Column | No freedom for women in West
I moved to Wyoming a few years ago for its outdoor recreation, but I also liked the state’s history of championing equal rights for women. As early as 1869, it codified women’s voting rights, 50 years before the 19th Amendment did the same thing. Western women in the 19th century quickly proved their mettle, helping to build communities in rugged and isolated landscapes.
But now, sadly, Wyoming has agreed to subjugate women. In March, Wyoming’s governor signed a “trigger bill” that would ban abortions in the state five days after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade, which it did June 24.
Around the West, other states including Idaho, Utah, North Dakota, South Dakota and Oklahoma also passed bills restricting women’s reproductive health soon after the Supreme Court acted. Texas had a tough law that banned virtually all abortions since 2021, although their new law, set to take effect in the next month, introduces even harsher measures – a near-total ban, even after incest and rape.
Fortunately, some Western states recognize the needs of women, and are already being sought out by women seeking abortions who are blocked at home. Colorado passed an act in March giving anyone pregnant the “fundamental right to continue the pregnancy … or to have an abortion.”
Three coastal states, California, Washington and Oregon, said they would be havens for women seeking abortions. In addition, Oregon allotted $15 million to help cover abortion costs even for non-residents.
Corporations are also becoming allies. Apple, Citi, and Yelp adjusted their corporate policies in Texas to include travel for abortions as part of health insurance packages. Lyft and Uber have promised to pay legal fees if their drivers are charged with the crime of “assisting” abortion patients.
Ironically, when COVID-19 was rampant, I often heard Westerners express a common sentiment about getting vaccinated, or not: “It’s my body and my choice.” I almost laughed, as that’s the cry of women who want the choice of becoming a mother, or not.
Before the Supreme Court decision was announced, I began talking to people about their views on access to abortion, and as you would expect, reactions were mixed, though no one I spoke to for this opinion agreed to be quoted by name due to privacy concerns.
At a block party, a 22-year-old Jackson man, who self-identified as Hispanic, said he thought of abortion as “one of the worst sins.” Then he surprised me by adding, “But a woman should be able to make that decision.”
At a pizza joint, a fourth-generation Jackson resident I’ve gotten to know, said, “I don’t think the government should have a say about your individual body… The government should be building roads. We don’t believe in big government.”
An Indigenous man in his late 20s said, “Humans should be able to make choices for their own human bodies. Otherwise, we’re going back to slavery.”
Still, I get the sense that many well-intentioned men, trying to be supportive of the women around them, are opting to step back and let women fight this battle. This reticence has started to feel like men are saying, “Not my body, not my problem.” Perhaps our state legislators recognize this reluctance to get involved, thus freeing them to vote against women’s rights.
Sometimes an abortion is unwanted but necessary for a woman’s health. Sometimes an abortion is wanted but will now be illegal. I think whatever a woman decides must be her decision, not a ruling from the out-of-touch Supreme Court or from a male-dominated state legislature.
Five years ago, a friend was forced to travel to a Wyoming clinic to get an abortion after a doctor in Idaho told her that abortion was “wrong.” She was angry, and later when she told her father, he said he was proud of her for “sticking up for herself.”
“It was the best money I’ve ever spent,” my friend told me later. “I wouldn’t be half the person I hope to be without making that decision.”
Men retain control over their bodies, but in too many parts of this country, women no longer can. Deciding whether to bear a child is perhaps the biggest decision in any woman’s life. Controlling and criminalizing a woman’s choice is a tragic mistake.
(Rebecca (Bex) Johnson is a contributor to Writers on the Range, writersontherange.org, an independent nonprofit dedicated to spurring lively conversation about the West. She works and writes in Jackson, Wyoming.)