In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade abortion has become illegal in many places in the United States. This is a key point in a long-standing campaign by the Church and right-wing conservatives to return to a state of affairs that existed prior to the mid-20th century.
Here in Canada, there are no laws governing abortion. That’s not to say that we haven’t had the debate. Rather, it is to say that we have decided this matter on a point that I take to be common sense: the fetus is not a person, it is until birth a part of the mother, and there are no laws determining what a person can do with their own body parts.
My own thinking takes this a step further: if you believe the fetus is a person and deserving of care and sustenance, then you can provide this. The mother will happily deliver it to you in whatever stage of development it happens to be, and you can take care of it from that point on. You argue that the fetus is not viable outside the mother? Then that is pretty clear evidence that the fetus is not, and never was, a person.
The point here is that the abortion debate revolves only in part around the suggestion that the fetus is a person, despite the longstanding misrepresentation of it as a ‘baby’, a ‘child’, or whatever. There are many many actual babies and children in society that deserve care. But in fact, if the mother is unable or unwilling for whatever reason to provide care, then the onus falls on society. And some societies – and especially those that prohibit abortion – fail to a large degree to provide that care.
No, it’s not about babies or personhood or anything like that. It’s about employing the mechanism of the state to impose a certain type of forced labour on a distinct part of society, specifically, women. That’s why anti-abortion activists are also in favour of laws banning contraception. It’s not that women do not have the right to choose this one thing about their bodies. It’s that women don’t have the right to choose anything about their bodies and their selves – who they are, what role they have in society, what they do with their lives.
That’s why we have no laws on abortion in Canada, and to the extent that we have any laws around such subjects, it is to the effect that products, processes and procedures are as safe and effective as possible.
Now, are we perfect in that regard? Almost certainly not. We have longstanding issues with the proper provision of medicare generally, access for people in remote regions and indigenous communities, safety standards, and more. But the point here is that the intent of our system is to emancipate, not to oppress. And that makes all the difference in the world. But that’s not the intent of those making decisions now in the United States.
My concern here is that the proponents of such decisions are working toward a system of law that removes a wide range of freedoms for those who are not white, male, cis, and of a certain measure of wealth. The decision on Roe v. Wade was just one of a flurry of decisions from that same court in the last week or two. It also made decisions weakening voting rights, weakening Miranda laws, opposing gun laws, weakening labour laws, funding religious schools, supporting school prayer, gutting environmental laws, and more.
All of these taken together paint a picture of a society in which the primary role of most people is to serve. This applies especially of people who are poor, are women, are indigenous or of colour. It is a model of society explicitly endorsed by religious leaders, and one that benefits the wealthy. It entrenches the power of those who are in power and renders inconsequential any ambitions or aspirations anyone else may have.
It’s a terribly disappointing outcome, and my heart goes out to those many innocent women whose lives will be disrupted and ruined as a consequence. I hope that Americans will find a way out of these dark and disturbing times, because the world needs an America that actively supports and embraces human rights, and this is something sorely lacking right now.