On June 24, 2022, the United States Supreme Court, in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, revoked women’s constitutionally protected right to decide if and when she will carry a pregnancy to term.
The immediate consequence of this decision is that women no longer have the constitutionally protected freedom, or the personal power, to decide if they are emotionally, mentally, or financially ready to become mothers.
The decision to bear a child and to become a mother is an awesome and terrifying one. And now, in the United States, women and girls are no longer free to make this very personal decision, even when they are the victim of rape or incest, or when their life is in danger.
Given that between 60-85% of the US population believe that abortion should be legal in most or all cases, it is unconscionable and stunning that five judges have the power to revoke a constitutional right that has been granted to women for nearly 50 years.
And as unlikely and even offensive as it may seem, the Dobbs decision has the potential to raise our collective consciousness and empower women.
This conclusion emerges from my work as a trained trauma therapist, my own personal life experiences, and many decades of listening to women tell their stories of abuse, trauma, resilience, and healing.
On September 2, 2021, the day after my native state of Texas passed a law banning a woman’s right to reproductive freedom after six weeks of pregnancy with no exceptions for rape or incest, I shared a story on social media about an experience I had when I was 27 years old in the late 1980s. I want to share that story here because it plainly illustrates the devastating impact of abuse and oppression on women and girls.
At the time I posted this story, many of us (including me) didn’t understand that in just a few short months a rollback of fundamental rights for girls and women would not only be a reality in Texas, but throughout the nation.
In the spring of 1988 I checked myself into The Woman’s Hospital in Houston, Texas which, at the time, had a program for women that focused on healing from codependency and trauma.
What I heard from the women I got to know during these 18 days is one experience among many that informs my passionate belief that not only must women have autonomy over our bodies, but we must learn to stand for ourselves as our fiercest ally, and we must speak truth to power.
Like most people, I made the decision to go to in-patient treatment out of desperation. I had reached the end of my inner resources for managing a frightening episode of depression that rendered me unable to be reliably functional. There were moments that I wanted to die. The underlying cause was untreated codependency, untreated childhood trauma, and growing up in a culture that is relentlessly, covertly, unapologetically, and deceptively hostile toward girls and women.
I can’t recall one woman I met there who had not experienced trauma as a child, and most were victims of childhood sexual abuse. One woman had been repeatedly raped by her father and became pregnant by him. Of course, she lied to her mother about who impregnated her, because what else would she do?
Most girls in her situation don’t tell when they are sexually abused or raped, and those who do tell are routinely doubted or are outright told some version of, “That didn’t happen,” or, “He wouldn’t do that.”
Victims are threatened in various ways, including being told that if they tell, a beloved pet or even their parent will be hurt or killed.
In the toxic and traumatic fog of abuse and deception, this young teenage girl gave birth to a baby who was both her own child and her half-sibling.
Her story is more the norm than the exception since 8 out of 10 rapes are committed by someone known to the victim.
I thought of her that day last September with deep pain when Texas decided that women and girls do not have a right to their own bodies, even if they are raped. Today, only 11 states in the US are considered “protective” of women’s reproductive freedom.
In the other 39 states, when a young girl or woman becomes pregnant due to rape, she will face the impossible task of simultaneously healing from sexual trauma while enduring the added emotional and physical trauma of being forced by the state to carry and give birth to a child she did not consent to conceive.
If she decides to place the baby for adoption, will her abuser have the power to block her from doing so? Will he be able to claim parental rights? Will the state require her to give the baby to the man who raped her if she wants to place the baby for adoption? These are questions that leave one speechless, as they should.
What I have witnessed in my personal life, along with the training and direct work I have done over the years with clients as a trauma therapist leads me to one inevitable and unyielding conclusion:
The Dobbs decision—and all laws restricting women’s reproductive freedom—is not only unconstitutional, it is a state-sanctioned form of psychological, mental, emotional, and sexual trauma.
And yet, there are ways in which this revocation of rights will ultimately awaken and empower women, girls, and the men who love them.
Women are strong, resilient, and resourceful.
This rollback of rights will not triumph over women’s unwavering capacity to endure and stand for themselves.
We are being called to a higher level of consciousness so that we can claim the safety, freedom, and peace we deserve.
And if we’re honest, we know that we haven’t always used the power we already have—or acted as courageously as we might have—in the past.
I invite all of us to leave this evidence of our humanity in the past where it belongs and forgive ourselves, so that we can do what needs to be done today.
There are at least four ways in which the Dobbs decision will awaken and empower us:
- It will change the way we think about and approach birth control so that we are more self-aware and assertive.
- We will see the many ways—in addition to restrictions on reproductive freedom—in which we have not attained the promise of “all [men] are created equal,” and we will act on this knowledge to close the equality gap.
- We will more fiercely protect young girls from predators. We will teach them how to recognize dangerous and malevolent persons with dark intentions who often masquerade as charming, benevolent helpers.
- We will hold sexual partners accountable for their co-equal responsibility for pregnancy, maternal care, and child-rearing.
If you are a heterosexual woman, there is a greater than average chance that you have engaged in a sexual encounter with a man who refused to wear a condom, or acted put out or inconvenienced by the suggestion that he take responsibility for birth control. And even though you weren’t comfortable with it and it felt a little risky, you engaged sexually with him anyway. This is not an indictment of any of us, but it is a widely known fact.
Every woman knows that when it comes to taking responsibility for birth control, there is rarely equal participation.
The painful truth is that most of us have lacked the self-love, self-loyalty, and courage to ask a man to do his part. (And even if you are practicing some form of birth control, you are well within your right to request that a man you are sexual with also take his 100% responsibility for a potential pregnancy.)
By failing to ask or require a partner to fully participate in the awesome responsibility of potentially becoming parents together, women take on 200% of the responsibility for whether or not a pregnancy occurs. The 200% represents both your 100% responsibility and your sexual partner’s 100%.
We must ask, “Why are women taking responsibility for men’s unwillingness to participate in conscious family planning?”
The most obvious answer is that the practical consequences of becoming pregnant rest largely with women for purely biological reasons. A woman’s body carries, nurtures, and eventually may feed the baby after it is born.
However, in the spirit of declaring that biology is not destiny, it is vital to shift our way of thinking about pregnancy to, “John and Mary are pregnant,” or “they are pregnant,” and away from, “she is pregnant.”
It bears repeating that it takes two people to create a child since it has become a matter of deep collective amnesia that no one can become pregnant on their own.
In fact, “many courts are reluctant to deny parental rights even to known sperm donors if they request them.” If a sperm donor can have parental rights, then we can certainly hold men accountable for their 100% participation in a pregnancy.
One of the unintended, yet positive, consequences of the Dobbs decision (and the many state laws that are going into effect to restrict women’s reproductive freedom) is that women will become more diligent and assertive in using the power they already have to use birth control and to require equal participation for birth control from the men with whom they are sexual.
The second impact of the Dobbs decision and its aftershocks is that, as women, we will grow in our own personal authentic power.
This is not the power of toxic masculinity which revels in “power over,” but the kind of personal power that comes from the deep inner sanctum of knowing who you are, what your values are, and standing for yourself as your fiercest ally.
Unfortunately, we have become complacent and confused around our rights, our responsibilities, and our empowerment.
The women who’ve been working in the trenches in healthcare settings that provide abortion have known for years that one day Roe v. Wade would be overturned. How did the rest of us become so out of touch that we were shocked by this decision?
The new reality that our government has the obscene power to decide when a girl or woman becomes a mother has jolted many of us awake—eyes wide open.
It has made us more conscious about the many ways in which we are treated as objects, as second-class citizens, as property of men, and now the state.
If this seems too extreme, here are a few statistics that illustrate how far we have to go:
- Globally, women spend about three times as many hours on unpaid domestic and care work as men.
- The unequal distribution of unpaid domestic and care work creates a disparity in women’s participation in the labor market, which is a primary source of financial independence and empowerment. In 2020, only 47% of women of working age participated in the labor market, compared to 74% of men.
- In 2019, globally women held only 28% of managerial positions, almost the same proportion as in 1995.
- Among Fortune 500 corporations only 7.4%, or 37 Chief Executive Officers, were women.
- Around one third (33%) of women worldwide have experienced physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner.
- Eighteen percent of women have experienced violence by an intimate partner in the past 12 months.
- Globally, an estimated 137 women are killed by their intimate partner or a family member every day.
(United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs.)
Being informed about gender disparities allows and encourages us to speak out and close the gap so that our daughters may experience more freedom, opportunities, and safety.
The third reason I believe the Dobbs decision will raise women’s collective consciousness and empowerment is that it has now become more difficult (and unconscionable) to turn a blind eye when we feel uncomfortable about the way another person acts when they engage with our children or children in our care. Or, when we suspect—or know—that someone is abusing a child.
Tragically, this conscious turning away and willful blindness is more common than you might think.
One of the reasons that child abusers and pedophiles are able to access and assault as many children as they do is that most people don’t trust their intuition, or their protective instincts have been so damaged they can’t act on them. And worse, the abusers are often in positions of authority—older family members, teachers, coaches, clergy members, youth ministers, or doctors.
We are too intimidated by their power or their stature in the community to say anything, or we are fearful that no one will believe us.
This must change.
Within a few weeks of the Dobbs decision, we learned of the heart-breaking story of a 10-year old girl in Ohio who was raped and became pregnant by a 27-year old man, who admitted to raping her more than once.
These kinds of stories are not new, but the consequences of them have now grown exponentially.
Before the Dobbs decision, the parents of this 10-year old girl might have quietly (and legally) taken her to have the pregnancy terminated. Now, these same parents face the real prospect of being forced to witness their 10-year old daughter carry a pregnancy to term, give birth, and make a decision to either place the baby for adoption, or raise the child themselves.
And what about the “father?” Will he get parental rights? Will he be allowed to “co-parent” the baby with the girl he raped?
There are no words for the horror of these kinds of scenarios that are now unfolding across the country.
We must find the courage to speak up and speak out when something or someone doesn’t look or feel right to us.
Finally, the Dobbs decision will wake us up and empower us through giving us more clarity and determination to give back the responsibility and accountability that belongs to men for their role in pregnancy and the daunting, life-long responsibility of parenting.
Women have unconsciously accepted for far too long that we alone bear the responsibility for becoming pregnant. This is a lie, and we have the power to give back responsibility that is not ours.
Now that laws are being enacted that force women against their will to carry pregnancies to term under the hypocritical and false banner of “protecting life,” should laws not also demand from men that they support the mother and the child they co-conceived during pregnancy and for the child’s first 18 years?
How can we demand that women bear children, yet not demand that men be held accountable for their 100% responsibility for the pregnancy and the child after it is born?
There are appropriate and legal actions that ought to be pursued as part of a comprehensive strategy to oppose the rollback of women’s reproductive freedom, and to advocate for girls who cannot advocate for themselves.
For example, parents of underage rape victims can take legal action against their daughter’s perpetrator. Or women can demand that the man who impregnated her be held accountable for his 100% participation in the pregnancy by being required to contribute to maternal care and child support.
The Dobbs decision is a savage betrayal of women and girls, and it will cause profound trauma to countless people. And, as devastating as it is, we must use our outrage to show up even more courageously.
We must demand that our partners participate in birth control as an unquestioned condition for enjoying sexual intimacy with us.
We must expand both our personal and collective power, protecting girls and women from abuse and trauma.
We must become even more clear about our reproductive responsibilities and the responsibilities that belong to our partners.
And we must act on this knowledge, which is a demonstration of conscious self-love, self-respect, and self-protection.
May we transmute our anger, rage, pain, and grief into action, so that girls and women will be protected and suffer less now and in the future.
May we stay awake during these increasingly dark times.
May we feel what we feel.
May we speak our truth.
 Pew Research Center, June 13, 2022; https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2022/06/13/about-six-in-ten-americans-say-abortion-should-be-legal-in-all-or-most-cases-2/ (Accessed July 15, 2022).
Gallup Poll May 2-22, 2022; https://news.gallup.com/poll/1576/abortion.aspx (Accessed July 15, 2022).
 Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (rainn.org).
 Guttmacher Institute Interactive Map: US Abortion Policies and Access After Roe (As of July 15, 2022); https://states.guttmacher.org/policies/?gclid=CjwKCAjww8mWBhABEiwAl6-2RQEMcQkpg18xr5BsoOZRQg4_YJNc4eiV0RN-rBtwkBOy-5SZRnsTAhoCS9QQAvD_BwE (Accessed July 16, 2022).
 Missouri Medicine: The Journal of the State Medical Association; Paternity Law: Sperm Donors, Surrogate Mothers and Child Custody; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6170122/; (Accessed July 16, 2022).
 United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs https://www.un.org/en/desa/world%E2%80%99s-women-2020 (Accessed June 14 2022).
© Victoria Tidwell Palmer (2022)
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