Thursday, August 14, 2014

When a corpse has more rights than a woman

Look around the world. Consider the status of women in "pro-life" countries, particularly as relates to the "life of the mother". In countries like Ireland or the Dominican Republic, where laws that directly or indirectly grant "personhood" to fertilized eggs, embryos and fetuses necessarily put pregnant women's lives in jeopardy -- because to interfere with said fertilized egg is tantamount to murder (even if the zygote/embryo/fetus has zero chance of surviving anyway, as its continued existence will kill the pregnant woman upon whom it depends). Even in countries where the law does not utterly prohibit the medical rights of women and girls, the Church is quick to insert its vitriol -- a nine year old impregnated by a rapist step father, whose tiny body will surely be destroyed if the pregnancy is allowed to continue (as happened in Brazil -- a country that allows abortion only in instances of rape and medical emergency), must be subjected to that hideous fate. Or else those who assist her, those who save her life, will be excommunicated (notably, the church did not excommunicate the rapist, who abused and endangered the child's life -- but the victim's mother and physician, who saved the child's life, that pious institution took to task).

In our own nation, where the Supreme Court has ruled that women have the constitutional right to procure abortions, the "religious right" maintains a fierce opposition to the procedure. And from tracking women who have abortions to shuttering abortion facilities on a state by state basis to introducing personhood measures on the federal level to murdering abortion doctors, they are not-so-slowly but very-steadily-indeed encroaching on that right. The difference between us and Ireland as far as women's health is effectively non-existent to a poor woman living in the deep south, where abortion clinics are being forced closed for hundreds of miles around; and with the "personhood" push, we, as a nation, are at risk of becoming yet another "pro-life" nation that slays pregnant women on the altar of fetal rights. In Catholic hospitals around the country, a pregnant woman's life is already in very real jeopardy -- because the heart beat of a dying fetus is more important to the pro-life movement than the actual life of the pregnant woman. (Is it any wonder that our rates of pregnancy related maternal death are so high in this country, when so many of our health care institutions utterly devalue a pregnant women's existence?)

But take a minute to think about what would happen if hardcore pro-lifers (who are the ones setting the direction of the movement) actually got their way here. American women would have less rights over their bodies than corpses.

A corpse's wishes as to what happens to its body are respected. If a person wanted to take perfectly healthy organs with them to the grave, we shrug our shoulders, and say, "Well, so be it. That's his choice." And no matter how many lives those organs would have saved, we tell the dying people what amounts to, "Tough shit. We have to respect that corpse's wishes." Not only are pro-lifers not actively campaigning to save these wasted organs -- and all the people that they'd preserve -- but many pro-lifers actually actively campaign against the dead giving organs (generally with scare tactics like these). So, to the pro-lifer, the corpse's right to stuff its organs into a concrete hole to rot is either undisputed or sacred. But a living woman, deciding who will use her body? Even if she's evicting a fetus that's killing her? Even if that fetus will not survive her death? Based on how anti-choice laws are implemented all over the globe and in "pro-life" medical facilities right here in the States it's clear: the "pro-life" view is that she does not have a right to preserve her own body and/or life. Unlike every other "threatening situation" (from, "oh my god, there's a black kid carrying skittles as he walks down the sidewalk!" to "I'm having a heart attack; quick, save me!"), the religious right argues that she alone doesn't get to take the steps necessary to save her life. She doesn't get to take the step necessary to preserve her bodily integrity. She has to die, even if the fetus dies too. Because, unlike the corpse, a pregnant woman's rights cease to matter in the pro-life worldview.

In areas -- be they countries, states or medical establishments -- where "pro-life" thought reigns, women's rights effectively cease to exist. Women, indeed, have fewer rights to bodily autonomy than a corpse. Women have fewer rights to life than a non-sentient glob of human tissue, that has zero chance of survival if the woman dies. In the pro-life worldview, women matter less and are accorded fewer rights than dead and non-sentient bodies. And the irony in all this? These lunatics and hypocrites declare their lunacy and hypocrisy to be the "moral" choice, and that anything short of imposing these barbarous restrictions on women's health is extreme immorality. And millions upon millions of well-meaning but deluded people nod in agreement, without ever stopping to think about what they're doing, or to consider the practical import of their opposition to women's rights: that they support a system that reduces their mothers, sisters, wives, or -- oftentimes -- themselves to a special class of citizen with less rights than a corpse.

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