Freethought NOW!

Freedom for whom?

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“The greatest statement of equality is in the Declaration of Independence, written by a slaveholder.”—Ruth Bader Ginsburg

This quote by the late Supreme Court justice should inspire us to critically examine the notions of independence, freedom and equality this week and every week.

This is the second Fourth of July since Roe v. Wade was repealed by the ultraconservative majority of the Supreme Court. Since then millions of Americans have gone without abortion access. In fact, as of this writing, abortion is banned or severely restricted in 20 states. But anti-choice legislators are not content with just banning abortion as a procedure. Legislation has either been introduced or has already been codified that restricts how people search for information about abortion or criminalizes those who assist others in receiving an abortion.

The United States is one of only three countries to roll back abortion rights since 1994.  This speaks to the heavy influence of Christian nationalism on legislation. For comparison, Catholic-dominant countries like Ireland, Argentina, and Mexico have liberalized abortion over the past few years. By current standards, the U.S. is practically on par with countries like El Salvador that completely ban abortion and even imprison women for miscarriages.

That comparison is not an exaggeration. Whether it is the woman whose ex-husband is suing her three friends for helping her self-manage an abortion in Texas, the woman who was forced to carry a dead fetus for two weeks, or the ten-year old rape victim who had to travel to another state because hers had no exceptions, separation of state and church is but a distant memory when it comes to abortion.

And the results have been disastrous. Researchers from the Society of Family Planning found that without Roe v. Wade, abortion access has been disrupted for 80,000 people. It almost seems cruel to celebrate freedom and independence when so many are without the human right to exercise bodily autonomy.

To be sure, lack of bodily autonomy is, unfortunately, nothing new in the United States, particularly for marginalized communities. In fact, one could argue that it is baked into the founding of our country. That makes Justice Ginsburg’s statement about how the Declaration of Independence was written by enslavers all the more salient. After all, it was those same enslavers — and countless others like them — that forced Black women to breed for them and tore families apart. After slavery was abolished, Black communities were denied full voting privileges, not allowed to utilize welfare programs or secure affordable housing. Even after the Civil Rights Act of 1965, millions of Black people experience police brutality, wage gaps, health disparities and outright racism.

This is to say nothing of the Indigenous families who were murdered or taken from their lands, while their children were sent to religious schools and their women were forcibly sterilized. And Puerto Rican women who underwent ethically dubious testing of birth control and sterilization. Or the LGBTQ+ folks who were institutionalized, criminalized, stigmatized and banned from marrying or adopting children.

The list goes on … But a common thread of the deprivation of personal (and collective) liberty is the idea that anything that deviates from a Christian nationalist/white supremacist worldview is simply deemed to be “un-American.”

We continue to see how white supremacy and religion work hand-in-hand to justify draconian legislation. And in some cases, rulings and legislation are literally rooted in the past. For example, in the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s home state of Wisconsin, abortion has not been legally available since the Dobbs decision a year ago because of an 1849 law that criminalizes abortion care. For context, that law was passed just 73 years after the Declaration of Independence was signed and 11 years before the Civil War even commenced. It has now been 174 years since the law was passed and millions of Wisconsin women (and other people with the capacity to get pregnant) have been without comprehensive reproductive health care.

In May, Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk from Texas referred to the 1873 Comstock Act in a case challenging the legality of mailing medication for abortion. Never mind the scientific fact that medication abortion is extremely safe — even safer than Tylenol. A purity law that has never been fully repealed is being used to deprive individuals of controlling their own bodies.

Four years ago, I wrote that “women’s bodies will never be their own” so long as U.S. legislators and judges continue to use religion — not reason — in their decisions. During this week celebrating so-called independence, I can’t help but wonder when freedom will ring for the millions of people who are without the ability to pursue life, liberty and happiness.

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