Featured in The Liberation Issue of Liveology Yoga Magazine.
On January 22, 1973, the U.S. Supreme court released a landmark decision on Roe v. Wade, determining that the right to abortion is fundamental and backed by the right to privacy in the 14th Amendment to the Constitution.
On June 24, 2022, the U.S. Supreme court overturned Roe. v. Wade.
Immediately, people on both sides went into a frenzy, either celebrating or mourning. I, for one, mourned this decision, mostly because something about the overturn of Roe v. Wade reeks of the problems with the historical patriarchy.
From Animals to Humans
Are females equal to males? Should they be? I find it strange that I even have to ask this question, but apparently, in 2022, we still have not resolved this, so let’s discuss.
Certainly, there are rules in the animal kingdom. Animals, in general, are governed by instincts. Particularly, these are the base instincts over survival, territory, food, and mating. When any of these things are threatened, it is normal for animals to become aggressive and fight each other, often to the death. Kill or be killed. Eat or be eaten. Male animals, in particular, such as deer, lions, bears, even our closest relatives, the great apes, will fight to the death over the ability to mate with females. And as we know, in most species, male animals are larger and physically dominant to female animals, and so will simply overpower the female so that he can impregnate her. Female animals will often fight back, but being smaller and without some of the physical advantages like antlers, they are often no match. If a pregnancy occurs, she will care for and raise the young of the male herself. For many species, the male will move on and do it again with a different female, though in some species, such as penguins, lions, apes, and humans, the male will stick around and help out for some time or for life.
As humans, we are red-blooded mammals, with instincts that are no different than deer, lions, or apes. We desire and are willing to fight over food, resources, a comfortable place to stay, and the ability to mate and protect our children. The difference between humans and other animals is our minds, our ability to think above our instincts, and to create processes and systems so that we can live together harmoniously. Part of the reason humans created so many laws and programs is so that there is something preventing us from acting totally like animals. We created food programs and homeless shelters so humans don’t have to fight over territory and food. We created murder and rape laws so there is a deterrent to following through with some of our more base instincts. We created social mores and formalized things like marriage. We made public education required to literally domesticate people from childhood. We have done such a good job of creating a domesticated society, that often we forget the reason we did this, or that we did.
Most of us in domesticated society live in some level of comfort - having enough food to eat hearty meals or even to have a specific diet like going vegan, having a comfortable place to sleep at night, having enough money to shop a little. But there have been endless studies that show that even amongst domesticated humans, as soon as there is an illusion of scarcity, our animalistic instincts kick in immediately. We even see this behavior during Christmas shopping. We are humans, and we are animals.
In the animal world, the rules of the game are a little more stark than in the human world. Take lions, for instance. The female lions tend to do the hunting, while the male lions tend to protect the pack. Perhaps, at one time, humans behaved much like other animals, where the female humans did household tasks and cared for the young, while the male humans hunted for food and protected the tribe.
It was just over 100 years ago, in 1920, that human females gained the right to vote in the United States. Even after the founding fathers of the United States believed we should be a free country in 1774 with the signing of the Declaration of Independence, even after Americans came to believe black people should be free by codifying the 13th Amendment in 1864 against slavery, and even after black males were given the right to vote in 1870, females were still considered to be, on some level, property, less in value than the males, and unable to make important decisions.
It was just over 40 years ago, that human females gained the right to have credit cards or buy property without the cosigning of her husband, or another male in the United States. Let us not forget that there are countries in which females still cannot vote or buy property. Let us also not forget that even in the United States, the fight continues about basic things like equal pay for equal work, access to childcare, and access to healthcare.
The direction of evolution is clear. Globally, even though historically females have been viewed as limited to gender roles, property, and incapable of making decisions such as voting, we are moving in the direction that increasingly views human women as deserving equal rights to human men. The past 100 years has shown that when women are given equal access to education and resources, they can meet and sometimes even outperform men in academia and the workplace.
I find it sad that I have to spend this time explaining these things that seem very basic, but it is essential to understanding the depth of the abortion argument. To me, the abortion argument in the United States is rooted in our deep animalistic instincts that cause some males to desire to control the minds, actions, and bodies of females, and the desire for some men to regain some of the control lost over women over the last 100 years.
Life & Death
As a yoga practitioner, former Christian preacher, and self-proclaimed “yogini,” I have spent a lot of time reading scripture and other historical texts in an attempt to understand life and how to live. I take the gravity of life and death very seriously, and have weighed resources such as the Bible, for which I learned Greek and Hebrew to translate the original texts while in seminary, the Yoga Sutras and other texts that I take seriously. I wrote Liveology’s Mission, Ethics, Standards, & Corrections Policies not only to nail down my position as the editor, but so that it would be clear to the world upon which we stand, as a magazine.
And so, first, I think it is important to acknowledge the argument so many use against abortion, which is the preservation of life. Even at Liveology, our motto is “More life. More yoga.” Those who are against abortion have claimed the title, “pro-life,” of course, implying that those who want abortion to be legal are “pro-death.”
There are many important texts that have shaped this conversation over millennia, which across the board discuss the importance of not killing. In yoga, we would call this ahimsa. The 8 Limbs of Yoga are found in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, and outline personal ethics and disciplines on the way to samadhi or ultimate bliss and peace. The first of the 8 limbs is the yamas, or personal ethics. The first of the yamas is ahimsa, which can be directly translated as “non-harming”, or in the positive is often translated as “loving-kindness”. Ahimsa is also found in the 8 Noble Truths of Buddhism. We also find similar instructions “Do not kill” in the 10 Commandments, basic instructions from God to the people of Israel on how to live in obedience to God. Of course, we can find similar calls for non-violence in Islam, the Baha’i faith, and others across the world. Just about all religious texts and religions across the world would equally agree that murder is bad, though it’s difficult to find any scripture that specifically talks about abortion or the point at which life begins.
I bring these up because though I believe in the word of God deeply, I do not believe that the abortion argument is about murder v. non-murder. Though some would like to create the illusion of these extremes in order to control the narrative, to me, the abortion argument is much deeper than that.
In real life, abortions happen for a variety of reasons: unreadiness or inability to care for the child, mental illness, poverty, rape, being a child herself, inability to carry the pregnancy to term without injury to the mother. Often the solution that would actually decrease abortions is not banning abortions. Even when abortion was illegal in the United States, women still had abortions, often doing them at home with an “experienced” friend with a coat hanger or going to a practitioner in unregulated conditions. This was often injurious and even deadly. While often more privileged women could simply pay for a way. And so, if people actually want to decrease abortions and increase life, the way to do that is actually to increase education levels, healthcare, and childcare, and help women and families to make more money so that they feel able to care for their babies.
While the negative translation of ahimsa is “non-harming,” the positive is “loving-kindness.” One could argue that as we were evolving from animals into humans, we needed strict guidelines to help us learn how to live harmoniously. We needed to be told not to kill or take our neighbor’s wife because our animalistic instincts were still so strong that we couldn’t control ourselves and didn’t know any better. But as humanity evolves, and we can see clearly the many factors that impact each situation, I believe we need to take a more nuanced approach, the first of which, is not placing all the blame and responsibility of a pregnancy on women.
“I’m Gonna Make You Fat”
An adult man would never say out loud that he’s going to rape you and get you pregnant to get you to shut up and sit down, but a child will. My mother used to substitute teach at an elementary school in East Atlanta. One day, a little boy about 6 years old was mad at her for something he didn’t want to do, so he said, “I’m gonna make you fat!” At first she didn’t know what he was talking about, but after he drew a picture of himself with his penis out and her with a big belly, she realized that this 6 year old was talking about raping and getting her (a woman in her 60s) pregnant as an insult because he was angry with her. While adults know better than to say things like this, the fact that a 6 year old either had this as an original thought or was taught this by an adult is horrifying.
According to the CDC, “nearly 1 in 5 women have experienced completed or attempted rape during their lifetime,” an estimated 25.5 million people. While, certainly, males also experience rape, even as children, as we are discussing the possibility of pregnancy, for now we will focus on the female instances. “One in 3 female rape victims experienced it for the first time between 11-17 years old. One in 8 female rape victims reported that it occurred before age 10.” Women age 18-24, especially those in college are at an elevated risk for sexual violence.
It feels animalistic, to me, that over the span of generations, females have been labeled as murderers and jezebels for getting pregnant and having abortions, while the males in those situations have been labeled studs, and “just being boys.”
Those segments of the population that want to ban abortion even in cases of rape and incest, should be equally concerned about the the prevention and prosecution of rape and incest. But they are not. Rape cases persistently go unreported, often because women are not believed when they come forward. And in cases where they do come forward, many women are held responsible for being raped, pointing to the woman’s attire or inebriation, while dismissing the male as simply doing what boys do. Unfortunately, there are too many instances where rapists are set free or receive sentences so low that they don’t act as a deterrent.
It’s Not in the Constitution
There are tons of liberties we enjoy every day that are not in the Constitution of the United States. Some of these include, the freedom to travel across the world as Americans, the ability to drive, the ability to send your child to the school of your choice, the ability to wear your hair out for everyone to see it, the ability to grow food in your backyard. All of these are liberties we enjoy in the United States that are not guaranteed in the Constitution and that people in some other countries do not have.
The removal of liberties sets a dangerous precedent. Already, Justice Clarence Thomas is discussing other rulings that can be overturned, including contraception and same-sex marriage. This alone is revealing and is evidence, to me, that the overturn of Roe v. Wade is not genuinely rooted in the support of life.
Many of those who have been trying to ban abortion for decades have also been trying to remove access to preventative contraception such as the pill, IUDS, and emergency contraception, which all prevent pregnancy before implantation even takes place. So if those who want to ban abortion also want to ban contraception, there is no reasonable explanation except the desire to keep women pregnant. While I understand and support the desire to protect life, to me, the abortion argument as a whole, is simply based in the desire to control women’s actions and bodies.
If people want to protect the lives of women, those who want to eliminate access to abortion would first fight for the protection of women and children in the instance of rape, child abuse, and incest with the highest charges especially for those who create pregnancies from these aggressive actions. But they don’t want those things.
If people want to push the needle and say that life begins at conception, then a man should be required to pay for child support from conception, and the woman should automatically receive full healthcare at the time of conception to ensure the health of the new life. But they don’t want those things.
If people want to call themselves pro-life, they should also fight for universal healthcare, equal access to education, affordable childcare, and equal pay for women, all of which increase quality of life for all and lower the number of abortions. But they don’t want those things.
So What is this About?
To me, the abortion debate is simply rooted in the desire for the control over females, historically enjoyed by male animals, which in humans, we have called the patriarchy. As women are increasingly able to support themselves financially, vote, buy property, and are often outperforming males in many academic and business settings, there is a feeling among some males that they need to do things to gain back power and control.
Though adult men would never say this out loud, the child’s words ring all too true. If you keep women pregnant and caring for children, they can’t make as much of a fuss. They won’t protest as much. They won’t take men’s jobs. And they will be more reliant upon men to care for them, as some people believe it should be. Though I know some people genuinely believe in this hierarchy, I believe it is rooted in our lower, animalistic instincts. We are animals and we are humans. As humans, we have the opportunity, and indeed the responsibility to evolve - to use our higher level thinking to find solutions that treat males and females more equally and allow women full freedom and autonomy.
Let’s just be clear. Neither side wants to “kill babies.” In a perfect world, abortion wouldn’t be necessary, but until the day that things like rape, poverty, and ectopic pregnancies no longer exist, total womb care simply needs to exist for all women in the privacy and safety of proper medical facilities. Furthermore, if those who claim to be pro-life truly lived out ahimsa as “loving-kindness”, instead of fire and brimstone, then the actual pro-life conversation should be about the safety, education, access to food, and access to healthcare of all persons from conception until death. Until then, I believe this whole conversation is simply about the subjugation of women.
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Peace & Pineapples!