The Disintegration of Rights: A History of the American Abortion Debate

by Lorelei Links

You can find this article in the current herstory issue of wom*news!

Trigger warning for the discussion of abortion.

Here in sunny Queensland, we don’t enjoy the ability to exercise our right to reproductive autonomy by means of an abortion. In the United States, a landmark Supreme Court case called Roe v. Wade, 1973, established a constitutional guarantee that our American sisters could access that which we cannot. And yet, over the last six months, I find myself thinking more and more that I would rather be an unhappily pregnant woman here, and secure myself an illegal abortion, than be in the United States and seek out a legal one. The US has gotten way scary. Almost weekly we hear new horror stories of women being forced to endure traumatic circumstances due to the war on women’s rights that has been raging for 40 years. But we don’t live there, so what should we care, right? We should care, because this literally constitutes a violation of human rights (according to the United Nations) perpetrated by the Leaders of the Free World. Over decades when other civil freedoms have improved, the United States judiciary continues an unrelenting attack on women. The world is a scary place for all women when in a country which has constitutionally guaranteed your right to an abortion, the pursuit of that right still leads women to coercion, prosecution, emotional trauma, physical trauma and yeah, like, death.


Roe v. Wade established that a person’s right to privacy extended to their right to an abortion. This was probably the first mistake. The United Nations thinks that abortion is a human right under headings like women’s health, safe and respectful relationships, good community-building, and equality between men and women, but it was ‘privacy’ that stuck in the States. The Supreme Court meant privacy in the sense that the state should stay out of the home, and the women fighting Roe were looking to secure the ruling via any route, so they took privacy and ran with it. But ‘privacy’ misses the point – it’s not about the state being in or out of our bedrooms, it’s about a woman owning her uterus. This was going to become an issue later on. Roe also established the trimester system to determine the point at which a state’s interest could override its obligation to protect individual liberty. According to Roe, in the early stages of any pregnancy, the state had no legitimate interest whatsoever in getting all up in our bits. Oh how times would change.


No one even really cared about abortions being legal until about the mid-eighties. Unsurprisingly, the legalisation of abortions across the country didn’t lead to an epidemic of women rushing to their local clinic every day to fix themselves a fun dose of un-pregnancy. But in the 1980s, the New Right took hold of America, and scary shit started to go down all over the place. Women were one of their favourite targets. In 1989, the first ‘chipping away’ of Roe happened when Webster v. Reproductive Health Services failed to overturn a range of Missouri abortion access restrictions as unconstitutional. The restrictions included things like married women getting consent from their husbands, minors getting consent from their parents, a mandatory waiting period – the usual bullshit obstacles we see popping up all over the show these days, designed singularly to dissuade women from having abortions. 1989 was also a dark year for the women of America trying desperately to limit the frenzied abortion hate-speech; the Supreme Court failed to even address the Missouri law’s preamble, which referenced babies as “unborn children” and the made the unqualified declaration that human life begins at conception. This is as scary as the ruling itself – it was a huge win for the anti-abortion movement, which sought to attach connotations of ‘humanity’ to their staunchly anti-woman position and had just had that position as good as endorsed by the freaking Supreme Court. I bet I don’t need to tell you that that trend got out of control real fast.


In 1992, Planned Parenthood v. Casey changed the game regarding when the state could and couldn’t intervene in the abortion process. Casey took the onus off the state to prove that any barrier they imposed was necessary, and said instead that states just had to prove (if challenged) that a particular barrier did not constitute an “undue burden.” This has meant that states can get away with all manner of fucked up shit, like the mandated vaginal ultrasounds we saw in Virginia earlier this year, and forcing doctors to supply certain ‘information’ to their patients which can include things like how to put your baby up for adoption. It also scrapped the trimester system and basically told America that a baby was  a baby as soon as it was capable of surviving outside the womb (“viability”). With this, a whoooole bunch of women waved goodbye to their ability to access, uninhibited, early-term abortions.


In the mid-1990s, the hottest new target of the anti-abortion movement emerged. It was known as “partial-birth abortion”, and it reared its ugly head in 1996 and 1997 but was vetoed by President Clinton. In 2003, however, old mate George Bush Jr. adopted the policy as a personal favourite and passed the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act through congress. Despite being neither an actual medical term nor a single procedure, but rather a provocative term for a collection of rarely-performed late-term abortion methods, the Supreme Court stunned us once again by upholding the Act in Gonzales v. Carhart, 2007. Carhart was the first unconditional ban on an abortion procedure since Roe declared such a ban unconstitutional in 1973. And when I say unconditional, I mean unconditional – even in cases where “partial-birth abortion” might be deemed necessary to save the life of the mother, it’s 100% illegal in the good ole USofA. To add insult to injury, the majority opinion, courtesy of Justice Anthony Kennedy, explicitly cited the state’s responsibility to stop women making regrettable choices as the justification for the ruling. Yep. Women, according to Justice Kennedy, had to be protected from themselves. By endangering their lives. All-round champ Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had a thing or two to say about that when she wrote her dissent: “Eliminating or reducing women’s reproductive choices is manifestly not a means of protecting them.” She also pointed out the fact that for the first time “ethical and moral concerns”, unrelated to any discourse of rights, liberty, the preservation of life, or state responsibility, were being given priority in the Supreme Court. She blasted the majority opinion for likening ‘partial-birth abortion’ to infanticide and condemned their ill-concealed disdain for the Roe ruling of 35 years earlier. But of course, no one listened to Justice Bader Ginsburg, the only woman on the bench. And five years later, the menz are still doing us all kinds of favours.

So where exactly has 40 years of judicial debate gotten us? In March, the Governor of Alaska approved production of “Choose Life” license plates. In April, the Governor of Arizona declared that pregnancy starts two weeks BEFORE conception (wot). In June, the Michigan House of Reps introduced a bill that would essentially serve to shut down all abortion facilities in the state. Also in Arizona, doctors can legally lie to their patients about the health of a fetus if they suspect the truth might lead women to choose abortion. In Georgia, abortions have been banned beyond 20 weeks based on the “fact” that fetuses can feel pain at 20 weeks (NB: this is not a fact). In Texas, 24 hour waiting periods are mandatory and doctors are required by law to force their patients to not only view but hear a description of their mandated ultrasound, and in Utah you have to wait 72 hours for this privilege. Several states are also considering laws which will make it a prosecutable offense to ‘coerce’ a woman into having an abortion (although coercing a woman into a pregnancy is of course still fine). Shall I go on?


The short answer is the 40 years later, the United States has done nothing but regress on the issue of reproductive rights. The situation is dire. Frankly, if a woman living in a place where abortion is still illegal in some kind of bizarre nineteenth-century timewarp feels safer than a woman living in the land of the Free & Easy Abortion, something is very wrong. Get your shit together, America. It’s a slippery slope from here to the end of legal abortions altogether.

~ Lorelei Links


She Was Born

by Sarah Davis
You can find this poem in the current herstory issue of wom*news!

She was born from earth,
amongst the reeds and rushes.
The stifled cries of her beginning
and the perplexity of her worth.
She is made from mud and sticks,
and leaves, and the wind that pushes
its way around the being’s new birth
and sighs and speaks of what is to come.

She was born from fire,
the deep essence of her soul.
The painfulness of her identity burns
in the discovery of an unknown desire.
Yet the wind stirs up the flames,
and throws embers into the night,
and reignites all that will transpire,
for the tears she sheds are her undoing.

She was born from stone,
as the same wind that carries on,
and shares tales of what she is
and isn’t, and how little she has grown
in the eyes of the mighty,
in the eyes of the weak,
and in the eyes of her own,
as even stone can break to the ground.

She was born from air,
for a moment she is one with the wind,
flying blindly amongst sky,
a stormy cloud, a sheet of rain, swept elsewhere.
For a time she exists, anywhere.
For a time there is silence,
in that moment she is bare,
and there is completeness after all.

She returns to earth, she is dust,
all that she is, all that she was, she is no longer.
But she is more than mud and sticks and leaves,
She is less than wind, her being is the purest
She grows into the ground as resonant as stone,
Burning as hot as fire, as light as the air
She is the mother, her daughter, your child who is solaced
She is the creator, a creation, a flower – a woman.

~ Sarah Davis

Grab a copy of Wom*news: Herstory today!

That’s right!
You can grab a free hard copy of wom*news issue #6: herstory today at the UQ Women’s Collective’s market day stall!
The stall is located at Campbell Place, next to the corporate stalls (opp. the downstairs SS&H entrance) on UQ’s St Lucia Campus. While you’re there, you can also join UQWC if you aren’t already a member, and learn more about all the fun, feminist things we do :)

~ Emma

Words of Wisdom from some Badass Women Artists and Writers

by Rosie Cuppaige
You can find this piece in the current herstory issue of wom*news!

Nobel and Pulizter Prize winner (for novel Beloved).

Did you know?

Morrison started writing fiction as part of an informal meetup at her university. She completed her first novel while teaching full time and raising her two children as a single mother.

“Freeing yourself was one thing, claiming ownership of that freed self was another.”


Activist, painter, all-round brazen woman based in Coyoacán, Mexico.

Did you know?

Kahlo spent her last years bedridden due to various injuries throughout her life. This didn’t stop her from persuading her doctors to allow her to attend a rally in the streets of Mexico City in her hospital bed, in her last public appearance the year before her death.

“I was born a bitch. I was born a painter.”


Russian journalist and author famous for her unflinching reports on the war in Chechnya.

Did you know?

Politkovskaya was one of the few people allowed in the Moscow Theatre in October 2002 to negotiate with Chechen militants who had seized hundreds of hostages.

“Living streets full of dead eyes. Mad and half-mad people. Streets teeming with weapons. Mines everywhere. Permanent explosions. Despair.”
– Politkovskaya’s evocative description of life in the Chechen capital, Groznyy


Writer and Activist from NYC via Havana via Paris.

Did you know?

Although she started writing erotic fiction as something of a joke and as a means to get make easy cash, Nin became a prolific female erotic fiction writer, and is still studied in gender studies courses to this day.

“This image of herself as a not ordinary women, an image which was trembling now in his eyes, might suddenly disappear. Nothing more difficult to live up to than men’s dreams.”


The self-proclaimed “Grandmother of Performance Art”

Did you know?

Abramovic’s performances frequently pushed the boundaries of performance art by incorporating grave bodily pain. In one performance, to contrast control over mind and body, she ingested medication prescribed for catatonia, inducing convulsions and a loss of control over her body. After the effects of this had worn off, she ingested a drug resulting in mobility but a complete loss of control of her mind.

“The audience is like a dog. They can feel immediately that you are afraid, that you are insecure, that you’re not in the right state of mind – and they just leave…”

~ Rosie Cuppaige

Mothers and Whores: Women in Ancient Rome

by Johanna Qualmann

Women in the Roman Republic and Empire are one of the most elusive parts of history. They are spoken for, but never speak; represented, but rarely for themselves. Where women feature in historical literature, the patriarchal tradition of moral history casts them into established literary archetypes: the virtuous maiden, the regal mother, the evil stepmother, the avaricious whore. And often, mentions of women in ancient Roman literary sources can be seen as reflecting opinions of the men they were associated with more than their own personalities.

At the intersection of archaeological and literary evidence, women’s historiography becomes especially interesting. Accusations of debauchery, greed, promiscuity and even treason abound – and yet, coinage, portraiture and honorific titles tell a different story. Such is the case for the four women in this piece: Fulvia, the woman who rallied armies; Livia, the virtuous matron turned evil stepmother;  Agrippina, ambitious mother and poisoning mistress; and Faustina, the depraved adulteress accused of treason.

Fulvia – the antithesis of respectability

Coins of Fulvia in 41 BC, depicted as the Goddess Nike.

Fulvia Flacca Bambula (80 – 40 BC) lived during the late Republic in a time of civil war between Mark Antony and Octavian (later Augustus). She was the first Roman woman to be honoured with her image on a coin; but her association with Athena (the goddess of war) on one side shows that she was not the virtuous matron she should have been. Literary sources represent her as the antithesis of respectability: wealthy and high born, but cruel and vicious, always lusting to possess more wealth and power. She incited riots on her first husband’s death, and apparently took great joy in mutilating Cicero’s severed head with her golden hair pins.

Her third marriage to Mark Antony brought her the most notoriety, and while he was away on campaign she managed his supporters in Rome. Some sources even claim that she took up a sword herself, and together with magistrate Lucius Antonius mobilised eight legions for Mark Antony’s side in the war. In 41 BC she is said to be the most powerful figure in Rome. But her power was short-lived: Antonius lost a major siege to Octavian and Fulvia was forced to flee and died from illness soon after, allowing Antony to denounce her and reconcile with Octavian. Both men then used her as a scapegoat for the entire civil war, though how much of her portrayal is propaganda is unclear.


Livia – the evil stepmother

Livia Drusilla (58 BC – AD 29) was the second wife of the emperor Augustus and the first Roman empress. Throughout her life she was portrayed as the quintessential Roman matron: virtuous, pious, respectable, an empress devoted to her family and her husband.

Coins of Livia, minted by the senate, depicted as Piety.

She was given the honorific title augusta by Tiberius in AD 14, which meant that she could mint her own coins, hold her own courts and wear the imperial regalia reserved for the emperor, and later also given the title mater patriae (mother of the fatherland). After her death in AD 29 she was deified by the emperor Claudius.

Despite her titles and honours, Livia’s portrayal in history is predominantly negative. Sources writing about the Augustan period are uniquely critical of the whole imperial family, so it is unclear how exaggerated her character was. Livia was painted as a woman driven by ambition and desire to control the men in her life – the only way for her to have a political influence. She constantly interferes with Tiberius’ politics, bullying and scheming behind the scenes, and embodies the archetype of the evil stepmother, by ruining her stepdaughter’s whole family. Tacitus continuously describes her as novercalis– characterised by unmotivated animosity. The image of Livia as a cold, Machiavellian,

Livia from ‘I, Claudius’.

political mastermind has even continued in modern media, in the book and BBC television series I, Claudius and HBO series Rome. She remains the “conniving bitch” of the Augustan period – whether justified or not.


Agrippina – poisoner and seductress

Agrippina the Younger (AD 15 – 59) was the seductress and poisoner of the Julio-Claudian period. Known primarily as the fourth wife of Claudius and the mother of Nero, her portrayal is one of the most negative in Roman history. Like Livia, Agrippina also accumulates titles and honours,

Portrait of Agrippina the Younger.

but in writers such as Tacitus and Cassius Dio, she epitomises the archetype of the prostitute. She is described as motivated by extreme jealously, using seduction and fear to gain power over men. In one scene of his history, Dio condemns her as a tyrant, usurping masculinity by wearing a gold chlamysor military cloak. She is also sexually deviant, marrying her uncle and making advances on countless men, as well as drinking too much wine. Her misdeeds culminate in her rumoured poisoning of Claudius and manipulation of her son Nero into the role of emperor.

Interestingly, her portrayal changes in reference to the emperor Nero, and she is reduced to a secondary character in the story. She simultaneously becomes the bad influence explaining Nero’s despotism, and the “wise mother,” the only one who can keep him in check. It seems Nero soon grew tired of her involvement, and had her murdered in AD 59. Once again, it is unclear whether her overall literary portrait tells us anything about her actual character: because the period in which she lived was held as contemptuous and immoral, she might have simply been reduced to an archetype or a cautionary tale.


Faustina the Younger – mother and whore

Faustina the Younger (AD 125? – 175) was the wife of emperor Marcus Aurelius. She was celebrated for her fertility, bearing fourteen children after a long chain of empresses who had no children of their own. Her husband describes her as a devoted and loyal wife, the epitome of Roman womanhood, and granted her the honorific titles augusta and mater castrorum (mother of the camp) in reference to her popularity among the army. Her coinage celebrates her fidelity, modesty and fertility.

However, a different picture – of sexual depravity, shameful lust and immorality – is painted by literature and history. The anonymous author of the Historia Augustaerecords her having affairs with her son-in-law (whom she subsequently poisoned), soldiers and gladiators, and it is even rumoured that Commodus, the emperor succeeding Marcus Aurelius, was the product of one such affair. Other writers describe her “cruising for sexual

Faustina the Younger, pictured with her children and praised for her fertility.

partners” among naked men at the beach. She was even accused of treason when associated with a governor in Syria who proclaimed himself emperor when Marcus Aurelius once fell ill; when in all likelihood she was simply seeking protection in the case of her husband’s death.

Whatever the true case may be for all these women, there is certainly a disjunct between the different ways their characters were portrayed – where they are portrayed at all. How unfortunate that these strong, independent female figures will never be able to speak for themselves out of the depths of history.

~ Johanna Qualmann
This article is featured in the current herstory issue of wom*news!
You can find more of Jo’s writing at her blog A Life Unexamined.

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Film Review: Made in Dagenham (2010)

By Joanna Horton

‘Equal work for equal pay’ continues to be one of the most widely discussed issues in the feminist movement. In fact, I’ve found that it is very often referenced by idiots people arguing the point that feminism is no longer needed. Technically, yes, women are paid ‘the same’ as men. However, as many feminists point out, this ignores the significant wage imbalance between male and female-dominated industries. The fight against this form of pay inequity continues today – earlier this year Fair Work Australia handed down a pay rise to the (predominantly female) community sector after the Australian Services Union’s long and forceful ‘Equal Pay for Equal Work’ campaign.

‘Made in Dagenham’, however, goes back to the beginnings of the fight for equal pay, re-enacting and dramatising the 1968 sewing machinists’ strike at the Ford plant in Dagenham (at the time one of the largest private employers in the United Kingdom). The film focuses on Rita O’Grady, a 1960s working woman with a husband, two children and a job assembling car upholstery for Ford. She and the other sewing machinists (all women) want a pay rise, but upon meeting with their (male) union representative, they realize that they’re being paid a fraction of men’s wages across the board, simply because their work is ‘women’s work’. They decide to strike for pay equality, and Rita is suddenly thrust into the role of strike leader.

Watching how the fight for equal pay unfolded in the public eye is, of course, always fascinating. However, another facet of the film explored how the struggle occurred in the private lives of the men and women involved. I found this particularly interesting as it gave rise to explorations of gender relationships, family responsibilities, and men’s role in women’s liberation.


For instance, the boyfriends and husbands of the women strikers in ‘Made in Dagenham’ initially support their cause. They’re all good unionists and most of them work in the automobile assembly part of the Ford plant. However, as the strike stretches on, many of the men become fed up with the lowered household income and the increased family responsibilities being placed upon them. This particular kind of man is what I like to call a ‘brogressive’ – a supposedly progressive dude except when it comes to feminism (i.e. a movement that threatens his privilege; that threatens the lifelong knowledge that his dinner will always be on the table). My favourite scene in the film is one where Rita’s husband tries to tell her what a great guy he is because he takes care of the kids sometimes and doesn’t hit her. Cool, do you want a medal? Rita lets him have it. “Rights, not privileges!” she tells him. “It’s that simple, it really bloody is.” (I may have pumped my fist at this point.)

This statement, of course, shows how the struggle for equality in public mirrors the struggle in private. As feminists are so fond of reminding everyone, the personal is political. Many opponents to equal pay tried to tell women that they were lucky to have jobs at all – why bother making trouble by demanding equal pay? Well, for the same reason that women should ‘make trouble’ when their husbands aren’t being supportive: We’re people, and deserve to be treated that way.

As you can probably tell by this point, I liked ‘Made in Dagenham’. It’s funny, moving, thought-provoking, occasionally tear-jerking AND feminist. I recommend seeing it with other feminists for a maximum-solidarity viewing experience. (I went with a friend to see it in the cinema, and we got a Couples Combo at the candy bar and made incessant jokes about being on a feminist date and accidentally touching hands in the popcorn bucket. Which was even funnier because we accidentally attended the senior citizens’ showing in the middle of the afternoon and were surrounded by octogenarians.) Not only is it a thoroughly enjoyable viewing experience (worth it for the 1960s hair and outfits alone) but it’s guaranteed to get you fired up about equal pay and feminist issues in general. Maintain the rage!

Fun factoid: ‘Made in Dagenham’ was released in Germany as ‘We Want Sex’.

~ Joanna Horton

You can find this movie review in the current herstory issue of wom*news.

Wom*news #6: Herstory OUT NOW!

It is my pleasure to present to you… Wom*news #6: Herstory!
This issue explores women’s herstory, issues females have faced and overcome in the past, and of course highlights awesome women in modern and ancient history.
You can access the online version of the zine here; you can find singular pieces from this issue here at wom*news by using the ‘issue 6‘ tab.
Hard copies will be available to take home from the women’s room and from the UQ Women’s Collective’s market day stall on Wednesday, July 25 at UQ St Lucia Campus.

Thanks to all our contributors – and don’t forget to let us know in comments here or on our facebook group about what you thought of the latest issue of wom*news!

NB: There is a typo on page 3 under the ‘celebrity’ heading (damn you adobe exporting!). It should read: Against Me! singer Tom Gabel came out as transgender in May to Rolling Stone magazine. She plans to change her name to Laura Grace Jones in the coming months, and is supported by her wife Heather. 

Happy reading!

~ Emma