Biden Abortion

A Colorado man holds a sign that reads "Hands Off Roe!!!" as abortion-rights advocates and anti-abortion protesters demonstrate Dec. 1, 2021, in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington.

Through the lens of history, the battle against Roe vs. Wade is not about the babies; it is about the women. The battle is about jurisdiction over women and their bodies. Once upon a time in America, women were owned by men just as Black people were owned by whites.

In the 18th century, the Rev. Cotton Mather advised, “in the well-ordered family [there is] but one mind and two bodies.” All thinking and decision-making rested with the husband. Baby daughters were named Submit and Deference to remind them of their proper contribution to domestic bliss.

When a husband appealed to Mather for advice because his wife was not compliant, Mather blamed the husband. He allowed his wife to read books, and, Mather believed, a woman’s mind was too weak to read indiscriminately.

Women were taught to read but limited to reading things related to household cleaning and cooking. They were encouraged to read the Bible, sermons and religious tracts to prepare them to instruct small children. When older, a boy’s education was put in the hands of men.

Mather might have added, two bodies and one voice. Even as the Constitution guaranteed freedom of speech, women were forbidden to speak in public. They could not hold office. Women could not vote. Women could not sign a contract (except the marriage license). They could not, therefore, conduct business. Wives could not own anything. On the day a woman married, whatever she owned was turned over to her husband and placed under his superior control.

A Vermont wife was the first to set foot in a court as a plaintiff. Her husband was a drunkard and she needed control of the family cow. If he sold it for drink, she and her children would be instantly destitute without milk or cheese to eat or barter. She lost the case and the cow; her only victory was a record that she was heard in a room where she had no legal standing.

Women had no standing in a courtroom, no rights under the law. Allow me to repeat: Women had no rights under the law. Her law was her husband. Feme covert placed her rights, welfare and wellbeing under the “protection” of her husband. He could inflict corporal punishment. In fact, it was his duty to do so if he found her behavior unacceptable.

Along with all her other belongings, her body belonged to him. It was impossible for anything a husband did to a wife to be considered illegal. Rape within a marriage was impossible. Abortion was the husband’s decision. Ironically, some husbands were in favor of abortion; wives pleaded to keep their babies. It was not about births and babies. It was not pro-life; it was economics. When the husband had all the children he wanted to support, he wanted no more.

In the 19th century, Margaret Sanger spent long nights in jail for attempting to educate women about contraception. Placing control of pregnancy in a woman’s hands — placing control of her own body in her hands — was adjudged pornography.

Rape was an illegal act only if the female was not the man’s wife and was under 10 years of age. So, in fact, rape was never illegal, only pedophilia. The law protected children, not women.

For 400 years, American women fought for their rights. They fought in a world where a woman could not borrow without a male cosigner (and that included getting a credit card) until the mid-20th century; where the woman was responsible for inciting rape, not the man for committing it; where the women could not work while pregnant (that was an improvement over being totally confined while pregnant); where women were paid less because they were less valuable. Why? Well, if women married, their husbands demanded they quit, and if pregnant, the law demanded she quit; therefore, the man was the steadier worker.

Women fought for their rights one right at a time: to vote, to speak out, to work, to a higher education, to travel without a chaperone, to own property, to conduct business on their own behalf, to defend against assault and...

Women continue to fight for rights in this world where many see no contradiction between: “It is my body, my choice and, therefore, mandatory vaccinations are unconstitutional” and “Nothing in the Constitution prevents the state from exerting control over the body of a pregnant woman and taking away her right to choose.”

Now they are trying to claw back women’s rights. They never agreed to granting them in the first place, and they were consistent in opposing women’s rights. The battle is not about births and babies; it is about jurisdiction over a woman’s body. What is being considered is: What rights does a female citizen of this country have?

What other diminution of rights will the court consider? Voting rights, the right to assemble, the rights of objecting and deciding for oneself while Black or female?

Carole Owens, a writer and historian, is a regular Eagle contributor.