Columnist Carrie N. Baker: Abortion bans, sexual abuse and Catholic misogyny

  • Abortion-rights and anti-abortion demonstrators gather outside of the Supreme Court in Washington, Friday, June 24. The Supreme Court has ended constitutional protections for abortion that had been in place nearly 50 years, a decision by its conservative majority to overturn the court’s landmark abortion cases. AP

Published: 6/29/2022 5:58:33 PM
Modified: 6/29/2022 5:55:58 PM

With the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade, American women and girls have lost their full citizenship rights. Women, transgender men and nonbinary people who can get pregnant no longer have bodily autonomy during pregnancy or sexual freedom. The government now controls their bodies and behaviors.

Politicians can force people to carry pregnancies against their will — a form of involuntary servitude that should be prohibited by the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, but which the current Supreme Court now allows.

The six right-wing Catholics on the Supreme Court reversed long-standing U.S. law as part of a campaign to establish in its place the Catholic belief that abortion at any stage of pregnancy is a sin. The original instigator of the anti-abortion movement was the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and they remain one of its biggest funders.

Shortly after Justice Samuel Alito’s opinion leaked in May, a U.S. bishop barred House Speaker Nancy Pelosi from taking communion if she did not follow the Catholic Church’s anti-abortion beliefs. This action was timed just as the seven Catholics on the Supreme Court were deciding Dobbs. All six conservative Catholics on the court followed church doctrine, obeying the bishop’s demand. Only Justice Sonia Sotomayor dissented.

Women have credibly accused two of the five Catholics in the Dobbs majority — Clarence Thomas and Brett Kavanaugh — of sexual abuse. Sexual abuse and forced pregnancy are two sides of one coin: misogyny — the hatred of women. They both violate women’s bodily autonomy and right to control their lives. They both disrespect women and their human rights. And both have devastating physical, psychological and economic consequences.

The Catholic bishops’ long history of perpetrating and condoning sexual abuse is consistent with their anti-abortion position. The Catholic Church has been plagued with sexual abuse scandals for decades. Catholic priests and bishops have raped and abused tens of thousands of women and children with impunity, and bishops have covered up for them. Springfield Bishop Thomas Dupre was the first of many U.S. bishops accused of perpetrating sexual assault or covering it up, according to BishopAccountability.org, which tracks sexual abuse charges against bishops.

The bishops’ history of sexually abusing women and children is connected to their misogynist ban on women in the priesthood. If women were in equal positions of power in the Catholic Church, they surely would not have allowed these men’s widespread sexual abuse of women and children. Excluding women from positions of power and forcing them to bear unwanted children keeps women weak and vulnerable to men’s abuse and easy to control, leaving men to act as they please and control society’s important institutions.

As a result of Dobbs, states are now allowed to ban abortion. Soon, abortion will be illegal in over half the country and 33 million women of childbearing age will live in states governed by these religious laws. The decision will most endanger women seeking to carry pregnancies to term. But among those needing abortion health care, young women and low-income women and girls will be hit hard by this decision. Women of color will be hardest hit.

Dobbs is the first time in U.S. and Supreme Court history that a constitutional right has been taken away. Just as countries around the world are legalizing abortion — such as Ireland, Argentina, Mexico and Columbia — the U.S. is going in the opposite direction.

The decision has wide-reaching impacts, not only for abortion access and women’s health, but for many other rights, including access to contraception, infertility treatments, freedom to engage in consensual adult sex and same-sex marriage — all of which the Catholic Church has organized against for years. This decision is likely to be just the beginning.

Dobbs mentions “unborn human lives” 23 times. The anti-abortion movement is teeing up cases now to establish fetal personhood in order to strike down laws that protect abortion rights in states like Massachusetts, New York, Illinois and California.

Abortion is a human right, not dependent on recognition by a particular religion or government. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Supreme Court may refuse to recognize our human rights, but we have them nonetheless. We have no moral obligation to obey unjust laws pushed by sectarian religious groups and instituted by authoritarian governments.

No one has the right to take the body of another person for their own use — no religion, no government, no man and no fetus. U.S. women will defy these unjust laws and continue to have abortions, as they have throughout history and across the world in countries where abortion is illegal.

Carrie N. Baker is a professor in the Program for the Study of Women and Gender at Smith College and a regular contributor to Ms. Magazine.

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