From the White House to the Senate, from courthouses to state legislatures, everywhere you look across the US, men in power are simultaneously dismissing women’s experiences of sexual assault and further restricting access to abortion care.
There’s the cruel irony of Justice Brett Kavanaugh, declaring in one of his first opinions from the bench that he would support upholding an anti-abortion law in Louisiana, only months after he was confirmed despite the protests of women bravely sharing their stories of sexual assault.
Or the irony of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell rushing to confirm Neomi Rao to Justice Kavanaugh’s old seat on the D.C. Circuit despite her deeply problematic comments blaming women for being sexual assaulted. The only thing slowing down her nomination was Senator Josh Hawley’s concern that she wasn’t anti-abortion enough (he ultimately voted to confirm Rao after receiving assurances that she is, in fact, anti-abortion).
Or the fact that both Kavanaugh and Rao were nominated by a President who has been accused of sexual assault by more than a dozen women — and whose administration has been hell-bent on decimating access to abortion and reproductive health care.
And while these events might be ironic, and devastating, sadly they’re not surprising. They are part of a scary and a pervasive culture that disregards women’s right to control our own bodies.
When we think about the connection between abortion access and sexual assault, we often think of the rape survivors who need or want to end a pregnancy that resulted from the rape. But the relationship between these two issues runs much deeper.
Deciding whether and when to have a child and whether or when to consent to sexual activity are both fundamentally about asserting autonomy over our own bodies. And both restrictions on abortion and the dismissal of sexual assault are about people in power — predominantly men — trying to strip away our dignity and roll back our march toward equality. We’ve seen it across this country as state legislatures have introduced more than 250 laws restricting abortion access since January 2019.
In truth, these restrictions stem from a culture that allows survivors of sexual assault to be disregarded and where women who want a full range of choices when it comes to starting or growing our families are not seen as the key decision-maker in our own lives.
If we view sexual assault and abortion restrictions through this lens, the misogyny that underpins both becomes so much clearer. But so too does the path forward for those of us who care about women’s equality, who protest efforts to defund Planned Parenthood, who lead the Take Back the Night event at their school, who march in the streets, and who have bravely said #MeToo.
Men may try to gaslight us by telling us that we must be mistaken about what happened to us or about what we want – but we know our own minds and are reliable narrators of our own stories.
Men may try to shame and stigmatise us – but we know that we deserve respect and that our experiences matter.
Now is the time to join together across issues and movements, and to stand united in our resolve to speak out against the harmful laws, policies and culture that would erode our bodily autonomy and our humanity. Now is the time to say that, no matter who is in power, we will continue to trust and believe women.
Ebony Tucker is the advocacy director at the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence. Shaina Goodman is the director of policy for reproductive health and rights at the National Partnership for Women & Families. Opinions are their own.