After listening to several politicians’ diatribes on women’s rights – especially, on women’s health and abortion rights – I looked up the history of women’s rights in the United States on the Internet. There is much info to be found, and there is certainly not enough room in this article to list even the most significant struggles women have encountered to gain rights. Historically, women have been considered second-class citizens, sub-sets of their husbands, “intellectually and physically unequal to men,” with no legal rights. “[Women] did not have the right to own property, maintain their wages, sign a contract or vote.” In 1920, women finally won the right to vote (19th Amendment to the Constitution). Black males were granted voting rights in 1870 (15th Amendment).
The struggle for rights specific to the female sex continues, and these rights are the focus of this article. According to a PBS article, “Battle for Suffrage,” “Through the 1890s, ‘scientific’ reports were being released which showed that too much education could seriously hurt the female reproductive system.’ In 2012, a political candidate used the phrase “legitimate rape” to suggest that if a woman was actually raped (a “legitimate rape”), it would not result in a pregnancy because the trauma of a “legitimate rape” would prevent the woman’s body from becoming pregnant.
Adherents of that theory say that a woman’s claim to a pregnancy from a rape would be false. Just writing about this absurd, ignorant and mean-spirited concept of “legitimate rape” made me have to get up and walk around the room to relieve my anger. As others have said, one does not have to be in favor of abortions to support abortion rights, especially the right for a woman to have an abortion after rape.
An important U.S. election is coming up, and regardless of one’s political affiliation, voters – especially women – should not vote for those folks who would force women back into the role of being considered mindless creatures without rights. Being “barefoot and pregnant” should be a woman’s choice, not a mandate.
Listed below are markers for birth-control efforts and anti-violence against women legislation taken from “Women’s Rights Movement in the U.S. Time line of Key Events in the American Women’s Rights Movement by Ann-Marie Imbornoni”:
1916 – Margaret Sanger opens the first U.S. birth-control clinic in Brooklyn, N.Y.
1921 – Margaret Sanger founds the American Birth Control League, which evolves into the Planned Parenthood Federation of America in 1942.
1936 – The federal law prohibiting the dissemination of contraceptive information through the mail is modified and birth control information is no longer classified as obscene.
1960 – The Food and Drug Administration approves birth control pills.
1967 – In Griswold v. Connecticut, the U. S. Supreme Court strikes down the one remaining state law prohibiting the use of contraceptives by married couples.
1972 – In Eisenstadt v. Baird the U. S. Supreme Court rules that the right to privacy includes an unmarried person’s right to use contraceptives.
1973 – As a result of Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court establishes a woman’s right to safe and legal abortion, overriding the anti-abortion laws of many states.
1976 – The first marital rape law is enacted in Nebraska, making it illegal for a husband to rape his wife.
1978 – The Pregnancy Discrimination Act bans employment discrimination against pregnant women.
1986 – In Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson, the U. S, Supreme Court finds that sexual harassment is a form of illegal job discrimination.
1992 – In Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the U. S, Supreme Court reaffirms the validity of a woman’s right to abortion under Roe v. Wade. The case successfully challenges Pennsylvania’s 1989 Abortion Control Act, which sought to reinstate restrictions previously ruled unconstitutional.
1994 – The Violence Against Women Act tightens federal penalties for sex offenders, funds services for victims of rape and domestic violence, and provides for special training of police officers.
2006 – The U. S. Supreme Court upholds the ban on the “partial-birth” abortion procedure.