[CW: This piece contains discussion of abortion/miscarriage & pregnancy/childbirth]
Seven years. I served for seven years in the United States military. I was proud of my service, willing to believe that my enlistment was a mostly necessary part of my growth as an adult. It taught me leadership, gave me a voice and is where I met my spouse. The good outweighed the bad. The good made my government-issued glasses rosy enough to ignore the sexism that I experienced and the racism that I saw my peers deal with. I was willing to suffer physically and mentally for the sake of the benefits. And then, this summer, two and a half years after I left the military, Roe v. Wade was overturned.
My initial reaction was shock. I wasn’t shocked that politicians didn’t value women; society has been sending that message for years, from everything from the covers of magazines to TV ads. I wasn’t surprised by the religious subtext in the arguments made by national leaders; I grew up in the South, so the concept of separation of church and state as an idea and not a practice wasn’t new to me. I was shocked by the willingness to ignore legal precedent. Legal precedent was what I thought was going to protect women in America. Surely, the Supreme Court wouldn’t ignore the law. The overturning of Roe v. Wade would mean dismissing almost 50 years of legal precedent. It would mean violating the religious freedoms of communities that place value on the mother’s life over the fetus—a right protected in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
Are health care professionals going to ask people seeking abortions if they are a Reform Jew or Unitarian before allowing their medical care to occur? After all, according to Pew Research, both religions support women’s right to safe abortions. Of course not; they’ll deny the patient acess to safe abortion regardless of religious beliefs because religion only matters when it supports the pro-life argument, not when it disagrees. Overturning Roe v. Wade overlooks the legal precedent of the Fourth, Fifth and 13th Amendments. The Fourth Amendment states that the government can’t search or seize my property without cause. Searching my body for proof of pregnancy or abortion sounds pretty unlawful to me. The Fifth allows for a speedy trial and due process. Pregnancy is a 40-week nightmare of hormones and health risks. As someone who has experienced pregnancy, there is nothing speedy about it. According to Alabama.com, there are already cases of women being detained until they give birth under the guise of protecting the fetus. And the 13th amendment abolished slavery. Forcing people to carry a child to term against their will with no financial compensation or support sounds a lot like slavery to me. If that comparison makes you uncomfortable, good. It should make you uncomfortable; it should be an outrageous comparison that borders on inappropriate. However, the facts remain: the United States has a terrible history of forced birth in a racist system of oppression. To quote MSNBC’s Ja’han Jones: “What is slavery if not claiming dominion over a body that isn’t yours? And in this case, right-wing lawmakers are claiming ownership over the bodies of pregnant people because they claim to have a vested interest in the babies those bodies can produce. It is literally forced labor.” The overturning of Roe v. Wade has reduced people to the sum of their uterus rather than the sum of themselves; it is dehumanizing and will disproportionately affect women of color, according to Reuters. We can no longer police our language in this fight for human rights. We tried being reasonable and polite and it didn’t work. Now we need to be honest.
Next, I felt anger—an overwhelming, deep-seated anger. I still feel angry; I haven’t moved on in the stages of grief. Honestly, I don’t plan to move on from this feeling. Anger is fueling me for a fight that should have ended decades ago. I’m angry that women of color and poor people are going to be disproportionately hurt by this decision. I’m angry that I felt relieved that my child was born male because he would be safer than his female peers. I’m angry that I raised my right hand and swore an oath to defend the United States Constitution and my country responded with betrayal. I’m not the first veteran to feel betrayed. The U.S. military has the same racist, sexist past as the rest of American history. History.com reports that Black G.I.s were denied home loans and access to the G.I. Bill after World War II. Post Sept. 11, veterans were denied proper medical care after being exposed to toxic fumes from burn pits in Afghanistan and Iraq. Veteran suicide rates are one of the highest in the country, at 17 a day, cited the U.S Department of Veteran Affairs. According to the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence, assigned female at birth (AFAB) veterans report that one-third have been sexually assualted and 71 to 90 percent admit to being sexually harrassed. The U.S. Census reports that veterans make up seven percent of the country’s population, but we make up as much as 23 percent of the homeless population, per the Pine Street Inn. According to NPR, AFAB veterans are four times more likely to be homeless than their male counterparts, meaning that female veterans are disportionately more likely to be homeless. We have been betrayed over and over again. I am not the first. I won’t be the last. But the truth is that the same people in the Supreme Court who would thank me for my service believe that I have less individual autonomy and sovereignty than the eggs in my fallopian tubes. They would have me arrested for the four miscarriages I had in my 20s.
Some of you may say I’m being dramatic, that Roe v. Wade is about abortion and that women experiencing a miscarriage won’t be mistreated by the law. Whatever you’re smoking to reach that level of disassociation, I hope you plan to share with the class. It’s already happening. According to the Marshall Project, women in Alabama are being arrested for the crime of addiction during pregnancy. Republicans are already threatening to pull funding from the Veteran Affairs (VA) for its abortion stance after the VA promised to provide abortions to veterans in need, even in states where abortion is illegal, Military Times reports. Obviously those same Republicans believe that only veterans who fit their party ideals are deserving of care. Clear violations of civil liberties are already happening, and it’s been less than four months since the overruling. I spent seven years in the military doing the “right thing.” I was quiet and did my job well. Today, I am no longer quiet and my job is to leave this world better than I found it. My job is to ensure that my children are protected. I will continue to do my job well. I won’t forget this betrayal and neither should you.