US midterms: Why abortion never gets old as a hot election topic

In the self-appointed land of the free, reproductive freedom was never fully born. You might even say it was aborted.

IMAGES DISTRIBUTED FOR ALL - Supporters of the 3 women arrested after they peacefully interrupted Supreme Court oral arguments to denounce Dobbs and call on the women of America to vote to restore abortion rights nationwide stand with signs in front of the court in support of the nonviolent protestors' message on Wednesday, Nov. 02, 2022 in Washington. (Eric Kayne/AP Images For All)
Protesters outside the US Supreme Court call on the women of America to vote to restore abortion rights nationwide, on Wednesday, November 2, 2022 in Washington [Eric Kayne/AP Images]

Fifteen years ago, I had an abortion in the southwestern Turkish town of Fethiye, where I had been intermittently residing as part of my self-imposed exile from the United States. The procedure was performed in a gynaecological clinic by a Turkish doctor who whistled, sang songs and joked about my distinct lack of fortitude compared with his patients from surrounding villages – who, he said, were in and out of his office with no anaesthesia or whining.

While this will not be music to the ears of the so-called “pro-life” crowd, the experience remains one of the high points of my entire existence – which would have undoubtedly gone swiftly downhill had I been forced to reproduce against my will.

Had I pursued the abortion in the US, the extraction of a blob of cells from my uterus would have entailed far more bureaucracy, stigma, and money (and probably no whistling). Still, I would have had it much easier than a poor woman, especially if she was not white. Such, after all, is the nature of “equality”, “women’s rights”, and similar empty concepts that the US specialises in.

Indeed, in the self-appointed land of the free, reproductive freedom was never fully born; you might even say it was aborted.

In 1973, the landmark Supreme Court ruling Roe v Wade ostensibly enshrined abortion rights nationwide, but there was always the problem of inequitable access. As renowned scholar Angela Davis noted in a 1982 essay, the subsequent elimination of federal funding for abortions in 1977 resulted in an arrangement in which “Black, Puerto Rican, Chicana and Native American women, together with their impoverished white sisters, were … effectively divested of the right to legal abortions”.

Free surgical sterilisation was, however, still an option for the socioeconomically oppressed – as was the option to add another defenceless human to a national landscape of racist and patriarchal capitalism and egregious state neglect. How is that for “pro-choice”?

Fast forward to the US midterm elections of November 2022, and abortion is once again a hot topic. In a capitalist patriarchy, controlling women’s bodies never gets old.

And the candidates have plenty of material to work with. In June, the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade, removing the federal constitutional right to end a pregnancy and inducing a collective conservative orgasm. With abortion law now delegated to individual states, Wisconsin, for example, has reinstated its abortion ban of 1849.

Democrats are banking on the abortion issue to drive voter turnout and retain control of Congress – which, were they to succeed, would defy the US political tradition of midterm elections being bad for the president’s party. Not that the Democrats have done anything over the years to reverse the racism and classism that govern abortion policy and everything else in America. Usually, what Democrats are good at is sounding less transparently nutty than Republicans, while dutifully helping to sustain the whole odious system.

In some states, voters will weigh in on abortion rights directly on the ballot; in others, the abortion vote will come down to the positions of the respective candidates. According to the Pew Research Center, 56 percent of registered voters said in August that abortion would be “very important in their midterm vote”, whereas only 43 percent had said the same in March.

Of course, even prior to the June evisceration of Roe v Wade, certain US states had already implemented deranged anti-abortion rights policies. In September 2021, Texas took it upon itself to ban abortion after six weeks of pregnancy, even for victims of rape and incest, and to authorise private citizens to sue anyone suspected of abetting in any way an abortion after the six-week cutoff, including Uber drivers.

In Oklahoma in October 2021, meanwhile, a 21-year-old Native American woman named Brittney Poolaw was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to four years in prison for suffering a miscarriage. The criminal hypocrisy of the conviction was underscored by Oklahoma’s history of, you know, literally slaughtering Native Americans.

And yet the Poolaw case underscores some of the handy sociopolitical functions of “pro-lifeism” in the neoliberal dystopia that passes for life in the US.

Since equality for all humans would obviously thwart the system of elite tyranny that the US calls “democracy”, a hierarchy must be upheld at all cost. Criminalising women’s reproductive freedoms is a pretty good way to deprive a substantial portion of the population of power and agency.

Even better when the burden falls disproportionately on poor minorities, reinforcing and perpetuating the marginalised status of the “have-nots”, without which the “haves” cannot have so much. Better still when miscarriages can be criminalised, too. Why not criminalise menopause?

Predictably, the 2022 midterms have provided fertile terrain for all manner of campaign-related abominations, such as Republican Utah State Senate contender Linda Paulson’s “rap” song. In it, she squawks against abortion rights and praises guns and the police, flaunting the typical illogic of a US right wing that only cares about “life” when it does not involve actual people shot dead by guns and the police.

She also throws in a call to God, who in the blessed realm of conservative America can usually be relied on to endow fundamentally anti-ethical policies with a façade of righteousness.

Over in Virginia, Republican congressional candidate and anti-abortion rights hardliner Yesli Vega was recorded earlier this year expressing her belief in the plausibility of a theory that rape does not lead to pregnancy. At a Vega rally on October 24, Texas Senator Ted Cruz and his father Rafael Cruz, an ex-Cuban Protestant preacher, warned voters of potentially apocalyptic repercussions if Vega was not elected.

The elder Cruz predicted that, “if we lose this election, America is destroyed”.

Never mind that America is already destroyed, and that the ruling elite – from both leading parties – has no real interest in repairing it. And while things were never great on the abortion front, we certainly do not need them to get any worse.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.