New Haven Register (New Haven, CT)
I remember the bad old abortion days
My girlhood was spent playing outside in a soft rain, but the lightning was just over the horizon. One day, I’m catching fireflies in a Mason jar, and the next day, conversations in my fundamentalist Sunday school came loaded with lessons meant to train me to guard my virginity. In my teens, a shade came down, voices lowered, and I and my friends were repeatedly reminded that we were but vessels for any children with which God might grace us.
After a while, I asked to move on to other adult topics — like choosing college majors or finding decent car insurance — but no. Everything eventually circled back to the womb I was meant to cherish and protect.
The lessons were nonsensical and painful. At church camp one summer, a male teacher cautioned us preteens against “petting.” None of us knew what that was, and when we asked, he told us to ask our female counselor.
When we asked her, she punted and told us to ask our mothers. By the time the weeklong camp was over, I forgot to ask. That meant that I would, like so many others of that age and in that place, figure out petting on my own.
It’s enough to make a girl resent having a womb in the first place, given that it is the locus of so much silly discussion and bad legislation. A girl can start to wonder if things would be easier if the men who appear so interested in regulating this part of the female could maybe have their own wombs to worry over, so that the girl could go about her business as something more than a vessel.
Maybe we can all pull out our sewing kits and stitch them wombs, or hand them a pussy hat and tell them to go crazy.
Despite the fact that this is
2021, Texas has given us a refresher course on vessel-dom. That state’s legislators have been abundantly clear about the shadepulling, lowered-voice religiosity behind their new law that restricts abortions beyond roughly six weeks after a woman’s last menstrual period. That that time frame is often weeks before most women even know they’re pregnant is exactly the point.
Lawyers and activists cried foul, but the Trump-stuffed Supreme Court punted (just like my female camp counselor!) and refused to listen to arguments against what is effectively an abortion ban. Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor said it best: Her fellows on the bench chose to “bury their heads in the sand.” The Justice Department has stepped in to counter what is euphemistically called the Texas Heartbeat Act — “euphemistically” because at six weeks, embryos don’t have heartbeats.
But wait. There’s more. In Texas, everything is bigger, including legislators’ ability to do ignorant things. The law sets up a vigilante system whereby citizens can reap monetary rewards for ratting out one another should a person perform an abortion or help a woman get an abortion or should a person “intend to engage” (actual language from the law) in said conduct. That means enforcement of this godforsaken law is performed “through private civil actions” (also language from the law).
In other words, Texas has deputized an army of womb bounty hunters. The state can levy a fine against any defendant in a successful suit, and the money goes to pay the people who turned the defendant in in the first place. In a leap far, far from legal precedent, anyone can bring suit. The person doesn’t have to have standing. They can just decide to wade in and turn someone in.
It is a chilling attempt by the American right to once again invade women’s bodies, while hiring two-bit vigilantes to do the dirty work. It is also a gross invasion of privacy, which is something we in Connecticut — home of the precedent-setting court case Griswold v. Connecticut — take seriously. Connecticut takes a woman’s right to choose seriously in general. In 1990, the state passed a law the protects the right even if a latter-day Supreme Court decides otherwise.
Not so with Texas. A website set up for would-be bounty hunters has been tossed around hosting services because, well, it’s a stupid idea and no hosting service wants to be tainted by it. Services such as GoDaddy got tired of all the keyboard activists crashing the site by turning in fake reports on fake people.
Companies such as Salesforce have offered to help Texas employees and their families relocate. Other companies such as Bumble and Match set up relief funds for people who are affected by the ban. Uber and Lyft promised to cover legal fees should someone bring suit against one of their drivers. The Women’s March vowed to take to the streets on Oct. 2. I stand ready.
And here’s where I take comfort: Everyone under the age of 48 has only ever lived in a country where abortions are legal. Roe v. Wade, the landmark court case for which Griswold v. Connecticut helped pave the way, opened the door for legal and safe abortions. Everyone over 48 remembers the bad old days.
Texas, which also has been busily restricting voters’ rights, has poked the beast. Don’t mess with Texas? We haven’t even begun.
Susan Campbell is the author of “Frog Hollow: Stories from an American Neighborhood,” “Tempest-Tossed: The Spirit of Isabella Beecher Hooker,” and “Dating Jesus: A Story of Fundamentalism, Feminism, and the American Girl.” She is a distinguished lecturer at University of New Haven, where she teaches journalism.