Let freedom ring — of reproductive rights I sing.
On the day Roe vs. Wade fell, I felt the news with the same shock and horror as I did when I saw the second tower fall on 9/11. I experienced it as an act of terrorism against uterus bearing bodies in the U.S., an assault on all 166 million of us. But on July 4th, as I lay on the ground and listened to distant fireworks, I was reminded of a more recent moment in life when eerie uncertainty reigned.
In early March 2020, I sold my home, anticipating a month’s stay in a tiny rental before moving into a home my spouse and I were having built together. And on the day I gave up the security of property that I had worked so hard to achieve as a previously single mom, the world caved in around us. News of a dangerous virus sent the world into chaos. Work and schools sent us home. Grocery stores emptied. Hospitals prepared for surge. We found ourselves coping with the early trauma of the Covid-19 pandemic stuck in a tiny one bedroom cabin.
The first nights in that cabin, I lay on my back imagining various catastrophes and how we would cope with them. Would we get sick? Be hospitalized? Die? How would this affect our kids? Would the builders be able to finish our home? Would the storage facility release our belongings to us? Would the bank close our loan? We couldn’t find so much as milk and eggs, so these were quite serious questions. To cope, I decided to journal all my worst case scenarios and leave them in a closed notebook. I made a conscious effort to live each day with as much presence to my kids as possible, to be as much help to my hospital co-workers and NICU parents as possible. In our tiny AirBnB, we played games, toasted marshmallows by the fire, and waited for our ‘new normal’ to unfold.
Fast forward to July 2022, my family is still intact, but one million Americans and counting have died. The dead represent many millions of families without moms, dads, grandparents, friends, and coworkers. Millions of lives were turned upside down with the “new normal” of work, school, travel and relationships. Americans have been polarized over basic medical and health decisions. And everyone has been impacted by the economic ripples of the global shutdown, the resulting inflation and hardships.
On the Fourth, my back on the pavement and eyes to the night sky, I recognized those eerie feelings of uncertainty washing over me again, triggered this time by the end of Roe vs. Wade. The erroneous decision means much more than just the loss of a woman’s right to choose. It marks the end of privacy in matters of reproductive healthcare. It defies the reality of pregnancy and fuels the dangerous story that anti-abortionism is merely about protecting the innocent unborn.
Many people aren’t taught human biology, so they envision abortion as a violation against a perfectly formed human being in the womb of a healthy woman with a safe world waiting for them. Tragically, this hyper-idealized view of pregnancy keeps our society from processing the complex nature of maternal health, family planning, and child wellbeing. In reality, cis, trans, and non-binary womb bearers (women+) who are forced to birth will cope with increased trauma, which negatively affects human biology — both that of birthing parent and child. This is dangerous. The US maternal mortality rate is already last among similarly developed nations, and Indiana has one of the highest rates in the nation. Forced through pregnancy, more women and girls+ will suffer. Denied access to safe abortion, more women and girls+ will die. These realities don’t begin to consider the traumatic impact of forced birth on infants, children, and their families.
Issues of reproductive health are compounded by issues of personal rights. Most Americans aren’t taught the historical links between oppression, the successes of the Civil Rights movement, and the beginning of abortion politics. Schools seldom teach how intricately the restriction of bodily autonomy is linked to our history of slavery, segregation, racism, and white Christian “moral” domination. Sadly, with current trends of restricting books, lectures, clubs and issues of sexuality in schools, lessons of historical perspective on oppression aren’t likely to begin.
My sense of foreboding is compounded, knowing we can’t quantify the deaths, disabilities, unemployment, homelessness, nor overall increased impoverishment and abuse of humans that will follow. Nor do we have the assurance that other rights won’t fall like dominoes.
This is what I thought about, with my back to the pavement and my eyes to the sky, listening to concussions I knew were fireworks, but might have been American lives exploding. I could feel the pain of the unknown, of slipping into a post-civil rights era if we do not find a way to unite in the fight of our lives against this assault on bodies and beings. Like issues of masks and vaccines, some people won’t acknowledge the threat, so the rest of us must shout louder and fight harder to save them and their womb-bearing children, as well as our own.
In honor of Independence Day, let freedom ring, but not the freedom of escapism and easy answers. Let freedom ring — the kind that calls us to our feet and raises our voices to believe that together, we are free to make things right. To make things better. To not just witness an easy fade of human rights while fireworks light the sky and leave their echoes. Let freedom ring — freedom to fight for a safer, healthier future for our children and generations yet to come.