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In a Woman's Lived Body

by Janet K. Nash, MSW, LISW-S, CCTP, C-IAYT, RYT500

Fifty years ago, Roe v. Wade solidified a woman’s Constitutional right to obtain a legal abortion. This week the Supreme Court completely shattered the principle of stare decisis—the legal doctrine that courts will adhere to precedent in making their decisions. In Latin, stare decisis means “to stand by things decided.” My question now becomes, “What other legal precedents will the Supreme Court overturn? And how can precedent be the foundation of our legal system any longer?” This is a very slippery slope!

Considering this week’s ruling of the Supreme Court overturning the 50 years of precedent set by Roe v.Wade which gave women a Constitutional right to abortion, I intend to explore this event through the lens of the biopsychosocial impact of this ruling on women, both individually and collectively.

Be aware that if stare decisis isn’t yet completely dead, Clarence Thomas made very clear in his separate concurring opinion overturning Roe v. Wade that he believes the same rationale that the Supreme Court used to declare there is no right to abortion should also be used to overturn cases establishing rights to contraception, same-sex consensual relations and same-sex marriage. Interestingly, the same rationale could be used to overturn the law allowing for inter-racial marriage, a law that provides Justice Thomas with the freedom to be lawfully married to his wife. But, I digress…

As a female human being who is both a mental health therapist and a yoga therapist, I am acutely aware of the ways in which women are divested of autonomy, agency, and authority over their own bodies and the effects of same on their wellbeing. The ways in which this divestiture expresses itself in our culture are many and varied, but one way of which I am intensely aware is by the expression of body dysmorphia and eating disorders.

Seventy-five years ago, psychologist Karen Horney wrote about the socially sanctioned right of all males to sexualize all females, regardless of age or status. More recently, philosopher Sandra Bartky defined sexual objectification as occurring whenever a woman’s body, body parts, or sexual functions are separated from her person, reduced to the status of mere instruments, or regarded as if they could represent her. Furthermore, the idea that within this cultural environment women can adopt an outside-in perspective on their own bodies has a fairly long history in feminist philosophy. Simone de Beauvoir argued that when a girl becomes a woman, she becomes doubled; so instead of existing only within herself, she also exists outside herself, meaning she becomes her own first physical evaluator and manipulator as a way of anticipating her treatment in the world.

Objectification theory argues that, with the objectification and sexualization of the female body as the environment in which girls are raised, girls are socialized to treat themselves as objects to be looked at and evaluated for their appearance. Girls and women have learned to self-objectify their bodies as malleable things to be sculpted and molded into something other than it is. Our bodies become a project that we work on, something that we live outside of while demolition and construction are in progress. Unfortunately, many remain disembodied and dissatisfied with their ongoing body project. Female human beings begin to suspect those who encourage body acceptance, body appreciation, even body compassion as dangerous and subversive!

The external pressures that encourage a female human being’s preoccupation with her physical appearance abound, while the implications on the autonomy and agency of said female human being over her own body is horribly devalued with the overturn of Roe. The message that women and girls are not capable of self-governance, not capable of ownership of and agency over their bodies, and unable to act in their own self-interest by making decisions regarding their reproductive health and wellness, is appalling and immoral.

My most cynical thoughts lead me to the notion that the goal here is the disempowerment of women, and for that matter, the disempowerment of anyone who is not male and white, or who does not subscribe to their religious and/or political beliefs. [Please note that the United States is a pluralistic nation, meaning we adhere to a political philosophy that recognizes and affirms diversity within its political body, which is meant to permit the peaceful coexistence of different interests, convictions, and lifestyles.]

So, what can be done? Although this is crushing and enraging, we can’t give up. We must do our best to help women and girls who need reproductive health care and don’t have the means to find it outside of a conservatively governed State. We must make women’s reproductive rights a voting issue and demand to know our politicians’ views on a woman’s right to abortion. We must vote, and vote for politicians who will support a woman’s right to abortion. We must make this a primary voting issue because it is not just about a woman’s lawful right to obtain an abortion, as noted above in my digression about Justice Thomas’s concurring opinion.

It's ugly and it hurts, but as Mitch McConnell once said of Elizabeth Warren, “Yet, she persisted.”

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