Recently, several states have furthered bills that restrict abortions. Most notably, the Alabama law has garnered significant attention; 25 white male Republicans who voted for the bill have seen severe backlash from millions of Americans who believe men should not legislate women’s bodies, that women should have bodily autonomy. For what it’s worth, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey, who signed the bill into law, is a woman. But that shouldn’t be worth very much.
Without a doubt, this law is a disappointing step backward in the quest for bodily autonomy. However, I fear that many who make the argument for bodily autonomy do not truly believe in the ideal. Violations of it permeate our society to its very core, but in most cases, they receive little to no attention.
The Drug War
One of the most obvious places to point out autonomy violations is the drug war; since the 1970s, when Nixon declared drugs a public enemy, the government has funneled billions of dollars into combating use and distribution. Of course, this has been wildly unsuccessful, as drug use has not decreased.
As a side effect, though, the United States has seen a dramatic increase in our prison population. We house a mere four percent of the world’s population, but 22 percent of its prisoners. Our incarceration rate is miles ahead of authoritarian countries such as Russia or China. Perhaps it’s time that we begin to view our own nation as authoritarian, too.
The next time a woman gets into legal trouble for voluntarily taking LSD or psilocybin, few will care. She, according to her own free will, ingested a substance into her own body; maybe she was merely looking for a fun time or desired a feeling of dissociation from her body.
Where are the marches and protests against this? Certainly, most of the lawmakers behind drug criminalization were male, too. Joe Biden, the alleged liberal, played a pivotal role in locking up hundreds of thousands. But the drug war rages on as Americans settle for asking the government’s permission (which, they may or may not realize, can be revoked at any time) to have a little bit of heavily taxed and regulated weed.
Though not quite as evident upon first inspection, many laws regarding wages and labor also violate bodily autonomy. After all, when you enter into a contract with an employer, you are giving your body’s labor to them in exchange for a certain price. You are the seller, and your employer is the buyer. This applies to all paid workers: from fast food clerks to medical professionals to prostitutes.
But the next time a woman gets into legal trouble for working under the table, few will care. Maybe the woman is an unskilled immigrant who wants, more than anything else, to send remittance payments back to her family. She picks grapes in a California field for $7 an hour, more than double what she was making back at home. Her family thrives, and though she’s a long way off from rich, her quality of life has drastically improved, too.
Alternatively, the woman could be a mother of four children making a living doing landscaping work and selling baked goods. She does not declare either as income, because she simply can’t afford to pay the taxes and Social Security contributions that her government demands. If she did, her children wouldn’t have clothes for school, which they wouldn’t be doing well in because she wouldn’t be able to afford their books and supplies, either.
The United States government would singlehandedly take both of these women and turn their lives upside down. Minimum wage laws dictate that a woman cannot sell her labor, an extension of her body, for a price that some man in Washington determined wasn’t fair to her. Likewise, some man in Washington decided that the second woman was an enemy of the state for supporting her family.
Bodily Autonomy in Shambles
Just like the drug war example, it matters very little whether the lawmaker is a man or a woman. It is similarly unimportant if the affected group is men, women, or (usually) both. If a woman decided that a man could not ingest LSD, it would be equally disheartening; the same is true if a man violated a man’s rights or a woman violated a woman’s. The important takeaway is that violations of bodily autonomy are at the very cornerstone of our society.
These two examples already encompass a vast scope of American life. After all, you cannot trade anything, including your body, with anyone else without asking permission. Want to mow someone’s lawn and exert labor? Technically, that’s illegal. Though I sincerely hope the government would not prosecute such an embarrassing case (which seems to be the most likely scenario, due to the resource costs and benefits), it is entirely within their power to do so. They likewise can step in and incarcerate anyone who happens to prefer the occasional hallucinogenic experience over chugging 24 beers a week.
Expanding the sights, it’s clear just how little bodily autonomy we have. Want to drive without clicking a leather strap across your waist? You’ll have to pay a hefty fine, and don’t think they won’t come for you if you can’t afford it. Asleep on the side of the road after a long day’s travel on a road trip? Cops can take your blood in 29 states if they suspect you might be intoxicated. Want to end your life at 100 because you’re bedridden and the pain is irreversibly horrendous? Better ask Uncle Sam first, or your doctor will be in trouble for a consensual act of mercy.
Spreading the Focus on Bodily Autonomy
Though the abortion debate is important for many, I hope it can also be a rallying cry. This is but one of the many ways in which the government decides which of your rights it will allow you to exercise this cycle, and which ones it will lock you away for attempting to pursue. Neither men nor women have bodily autonomy in the United States.
Rather than letting gender differences divide us, we must instead come together and recognize that we all are under attack. Which person or group or sect is facing the harshest restrictions is trivial; particularly relating to gender, men and women face this wrath in different ways. The thing to keep in mind is that nearly everyone faces it in some way or another. Though often unnoticed, violations of our bodily autonomy run deeper than most like to admit. If we do not unite and stand up for it in every form, it may slip away from our grasp forever.
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