History, History Column

Women’s Equality Day, 2022? Yeah, right.

by ©2022 Sarah Becker

“Abortion presents a profound moral issue on which Americans hold sharply conflicting views,” U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito wrote in February 2022. “For the first 185 years after the adoption of the Constitution, each State was permitted to address the issue in accordance with the views of its citizens. Then, in 1973, this Court decided Roe v. Wade 410 U.S. 113.”

Moral, as defined by the American Heritage dictionary: “Of or concerned with the judgment or instruction of goodness or badness of character and behavior.  Morals: “Rules or habits of conduct, esp. of sexual conduct.”

In America such rules are grounded in religion, a political mix of religions and Sir William Blackstone’s 1765 Commentaries of the Laws of England—the Law of Coverture. Today’s politicians mostly favor the moral opinions of those affiliated with the Christian right: Evangelical Protestants, Conservative Catholics, Mormons, Orthodox Jews, and the Eastern Orthodox Church. Also: The Federalist Society [est. 1982], Evangelical Protestant Pat Robertson’s American Center for Law & Justice [est. 1990], and Rachel MacNair’s Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America 501(c)4 & PAC [est. 1992].

Pat Robertson, a Virginia Republican is Southern Baptist. In 2016 Robertson, founder of the Christian Broadcasting Network professed “Christianity is where the power is. There is no separation of church and state.”

Amendment 1 of the Constitution’s 1791 Bill of Rights is called the Establishment Clause. It “build[s] a wall of separation between Church & State, adhering to…the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience,” President Thomas Jefferson [DR-VA] told the Danbury Baptist Association in 1802.

In 1776 Abigail Adams asked husband John to Remember the Laidies [sic] when making the colonies “new code of laws.” She did not want “unlimited power put into the hands of the Husbands.”

“Men of Sense in all Ages abhor those customs which treat us only as the vassals of your Sex,” Abigail continued. Vassal: “a subordinate or dependent.”

“My security depends not upon your [John’s] passion, which other objects might more easily excite, but upon the sober and settled dictates of Religion and Honour,” Abigail later explained.

“By marriage, the husband and wife are one person in law,” Blackstone wrote, “that is, the very being or legal existence of the woman is suspended during the marriage, or at least is incorporated and consolidated into that of the husband: under whose wing, protection and cover, she performs everything.” Married women, femme coverts were property.

As of 1966—two years after the Civil Rights Act of 1964—at least twelve states adhered to the Law of Coverture [U.S. v. Yazell of Texas]. The states, as listed in the Brief were: Texas, Alabama, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Nevada, and North Carolina.

“The Texas ‘law of coverture’…rests on the old common-law fiction that the husband and wife are one,” U.S. Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black [1937-1971] said. “This fiction rested on what I had supposed is today a completely discredited notion that a married woman, being a female, is without capacity to make her own contracts and do her own business. I say ‘discredited’ reflecting on the vast number of women in the United States engaging in the professions of law, medicine, teaching, and so forth.” According to the 2020 Census “more than 1 in 3 Lawyers are women.”

Justice Black also believed “that the liberties guaranteed in the Bill of Rights were imposed on the states by the Fourteenth Amendment.”

The 1960s-1970s were tumultuous decades.  The Law of Coverture was on life support, women were exercising their reputed constitutional rights, and men no longer had majority control of women’s bodies. To stay on top, man had to re-right the narrative. The problem was no longer woman; it was an unborn child’s right to life.

The tagline quickly caught on. The Virginia Society for Human Life—created in 1967—was the country’s first, statewide right to life organization. The National Conference of Catholic Bishops soon followed; they established the National Right to Life Committee [NLRC] in 1968. One year after the U.S. Supreme Court decided Loving v. Virginia [interracial marriage]: the same year women’s liberation groups burned their bras.

The NLRC, a 501(c)4 as of 1973, not only advocates for a Human Life Amendment but also the reversal of Roe v. Wade.  It “works through ‘legislation and education.’” It is for this reason that the nation’s Catholic bishops established the National Committee for A Human Life Amendment, Inc., in 1974; a Political Action Committee [NRL PAC] in 1979. Fortune magazine—in 1997—called the NRLC “the 10th ‘most powerful’ public interest group in the country.”

August 26 is Women’s Equality Day. To what extent is today’s woman equal to man? The woman’s Equal Rights Amendment—first introduced by Alice Paul 99 years ago—remains unresolved; passed by the 117th House of Representatives then tabled in the Senate. Not only does today’s woman remain constitutionally unequal, the U.S. Supreme Court has rescinded her constitutional right to choose. Paul’s want: woman’s “full constitutional equality.”

In 1848 Elizabeth Cady Stanton, together with Quaker Lucretia Mott assembled 300 men and women in Seneca Falls, New York, to discuss the woman’s Declaration of Rights and Sentiments. Among the Sentiments listed:

[1] “He has usurped the prerogative of Jehovah himself, claiming it as his right to assign for her a sphere of action, when that belongs to her conscience and her God.”

[2] “He allows her in Church as well as State, but a subordinate position, claiming Apostolic authority for her exclusion from the ministry, and with some exceptions, from any public participation in the affairs of the Church.”

At present the United States overall maternal mortality rate is “more than double that of most other high-income countries.” The states with the highest maternal mortality rates, in descending order: Louisiana, Georgia, Indiana, New Jersey, Arkansas, Alabama, Missouri, Texas, South Carolina, Arizona, Tennessee and Wyoming.

“There is a deep-lying struggle in the whole fabric of society; a boundless, grinding collision of the New with the Old,” Stanton told the New York Legislature in 1854. New York passed its first abortion law in 1830, Congress the related Comstock Act in 1873. Gov. Nelson Rockefeller [R-NY] repealed the New York law in 1970.

“In discussing the rights of woman, we are to consider, first, what belongs to her as an individual,” Stanton told the Judiciary of the U.S. Congress in 1892. “If we consider her as a citizen, as a member of a great nation, she must have the same rights as all other members.”

“From the inauguration of the movement for woman’s emancipation…canon and civil law; church and state; priests and legislators; all political parties and religious denominations have alike taught that woman was made after man, of man, and for man, an inferior being, subject to man,” Stanton author of The Woman’s Bible [1895] wrote.

In 1991 the U.S. Senate confirmed Georgia born, Catholic and pro-life Appeals Court Judge Clarence Thomas, Thurgood Marshall’s successor to the U.S. Supreme Court. If only Ronald Reagan [RCA] had not introduced his 1980 Southern states’ rights Strategy in Philadelphia, Mississippi. Had not the NLRC’s 1989 legislative director described “Roe v. Wade as ‘social engineering.’”

Justice Thomas believes, as do other Catholic Justices “that the Court’s abortion precedents are ‘egregiously wrong.’” Thomas’ former law clerk, Mississippi Solicitor General Scott G. Stewart “was given 35 minutes to argue” Mississippi’s December 2021 anti-abortion case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. Thomas did not recuse himself why.

The U.S. Supreme Court is the only U.S. Court—federal or state—that operates without an ethics code. In 2007, Federal Election Commission v. Wisconsin Right to Life 551 U.S. 449 Justice Thomas joined the 5-4 majority and “overturned those portions of the 2002 McCain-Feingold campaign finance law that restricted grassroots lobbying directed to Senators and Congressmen facing reelection.” Have PAC will donate.

On May 11, 2022, the Senate’s Women’s Health Protection Act—An act to protect a person’s ability to determine whether to continue or end a pregnancy, and to protect a health care provider’s ability to provide abortion services—was voted down. According to Pew Research “a majority of Americans say abortion should be legal in all or most cases…[that] it is important for women to have equal rights with men.”

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld Roe’s essential holding in 1992 [Planned Parenthood v. Casey 505 U.S. 833]. “The feminist agenda is not about equal rights for women,” Evangelist Pat Robertson’s 1992 fund-raising letter explained. “It is about a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to…kill their children, practice witchcraft [Alito’s reference to 17thC. British jurist Sir Matthew Hale?], destroy capitalism and become lesbians.”

For more than two decades the Southern Baptist Convention, the country’s largest Protestant denomination has “stonewalled, and even been outright hostile to survivors of clergy sex abuse,” a 2022 internal report revealed. As for those Catholic bishops who seek to punish by denying communion—“The Vatican has warned conservative American bishops not to use access to the Eucharist as a political weapon.”

On June 24, 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court voted 5-4 to overturn a 50-year old precedent. “Roe was…on a collision course with the Constitution,” Alito wrote. Why because married women were property in 1787 and passage of the Equal Rights Amendment has thus far failed. With Dobbs the Law of Coverture in part lives on as does the Christian right’s political sway.

In 1918 a divided Congress feared a federally initiated woman’s suffrage amendment “could undermine” Jim Crow. “Shall we admit [women] only to a partnership of sacrifice and suffering and toil and not to a partnership of privilege and right?” President Woodrow Wilson [D-VA] asked the U.S. Senate.

“The Justices who vote[d] to strike down Roe v. Wade will not succeed in ending abortion: they will only succeed in ending safe abortions,” The Lancet the world’s oldest medical journal opined. The City of Alexandria now asks “the General Assembly of Virginia and the United States Congress to take such actions as may be necessary to protect the right to abortion in Virginia.”

Columnist’s’ Update: On July 3, 2022, NPR reported a South Florida synagogue filed a lawsuit claiming, “that banning abortion is a violation of Jews’ First Amendment right to practice their religion.” On July 18, 2022, The Raleigh, N.C., News & Observer wrote “It is impossible to argue that the U.S. Supreme Court justices personal religious beliefs didn’t have an impact on their belief that abortion is not protected by the Constitution…Jewish law sees fetuses as full people once they are born…Temple Beth Or Senior Rabbi Lucy Dinner said ‘I can’t speak for all of the Jewish community, but I would say a majority…believe that this is a religious issue…and to be forced by our government to follow a different religious point of view is a breach of the separation between church and state…The Christian right does not have a monopoly on faith and morality.” The legal debate continues.

Sarah Becker started writing for The Economist while a graduate student in England. Similar publications followed. She joined the Crier in 1996 while serving on the Alexandria Convention and Visitors Association Board. Her interest in antiquities began as a World Bank hire, with Indonesia’s need to generate hard currency. Balinese history, i.e. tourism provided the means. The New York Times describes Becker’s book, Off Your Duffs & Up the Assets, as “a blueprint for thousands of nonprofit managers.” A former museum director, SLAM’s saving grace Sarah received Alexandria’s Salute to Women Award in 2007. Email: abitofhistory53@gmail.com

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