Bitter As Gall: Texas Tackles Freedom of Choice
Commentary by Carol Queen PhD, Staff Sexologist-
Good Vibrations has been a feminist business from the very beginning—founded by Joani Blank to create a comfortable space where it was easy for women to find out about sexual health and pleasure and shop for products that facilitated these things. Forty-plus years ago, this was rare, and it was clear that women appreciated a place that honored their sexual choices. Back in the 1970s, the nexus between feminism and changing understandings about sexuality birthed our company… and much more social change, including Roe v. Wade.
A lot has changed since then, but it sure seems like honoring women’s sexual choices is still far from universal. Joani, among other things a proud advocate for reproductive freedom, is probably turning in her grave this week.
After years of near misses (and many setbacks) for abortion rights, last week the shoe finally dropped—in Texas, where everything is big except, apparently, respect for bodily autonomy. The law in question doesn’t overturn Roe v. Wade, but that’s not how it will seem inside the Lone Star State, or in any of the states that may enact copycat laws in the coming weeks and months.
The law prevents abortion after six weeks—before most know they’re pregnant—and adds insult to injury by criminalizing anyone facilitating an abortion in any way.
It is to be enforced courtesy of lawsuits filed by peoples’ neighbors. (Or, let’s face it, right-wing organizations set up for this specific purpose.) This snooping, spying, narking behavior ought to make any decent person (pro- OR anti-choice) speak up and speak out. It’s as dystopian as it gets. This is a norm we cannot allow to take hold in the US.
On top of that, plenty of people are enraged about the way the law slid quietly into the Supreme Court’s shadow docket and was basically ratified there (“Oooh, we can’t possibly do anything about THIS, we’re just the Supreme Court!”)
But it’s being reported that few major companies are commenting on this state of affairs, in spite of the effects these laws will have on anyone—including their customers and employees--who can get pregnant (and whose health, independence, ability to work, earning capacity, and life course may be altered by their inability to access abortion). No comment on the bad science the law enshrines (an embryo doesn’t have a heart yet at six weeks’ gestation, so this isn’t a heartbeat bill—just heartless). No comment on the bounty hunter cosplay.
Well, WE’LL comment!
In addition to the totalitarian, nark-y nonsense cooked into this law, it clearly seeks to curtail abortion and force almost all pregnancies to be brought to term. This is wrong. Abortion is part of the toolkit that lets us exercise agency over our bodies and over sexual, reproductive, and health choices. Our bodies are our own. Our sexuality is our own. Our reproductive choices are our own. Pregnancy can be dearly wanted… but it can also be fatal. This is obviously relevant to those with uteruses, and those in relationships with people with uteruses. It’s relevant to anyone who wants to masturbate, too (sex toy optional, but we really do have a dog in this race). One more time: Our bodies are our own. Our sexuality is our own.
Listen, we’ve had trouble with Texas before. The fabulous documentary Dildo Diaries has all the details—it tells the story of the legislation that made selling sex toys illegal in the Lone Star State. Why? Because somebody up in the legislature didn’t want to acknowledge that our bodies and sexuality are our own.
Perhaps you are not comfortable with abortion. I am not asking you to be, but I am asking everyone to stay out of the business of curtailing other peoples’ bodily autonomy. In the meantime, you would think that all who are anti-abortion would see the importance of sex education, easily available contraception, and non-penis-in-vagina sexual options in preventing unplanned and unwanted pregnancies. But! Strangely enough, too many of the people who are against abortion are also against all or some of those things!
So, the rest of us have to work all the harder to make legal and cultural space for sex education and sexual rights. If there are any folks out there who don’t think abortion is your issue, this is what links the circumstances of your lives to those who might potentially need to terminate a pregnancy. Queer folks, fans of oral or anal sex or kinky play—remember all that good fun has been illegal in the US in living memory. There are people among us who’d like it all to be illegal again.
What could we do to heighten the stakes when faced with people who seem perfectly willing to consider people with uteruses as reproduction bots? Well, we could increase criminal liability for incest, rape and other nonconsensual acts (including stealthing—California is seeking to do just that), since the fellas who cooked up the TX law did not even see fit to include exceptions for these situations. We could make sure every person whose sperm results in an unwanted pregnancy be prosecuted. Too harsh? How about making sure they are financially liable, then? I can’t think of a better use for DNA technology--besides catching rapists. We could out every last powerful man (by all means let’s start with the Republicans and the Texans) who’s participated in behavior that might cause an unwanted pregnancy, or who has pressured someone behind the scenes to get an abortion. How about a $10K fine for those guys? (Is that too low? We could re-do the budget.) Just think—instead of people wondering whether it’s worth it to go into reproductive health care as a profession, folks could be asking themselves whether they ought to pass on running for office. Hmmm, the folks who thought #MeToo went too far probably won’t be comfortable with this either.
But you know what? Virtually all pregnancies (including 100% of the unwanted ones) involve two people. Let’s step up to make sure that fact doesn‘t escape the people making the laws.
And you do know what Better Midler thinks, right? Bette wants to go all Lysistrata on ‘em. No more sex with men. Huh, that might work.
Who’s fighting this (besides Bette)? Plenty of people, and perhaps you want to participate.
*Women’s Marches will be held all over the country on October 2 to protest.
*Boycotts of Texas are popping up; Portland, Oregon was the first municipality to call for one.
*You can vote. And if you’re pro-choice, there’s one party that’s made it pretty clear they might not deserve yours. Sure, maybe you don’t live in Texas and can’t vote there, but don’t let that stop you from casting your vote in your home state. This is everybody’s problem.
*Urge your members of Congress and Senators to support the Women’s Health Protection Act.
*The Satanic Temple is doing what it does best—using laws that reference religious exemptions to protect their religious belief in bodily autonomy. Not suggesting y’all join their church, but respect for these top-level pro-choice trolls is definitely warranted. While we’re at it, a shout-out to the religions and religious denominations that do not seek to curtail bodily autonomy. If you belong to one of these faith communities, you can urge them to speak out about this.
Some organizations working to support reproductive justice, protect abortion access, and/or get people who need abortions to clinics—people doing this work deserve your support:
The Texas Equal Access Fund provides emotional and financial support to people who are seeking abortion care. https://teafund.org/
The Lilith Fund provides financial assistance and emotional support while building community spaces for people who need abortions in Texas—unapologetically, with compassion and conviction. Through organizing and movement-building, we foster a positive culture around abortion, strengthen people power, and fight for reproductive justice in and with our communities. https://www.lilithfund.org/
Fund Texas Choice helps Texans equitably access abortion through safe, confidential, and comprehensive travel services and practical support. https://fundtexaschoice.org/
Whole Woman’s Health Alliance is working to strategically shift the stigma around abortion in our culture. We are committed to fostering open and honest conversations, lifting up all communities, and transforming the abortion care environment. We believe that everyone deserves the dignity and respect to be at the center of their healthcare decisions. That’s why we fight harmful anti-abortion laws. Litigation is an important means of countering laws that present undue burdens on women who seek abortions. https://www.wholewomanshealthalliance.org/
SisterSong is a Southern based, national membership organization; our purpose is to build an effective network of individuals and organizations to improve institutional policies and systems that impact the reproductive lives of marginalized communities. https://www.sistersong.net/
The Cobalt Abortion Fund provides direct financial assistance to individuals seeking abortion care. Our mission is to work toward reproductive freedom for all people and to provide financial assistance without judgment or question to people who seek an abortion but are unable to pay the full cost. We are committed to working toward a future where no person faces a financial barrier to the care they need. We believe abortion is healthcare and that nothing should between you and your health decisions. We will not stop fighting until reproductive healthcare is completely accessible to everyone. https://www.cobaltaf.org/
The mission of the National Abortion Federation is to unite, represent, serve, and support abortion providers in delivering patient-centered, evidence-based care. https://prochoice.org/
The Center for Reproductive Rights is a global human rights organization of lawyers and advocates who ensure reproductive rights are protected in law as fundamental human rights for the dignity, equality, health, and well-being of every person. The organization uses the power of law to advance reproductive rights as fundamental human rights around the world. https://reproductiverights.org/