For the past year, we’ve witnessed dozens of men admit to sexual assault in public and private places of all sorts — in backrooms, bedrooms and board rooms, and on couches, planes and buses. They are being outed by victims who are, at times, relating incidents from decades past because absolutely no one would listen until now.
But another sexual predator of American women is not an individual — it’s our government, through repeated acts of intrusion onto, and into, our bodies. We’re being violated in our own chambers; not our bed chambers, but in the chambers of Congress and state legislatures, through hundreds of new statues, amendments and laws specifically devised to restrict our rights and criminalize our choices. Our most private selves, our reproductive organs, are bound by these laws, which are not based on medical science, best practice or our best interests.
These laws are proposed in the name of “protection,” when what women really need is protection from laws that imply that men aren’t the y to our x in this equation. But only one set of reproductive organs appear to be liable, pliable and available to be constrained.
For whatever reason, science has failed to develop reliable birth control for men; prophylactics and abstinence remain their only solutions. And when those fail, as they often do, the government steps in and dictates what the woman must or must not do by creating or enforcing laws that are an additional assault on, and an insult to, women.
In the first half of 2017, 431 new state laws were introduced to restrict access to our constitutional right to abortion. Colorado passed a law prohibiting public employees from paying for an abortion with their own health insurance. Mississippi voted to ban abortions past week 15. In Iowa, a bill would outlaw abortion with no exception for rape or incest. Many states require women to have a medically unnecessary ultrasound to “be given the option to look at the image,” with mandatory counseling and a 72-hour waiting period. West Virginia hopes to amend the state constitution specifically to ban abortion from Medicaid services.
These laws are a metaphor for the kind of abuse women already experience in everyday life, millions of examples of which have been reported in #MeToo messages. They are done on a “law-on-women” basis, touching us in places, and in ways, we do not want to be fondled and groped. Like sexual harassment, these laws are demeaning. Like dark alleys, they are threatening. Like porn, they are everywhere. They are discriminatory, like sexual discrimination. They propose that our bodies, for nine months, essentially be under state surveillance. These laws strip away our rights the way a pervert would strip off our clothing, imagining us morally naked, in need of the wisdom of law to clothe us. Our anatomy is exposed, for all to casually peruse in publications and legal briefs.
The challenge to Roe vs. Wade is coming, sooner rather than later. Meanwhile, it feels like a creepy sex offender has been let loose in our country; only this time, the law rides by his side with an armed posse.
Carol Williams is a U.S. Army veteran and former ER nurse who hosts a textile art exhibit, “Fabrics of Defiance,” as part of the United States Veterans Arts Program. Her columns, which she writes regularly for the Martinsburg Journal, are published in a book titled “The Age of Uterine Law.” Her email is email@example.com.