Last week, Republicans in Florida, Oklahoma and Kentucky passed strict abortion laws, the latest in an aggressive wave of anti-abortion legislation occurring across the nation.
On April 14, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill set to go into effect July 1, banning abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, with no exceptions for rape or incest. The state previously allowed abortion up to 24 weeks into pregnancy. “We are here today to protect life,” DeSantis said at the bill’s signing ceremony. “We are here today to defend those who can’t defend themselves.”
DeSantis is running for reelection and is seen as a likely Republican presidential candidate in 2024. Not surprisingly, Florida Democrats blasted the legislation, with Rep. Lois Frankel calling it “a dark day for Florida.”
Millions of Americans on both sides of the abortion debate are anticipating with hawkish intensity how the Supreme Court will decide the Mississippi 15-week abortion ban case and the political ramifications that follow.
In the meantime, both Democratic- and Republican-controlled state legislatures are busily enacting legislation to either expand or restrict abortion access. While passion is high on both sides, the fact is that momentum on the issue lies with conservatives. Republican-led states have been dramatically successful in enacting laws severely curtailing the right for women to obtain an abortion. Democratic-controlled state legislatures are frantically attempting to implement policy in an effort to expand abortion rights before the court renders its decision this summer.
Questions surrounding abortion have been largely based on emotion and passion. Should women be allowed to get an abortion? Is abortion murder? How does one determine when life begins? Is abortion acceptable under certain circumstances? And so on. It is a never-ending debate.
While it’s women who give birth, it has largely been men who have dictated the agenda surrounding the issue of reproductive rights. Laws passed in recent years in deep red states have been predominately pushed by white Christian men, like in Alabama, where the Republican state legislature passed a law that outlawed abortion under any circumstances. That law was so draconian that even devoutly religious leaders such as Franklin Graham and Pat Robertson said the ruling went too far.
Despite all the action on the right, public sentiment on abortion in the U.S. appears to be decisively pro choice. According to a February Yahoo News/YouGov poll, only 29% of Americans said Roe v. Wade should be overturned, while 51% said it should be upheld. 55% said abortion is a constitutional right that women in all states should have some access to, versus 29% who said it’s something individual states should be able to outlaw.
Do we honestly believe that if any of these lawmakers — who are so supposedly staunchly opposed to a woman’s right to choose — had a wife, daughter or girlfriend who was raped, that they would force them to endure an unwanted pregnancy? I think we all know the answer. Just look back to 2017, when Patrick Meehan, a former Republican congressman and fierce anti-abortion politician from Pennsylvania, resigned after it was revealed he pressured his mistress to terminate her pregnancy.
The truth is much of the debate centers around power and control. It basically comes down to a certain group of men who wish to exercise control over women. Thus, abortion politics boils down to sexism, misogyny and to some degree, racism. In the latter example, it is common knowledge that some individuals on far right fear a decline in the white population.
We all know that if men could get pregnant, there would be no such discussion. Abortions would be readily available at car washes, mini markets and fast food restaurants. Such resistance would all but cease to exist. The hypocrisy is both amusing and astounding.
Personally, I am of the mindset that a person should not get an abortion unless they are the victim of rape or incest or the life of the mother is in danger. That being said, I am not a woman, and as I see it, I have no authority to tell anyone else what to do with their body.
If Roe v. Wade is eventually overturned (and the odds look ever increasingly that it will be), abortion rights will return to the states. Women who are determined to get an abortion will find a way to do so. But one thing we know is the debate surrounding reproductive rights will continue, regardless of whatever decision the Supreme Court renders.
Elwood Watson is a professor of history, Black studies, and gender and sexuality studies at East Tennessee State University. He is also an author and public speaker.