The last time women saved the United States was on November 15, 1917, a day and a night when twenty women, suffragists all, were beaten and tortured for their beliefs at Occoquan Warehouse, a prison in Virginia. The charge? They had “obstructed traffic” by marching two by two in a Washington DC protest demonstration or, alternatively, because some other women had stood on the sidewalk outside the White House gates. The protestors drew their own conclusions.
“We the women of America tell you this is not a democracy,” they would later inform the rest of the world.
Meaning that back then the women – all American women — were not permitted to vote. To have agency over their lives or the lives of their children.
The twenty women imprisoned were given one bar of soap to share among them; their food contained worms. Dora Lewis, the chief executive of the National Women’s Party, was thrown into her cell where her head struck an iron bed and she lost consciousness; her suffragist friend and cellmate, Alice Cosu, was so distraught at the sight of Lewis’s plight that she suffered a heart attack.
Three years later, on August 18, 1920, the women got their wish. They were permitted at last to vote, courtesy of the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution.
It is useful to be reminded of all this given the results of the most recent US elections. As some of the outraged women put it more than a century ago:
“The history of mankind is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations on the part of man toward woman, having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over her.”
It doesn’t take much of a leap to imagine what those brave women of the past would have thought of last year’s US Supreme Court ruling on a woman’s right to control her own body.
Abortion rights “must be overruled,” declared Samuel Alito, one of the justices. Why? Because those rights were “egregiously wrong,” the arguments allowing them “exceptionally weak” and so “damaging.” Which meant, translated, that individual states could forbid the procedure outright, even in cases of rape, incest or threats to a mother’s life. Defiance invoked dire consequences to those who attempted to terminate a pregnancy.
In fact, just last year, a number of US legislators suggested imprisonment, even the death penalty, for those who crossed state lines to get the procedure, along with the same punishment for their doctors.
Three male lawmakers from Indiana tried to change the state’s statutes to apply at the time of fertilization. Five male Texas lawmakers authored a proposed bill that made abortion punishable by death.
And yet – within little more than a year – women voters spent their anger over that form of control at the ballot box. In Ohio yesterday a state constitutional amendment to enshrine abortion rights won by double digits.
The governor of Kentucky, a famously conservative state, won re-election after making abortion rights a cornerstone of his campaign. In Virginia, the right-wing Republican governor who had made abortion denial after 15 weeks of pregnancy the centerpiece of his campaign, discovered to his displeasure that voters preferred Democratic legislative candidates.
Something impressive and historical is happening in the United States. Thanks to its women, once again.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by the authors are their own, not those of Impakter.com — In the Featured Photo: This Supreme Court session took the country on a sharp turn in the wrong direction | July 12-18, 2023 | Real Change License details Creator: Ted Eytan.