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Abortion policy has become a major issue in this years’ elections. More a problem for Republicans, it may determine who controls Congress. The argument has been going on for centuries.
Beginning with Hebrew elders, pregnant women have been almost bystanders while men made laws about pregnancy. Sometimes it has been “you must have an abortion.” Sometimes “you must not” To tell a woman what to do with her pregnant body was man’s prerogative, if not sport.
For a brief period in our history, even sterilization could be imposed against a woman’s will. At least 70,000 women were sterilized. Not surprisingly, almost entirely poor and women of color were the victims.
Our first pro-life advocates were slave owners. If a slave got pregnant, she was carrying property that belonged to her master and possibly the father of the child. Abortion was forbidden. When slavery ended, religious groups kept the movement alive. The Catholic Church, particularly, was strong on the issue, but other churches, often evangelical, made abortion a sin. By 1900, every state had a law forbidding abortion.
Who knows better than men what abortion practice should be? From the Hebrew elders to American slaveholders, to macho men in state legislatures, men have intruded.
For almost half a century, abortion policy in the United States worked well, leaving the choice to the pregnant woman. Roe v. Wade said women had a constitutional right to an abortion. As a result, women who wanted one could find it in a safe and regulated place, and generally not far from home.
All that has now changed with the Supreme Court decision, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Centers, that says there is no constitutional right. Abortion can be essentially forbidden. Many of us ardently disagree. Men seem to like telling women what they can do.
One scholar has written “Abortion was frequently practiced in North America during the period from 1600 to 1900. During the 1860s several states passed anti-abortion laws. Most of them were ambiguous and difficult to enforce. After 1860 stronger anti-abortion laws were passed and they were more vigorously enforced. As a result, many women began to use illegal underground abortion services.” Women died, robbed of their right to life.
Hopefully, Dobbs has inspired what will make a political difference. Women are registering to vote. They may well affect the outcome of elections this fall sufficient to determine control of Congress.
In Kansas, Indiana, and Oklahoma there is turmoil that is inspiring those women. In Indiana, a major corporation, there since 1876, Eli Lilly, has said it will not expand further if the abortion denial intensifies. In Oklahoma, “new anti-abortion laws, which include both civil and criminal penalties, as the strictest in the nation …” Outrage there has spread, inspired voter registration, and won’t go away soon
Sen. Chuck Grassley, an ardent and proud right to life advocate, has seen his lead slide from certain victory to possible defeat. He may have come to full term.
Norman Sherman of Coralville has worked extensively in politics, including as Vice President Hubert Humphrey’s press secretary.