Cockatoos outside echoed my screams when I woke to news that the U.S. Supreme Court had overturned Roe vs. Wade. More than half of Americans believe abortion should be legal, but the 2016 presidential election proved that popular majority is no guarantee of political outcomes. Once again, well-funded reactionary agendas corrupted the system, this time attacking women’s bodily autonomy. Furious, I began texting family Stateside.
Except my phone wouldn’t let me. When I tried to swipe “abortion”, the recommendation engine insisted on interpreting the letters as “adoration”. Attempts to swipe “abort” rendered “about”. It might not be a scientific study, but when someone with small, precise fingers fails a dozen times to swipe a common term, it suggests algorithmic interference. These terms are not epithets, but simple English words (every sci-fi fan has heard a frantic starship commander yell “abort the mission”)! Apple ranks among the many major companies that have pledged to reimburse employees for abortion-related travel expenses, so why does its device censor language associated with the procedure?
Goosebumps erupted on my arms despite my thick bathrobe. Social media overflowed with comparisons to Margaret Atwood’s novel The Handmaid’s Tale, but my phone experience makes me fear another science fiction analogy: Minority Report. In that 2002 film, a “pre-crime” police department preemptively arrests people alleged to be future criminals. Anti-abortion states are already using similarly dystopian tactics against women:
In 2017, a Mississippi woman was charged with murdering her stillborn fetus based on a Google search for abortion pills. A top health official in Missouri also said in 2019 that his office has monitored detailed information about Planned Parenthood’s patients, including the timing of their menstrual cycle, to determine if they’ve had failed abortions.– Politico, 17 June 2022
That’s not a novel. That’s news. Conservative officials—the same ilk who argue that questions about COVID vaccine status are overly intrusive—advocate snooping through women’s medical records, even tracking their periods. People trapped in such states will probably resort to planning their care via encrypted chat platforms and TOR browsers, like citizens of the authoritarian regimes Americans so love to criticize. Even with those measures, lax internet privacy laws may make it easy for zealots to identify women who research abortion services online. Then what? Arrests? Fines? Imprisonment in a forced birth camp?
Before you dismiss that last idea as extreme, consider another infamous human rights violation America committed under the cowardly cloak of “state’s rights”: slavery. Will women seeking abortions across state lines be hunted down and sent back, as escaped slaves once were? Underground networks evoking the Civil War-era “railroads” are already springing up to circumvent oppressive policies. To make the parallels even more grim, the CDC reports that maternal death rates are almost three times higher for black women than white women. Forced childbirth denigrates not only gender equality, but social justice.
It’s also a matter of public health. Denying people the option to end their pregnancies may instead end their lives. Some will die of treatable medical conditions because lawmakers (not doctors) value a fetal heartbeat more than a woman’s. Others will die attempting unsafe abortions, a major cause of maternal death worldwide. My own great-grandmother died trying to perform a coat-hanger abortion on herself in the days before Roe vs. Wade, because she already had more children than the family could support. That’s the society to which we’ve reverted.
And the backwards march won’t stop there. Justice Thomas already stated an intention to revoke other landmark decisions about sex, including the 1965 Griswold vs. Connecticut ruling that established the right for married couples to use contraceptives. As a near-future author, I can extrapolate a host of perverse outcomes from such a reversal. Roe’s overthrow reminded me that I’d written a piece of flash fiction years ago about a couple chafing under a national contraception ban. After digging it up, I thought about including it in this post.
But I won’t cheapen this deadly serious issue by shilling my work, or attempting to soften its edges with a hopeful ending. This is not fiction. This is real life, the real lives of 170 million American women who were just deemed legally inferior to a cellular cluster the size of a lentil. Yet censors from our keyboards to our courtrooms are already trying to silence the topic. So keep the words flowing. Keep telling stories about the critical importance of reproductive rights, only make them true ones.
The tragedies of people denied reproductive healthcare.
The triumph of people who can realize their potential thanks to controlling their own fertility.
The tireless fight we now face to reclaim women’s right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.