Our Bodies, Our Lives; With and Beyond the Law

by | May 17, 2022 | Commentary, Featured

This speech was written for the “Bans Off Our Bodies” rally in Ithaca, New York, as part of the abortion rallies called for throughout the U.S., on Saturday, May 14, “Summer of Rage.”


Alert: This is a moment of crisis. The right wing in this country is radically trying to solidify its power. The Supreme Court is now a site for this takeover. It is why these judges decided to throw caution to the wind and attempt, once and for all, to decimate Roe. They are leading the charge against racial, sexual, and gender equality and freedom. THIS IS A WAR.

There is too much to say — 50 years’ worth — and so much more to think about and imagine in this crucial time. Right wing zealots are busy trying to dominate this country. A problem is that too many of us are slow to really believe this. Much of the U.S. thinks of itself as more democratic than it is, and exceptionally so. We are less so than we think. As the U.S. supports democracy in Ukraine, there is less clarity here about how abortion is necessary to democracy — for our bodies and the planet.

Roe v. Wade grew out of the “women’s liberation movement” of the 1970s. We need a radical movement again. Why? Because Roe has been undermined already: there are as many as 1,300 restrictions on Roe that have been passed by states, and 80% of U.S. counties do not have abortion clinics. We have nothing to lose but our chains now.

You should not take something away, especially a law, that has existed for 50 years unless there is a new reason that something has changed. But Alito and his right-wing cabal have no new reasons. Nothing has changed except their positioning on the Court. They now have enough votes on the Court to dictate their vision for the country even though 70% of the country does not agree. So we must disobey them. They have no credibility — they were unjustly nominated and then they lied to us in their confirmation hearings.


Alito has written a rant against women — all of us, of every color, trans, non-binary, undocumented, disabled. His rant is not just against abortion; it is against people’s equality and freedom. For him, women are reduced to abortionists. He quotes 17th century law and jurists who disavowed the idea of marital rape. Kavanaugh and Thomas are known sexual predators, not to mention the president who nominated them. Amy Comey Barrett is a fanatic of the Christian Right movement. She believes in safe haven laws — that a woman can birth a child and abandon it with no repercussions. As such she separates pregnancy from parenthood; parenthood is burdensome, but not pregnancy. She has seven children. I won’t say anything further.

The well-respected medical journal The Lancet writes this week that “women will die” if Roe is overturned and that the Court will have this blood on its hands, given that there are already worldwide 120 million unintended pregnancies annually. The Alito rendering is “shocking.”

To fully understand the 50-year struggle to overturn Roe v. Wade one must understand this: the female body is at the center of all politics — always has been and always will be until patriarchy and its racist formation is overturned. It is at the center of U.S. history as the black female enslaved body that during chattel slavery was raped and forced to reproduce — she had no legal status. These rapes were foundational to existing white supremacist patriarchal society.

There is nothing more political — power-filled — than our bodies. Women’s bodies — trans, cis, disabled — are the most contentious political site for any political regime. That is why AT&T, Citibank, Coca-Cola, Google, Walmart, and Verizon have all donated millions of dollars to sponsor anti-abortion actions and legislation.

Abortion is always about so much more than abortion, and is also exactly about that: controlling the female body and what it can and cannot do. And the female body is always ensconced in other systems of power and oppression, so know that when they come for us that they will be coming for you next.

Why do you think rape is always a part of war? Because patriarchy and the control of women’s bodies underwrites the nation and nationalism. There cannot be democracy without women of every sort controlling their bodies. Abortion is necessary for this control and freedom. An end to domestic abuse, an end to hunger, an end to exploitive work conditions, and protection from COVID are necessary as well. Abortion in this moment is our defensive rallying cry. Abortion is the trigger that mobilizes the right wing — so we will defend against this trigger and move outwards in other directions — towards our liberation.

WE NEED A REBELLION… and now, because the problem is bigger than the Court.

The Senate failed to pass the Women’s Health Protection Act, which would federalize protections for reproductive rights. Nancy Pelosi is supporting an anti-abortion Democrat. This is a failed, ineffective state. IT IS TIME TO DISOBEY. IT IS OUR OBLIGATION.

The U.S. made women’s rights a rallying cry for the Afghan war and the Taliban has just re-imposed the burqa on Afghan women, with no choice. NO ENFORCED BURQAS. NO BANS ON OUR BODIES.

We need to remember that women in our inclusive camaraderie have fought to imagine and demand what reproductive justice must mean: the right to access to contraception and abortion, an end to sterilization abuse. Abortion encompasses and allows for sexual equality, sexual difference, sexual freedoms. It is why it remains so controversial.

I remember going to a meeting of East/West feminists shortly after the Soviet Union fell in 1989. Meeting with Russian women there, I was speaking about abortion rights in the U.S. and they responded: “We have plenty of abortion here, too much, it is used instead of contraception. What we want is actual contraception. We want access to contraception.” It was a formative moment for me: the many necessities of reproductive control and the necessity but insufficiency of abortion.

We must be careful that, as we fight to keep abortion legal, we remember Roe was never enough. It made the right to choose an abortion legal; but it never made the access to abortion a mandate. So today with all the rollbacks and cutbacks on Roe, it is not enough — it has become too hard to get an abortion for too many women. Eighty percent of the counties in this country have no abortion clinic. Yet, because Roe is all we have we must insure it remains.

As voting rights are under attack; as trans children are said to be the new enemy; when books are being banned; we can no longer pretend that we can depend on reforms of this state. The state is in crisis so we must take to the streets and let them know that we know. Our rights to our bodies will not be taken away. Our demands will not be contained with anything less than our full freedom — Black, white, Yellow, trans, cis, non-binary, disabled, undocumented — all of us together.

I thought the work of my daughter — who is a doctor in Miami Florida and started her education at BJM elementary school and then Ithaca High — might be of particular interest to us here. She runs a mobile health clinic for uninsured and undocumented people. She hit up a wealthy Ithaca donor to fund IUDs for her clinic. She says more women than she can count have thanked her in Spanish, Farsi, Hindi, Creole — for saving their lives with IUDs. She works at Planned Parenthood on her Saturdays off to make abortion available. She covers the Abortion Hot Line to answer queries and assist people in medical abortions. She says she will never stop doing so.

For now we must direct all of our energy in pushing back against this assault on Roe and also demand more. There is no end to this struggle in this moment so focus on continuous mobilization. We need multiple venues — local and national, individual and collective — to get people to do whatever they can because we cannot know in advance what we might accomplish.



We need to be rebellious, reformist, and revolutionary. We need to speak out and be courageous. Join the existing racial and gender and trans justice movements. Be a part of creating a radical reproductive justice agenda that connects abortion to an inclusive framework along with access to health care, access to day care, access to a livable wage. The fight for our bodies requires us to be vigilant against all forms of hatred: racisms, sexisms, homophobias, and ableism.

We need to be tactical, strategic, reformist, rebellious, revolutionary, all at the same time. When called upon, choose whatever you can do and do it. Join a demonstration. When called upon get in the streets and stop traffic. Strike when we call for one. Give money to abortion hotlines. This struggle to keep abortion legal is about abortion and so much more. It is about fighting for all our lives and our right to thrive: to imagine and re-imagine ourselves in the fabulousness of radical anti-racist feminist democracy. We will all have to make the rebellious revolution that we need.





Zillah Eisenstein is a noted feminist writer and has been Professor of Politics at Ithaca College. She is the author of numerous books, including “The Female Body and the Law” (UC Press, 1988), which won the Victoria Schuck Book Prize for the best book on women and politics; “Global Obscenities” (NYU Press, 1998) and, most recently, “Abolitionist Socialist Feminism” (Monthly Review Press, 2019).


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