Are women people? What a question! Of course women are people. Why would I ask such a question? Because, to judge from the piece of anti-abortion legislation that went into effect in Texas last week, and without objection from the U.S. Supreme Court, not everybody thinks so. This law makes abortion illegal after 6 weeks (before a woman is barely aware of being pregnant), and it allows a citizen to sue any party to the arranging, paying for or providing of an abortion (pitting private citizen against citizen). Its excesses betray an ulterior motive than saving babies’ lives, which for many supporting the Texas bill, may be so. But, for many others, it’s manifestly also about reversing women’s emancipation.
This law is just the caboose on the long train of legislation going back 100 years meant to make not only abortion but also contraception and sex education and reproductive health barely available to women there or anywhere in this country. The unusual fierceness of the Texas law intensifies the long resistance to women’s emancipation.
How can we avoid the conclusion that some people view women as just so much potting soil, in one commentator’s phrase? Women’s suffrage took 50 years of exertion and sometimes violence before the 19th Amendment was passed in 1919, the ratification process having come down to a single vote in the Tennessee House of Representatives. The marriage laws kept a manhole cover over women’s heads until women’s suffrage made change possible. The Equal Rights Amendment passed in the U.S. Congress in 1972 but was ultimately defeated in the state ratification process in 1980. Women’s right to self-determination seems like the last thing Americans will stand for. Many Americans act as if they do not trust women as adult people.
The concern may well be to save babies’ lives, but if so, why should this be done on the backs of women alone--two people are responsible, but they are not both being held responsible. The anti-reproductive rights laws transfer the entire responsibility to one party alone for something that two people do together, one hopes consensually (obviously not in the cases of rape and incest). The anti-abortion position transfers the entire burden exclusively to the woman.
The abortion debate is legitimate, with truth to be found on both sides of the conflict, and I am not going to rehearse that debate here. What is NOT legitimate is abusing the Bible to rationalize your position against abortion.
Howard Moody, the renowned minister of Judson Memorial Church in NYC and an outspoken participant in the abortion debate of the 1960s, always said, “Leave the Bible out of it.” But you can’t--it’s embedded in our culture and in our assumptions. For instance, abortion and reproductive freedom opponents openly state that woman should be under a man’s rule, and the Bible tells them so. They cite as their evidence the creation story (the second one) in Genesis (chapters 2 and 3) where God created a woman out of Adam’s rib and assigned her as Adam’s “helpmeet.” They cite that Eve was created second chronologically which establishes her subordination to Adam. They blame her disobedience as the cause of their expulsion from the Garden of Eden. But here are my objections to this abuse of the Bible.
You can’t make doctrine out of poetry. This creation story is a fanciful, wholly fictional answer to the question, “How did we get here? Who are we?” This portion of Genesis reads like the script of a Christmas pageant, where animals talk and God walks around demanding answers.
What you learn from this story is the importance of taking responsibility for our actions, which the pair does not do: Adam blames Eve, and Eve blames the snake. If there is anything like an “original sin” in this story, it is evading culpability. The genders here are equal in their evasion of culpability.
Their expulsion from Eden was not a “Fall,” or a punishment for anything, because the “curses” on the pair simply reflect the reality of planetary life. The myth of “the Fall,” so-called, begun in Genesis, argued by St. Augustine, and elaborated by the poet John Milton in over 10,000 lines of epic verse, is factual for many Christians. The only facts are life’s sufferings. Labor pains may feel like a curse to women, but they are simply the result of quadrupeds going upright and becoming bi-peds, complicating the birth canal. And Adam is told what everybody knows: subsistence and survival have to be extracted from Nature and so is fated, not “condemned,” to live by the sweat of his brow. (And by the way, the snake is also cursed with having to grovel in the dirt.) Theirs is not a “Fall” (which is not a Biblical term anyway) but an Entrance into reality as they leave a Paradise imagined by the narrator to have preceded our existence as we know it. Eve is not to be blamed for human suffering at all, as church doctrine asserts.
Why can such a story be in the Bible, if it is as fanciful as I claim--? Because, it dramatizes the first observations and feelings of one particular society about our earthly life. The writers of Genesis preserved this legend to explain the painful facts of human life as we experience them. They imagined a previous life of perfection without suffering, and they concluded that we can only have “fallen” from that state as punishment of some kind. It’s one guess. But a deeper look at Genesis 2-3 reveals woman’s true fate on earth, and man’s.
The forces of nature which humans have faced throughout eras of changing climates and circumstances as well as, most importantly, the burden of overwhelming reproductive demands, they all require management. Society has had to employ parental controls, institutional (church) controls, and cultural controls to keep child bearing within the capacities of child rearing. Self-management is ultimately called for. Abstinence, when enforced, will work, but it has seldom worked voluntarily (except as part of religious vocation). Contraception has been practiced throughout history, until the Church pounced on it (v. Humanae Vitae, 1968). Abortion has also had an ancient history, because if unwanted, or unintended, pregnancies are not stopped, the direction of personal history can change drastically. Abortion is a last resort, and women will take it if absolutely necessary. Isn’t it best for us to get out of the way? We really have no choice but to trust the woman with this decision. After all, the men are often not there except to legislate what, after the fact, a woman does with her body.
Compare the three versions of Eve. Paula Stallworth’s woman [from poem entitled "I Am A Woman": email RevRick for a copy.] is 3-dimensional, sure of her powers. In Genesis, Eve is 2-dimensional, a free agent with a partner. In church doctrine, Eve is 1-dimensional, alone guilty of causing human suffering. Take your pick.
Woman is trustworthy. I’m not pro-choice or anti-choice. I believe we have NO choice but to trust her with her decision.