Women’s Unalienable Rights Cannot Be Subject to Whims of Politics

103168702 - women with american flag
Copyright: rawpixel / 123RF Stock Photo

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.

These words from the Declaration of Independence have been echoing through my head in recent weeks. They are particularly present for me today on the 4thof July. The anniversary of the Declaration and the founding of our country.

Particularly as the rights of pregnant women are under imminent threat. And the human rights and well-being of immigrants are presently being violated and abused in this country.

Democracy as revolutionary ideal

In 1776, the idea of democracy was risky. The idea that people could rule themselves was an affront to the traditional monarchic system that had governed Europe for hundreds of years. Tradition and law held that the right to rule was ordained by God and passed down to one’s descendants.

Government of the people, by the people, and for the people was a new political experiment. It was rooted not in the divine right of kings but in a recognition of human dignity and equality.

We hold these truths to be self-evident – that all men are created equal.

Even so, the founding fathers struggled over what it meant to proclaim that all men are equal before God. Who should actually have access to the rights and privileges of governance? Who would be allowed to vote? Who could serve in elected office? Many of the early patriots were concerned about the consequences for propertied men of allowing all men the right to vote. In considering these questions, James Madison mused in 1787:

Allow the right [to vote] exclusively to property [owners], and the rights of persons may be oppressed… . Extend it equally to all, and the rights of property [owners] …may be overruled by a majority without property….

The founding fathers decided in favor of the privileged. In the first U.S. Presidential election in 1789, only white men who owned property were allowed to vote.

Before we dismiss these actions too quickly as merely a reflection of the cultural attitudes of the time, let us remember the words that Abigail Adams wrote to her husband in March of 1776 as she eagerly awaited to hear if independence had yet been declared.

Remember the Ladies

The letter to her husband, John Adams, makes clear that Abigail was no wilting flower. In fact, she was clearly a force to be reckoned with. Like many women throughout history, she had significant responsibilities for the household, she had strong thoughts about society and politics, and she had a healthy relationship with her husband.

In the midst of updating Adams on what was happening in their community and with their own household, she took the opportunity to offer him some political advice as she knew he would play a key role in setting up the new government:

I long to hear that you have declared an independency — and by the way in the new Code of Laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make I desire you would Remember the Ladies, and be more generous and favourable to them than your ancestors.Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the Husbands. Remember all Men would be tyrants if they could. If perticuliar care and attention is not paid to the Laidies we are determined to foment a Rebelion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no voice, or Representation.

Abigail’s words make it clear that she and other women in the new republic sought a new world for women just as the male founding fathers sought a new world for themselves. Women were developing new ideas about their lives and this included the size of their families. During the Revolutionary Period, women began to take some measure of control over their fertility. Fertility peaked in 1760 with eight to twelve children not uncommon. But this number dropped to seven by 1800, five by 1850, and three and a half by 1900.

Protecting the Rights of US Women

Just as Abigail called her husband to account on how the new country would address the health and well-being of women, it is time to ensure that all women of this country have access to the same rights that are protected for men.

The Declaration of Independence identifies Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness as unalienable Rights. These rights cannot be abridged by the government. This means that these rights cannot be taken away.

Women’s ability to be the architects of their own lives requires ensuring that women have the ability to decide when or if they will have children.

read conclusion here

Last Week Was Hard: Moving Reproductive Justice Forward with Faith

Copyright: alekss / 123RF Stock Photo
Copyright: alekss / 123RF Stock Photo

I’ll be honest. Last week was hard. Facebook feeds, emails, and news headlines indicate I’m not the only one who had a hard week. A hard week, at the end of hard month, in the midst of a long, hard year.

From immigration and union busting to crisis pregnancy centers and pharmacists imposing their religious beliefs on pregnant women to protecting the rights of individuals to discriminate and publicly abuse LGBTQ people. Our country is in the midst of a massive backlash against the very real gains that we have made toward gender equality, racial justice, and LGBTQ inclusion over the past forty years.

And then came the announcement of Justice Kennedy’s retirement.

Abortion and Reproductive Justice

While there has been much hand-wringing about Kennedy’s replacement on the Supreme Court and what it will mean for abortion – we need to think more broadly than access to abortion. Reproductive Justice requires that we recognize that abortion is not the problem in this country. Abortion is a solution to the prior problem of an unplanned or medically fragile pregnancy.

Reproductive Justice (RJ) calls for three things. The right not to have a child, the right to have a child, and the right to raise your children in safe and healthy environments. Clearly abortion access is recognized as a central and fundamental aspect of RJ, but justice requires a much bigger frame than access to abortion.

In addition to abortion – there are serious problems that interfere with women’s ability to raise their children in safe and healthy environments. These problems are not political but any attempts to address them have been so politicized that progress on dealing with them seems increasingly illusive.

Let me outline just a few of the problems that we face that relate to Reproductive Justice:

Gun violence.

There have been more than 90 mass shootings in the US since 1982. Forty percent of Americans own a gun or live in a home with a gun. This makes the US the top civilian gun-owning country in the world. In 2016, there were more than 38,000 firearm deaths in the US. Firearms kill more people that car accidents.

Poverty.

According to the official poverty measures, more than 1 in 8 people in U.S. live in poverty. That is roughly 40 million people or 12.7% of the population. Half of those are living in extreme poverty falling below half of the poverty threshold. Eighteen percent of children were living in poverty in 2016. In Mississippi, New Mexico, and Louisiana, the rates go up to 30%.

Mass Incarceration.

The US has less than 5% of the world’s population and 25% of the total prison population. This earns us the highest incarceration rate in the world at 716 per 100,000 people. Our rate is six times higher than Canada’s and six to nine times countries in Western Europe. Financing our correctional facilities cost the country an estimated $80 billion annually. Factoring in legal and policing costs, healthcare, construction and other costs associated with incarceration, that number balloons to $182 billion. At the same time, crime rates have been dropping since the early 1990s and are back down to 1960s levels.

Immigration.

Native Americans make up 2% of the US population, the remaining 98% are immigrants or the descendants of immigrants. In 2015, one-fifth of the world’s migrants are in the US, numbering about 40 million people. Immigrants make up 13.4% of the U.S. population, the high was 14.8% in 1890. Seventy-six percent of non-citizen immigrants are in the country legally and one-quarter are unauthorized. A 2017 Pew Research study showed that 27% of people fell that immigrants “burden country by taking jobs, housing, healthcare.”

Unplanned pregnancy.

Every year just over 6 million women in the US get pregnant. Almost half of those pregnancies are unplanned. Of these unintended pregnancies, 50-60% of the women were using birth control the month they got pregnant. The average US woman spends 2.7 years pregnant, postpartum or trying to get pregnant and 31 years avoiding pregnancy. Even so, 2.8 million women have unplanned pregnancies every year.

Reproductive Justice

Guns, poverty, mass incarceration, immigration, and unplanned pregnancy. Each of these five “hot-button” issues bear on women’s ability not only to shape their families but to raise their children in safe and healthy environments. Reproductive justice requires that we think about the health and well-being of families in much more comprehensive ways than the nine months of a pregnancy.

We need politicians who are willing to look at the issues that are dividing us as a country and work with experts in the field AND people impacted by these problems to seek to develop meaningful pathways for addressing the root causes of these problems.

We cannot allow narrow ideological commitments rooted in fear, disinformation, and prejudice to shape our laws and public policies.

Progressive Christianity calls us to justice

It’s time to play the long game because we are in this for the long haul as a country and as people of faith. As a progressive Christian, my faith teaches me how to live. I am not beholden to partisan politics but am interested in how elected officials are going to address the deep problems that face us as a country.

My faith teaches me to build community, to care for the down-trodden and to support the weak. My parents and my Sunday school teachers taught me that my task as a Christian is to build the kind of world that Jesus imagined. A world of justice and peace. A world where we care for the orphan, the widow, the stranger. A world where we turn strangers into neighbors through loving them, welcoming them, and working together with them to make this country (and our world) a better place.

This is no utopian imaginary fantasy.

A vision of Reproductive Justice

Reproductive Justice is a vision of justice, kindness, and humility that requires us to reshape our economic policy in ways that allow families to be economically self-sufficient.

read conclusion here