It’s a sad time to be an American with a uterus. In the last two weeks the Supreme Court has issued their decisions on two cases that will have significant effects on women. They’ve eradicated the 35-foot buffer zones around abortion clinics in Massachusetts, and they ruled that family-owned corporations (which can be huge) have the right to deny their employees contraception as part of their health insurance plans.
Think about it: Women can now be denied contraception by their workplaces, and if they get pregnant, they can be more aggressively harassed as they enter an abortion clinic. These issues have immediate relevance to me and to the women I know.
First of all, let’s turn to the matter of contraception. It’s good for everybody! If you’re heterosexual, and unless you’ve had a vasectomy or gotten your tubes tied, you’re probably using it. It allows pregnancy to be prevented when people aren’t ready for it, so it ought to have the capacity to build bridges between the pro-life and pro-choice crowds. After all, if you’re opposed to abortion, contraception is a good thing because it can prevent unwanted pregnancies.
And if you’re concerned about teen pregnancies, contraception is a good thing because it allows teen girls to avoid becoming pregnant until they’re old enough to be consenting parents. If you’re an AIDS activist — here or abroad — then condoms are a good thing because they can prevent the transmission of STDs. Hell, if you’re a teen girl or a perimenopausal woman and you want your periods regulated, then the birth control pill will make that happen.
Recently, I spoke with Ilze Astad, director of development for our local Planned Parenthood, and she was taken aback by the latest rulings, telling me, “It is unbelievable that we are still fighting for access to birth control in 2014. Birth control is basic, preventative healthcare.” According to the Guttmacher Institute, more than 46,700 women in Charleston County are in need of contraceptive services and supplies. If we limit their access to birth control, what does that accomplish?
And then there’s the matter of the Supreme Court’s abortion clinic ruling. In Charleston, abortion protestors regularly stand on the road outside the Lowcountry’s only abortion clinic. Some pray silently, while others yell at the women who enter. They hold signs that show graphic pictures of aborted fetuses and try to give every woman a pamphlet condemning what she’s about to do. Once the patients are in the clinic’s parking lot, they’re safe because the protestors aren’t allowed to come that close, but if women have to park across the street, they can be approached and harassed the moment they get out of their car.
“Removing the 35-foot buffer zone in Massachusetts places violence and stigma above patient safety,” said Ashley Crary, public policy coordinator for the S.C. Coalition for Healthy Families. “The Supreme Court has a buffer zone, but apparently a buffer zone to preserve women’s access to sexual and reproductive health services is not given the same protection.”
Given the fact that three in 10 American women will terminate a pregnancy by the time they’re 45 years old, abortion isn’t a rare phenomenon. Abortion protestors certainly should have the right to free speech, but it’s frightening when they treat women as murderers since a third of the female population will choose to end a pregnancy. Feminist scholars Amy Richards and Jennifer Baumgardner note, “The most anti-choice states spend the least amount of money on children’s services. The opposite was also true: states that were pro-choice were the most pro-children.” This means that in South Carolina, if you have a baby and you aren’t ready for it, you’re on your own.
For far too many people, including the Supreme Court members who ruled with the majority in these two cases, women are apparently never supposed to have sex. Or if they have sex, they’re only allowed to do it to get pregnant. And if they get pregnant, they have to have a baby, whether or not they’re ready for it.
I don’t know about you, but this sounds like we’re going backward, not forward. The world just got a little less safe for women, and we only have the U.S. Supreme Court to thank for it.