Jaci Statton wanted her baby, but the fetus wasn’t developing properly and was dying inside her. If it wasn’t removed from her uterus it might kill her, too. She was experiencing vaginal bleeding, high blood pressure, debilitating cramps, and “intense nausea.”
As reporter Ben Felder wrote for The Oklahoman:
“The longer the fetus remained inside her, the higher risk she would be for internal bleeding, kidney and liver failure, and even a stroke.”
She and her husband first went to a nearby hospital, but — like one-in-six hospital beds in America — it was run to earn money for the Catholic Church and so refused to provide her with any help beyond fluids.
Next up was the hospital at the University of Oklahoma Medical Center but that, too, was a dead end. As Felder reported:
“They said, ‘We can’t touch you because of the Oklahoma law,’ Statton recalled the doctors telling her husband, even as they acknowledged the pregnancy posed serious health risks and removing the fetus was the best medical decision.”
To save her life, Jaci’s husband drove her to an abortion clinic in Kansas where she was forced to walk through a gamut of jeering anti-abortion protestors carrying signs proclaiming their followers should “STONE ALL THE WHORES!”
If it seems to you like women in Red states are the subjects of witch hunts, you’re right. And it has nothing to do with “life”: it’s all about economic and political power.
Prior to the 1980 election, the official position of the GOP was the same as the Democratic Party. Pre-viability abortions were a decision to be made by a woman alone, with consultation — if she wished — with her physician, spouse, and/or religious counselor.
California Governor Ronald Reagan had, in fact, signed into law the nation’s most permissive abortion regulation in 1967, a full six years before the Supreme Court’s Roe v Wade decision. And Reagan’s 1980 running mate, former Texas Congressman George HW Bush, had supported Planned Parenthood — including abortion rights — all the way back to the 1960s as well.
But leading up to the election of 1980, the Reagan campaign determined that the growing backlash to Roe v Wade was a great issue to help ride to victory in the polls. It combined a general Republican distrust of the Supreme Court — dating back to the 1954 Brown v Board decision desegregating public schools — with an embrace of both Catholic and Evangelical Protestant positions that were ardently opposed to abortion.
In this, the Reagan campaign was following a long tradition of men seizing political power on the metaphorical (and sometimes literal) backs of women. The first widespread witch hunts in the 1500s, in fact, were the Catholic Church’s response to the growing Protestant Reformation competing successfully for church membership.
As researchers Peter T. Leeson and Jacob W. Russ noted in The Journal of the Royal Economic Society:
“Europe’s witch trials reflected non-price competition between the Catholic and Protestant churches for religious market share in confessionally contested parts of Christendom. By leveraging popular belief in witchcraft, witch-prosecutors advertised their confessional brands’ commitment and power to protect citizens from worldly manifestations of Satan’s evil.
“Similar to how contemporary Republican and Democrat candidates focus campaign activity in political battlegrounds during elections to attract the loyalty of undecided voters, historical Catholic and Protestant officials focused witch-trial activity in confessional battlegrounds during the Reformation and Counter-Reformation to attract the loyalty of undecided Christians.”
But there was also an economic dimension to the witch hunts, one that is also resurgent today.
In the late 1500s and early 1600s, women who performed abortions or provided birth control were most of the early victims of witch hunts because children were a source of cheap labor for the feudal lords, who essentially owned their serfs and their children.
Multiple studies of that era now show that times of economic insecurity most closely correlated with upsurges in witch hunts and the often gruesome murders of women who practiced reproductive medicine. Times of economic prosperity, on the other hand, tended to go hand-in-hand with more permissive attitudes toward birth control and abortion, and a pause in the witch hunts.
Which may account for the modern era’s swing back toward witch hunts against women seeking or providing abortion.
In 1973, when the Supreme Court legalized abortion nationwide, the American middle class was prosperous.
Wages and wealth of working-class people were growing at a rate faster than that of the morbidly rich, who were restrained by a top 74 percent income tax bracket. A single breadwinner could buy a house and car, raise a family, take an annual vacation, and even set aside money for a comfortable retirement.
In the midst of this prosperity, progressive attitudes toward abortion prospered.
Outside of Catholic circles, in fact, the Roe decision wasn’t even particularly controversial in 1973. It would be another few years before the label “right to life” would be appropriated from the anti-death-penalty movement and used to rebrand the anti-abortion movement.
Reagan’s imposition of neoliberal “trickle down” economics ended the expansion of the world’s largest and most prosperous middle class, which had reached almost 65 percent of American families by 1980.
With a series of massive tax cuts on corporations and the morbidly rich, along with 18 tax increases on average working people, the Reagan administration began the collapse of the middle class to the roughly 45 percent of Americans in it today.
As working class Americans became more impoverished by Reaganism, racist and misogynist sentiments blossomed, becoming mainstream within the GOP by the time Rush Limbaugh gave them voice with his condemnation of “Feminazis!”
The unspoken rallying cry in response to the simultaneous impoverishment and browning of America was, “More white babies!”
Working class white men increasingly saw brown-skinned immigrants, African Americans, and women as economic competitors. The growing national prosperity pie that had once seemed unlimited quickly became perceived as a zero-sum game in the post-Reagan era.
Reaganomics produced a $50 trillion transfer of wealth from the homes and savings accounts of America’s working class into the money bins of the morbidly rich, where that money remains to this day. It set off a scramble for what little was left.
If white men could knock out more than half the population — the 51 percent women and the roughly 15 percent Blacks — there was more money to split up among themselves.
While most white men merely intuited that forbidding women abortions would reduce their representation in the workplace both through parenthood and pregnancy-related deaths, social scientists were proving it.
Five states had legalized abortion prior to the Roe decision: in addition to Reagan’s California, the procedure was also available in Alaska, Hawaii, New York, and Washington state. As researchers found comparing statistics from those states with similar states where abortion was still criminalized prior to 1974:
“Abortion legalization reduced the number of women who became teen mothers by 34% and the number who became teen brides by 20%… [L]egalization reduced maternal mortality among Black women by 30-40%…”
Today, however, abortion is becoming less and less available in the United States, and it’s literally killing women. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among American women between 20 and 24 years old, and the third-leading cause of death among women 25-34.
A new study published three months ago in the American Medical Association’s journal JAMA Psychiatry found that in the years between Roe and 2016 — as so-called TRAP (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) laws went into place in state after state making it harder to get an abortion, closing clinics, and mandating invasive rape-like ultrasounds — those laws led to a measurable increase in female suicide:
“Enforcement of TRAP laws was associated with higher suicide rates among reproductive-aged women (β = 0.17; 95% CI, 0.03 to 0.32; P = .02) but not women of postreproductive age (β = 0.06; 95% CI, –0.11 to 0.24; P = .47) nor to deaths due to motor vehicle crashes (β = 0.03, 95% CI, –0.04 to 0.11; P = .36). Among reproductive-aged women, the weighted average annual-state level suicide death rate when no TRAP laws were enforced was 5.5 per 100,000. Enforcement of a TRAP law was associated with a 5.81% higher annual rate of suicide than in pre-enforcement years.”
Religious freaks and workplace-insecure men are no longer burning women at the stake for the heresy of having or providing abortions.
Instead, they’re using the power of the state to set them up to die often agonizing deaths, all while bragging about their brutality to win elections.
For more information on the state of abortion in America today, I highly recommend Jessica Valenti’s newsletter, Abortion Every Day.
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