How strange, the condition of having a body, of be a body. Consider the marrow sponge that makes your blood, the skeleton that holds your organs together, the tendons that connect your muscles to bones, the heart that pumps blood through your veins, the electrical signals that travel along the optic nerve from your retinas. , the neural networks that illuminate the galaxies in your brain like constellations.
A person’s interiority – your sense of youness– is generally understood to be located in the mind, but mind and body are inextricable. So what does it mean to have a body in America? It is, we are told, a land of immense abundance, autonomy, freedom and invention. The promise that America makes to its people, the covenant that we Americans can feel in our bones, in our blood, and in our beating hearts, is the guarantee that we are free.
Freedom is given to us by God, by nature, by our own humanity, not by government. I’m American, so I’m free to speak, free to publish, free to worship, free to assemble, free to keep and bear arms. It is obvious to me that I am free to lead the life I choose, without interference from the state. Freedom of mind does not go without freedom of body.
Yes Roe vs. Wade is reversed, as now seems likely, the very definition of what it means to be American will change for women and girls in the United States. If the state claims your body – a claim therefore of your self– you can’t be American anymore, not really. To allow the state to control a citizen’s body is to deny their full personality. To allow the state to control a citizen’s body is to undermine the very notion of what America is, the fundamental promise it makes.
Abortion presents, as Judge Samuel Alito writes in his draft opinion to the Dobbs case, “a profound moral question”. None of us can claim to understand with certainty the mysteries of human life. As medicine and science have advanced, the moral questions about abortion that we need to consider have only become more complicated. But none of this changes the fact that government control over women’s bodies – state interference that obliterates women’s freedom and, in some cases, ends their lives – represents a monumental blow to human rights. humans.
American women are now trying to figure out what this loss of freedom will mean for them, both in principle and in practice. I wanted to hear from people in positions of power – women who are vibrating with rage right now, women who remember well what living in a pre-deer world was like, women who could do something about it. I asked Senator Elizabeth Warren, the Democrat of Massachusetts, to try and remember the last time she was so angry. “I’m going back to my divorce,” she laughed. Then, more seriously: “How far will we go by leaving an extremist majority [on the Supreme Court] determine the personality of all the other beings of this nation? … There is a marginal group in this country that tries to impose its own self-referential values on everyone.
She was not the only American senator to mention to me a comparison circulating among feminists: What if, instead of legislating abortion, the state decided that “all adolescent males should have a vasectomy, and then when ‘they’ll be older and they can establish that they’re ready to be fathers… vasectomies can be reversed,’ she said. “If that makes you uncomfortable, then what do you think women think of the laws passed to say their bodies are something that can only be manipulated by men?” The example is helpful in its improbability – such a law should never and never would be enacted. It is also useful in exposing the failure of the imagination of those who consider state denial of women’s most basic freedoms to be acceptable, or at least tolerable, precisely because only women are subject to it. This same mentality throws the death of deer as a “women’s issue” rather than an attack on human rights. Yet it is a human rights emergency.
Warren wasn’t the only one angry at the “fundamental intrusion” of it all. “How dare they?” said Sen. Tina Smith, a Democrat from Minnesota. “How dare these people think they know better than we do what is good for us? How dare they think these are decisions they have to make? It’s so deeply disrespectful, so deeply disrespectful to women’s ability to make good decisions for themselves.
When I called Senator Mazie Hirono, a Democrat from Hawaii, she was from tweeted “Mood” on top of a pie chart, a message that quickly went viral. The board was titled “Chances are I won’t use the word fuck in a sentence today” with two sections: “None” shaded pink and “Also none, but yellow” shaded yellow. Before a press conference on the issue, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer dazzled her, she said: We have to wait for Mazie; she takes it all Shits off to his remarks.
Hirono, who was in pre-collegeDeer, entered politics to fight for the right to abortion. “It’s been a struggle for me for decades,” she said. “I knew then as I know now that women should be able to control their own bodies. What could be more fundamental than the government forcing us to have babies? … I have said for so many years that women in this countries were going to wake up one day and realize that we no longer had control over our bodies.
“We can’t afford to let them get away with this,” Warren told me. “I am ready to fight this fight on the floor of the Senate. I’m ready to have this fight around the corner. I am ready to have this fight.
American women have had that fight before, of course. And that took long enough, didn’t it? American freedom was conditional from the start. Only men were created equal, and only some of them. Women were not free. The slaves were certainly not free. One of the central hypocrisies of this great nation has always been the exclusion of entire classes of people, their humanity swept away so casually, so cruelly. Freedom and inalienable rights—no, no, wait, not for you. When deer was decided in 1973, women still could not open their own bank accounts or get their own credit cards without permission from a father or husband. Only if our country attempts to include all citizens in the expression of its values will the American idea even begin to materialize.
Alito, in his draft opinion, sought abortion in the Constitution and used its absence as evidence that abortion lacked constitutional protection. He dug into a document from a time when women couldn’t hold public office, couldn’t vote and, as writer Jill Lepore recently pointed out, legally “didn’t exist as people. “. The men who wrote the Constitution totally and deliberately excluded women and neglected to imagine them as part of their politics. No wonder Alito rejected “attempts to justify abortion with calls for a broader right to autonomy.” Her refusal to consider autonomy as a constitutional principle takes us back in time, to a time when the Constitution could not view women as equal citizens.
The fact is that the Constitution does not need to specify that American virtue arises from the ability to self-govern, that self-governance requires individual liberty, and that individual liberty requires bodily autonomy. We know that to be so. The moral questions posed by the reality of abortion are complex, and the government already interferes with people’s bodies in many ways for many reasons – the state requires people to get life-saving vaccines; the state incarcerates people. But any conversation about abortion must begin with the recognition that bodily autonomy is a prerequisite for freedom. When the state is ready to seize the bodies of its citizens, it does so at an extremely high price. For women, the price is freedom: the very essence of what it means to be American.
It has been fashionable to say that American history is a triumphantly upward curved arc, a trajectory of progress toward justice. But I prefer an image enunciated by Ralph Waldo Emerson, who once wrote of society as a wave – never advancing, only retreating and winning in equal measure, taking the contours of barbarism, civilization and science to match the times. “The wave moves forward,” he wrote, “but the water of which it is composed does not.” We don’t need to consult the Founders to understand that if America denies freedom to some of its citizens, our great experiment is doomed. It is obvious that our collective freedom rests absolutely on individual freedom. As Emerson pointed out, the individuals who make up the wave will change, but the wave continues. The indignity of mortality will visit each of us. The body gives in. But while we live, while we enjoy the mad fortune of being on this planet, the experience is only made possible by the body. The encroachment of the state on a citizen’s body is an encroachment on his independence and the basic rights necessary to guarantee it.
Alito’s draft opinion spends more time examining the intricacies of legislative bodies than those of women. Yet it is only in the human body that these thorniest questions can be answered. Does the placenta belong to the woman or to the new body she makes from her own tissues and bones? Does the venous canal, the embryological canal through which the circulation of the blood of the mother passes into the circulation of the blood of the foetus, belong to one of them or to both? If the fluidity of these physiological realities troubles Alito, if he believes that the Constitution guarantees women every right worthy of consideration before allowing the state to rob them of their bodily autonomy, he gives no sign of it.
But any mother can tell you this, for it is a truth that can be felt as deeply and as enduringly as her love for her child: you can no longer disentangle the body from the spirit, or the body from the fetus. developing body. of the mother, that you can separate bodily autonomy from what it means to be American. And in realizing the values that make this country what it is, you cannot separate the individual from the populus. America ceases to be America when its people cease to be free.