On Alabama And The Fight For Women’s Bodies

I want to live in a country where women can say no and not be sentenced for it.

There is a line from my favorite novel, White Oleander, when Astrid loses Claire. I wanted to throw something into the fat ugly eye of God. I feel that now, deep in my bones. The helpless rage against a wall of indifference.

The third season of The Handmaid’s Tale isn’t supposed to premiere for another three weeks.

Today I am thinking of Alabama. Of the women whose lives have been deemed secondary to weeks-old clusters of cells. Of the women who will be forced to deliver stillborn babies and products of rape if the governor signs this bill into law. Of the women who will die because as we know, if you do not want to be pregnant, you will find a way not to be.

I am thinking of the women who support these Alabama legislators because they think there will be a payoff for doing so.

There will not be.

I am thinking of the men who will read this column – or, if not, read a related post on their timeline – and shrug, thinking nothing of the protest vote they cast in 2016, because they still don’t get it or they don’t care.

I am thinking of the faces flushing red at the mere mention of gun regulation, of the time I crossed the North Carolina border to the words “Mass shootings are the price we have to pay for gun ownership” and stared out the window into the monsoon outside and wondered why people have to die so that conservatives can feel like big men.

More people will die so that conservatives can feel like big men now. More women will hemorrhage, succumb to infection, take their own lives rather than carry a rapist’s offspring. This, too, is of no concern to Alabama lawmakers. Dead women can’t vote.

I take inventory. This is common practice for groups who are under attack by their governments: count what you still have, hold on to hope against the surge. I live in Maryland. I live in a state with a veto-proof Democratic majority that will protect women’s rights. My state government was led by a Speaker of the House who, before his death last month, made a career of fighting for reproductive justice. There are places in America where women are regarded as human beings, and I am fortunate enough to live in one of them.

I wonder what kind of inventory women in Alabama are taking.

Mostly, I think of our bodies.

Every month, I take hormones that stop me from ovulating and make my uterus a place that no fertilized egg wants to be. I have never, to my knowledge, been pregnant. I say “to my knowledge” because women can miscarry without ever knowing it. I have purchased the morning after pill several times, because even the most cautious of us can have accidents. I have purchased pregnancy tests because my period was late, because I was unsure, because it’s none of anyone else’s fucking business, really.

It is my right as a human being to manage the functions of my own body, and to exist as a person, not as a vessel for potential life. I hold this Truth to be self-evident in spite of the lies and misinformation surrounding reproductive processes and abortion care.

Women learn to live in spite of.

I remember when I was 21 and a friend decided that my agency over my own body was secondary to his feelings for me. He also decided to comfort me afterward, and maybe he decided to get me home, but this part remains is a missing piece. There was a lot of deciding that night. None of it was by me.

I remember a few years later when my abuser dropped me off at my cousin’s apartment in the middle of the night, in freezing cold February, because I would not sleep with him. Because I had finally gathered up enough of myself in the rubble of drunken scolding and degradation and mental manipulation to say, no, I don’t want to do this anymore. I said this is not what I want for my body, and my body was discarded.

Read that last sentence again, slowly. Now think of the Alabama legislators.

This is also a kind of inventory. Of the times we as women, have learned to live, in spite of.

A friend and mentor who works with sufferers of PTSD once told me that life going forward is about “finding your new normal.” I wonder, if Ohio’s bill passes, what the new normal will look like for the eleven year old girl who is currently pregnant by her rapist. I try to imagine what happens when sexual trauma is compacted by having to physically sustain the product of that trauma for nine months. But I can’t. There are some things that we should not have to imagine, let alone experience.

I think of God and the religious people and clergy I know who are praying for these horrible laws to never take effect, who are praying for the health and safety of women and girls across the country. When I read the line from White Oleander and feel Astrid’s rage, this god is not where my rage is directed. Instead, I want to throw something at the false god that lawmakers like the 22 men in Alabama have created to justify their evil. I want to shatter this false god and its followers’ preference for dead women over live incubators.

I want to live in a country where women can say no and not be sentenced for it.

Chelsea Cristene is an international student adviser, English professor, and graduate student based in Washington, D.C. She has been published by the Good Men Project, Salon, xoJane, The Establishment, and MamaMia, and has appeared on HuffPost Live. Find her on Twitter.

Other Links: