June 25, 2019 | 73° F

SHETH: Fight for women's rights is far from over

Opinions Column: Sonam Says


Tuesday, March 8, was International Women’s Day. Tuesday was also the latest day during which I was loudly called a “f—ing slut” in public, when I politely, but firmly refused to give a stranger on the subway my phone number. Perhaps the most discouraging aspect of this all-too-familiar cycle is that I’m no longer shocked or angered when I’m singled out for exercising my right to say, "no." In fact, a part of me notes with cynical amusement that when a man demonizes me for saying "no," he most often describes me as a "slut," a word used to demonize women who say, "yes."

My experience is by no stretch of the imagination a singular occurrence. Millions of women experience something similar, if not worse, every day. Consider the dire warnings every woman gets before going out. If you’re walking home at night, stay in a well-lit area. Don’t leave your drink unattended. If you get catcalled, don’t engage the guy — that’s just inviting trouble. Of course that would be inviting trouble — heaven forbid I assert my right to walk freely without being objectified by the male gaze, lest I end up the subject of yet another headline that sparks heated debate over whether the war on women is legitimate — though, of course, never as legitimate as the "War on Christmas."

For the sake of debate, let’s widen the lens from individual experiences and look at what’s happening on a national scale. Readers are already familiar with the controversy Planned Parenthood was engulfed in last summer, when widely disproven videos surfaced purportedly showing Planned Parenthood employees seeking to profit from the sale of fetal tissue. Although these claims were universally discredited, it didn’t stop conservatives from mounting yet another attack on the organization that serves millions of women who depend on it for critical healthcare services. More than that, evidence highlights that the fatal shooting at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs last year was carried out by an anti-abortion terrorist (yes, we can use the word to describe people other than Muslims!) motivated by those videos.

More recently,Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, a crucial case that examines whether so-called “trap laws” place undue burden on women seeking access to abortion, is being argued before the Supreme Court. At the center of the case is a Texas law called "HB 2," which has forced the closure of all but 19 clinics in Texas, because it calls for financially burdensome upgrades that could cost millions, as well as a stipulation that says doctors performing abortions must have admitting privileges at local hospitals. If the law is upheld — which is very likely, given that a 4-4 deadlock would leave the law in place — less than 10 clinics will remain open throughout the state, and the average Texan will be more than 100 miles away from the nearest clinic. In recent days, the fight over "HB 2" has grown more heated, because if the law isn’t struck down by the Supreme Court, it will affect the lives of millions of women and decimate their access to a constitutionally protected right.

While a co-sponsor of the bill, Rep. Dan Flynn (R-Tex.) claims that the law seeks to provide “safe healthcare for women,” a closer look tells a different story. States with the most restrictive and hostile laws regarding abortion saw a spike in searches such as, "how to have a miscarriage” and “how to self-abort.” In states with the most restrictive laws, there were 1,300 searches for the exact phrase, “how to do a coat hanger abortion” and a few hundred looking into the details of inducing an abortion by bleaching one’s uterus and punching oneself in the stomach. Mississippi saw the highest rate of searches for self-induced abortion. The state has one abortion clinic. While there’s no way to know how many women ended up inducing miscarriages, this data is troubling in and of itself, and it points to the reality that laws that seek to “provide safer healthcare to women” by restricting their access to abortion do the exact opposite. These laws aren’t advocated in an attempt to protect women: They are instead part of the decades-old war waged on women who dare to take control of their own bodies.

International Women’s Day was an important time to reflect on the giant strides the women’s rights movement has made over the last many years, but it also gives us a sobering look at the obstacles we still face in the fight to reclaim our basic human rights. Despite this, I’m confident that things will change for the better, because for the first time in as long as I can remember, last week’s Republican debate had candidates talking about their own reproductive parts, as opposed to women’s. Maybe there’s hope after all.

Sonam Sheth is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in economics and statistics. Her column, "Sonam Says," runs on alternate Thursdays.


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Sonam Sheth

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