Thursday, March 8, 2012

Women’s Reproductive Rights

Today is San Ba Nu Jie.  LOL, you are probably asking, “What is that?!”  San Ba Nu translates directly from Chinese as “Three Eight Woman,” but it means March 8th Woman.  March 8th is always … (drumroll) …
International Women’s Day!
In Chinese, a “San Ba Nu” is what we Americans could more or less refer to as a “liberated woman.”  But to call a woman a “San Ba Nu” is not a compliment.  It is an insult.  In Chinese culture, a “March 8th Woman” is
uppity, outspoken, rejecting of traditional values, and probably a pain in the a** as well.  I, however, choose to characterize these characteristics as an insult.   A March 8th woman, as I choose to see her, is a woman who has chosen to value herself, to make herself heard, and to participate in a larger way in the society and economy around her.  I’ve blogged about more about International Women’s Day HERE
Justice for women has been a recurring theme in this blog.  Just a few days ago, I wrote about the Girl Effect (HERE).  In another entry, HERE, I highlighted a song written in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage in Australia.  That blog posts recounts an interview in which the author of that song (Love and Justice) discusses her purpose of writing about the powerlessness and disenfranchisement of women to empowerment and the franchise.   Among the words of the lyrics is the following:  “no work today means no pay and no pay means we're starving, mother I'm with child again, I feel like I am dying . . . .”  Access to fair wages and economic opportunity are important, but as this song also highlights, control over childbearing is also important to justice and self determination for women. 
Women’s control over their own reproductive function has been a hard-won battle.  Since 1972, the focus of reproductive freedom has been the abortion case of Roe v. Wade.  But before Roe v. Wade, the battle was over birth control itself.  In the case of Griswold v. Connecticut, the U.S. Supreme Court used a court-created idea of a “penumbra” of rights (which includes the right to privacy) to strike down a Connecticut law that prohibited the sale of birth control (contraceptives). 
This concept of a penumbra of rights is one that literalist interpreters of the U.S. Constitution would seek to get rid of, paving the path for states once again to outlaw the sale of contraceptives.  “How?” you might ask.  Fundamentally, while the right of the people to be secure in their persons and houses is a right specifically enumerated in the Constitution, the right to birth control is not.  (The U.S. Constitution also doesn’t address the regulation of motor vehicles, since obviously cars had not yet been invented.)   Yet, these seem to be important liberties even if they are not specially enumerated. 
The U.S. Supreme Court, under the “liberal” Earl Warren, looked at the general types of rights that were protected and said that certain things should be included within the “penumbra” of protection.  Hence, the “activist” Warren court created the right to use birth control, the right to homeschool my children, or the right to live with a person I’m not legally married to, all without criminal penalty.  The state can still regulate these activities to the extent that the state can show it has a legitimate need to do so, but it cannot outright prohibit the activity without some rational basis for doing so. 
It is part of the social conservative agenda to get rid of the penumbra of rights.  This, in turn, will pave the way to undo not only the famous abortion decision of Roe v. Wade, but also of Griswold v. Connecticut.
If women think birth control is important to them, then they’d better be paying attention to these arguments. 
Moreover, if women think it’s not important, then perhaps they should look at the maternity and child health issues prior to the advent of having express rights to control their own bodies. 
Coat hanger and back alley abortions were real.  They cost lives.  Lest anyone need a prod to remember those days, here is a link to get them started. 

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