Time to call US bluff on women’s rights

For most of my youth, a great lie was told – that the US, the self-proclaimed leader of the world, was at the forefront of engendering human rights across the world. I was not told that this did not extend to women.

The ruling by the US Supreme Court last week overturning the constitutional right that has existed for nearly 50 years for women to choose abortion as an option lifts the veil on the US’s pretences.  It is no surprise that the decision was taken by five men and one woman.

Writing for the conservative majority, Justice Samuel Alito said the landmark 1973 ruling that legalised abortion in the US was  “egregiously wrong”.

His reasons? He tried but failed to put forward a coherent argument on why the majority of the nine justices saw fit to tell millions of  women what do with their bodies.

He said the ruling was because abortion was never mentioned as a right of liberty under the due process clause of the 14th Amendment of 1868. Yes, you read right, he found comfort in a document written 154 years ago, by men.

More shockingly, in his attack on women’s rights, Alito quotes a 17th century English jurist who had two women executed for “witchcraft”, defended marital rape, and believed capital punishment should extend to children as young as 14. Good gracious!

The majority’s judgment literally summed up what “Right to Life”  attorney Jonathan Mitchell had told the court in July last year, when he said:  “Women can ‘control their reproductive lives’ without access to abortion. They can do so by refraining from sexual intercourse.”

This is the daily burden of women: men who have aggregated to themselves the power to be their masters. It’s disgusting and must be rejected by women and men of good conscience. It’s a mistake to think that the patriarchal posture of men suddenly vanishes when there wear judicial robes. No! They remain men.

In a lucid dissenting opinion, the liberals in the court, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, called a spade a spade as they tore into the  “cavalier approach” to upending nearly 50 years of law that gave women the right to choose when to give birth, if at all.

“Today, the court discards that balance. It says that from the very moment of fertilisation, a woman has no rights to speak of. A state can force her to bring a pregnancy to term, even at the steepest personal and familial costs,” the three write.

They don’t stop there, they then go to the heart of what informed the decision: the unbridled arrogance of men to think women are their subjects.

“We referred there to the ‘people’ who ratified the 14th Amendment: What rights did those ‘people’ have in their heads at the time? But, of course, ‘people’  did not ratify the 14th Amendment. Men did. So, it is perhaps not so surprising that the ratifiers were not perfectly attuned to the importance of reproductive rights to women’s liberty, or for their capacity to participate as equal members of our nation. Indeed, the ratifiers – both in 1868 and when the original constitution was approved in 1788 – did not understand women as full members of the community embraced by the phrase ‘We the People’,” the dissenting opinion reads.

We now have a “world leader” who cares more about the right to bear arms  than women’s right to decide their own fate.  It will also be folly not to associate abortion bans with racism and misogyny. Data tells us that abortion bans disproportionately affect marginalised and black people.

Here at home, the lesson we should draw from the Yankees is that we ought to continually defend our rights. We must guard against judicial overreach and its excess. We must never forget that judges are people also prone to base their decisions not solely on the law, but on their beliefs and religion.

Not so long ago, I spilled ink decrying judges who give judicial meaning to religious text. I particularly pointed to KwaZulu-Natal Deputy Judge President Mjabuliseni Isaac Madondo, who in his book, Revelation of God’s Truth and Plan, wrote: “God is above all earthly rulers, and his law is above all human laws.”

“Homosexuals are clinging to their perversion, and there is nothing one can do to change them,” he further wrote.

Madondo was correctly discarded as a candidate for the KZN of judge president despite being the only candidate.

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