By Angela Duong
The Trump Administration has agreed to postpone implementing its abortion ‘gag rule’ until November 22 to allow for a final ruling on the matter. This rule, which was supposed take effect on July 22, means that clinics which refer patients for abortions risk losing federal funding under the Title X program.The administration’s dogged efforts on limiting women’s reproductive rights should come as no surprise as President Trump once told an interviewer, “I wouldn’t say I’m a feminist.” He continues, “I’m for women, I’m for men, I’m for everyone.” But isn’t feminism about everyone?
To draw up one definition of feminism in the 21st century would be impractical simply because, there exist too many generational differences for which to account. While the first wave of feminists focused its efforts on achieving workplace equality, feminism has grown over time to include intersectionality, body ownership and agency. The undercurrent of it all, however, remains the same: Being a feminist has always, and will always mean, striving for gender equality. So why have new abortion restrictions been dividing feminists? Shouldn’t they all want women to have the ability to make decisions for themselves like men? After all, isn’t feminism about empowerment and about redefining expectations in the post-patriarchal era?
As of May, nine more states have passed abortion bills that have challenged the 1973 Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court decision and have put women in personal quandaries. Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Ohio, for example, have made abortions illegal once a fetal heartbeat is detected—which can be as early as six weeks into a pregnancy. New legislation in Missouri and Arkansas has also outlawed abortions at eight weeks and eighteen weeks, respectively. The most restrictive measures, which have been delayed until 2020 as the result of court challenges, will proceed in Alabama where all abortions are proscribed, even in the instances of rape and incest. The only exception to all these bans is if the woman’s health is at risk.
Such bills, in effect, will force women to face a disturbing reality, one in which they will no longer have control over their bodily autonomy, nor their freedom of choice. Some will be obliged to endure a nonviable pregnancy, fully aware that their fetus would either die in the womb or not survive beyond birth. Some will deliver their abusers’ babies and be forever haunted by their trauma. Some won’t even know that they are pregnant, due to early cut-offs, irregular menstrual cycles, birth control failures, or lack of symptoms, and suddenly have no other alternative but to bring forth a child they are unprepared to support. Abortion bills in this way, will change the entire arc of a woman’s life, but will have no bearing on a man’s life. How is this fair if men are equally responsible for pregnancies?
Despite the risks that come with abortion, many women who are advocates for pro-life and anti-abortion still claim to be feminists. In a speech at the Susan B. Anthony List’s Life Gala, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley said that championing abortion rights is not ‘real feminism.’ She explains, “Women are expected to support choice simply because we’re women. That’s just wrong. We all have to be true to ourselves and to others. Unfortunately, many on the left use the abortion debate to divide women and demand conformity. They do is in the name of feminism and that is not real feminism.”
What then, is ‘real feminism’? Is it, as Nikki Haley asserts, the capacity for a woman to choose her own stance on an issue without being hounded for it? And if this holds true, then why are women only limited to making verbal choices, but not physical ones? More importantly, how can equality ever be achieved if decision-making continues to be particularly restrictive and contradictory for the female gender?
According to ‘Feminists for Life’, a non-profit, pro-life feminist organization, justice for all can only be realized if women kept away from abortion and pursued all nonviolent options instead. On their website, they state: “Abortion is a reflection that we have failed women—and women have settled for less.” In many cases, however, by choosing abortion, women have actually settled for more. For example, they are more liberated to focus on their education or career and less on domestic chores. In turn, they shift markedly towards financial stability and a parental efficacy that could foster a more nurturing environment for a child later on. Abortion then, should not be viewed under the scope that life is immediately denied, but rather a procedure that opens the door for life to exist amid an increasingly dependable structure.
Once more, while feminism has its array of interpretations, at its core, its supporters should always first and foremost, prioritize the wellbeing of a woman. Her wellbeing, and how she chooses to modify it, cannot be decided by another party, but the woman herself. For instance, while a mechanic devises a diagnosis after examining someone’s vehicle—similarly to what a doctor does after meeting with an ill patient—one would never go to a mechanic for advice on bodily symptoms. Put simply, when it comes to abortion rights, some people would like to believe they are doctors for others, when they are no more than mechanics.
Overall, the abortion bills, and the Trump’s new referral rule are a threat to womankind and a breach of the goals of equality and dignity the feminist movement have so adamantly pursued. If you call yourself a feminist, but do not support the notion of women making reproductive decisions for themselves, then you are in favor of their debilitation. Same goes for people that claim they support everyone and do not strictly adhere to a label. Without strong, healthy, women everywhere, there is no enduring feminist movement and there is no bedrock to this nation. So, at this pivotal time, let’s focus on the life that is present with us now and work on building a future that allows women to acquire a firm foothold in this country—which is possible by expanding a fundamental right: The freedom of choice.