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Essay: The Seven Necessary Sins for Fighting Abortion Bans
Abortion is a human right, not a bonus or a reward we must earn
Photo: Robert E. Rutledge
Arabic translation of The Seven Necessary Sins for Fighting Abortion Bans
The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) has overturned the landmark 1973 Roe v Wade case that legalized abortion nationwide. This essay was first published in May. I have updated it to reflect this development—disastrous and enraging to so many of us. My book The Seven Necessary Sins for Women and Girls is a manifesto for destroying patriarchy through attributes we are not supposed to have, do, or want: anger, attention, profanity, ambition, power, violence, and lust. I believe they form a roadmap for the fight against abortion bans everywhere, with a specific focus on the United States.
“I do not believe that we can restore and expand the freedoms that our lives require unless and until we embrace the justice of our rage,” June Jordan wrote in a column in 1989 for the Progressive magazine.
There is justice in rage. It is the fuel of the feminist revolution. This is a time for courage, yes: with a focus on that second syllable: RAGE!
And rage is a most appropriate response to injustice. Banning abortion is unjust. Criminalizing abortion does not eradicate it nor does it make it rare. It makes it dangerous and often deadly for the poorest and most vulnerable people who can get pregnant. Abortion bans hurt Black and people of colour and the under resourced, who in the U.S. are the most hurt by the inhumanity and injustice of white supremacist patriarchy.
Unless you are an able-bodied, white, cisgender, heterosexual wealthy man, rage is the most appropriate response to a Supreme Court stacked with religious zealots who reversed abortion rights, barely two generations since Roe v Wade became the law of the land.
I am enraged. Not surprised. But still enraged.
Be angry. Anger is the first step to putting patriarchy and its oppressions on notice that we are done waiting for it to self correct. We demand reckoning.
Patriarchy wants to deny us a necessary response to injustice when it tells us that our anger is wrong or out of place. Patriarchy knows that our anger will hold it accountable. Patriarchy prefers instead that we perform a self-reckoning, one in which we turn anger not outwards where it belongs and can target injustice, but inwards. The result is that instead of using anger to destroy patriarchy and its injustices, anger will instead destroy us, with sadness and shame, self-hatred and trauma.
Refuse the currency of sadness. Sadness does not terrify patriarchy, Anger does.
We have a right to declare war on patriarchy, for patriarchy has already declared war on us.
I have had two abortions. I was born in Egypt to a Muslim family and so I understand how difficult it is for someone like me to share their abortion story. I know how rare it is for someone from my background to see themselves in abortion narratives. And because of that, I know how necessary it is for those of us who can share our stories, to command attention and to say: listen.
It took me 25 years to finally write about my abortions. I was inspired and encouraged by women of colour who had spoken of theirs, and who said they wished they saw more people who look like them in abortion narratives, and I commissioned an Arabic translation of my essay on my abortions. And this essay is also available in Arabic.
The few abortion narratives that are considered “acceptable” are often prefaced with trauma and pain—as if they were the price to be exacted for bodily autonomy.
It is important to share abortion stories that say simply: I did not want to be pregnant. In my case, I was not raped. I was not sick. The pregnancies did not threaten my life. I did not already have children. I just did not want to be pregnant. I did not want to have a child. I am glad I had my abortions. They gave me the freedom to live the life I have chosen.
I had an “illegal” abortion in Egypt and a “legal” abortion in the U.S. I reject the power of the State, and Supreme Court, to declare what is “legal” or “illegal” when it comes to my abortions. The State, and the Supreme Court, can fuck off with their opinions and laws about what I can and can’t do with my uterus. That control belongs to me.
Attention is power. When you command attention, you command power. And you create a community for those who are told to be ashamed and who are stigmatized for a medical procedure that is shrouded in shame and silence.
One in four pregnancies end in abortion. You know someone who has had an abortion. If you don’t know anyone, that is because the people you know who have had an abortion have not yet told you.
How revolutionary is seizing attention with our stories? It was a primary driver in the revolution of Irish women who, in 2018, galvanized their compatriots to overwhelmingly repeal by referendum the Eighth Amendment of the Irish constitution. The successful vote made possible the reform of abortion laws in Ireland which were so prohibitive that a stream of women who could afford it made their way to England every year to get a procedure they were denied in their own country.
In an exit poll conducted by Irish state broadcaster RTE, in answer to “What had the biggest impact on your vote?” 43 percent cited personal stories of women in the media and 34 percent said it was the experience of people they knew.
In other words, attention won the war: the belief that women’s stories were important and deserving of attention. Because the most subversive thing a woman can do is to talk about her life as if it matters, because it does.
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Fuck the Supreme Court.
This is not the time for politeness or civility. I refuse to be civil with religious zealots who do not recognize my full humanity and who are denying me the fundamental right of ownership of my body.
When the fascist fucks in your country tighten their grip on your body, the path to freedom must be paved with profanity. Politeness is capitulation.
In daily protests organized by the feminist initiative Women’s Strike to protest an impending almost-total abortion ban, they chanted “fuck off,” held massive banners that told the right-wing populist Law and Justice (PiS) government to “Get the fuck out” and “PiS off,”and carried the rainbow pride flag in recognition of the dovetailing of feminist and LGBTQ resistance to the fascist fuckery of the State.
Women and queer activists disrupted Sunday masses as they yelled “obscenities” to protest the Catholic Church’s support for the abortion restriction, In one city, young women surrounded a priest and yelled at him to “Go back to the church” and to “fuck off.”
Patriarchy insists on controlling our mouths just as it insists it controls our wombs.
There is nothing polite about white supremacist patriarchy and the zealots it has installed on the Supreme Court, who voted against a medical procedure that the majority of people in the U.S. believe should be the prerogative of the pregnant person.
There is nothing polite or civil about patriarchy.
Who benefits from upholding those social codes? Civility, decorum, manners and the like are used to uphold authority--patriarchy, whiteness, wealth, other forms of privilege--and we are urged to acquiesce in service to maintaining that authority.
We are not obligated to show respect to those in power. I refuse to allow those who don't recognize my full humanity by diminishing my bodily autonomy to expect politeness from me.
What would the world look like if the energy policing mouths and vaginas and wombs was invested instead into policing the very real harm of patriarchal violence? Abortion bans are patriarchal violence.
Feminism is not me and my friends making it through patriarchy’s obstacle course to live ever after in post-feminist heaven. Feminism is the destruction of those obstacles that hold back all those other women who are very much mired in the patriarchal fuckery of the here and now.
Too often the story of ambition has been written by and for middle and upper class white women and then presented to the rest of us as pre-packaged ambition for our consumption. Those are the same white women who are the least hurt by abortion bans because they have the time and the resources to access safe abortion care.
In their lexicon, reproductive rights are the goal.
We must rewrite what ambition means and what its aspirations are. It is my ambition to repurpose the word ambition to mean more than just individual, corporate success. It is my ambition to destroy the patriarchy.
Patriarchy, racism and capitalist exploitation cannot be solved on a per individual basis by celebrating exceptional cases who survive and thrive despite systemic oppressions. Feminism is not me and my friends making it through patriarchy’s obstacle course to live ever after in post-feminist heaven. Feminism is not a few women hurdling over the obstacles. Feminism is the destruction of those obstacles that hold back all those other women who are very much mired in the patriarchal fuckery of the here and now.
Enter reproductive justice, a term coined by a group of Black women who named themselves Women of African Descent for Reproductive Justice in 1994. They intended it to mean “the human right to maintain personal bodily autonomy, have children, not have children, and parent the children we have in safe and sustainable communities.”
SisterSong, which works to improve the reproductive lives of marginalized communities, explains: “They recognized that the women’s rights movement, led by and representing middle class and wealthy white women, could not defend the needs of women of color and other marginalized women and trans people.”
Our ambition should be to guarantee universal basic income.
Our ambition should be to guarantee housing for all.
Our ambition should be to ensure everyone has free education and healthcare.
“We will not let ourselves be burned because this time the fire is ours.” Ni Una Menos
I draw power from feminist revolutions against abortion bans around the world. It is important to remember that the United States is not the center of the universe and that it must learn from global feminist resistance against patriarchal fuckery.
Revolutions are never about single events. Patriarchy will not be dismantled in one blow. It always requires several blows that target a host of oppressions. And it takes time. We must define power in a way that liberates us from patriarchy’s hierarchies. We must imagine the world we want and redefine what power is and how power can subvert rather than uphold patriarchy. We must and we can imagine better.
The power of patriarchy is strong, and our power to imagine our freedom from it must be even more ferocious. It is increasingly apparent around the world that feminist and queer alliances are particularly powerful, effective and necessary in the fight against patriarchy, including in the fight against abortion bans. Witness the alliance in the Polish fight against abortion ban, where this photograph was taken.
In Argentina, one such alliance came about in the campaign to decriminalize abortion in the first fourteen weeks of pregnancy.
Under the banner of the Ni Una Menos Movement (Not One More), which fights gender-based violence in Latin America, a statement published the day before the vote celebrated the power of their alliance, regardless of the Argentinian Senate’s decision: “For us, women, men, and trans people, there has already been a collective triumph, we have brought our bodies, our abortions, and our desires out of hiding and we will not go back.”
Regardless of the law’s outcome, Ni Una Menos stressed they would not leave the streets until legal, safe, and free abortion became available in Argentina, where 60 percent of public opinion favoured the bill. In the U.S. 50 percent of voters say Roe v. Wade should not be overturned, 28 percent say it should be overturned, and 22 percent are undecided, according to a recent poll.
Lawmakers in Argentina narrowly voted against a bill to legalize abortion in August 2018.
“If the law is not passed, we will not leave the streets, and they will not be able to leave the Congress building, because in the street Legal Abortion is already the law. We will not let ourselves be burned because this time the fire is ours.” Ni Una Menos said.
That phrase seared itself into my heart and mind. I remember it to this day.
In December 2020, Argentina became the first major country in Latin America to legalize abortion, and in so doing it has galvanized movements across Central and South America.
Claim the fire. Own the fire, Burn down the patriarchy.
Members of a feminist collective clash with police during a protest to mark the International Safe Abortion Day in Mexico City, September 28, 2020, Carlos Jasso via Reuters
Mexican feminists have long done just that: they claim and own the fire and are known to have the police in their country cowering behind shields and barricades during feminist protests.
During protests demanding the legalization of abortion in 2020 on Safe Abortion Day, which is celebrated on Sept. 28, women charged police lines and threw Molotov cocktails at officers in Mexico City. The images from the protest were a reminder that we must make patriarchy fear us.
Less than a year later, on September 7, 2021, Mexico’s Supreme Court voted to decriminalize abortion, giving momentum to efforts to strike it from state penal codes throughout the country. Abortion is already legal in four states.
We have a right to declare war on patriarchy, for patriarchy has already declared war on us.
This is not the time for politeness, or civility, or pink pussy hat protests that include selfies with the police. We must make patriarchy fear us.
“Nobody in the world, nobody in history, has ever gotten their freedom by appealing to the moral sense of the people who were oppressing them,” Assata Shakur, founding member of the Black Liberation Army and former Black Panther, writes in her autobiography.
It is the right of women and girls and queer people to not just fight back against the crimes of patriarchy, but surely it should be our right to fight to dismantle patriarchy itself, and that is what Mexican feminists who vandalize property, take over government buildings, and target or fight back against the police do.
Claim the fire. Own the fire, Burn down the patriarchy.
Abortion bans are intent on punishing us for daring to take ownership of our bodies and our sexual desire outside of the norms. They aim to police our bodies and punish us for sex outside of marriage between a man and a woman.
Recognizing that, we must demand nothing short of abortion on demand: safe and free and on demand.
It is imperative that we pay attention to what are known as rape exceptions to abortion bans. In countries with prohibitive abortion laws, an exception is at times made in the case of a pregnancy that resulted from rape or incest.
That is not good enough.
Rape exceptions want to save women from enforced sex by saving them from enforced pregnancy.
Abortion bans want to punish women for desire and pleasure by forcing upon them pregnancy.
An unwanted pregnancy should not be considered punishment for a sex drive or a determination to have consensual sex outside of the rules of patriarchy. A hierarchy around abortion is hideous and must be rejected. Abortion is a human right that must be available to all who want it, regardless of how they became pregnant.
Abortion bans are driven by zealots and puritans. We must not dance to their agenda but instead fuck to our heart’s content whomever (with their consent, obviously) and whenever, secure in the knowledge and the right to determine the consequences.
We do not owe anyone an explanation or a reason for our abortion. Much like we insist on rejecting the “worthy victim” scenario of sexual assault, so too must we reject the “worthy recipient” of an abortion.
Abortion is a human right, not a bonus or a reward we must earn.
Fuck the patriarchy.
Fuck white supremacy.
Fuck the Supreme Court.
Mona Eltahawy is a feminist author, commentator and disruptor of patriarchy. She is editing an anthology on menopause called Bloody Hell! And Other Stories: Adventures in Menopause from Across the Personal and Political Spectrum. Her first book Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution (2015) targeted patriarchy in the Middle East and North Africa and her second The Seven Necessary Sins For Women and Girls (2019) took her disruption worldwide. It is now available in Ireland and the UK. Her commentary has appeared in media around the world and she makes video essays and writes a newsletter as FEMINIST GIANT.
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