A guard came to my cell this morning and asked me if I wanted to hear a joke. Without waiting for me to reply, he said “women’s rights,” and burst out laughing.
I didn’t find it very funny at all.
June 24 was a sad day in the history of our country. The day they overturned Roe v. Wade, the day they took away an established constitutional right. They didn’t change it, they didn’t curtail it, they simply . . . took it away. Anytime our rights are stripped from us, it should be concerning to every American.
It’s the Supreme Court that’s the joke! Politics isn’t supposed to have any place in law. When you become a justice of the Supreme Court, you’re no longer a Republican or a Democrat; your duty isn’t to one party, but to the law. Previously, the Supreme Court struck down a New York law restricting concealed weapons, saying in part that “no state can make a law restricting a constitutional protection.” Then, they turn around and do the exact opposite, saying it’s up to the states to do away with constitutional protections altogether! How can you trust this Court? It’s not the Supreme Court of the United States; it’s the Republican Supreme Court.
We are hearing that these justices are originalists, which means that they take the Constitution literally, and hold only to what is in the original document. That view is extremely shortsighted, and ignores the fact that our Constitution was written 250 years ago. The country has grown and evolved, the population has grown, our morals have evolved (for some of us), so why do we insist on sticking dogmatically to the originality of 250 years ago? It seems counterintuitive that our country can evolve but our beliefs can’t.
Let me be clear: I am pro-choice. I think that a woman has the right to do with her body what she chooses. It’s not my personal business, and it certainly isn’t the government’s business! Some people feel differently, and that’s fine; in America we are all entitled to our own opinions. But one of the biggest problems I have with the pro-life movement is that it’s fundamentally a Christian religious belief. According to the very Constitution they so love to hold to, there is supposed to be separation of church and state. There are many people in this country who are not Christians, and they shouldn’t be forced to live according to the Court’s religious dictates.
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The reasoning of the Supreme Court to overturn Roe was that the right to abortion was not expressly written in the Constitution, and therefore it isn’t a right! It’s a ridiculous line of reasoning. There are many rights we have that are not expressly written into the Constitution. The Constitution itself makes allowances for that. The Ninth Amendment states, “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.” But in its opinion overturning Roe, the Supreme Court is effectively saying that if a right isn’t written into the Constitution, you don’t have it.
In recent weeks, states have made their true intentions known. It’s not just abortion rights that are affected. States have proposed, passed, or implemented many restrictions that go beyond abortion: banning mail-order medication, criminalizing sharing information about abortion, and even banning librarians from using the word “abortion” in conversations with patrons. In some states, fellow citizens have been formally empowered, offered bounties, or afforded whistleblower protections for helping enforce abortion laws. This legalizes the stalking and harassment of pregnant women and medical personnel.
Most people aren’t familiar with the Comstock Act. This was federal legislation that was instituted in the 1870s. The act outlawed not just contraception but literature that contained information on preventing pregnancies. These laws actually led to raids on bookstores! Rights to privacy and free expression guaranteed by the First Amendment were considered “secondary rights” behind the right of the government to control women’s reproductive choices. With Roe overturned, we may see similar laws back on the books.
America is becoming an Orwellian “Big Brother” state. The force of law protects people who watch you, restricts your movements and even your conversations. All we’re waiting for now is a Bureau of Abortion Investigation to kick doors in. Make no mistake, it’s coming.
A class of women not often talked about are those detained in jails and prisons. We all know the horrible case of the ten-year-old rape victim in Ohio who was forced to go to another state in order to have an abortion. Incarcerated women have nowhere they can go. Barriers to abortion access in the community are amplified among women who are incarcerated. Abortions are already more difficult to obtain for people of color, those living in rural areas, and low-income individuals—and many of these same people are more likely to be incarcerated.
Access to abortion during Roe v. Wade was severely limited anyway; now, post-Roe, pregnant women in jails and prisons across the country will be forced to continue unwanted pregnancies, facing harsh birthing conditions from being shackled while giving birth, to receiving poor prenatal care.
“Denying incarcerated women access to abortion, and thereby conscripting them to carry pregnancies while being incarcerated, subjects them to, depending on where they are, potentially unsafe and harmful conditions,” Carolyn Sufrin, a researcher and associate professor of gynecology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, told NBC News in June. “This makes the case for why we shouldn’t be incarcerating pregnant women in the first place, if we’re conscripting them to conditions where they will have no say in their pregnancies and limited abilities to access the care that they need.”
There are women in jail who have been raped, and others who have been raped while they were in custody. In states where abortions are illegal, women will be forced to carry their rapists’ babies to term. People don’t often think about abortion as connected to criminal justice, when oftentimes, incarcerated people are ground zero for having their rights stripped away.
“[T]heir rights are going to stand or fall with the rights of the people in the state who aren’t incarcerated,” Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, deputy director of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, told NBC News. “If there’s no federal protection, if there’s no state constitutional protections, and a state makes it illegal, that’s probably going to be the end of it.”
This is why it’s more important than ever that we vote. We need to codify Roe v. Wade, and do the same for same-sex marriage. We need to stem the tide of these “Big Brother”-type laws, or this may just be the beginning of the end for many of our rights!
Anthony Ehlers is a writer incarcerated at Stateville Correctional Center who contributes a regular column to the Reader.
Maintaining mental health in prison was already challenging before COVID-19 hit.
“What we know for a fact is that making abortion illegal does not stop women from seeking abortions, it just keeps them from getting safe abortions.”
Tips on obtaining an abortion and supporting abortion access in a post-Roe vs Wade world