OPINION | FRAN ALEXANDER: The battle over controlling women’s bodies has been around a long time

Battle over controlling women’s bodies not new

I've looked at life from both sides now

From win and lose and still somehow

It's life's illusions I recall

I really don't know life at all ...

-- Joni Mitchell

There's been a lot to think about lately and probably the top news is the Supreme Court's overturning the Roe v. Wade decision on abortion allowing the states to set their own laws. I get all defensive about women's rights when they're threatened or abolished, so I'm trying extra hard to look at both sides of this.

The decades the "pro-life" side invested in overturning Roe were driven by a deeply held belief among their most passionate and sincere activists that abortion is murder. They left no room for middle ground. Consequently, this extremely complex issue has been reduced to one hyphenated term on each side, "pro-life" versus "pro-choice." Over time, that simplification has not been expanded much past "when does life begin" pushing for 50 years against "a woman's right to choose."

Choice rights need to be defined. The first questions should actually be "When does choice begin, and who gets to do the choosing?"

Of course, a responsible, first-things-first choice would mean that two consenting adults have agreed that if their actions lead to pregnancy that both participants, not just the womb holder, choose to take full responsibility for the life they've jointly created. Choosing between contraception or conception is a decision best made in the daylight by two people in full control of their senses.

Talk about life's illusions! We all know that even though it takes two to tango, equally shared parenting is becoming more an ideal than a reality in much of the world today. "Raised by a single mother" is now a common, almost casual, piece of information about hundreds of thousands of people.

Holding firm for the right-to-life is noble, but which life? We toss off the words "rape," "incest," "violence," "force," "desertion," and "abuse," with little to no real gut-wrenching knowledge of what happens, over their entire lives, to girls and women who experience such assaults. They are left to birth, feed, raise and love a child who will forever be a symbol of its mother's absence of choice and her loss over control of her own body. Motherhood is a lifelong personal identity no matter how it began or how much it hurts.

Children should serve neither as punishment of adults nor be punished by what adults do to them. The recent story of a raped 10-year-old fifth-grader being denied an abortion in Ohio is, horribly, not a solo example of impregnated children with no choice. Their innocent lives and bodies are robbed early from learning about any of life's beauty. They too are destroyed before they have any life at all.

Nothing I've read so far makes any mention of laws regarding choices men must make or any prescribed lifelong consequences to them for pregnancies. However, protesters' signs proclaiming, "Prevent Abortions -- Mandate Vasectomies!" perhaps inspired Oklahoma legislator Mickey Dollens. Speaking to his fellow state reps, he said, "If you really want to end abortion ... I would invite you to co-author a bill that I'm considering next year that would mandate that each male, when they reach puberty, get a mandatory vasectomy that's only reversible when they reach the point of financial and emotional stability." That brave guy must be the visionary father of a daughter. I hope he adds on severe consequences for rapists of any age.

Most women eventually come to understand that power plays and political grandstanding for control of them and their bodies isn't new. In 1963, Arkansas state Rep. Paul Van Dalsem became a celebrity of sorts after a speech to the Optimist Club in Little Rock. When he expressed his frustration with a university women's association lobbying to prevent election tampering and voter fraud (nothing new back then either), hopefully the irony caused the optimists to reread their creed (www.optimist.org/member/creed.cfm) and cringe.

Proudly he proclaimed, "We don't have any of these university women in Perry County, but I'll tell you what we do up there when one of our women starts poking around in something she doesn't know anything about. We get her an extra milk cow. If that don't work, we give her a little more garden to tend to. And then if that's not enough, we get her pregnant and keep her barefoot."

It seems the Supreme Court of the U.S. has been holding a seance with the ghost of Paul Van Dalsem.