevailing right that has become more widespread throughout America during the 20th and 21st centuries. Indeed, in 2015 86% of women in the US who had an abortion were unmarried; consequently the prohibitive legislation widens the gap between the sexual freedom of men and women – increasing gender inequality. In this way, women having and enjoying sex is continually framed as a sinful and immoral behaviour.

Additionally, the Alabama abortion law increases the air of criminality around female sexuality, as abortions in cases of rape or incest are also restricted; suggesting that women are licentious and sexually wanton. Furthermore implying that rape, and situations even of incest are the women’s fault and not the man’s. Therefore this bill intensifies the acceptability of rape and sexual assault, essentially justifying the pervasive rape culture that is prevalent in many aspects of American society. Eddie Johnson, the representative for Texas’ 30th Congressional district, agrees with this perception, stating that;

” I’m from the old school that you can have behaviours that appear to be inviting. It can be interpreted as such. That’s the responsibility, I think, of the female.

Eddie Bernice Johnson, 2017

These ‘inviting’ guises could refer to clothing deemed provocative that is worn by women; clothing that is perhaps seen as the cause or justification, by conservative male figures, for women being sexually assaulted. Building upon how the abortion laws could suggest the inherently immoral sexual nature of women, they may seem to further discourage female freedom of speech. Acting as an attempt to control what women can wear, further deterring and attempting to conserve female sexuality by holding women as responsible for being raped.

What Were You Wearing by Jen Brockman and Mary Wyandt Hiebert  – University of Arkansaw

The 2013 ‘What Were You Wearing’ art display at the University of Arkansas served to degrade the stereotype that provocative clothing had a direct correlation to rape. The installation featured the accounts and clothing worn by students who had been sexually assaulted, exposing the accepted myth that is pervasive in rape culture; that women who are assaulted are immoral. The clothes worn by these students included ‘jeans, t-shirts, jumpers’, normal, even boring clothing; this can formerly expose the gendered double standard and ridiculous perception that female immorality is in some way linked with and even punished by being sexually assaulted.

Conclusively, the pattern of repressive abortion bills can signify a fluctuation in attitudes towards female sexuality; perhaps showing that the times of leniency are coming to an end as social expectations and customs again become stricter. Moreover, how rapidly this form of legislation has spread can be suggestive of a pivotal shift within the American governing system, as more conservative minded individuals move into positions of power. Most infamously of these is perhaps Brett Kavanaugh, whose Supreme Court appointment on October 6th 2018 tipped the court’s balance, making it much easier for conservative legislation (such as the Alabama Abortion Bill) to be passed into law and remain free from legal challenge.

This year marks a decade since Obama was first sworn into the White House. Ten years on, the tonal shift that has occurred in America’s political and social climate has been dramatic. As people at the top of the political food chain are now directly polarized to the individuals that once presided there, just a decade earlier. This uncertainty within the American system is reflected through the wavering approaches towards women’s rights, but the issue is not confined there – problems the country faces with same sex relationships, immigration, race and even the economy are all effected with by the constantly changing political dynamic in the USA. A complication that perhaps, above all else, has the potential to damage the country and its people for the interminable future.

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