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259: Who Controls a Woman’s Body?

The issue of reproductive rights, it seems to me, boils down to the question of who decides what a woman will do with her own body. In a male-dominated society men will decide–as in the white male-dominated panel of the current administration. In a gender-equal society a woman will make the decisions about her own body.

In a chapter from our book A Womb of Her Own (Routledge 2017) Marilyn Metzl cites the following: A report from the Guttmacher Institute (Media Center, News in Context, January 5, 2012) details the extent of 2011’s war on women’s reproductive rights. The report states: “By almost any measure, issues related to reproductive health and rights at the state level received unprecedented attention in 2011. In the 50 states combined, legislators introduced more than 1,100 reproductive health and rights-related provisions, a sharp increase from the 950 introduced in 2010. By year’s end, 135 of these provisions had been enacted in 36 states, an increase from the 89 enacted in 2010 and the 77 enacted in 2009. Fully 68% of these new provisions—92 in 24 states—-restrict access to abortion services, a striking increase from last year, when 26% of new provisions restricted abortion. The 92 new abortion restrictions enacted in 2011 shattered the previous record of 34 adopted in 2005. Abortion restrictions took many forms: bans (6 states), waiting periods (3 states), ultrasound (5 states), insurance coverage (3 states joined the existing 5 with such restrictions), clinic regulations (4 states), medication abortion (7 states).”

Further examples include the conservatives in Congress who have tried to roll back access to contraception under employee health plans and have opposed the mandate in President Obama’s health care law. In February 2012, the far-right-led House Committee convened a hearing on the topic and an all-male panel was called to testify. When Sandra Fluke, a Georgetown University law student, showed up to speak in favor of the mandate, she was banned from commenting. She was then called a “slut and a prostitute” by conservative radio commentator Rush Limbaugh, as she tried to advocate for a woman’s right to have a safe and protected personal sexual life. Subsequently, Foster Friess, a financial supporter of Rick Santorum, an anti-abortion rights and anti-contraceptive presidential candidate, suggested that “gals could prevent pregnancy by putting an aspirin between their knees.” (CBS News, by Lucy Madison, February 17, 2012)
On March 7, 2012, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell supported a state bill requiring that women seeking abortions undergo invasive vaginal ultrasounds. The women health’s organization NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia accused McDonnell of facilitating “an unprecedented invasion of privacy and government intrusion into the doctors’ offices and living rooms of Virginia women.” Such onerous legislation is now supported in many states.

The report further states: “More than half of U.S. women of reproductive age now live in states considered “hostile” or “extremely hostile” to abortion rights, compared to fewer than one-third of women in 2000. While radical, head-on attacks on abortion rights capture the public’s attention, conservative legislators and anti-choice groups continue to work tirelessly to quietly whittle away at women’s access to safe and legal abortion.”
A very recent example of the continuing efforts to control women’s reproductive lives comes from the CDC guidelines related to alcohol and pregnancy. Katie Gentile (February 15, 2016) points out that the misogynous stance of recommending that all women of reproductive age who do not use contraception should avoid alcohol. This follows closely the recommendation that women in Central and South America should avoid getting pregnant until the medical field can understand and control the Zika virus. This recommendation both attempts to control women’s reproductive decisions and makes them solely responsible for becoming pregnant. It is well known that women in many developing countries have little say about when or if they will become pregnant. The counsel further ignores the possibility that not all women of reproductive age choose to reproduce or engage in heterosexual sex. Gentile goes on to address the laws in many states that criminalize the behavior of women who seek drug treatment when they realize they are pregnant. Instead of providing the needed treatment the women who were often economically disadvantaged African American women were subject to felony charges and their babies were declared wards of the state.
Ironically enough, the culture continues to protect the fetus while ignoring the fate of the child-bearing woman.

259: Who Controls a Woman’s Body?

Ellen Toronto, Ph.D.

Dr. Ellen Toronto is a licensed clinical psychologist/psychoanalyst in the state of Michigan.

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APA Reference
Toronto, E. (2017). 259: Who Controls a Woman’s Body?. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 20, 2019, from


Last updated: 29 Aug 2017
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