Women's Reproductive Solutions In The 19th Century And Their Reproductive Rights

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According to Google the term women’s rights means “rights that promote a position of legal and social equality of women with men’. “Women’s empowerment results from a process where women can freely analyze, develop, and voice their needs and interests without them being predefined or unwillingly imposed by religion, government, or social norms and where their influence and control extends women’s familial/kinship circles”(Haghighat, 2014, p. 274). Women have battled through the torment to able to have the rights they have today in 2016. This paper seeks to review the evolution of women’s rights to abortion and the generations of fighting for equal rights. Women have proven to be a major asset to our nation.

Women’s Rights During the 19th Century

Women’s rights during the early 19th century were nonexistent, that of a social and economic discrimination. Women and men had distinctive roles to carry out. Lawmakers (all men) restricted women’s rights to, marriage and parenthood; their job was to commit to bearing children, do all the home cooking, and cleaning; men were afraid of women changing social roles; they did want women in the social light or having rights. It was frowned upon for women to want to stray from this form of life and they were viewed as nonconforming and unnatural. Men made all the money and were able to leave the home and socialize among men of the same class (History.com Staff, 2010).

Women in The Civil War

The civil was a breakthrough movement for women. During “the Civil War, American women turned their attention to the world outside the home. Thousands of women in the North and South joined volunteer brigades and signed up to work as nurses. It was the first time in American history that women played a significant role in a war effort. By the end of the war, these experiences had expanded many Americans’ definitions of “true womanhood” (History.com Staff, 2010).” During the late 19th century the women’s rights movement took a dramatic shift in pursuit of women’s rights and equality “This gave women increased autonomy in the family and the public realm; more educational and economic opportunities increased their capacities to act autonomously to sort through their various identities, roles, interests, beliefs, and obligations (Howard-Hassmann, 2011, p. 436). This was partly due to the civil war. Women were used to aid and tend to wounded soldiers. Howard-Hassmann discusses various reforms on the women’s movement issues. During the 19th, Women not having equal rights to men were a violation of their civil liberties “Human rights are rights that one holds merely because one is a (biological) human being; such rights are equal, universal, and inalienable. These rights derive in law, in the first instance, from the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the two 1976 Covenants on Civil and Political Rights and Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights”( Howard-Hassmann, R. E., 2011, p. 435). The men however were not very fond of allowing women to have these civil liberties “What was then considered “radical” feminism (now considered quite mainstream) arose to address misogyny (male hatred of women) and patriarchy (male rule in the private as well as the public domains)” (Howard-Hassmann, 2011, P.436). Some have questioned if human rights pertain to women or if it’s specific to men only “A recurring question in the feminist discussion of international human rights was whether “human” rights were actually “men’s” rights” (Howard-Hassmann, 2011, P.437), “The contention that human rights reflect “male” life experiences also ignores women’s agency as political, economical, and social actors, reinforcing an outdated stereotype that men are actors in the public realm, who therefore need civil and political rights, whereas women are confined to the private realm” (Howard-Hassmann, 2011, p. 439).

Abortion During the 19th Century

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Throughout history abortion has been used to control reproduction. By 1880, most abortions were illegal in the U.S. except to save the life of a woman (HISTORY OF ABORTION, 2016). The Anti-abortion legislation led the campaign to outlaw abortion in the 1850s. Its member included Doctors, politicians, and religious leaders. By the end of 1880 over 35 states banned abortion and illegal nationwide by 1899. During this time women turned to unsafe self-abortions due to lack of providers and race and wealth discrimination. These women would take harsh measures and endure painful procedures to induce abortion (Brodi, 1997). For instance a woman who did not want to be pregnant might first drink an herbal tea or soak her feet in hot water mixed with special herbs, if this didn’t bring the menstrual down women would engage in strenuous exercise and increase their drug dose (Brodi, 1997). In order to protect these women, provide safe abortions and prevent complications the Supreme Court ruled, “On January 22nd, 1973, in Roe v. Wade that women have a right to terminate pregnancy based on the constitutional right to privacy (oyez.org).” One may ask, is it just to control what women can and cannot do with their bodies? Does this violate their basic human rights? Is this murder? Having said this, one may ask what was the real issue regarding abortion? Was it of real moral concern or just another way to control women? According to Abrams the women who did opt to get abortions were perceived as “bad mothers”(Abrams, 2015, p. 180). Perhaps one believed if they pushed this guilt trip it would make a woman think twice before getting an abortion or just another form of control. One thought women weren’t in the right state of mind, that they were too emotional and couldn’t be trusted to make rational decisions (Abrams, 2015, p. 185). Loveday takes one through the women’s suffrage movements. She provides detailed and factual information from an unbiased view. Loveday makes references to important women who fought for equality “The convention’s chief concern was to achieve voting rights, or suffrage, for women. Leaders such as Sojourner Truth, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Susan B. Anthony campaigned persistently for women’s suffrage. They also pressed for equality in other areas including politics, religion, and the workforce” (Loveday, 2009, p. 1). During the twentieth, for the first time, most women were able to join the working world as they needed help during WWII (Because so many men were fighting the war, female workers were vital to the production of tanks, airplanes, ships, and other necessary military equipment” (Loveday, 2009, p. 1). Women were treated unfairly, unequal and on a need only basis although they proved to be as valuable asset to the workforce. They viewed women as not being good enough “Once the war ended, however, most female workers were fired, and their jobs were given to returning servicemen. The few women who did remain in the workforce found that their opportunities were restricted by their gender, and their pay was less than that offered to men in comparable positions” (Loveday, 2009, p. 1). One of the most influential Betty Friedan, a women’s activist, was one of the first women to initially start the feminist movement with her book ‘The Feminine Mystique’. Because of this book women came together, fought and achieved the passage of the equal passage act and the anti-discrimination act “Feminists soon began to pressure the US government to mandate occupational equality. Their first victory came with the passage of the Equal Pay Act in 1963. This law made it illegal for women to be paid less than men for performing the same work. The following year saw another victory, when Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibited discrimination in employment based on race, sex, religion, and national origin. The passage of these laws did not change people’s attitudes or behavior, however, and feminists realized that further steps would need to be taken to ensure full equality between the sexes” (Loveday, 2009, p. 1).

Women’s Rights and Contemporary life

Today, the year 2016, women are still fighting over abortion. You see it all over the presidential debates. You know the saying “history repeats itself”, our nation may be headed in that direction. Furthermore, although women are now holding managerial roles, they are still making significantly less than men even in women dominated fields. In New York City, according to James, women make 18% less than men. Studies show women do better in school than men “Various studies bring evidence that in wealthy countries it is girls rather than boys who achieve better results at schools, and women are conferred upon more university degrees than men and hold the majority of new positions” (Zuzana, Pavel, 2013, p. 27). More women can be found in the business industry as they are a major asset “Women in developed countries take an active part in economic life; they have a substantial impact on the majority of purchasing decisions related to food, housing and health care. Women also invest more in future generations. Women gradually become more and more important on globalized markets not only as a labor force but also as consumers, entrepreneurs, managers or investors” (Zuzana, Pavel, 2013, p. 27). However, there is still some discrimination against women in managerial roles “A slow penetration of women in senior management is also currently considered as a waste of female talent. Therefore, the issue of unequal representation of men and women in management companies are currently engaged by the European Union” (Zuzana, Pavel, 2013, p. 28)

This paper seeks to review the evolution of women’s rights to abortion and the generations of fighting for equal rights. Women have proven to be a major asset to our nation. We may even have a woman president.

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