In Nathaniel Hawthorn’s story, The Scarlet Letter, a woman must wear the letter A (as in Adulterer) on her clothes as punishment for the world to judge her for her choice.
Three things bother me about this story. First, Hester Prynne is forced to wear something that identifies her as a forever, unredeemable sinner. This leads to the second annoying issue, that whoever comes or goes from the community knows what she has done and can place judgment without knowing the whole story, aka, the full context.
And the third? Last time I checked, it takes two people to have an affair and two people for adultery to be committed. So, where’s Reverend Dimmesdale’s letter? He gets off scot-free—no blame, no shame.
This is how I feel about the Pro-Life v. Pro-Choice debate—nothing but scarlet letters being thrown about without full context or shared blame. When, in reality, the circumstances surrounding a female choosing one or the other are systemic—everyone’s at fault!
Now add to the mix a third party with no real emotional or physical tie to the situation but has all the power, a giant letter ‘G’ for Government. What then?
Take Utah’s abortion trigger law, which automatically goes into effect if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade. The law makes abortion illegal with three exceptions:
- An abortion can save the pregnant mother’s life.
- Two doctors agree that the fetus is too defective to be saved.
- The pregnancy is a result of an officially reported rape or incest.
Okay? Now for some added context. Let’s talk about SEX.
In Utah, sex education is taught in public schools, but only with parental consent. The official focus is on abstinence, with consequences firmly connected to STDs.
“You shouldn’t have sex because you’ll suffer from terrible diseases and die if you do.”
Does anyone (any parental or sex-certified person) tell them that condoms are not for making balloon animals? Is this the teacher’s fault or the strict guidelines they must follow?
Another Sex-Ed focus for Utah students is called “refusal skills,” or how to say “no thank you” to sex. So, what if one’s refusal skill isn’t up to par, or one doesn’t quite know what refusal skills are?
In 2021, a bill teaching kids how to consent to sex was rejected. The bill explained what coercion is, how to stop sexual violence, and all the laws surrounding sexual assault. You know, to help kids learn how to set sexual boundaries, understand personal sexual limits, and not feel guilty about it. The big problem here? I guess it goes against focusing on abstinence.
So, this means we must trust that our young people will be scared straight into not having sex—EVER—or at least until they’re married (where apparently STDs and rape don’t exist).
Adding insult to injury… ”Rape is the only violent crime in Utah that is higher than the national average” (https://ibis.health.utah.gov/ibisph-view/indicator/complete_profile/Rape.html).
Yeah, why wouldn’t it be? Our young people don’t quite know what they’re doing!
No matter how divisive Roe v. Wade is, I think everyone can agree that pregnancy resulting from rape is terrible. However, deciding what is or what is not rape seems to be just as explosive a topic as how to handle it State by State, Institution by Institution. Who knew?
Another obstacle one faces when raped in Utah is embedded in our infrastructures. Many Colleges and Universities still put the blame on the victim. Victim Advocacy programs on campuses lack funding, updated information or understanding, and often make support impossible or so hard that the victim gives up and drops out.
On top of this, rape kits aren’t processed or processed incredibly slowly, and the old school thought, “But what were YOU wearing?” “Why did you go with so-and-so in the first place?” or “Are you sure you don’t just feel guilty about having sex?” make it hard for a victim to go to the police and report the crime.
If that’s not bad enough, let’s head down that twisted incest road.
Incest is generational, protected by a thick, almost impenetrable rind of silence, abuse, secrecy, lies, and dysfunction year after year, gnarling up the good ol’ family tree.
Let’s get something straight, incest is rape.
Most victims do not associate incest with an individual’s right to choose anything, and when it comes to sex, what rights do they have? So, are they supposed to somehow recognize they are a singular individual who an outsider (the authorities) will believe? Are they supposed to go to strangers like the police and divulge long-held abuse practices at home?
If they are self-aware enough, after years and years of abuse, gaslighting, and shaming, are they supposed to destroy the only family they know by exposing the truth? What about their parents? Their siblings? Grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins? An incestuous environment is interwoven through generations! One cannot cut a single thread without the whole thing falling apart.
Then there is the statute of limitations surrounding rape, which limits when someone can press charges.
What’s worse, most sexual abuse survivors do not recognize the magnitude of their abuse until they are forty years old—long after the statute of limitations is up! Then, their memories are held up under the harsh light of scrutiny, refueling the blame game.
But what if an incest victim goes to the authorities, finds support, she gets an abortion, then what? Will she be able to go back home and live with her parents and her siblings? Think again!
The chances of getting adopted from foster care as someone mature enough to be pregnant go dramatically down as her double-digit age increases. At eighteen years old, she ages out completely.
What about her future, then? College? Maybe, someday. Therapy? Probably not, but fingers crossed. Welfare? Most likely.
And, if the victim is Pro-Life, and doesn’t have an abortion, what happens to her and the child? Does she go to the authorities? Does she sever ties with their most known supports? Probably not. Most likely, the cycle of abuse continues.
See what I mean? Scarlett letters are being stitched to everyone like merit badges (or rather, demerit badges) with only the female being blamed, not the people and institutions welding that sharp, prickly needle!
Suppose abortion is unlawful, and the Government has the authority to decide. What are the laws to secure the future of the saved? What institutions are in place to ensure a successful life for the duration of said life?
What about the mother? If the Government has the power to choose the future for the mother, then shouldn’t their policies reflect her emotional and physical well-being? To protect the child, shouldn’t the mother then be empowered? And because a child’s life is contingent on the present circumstances of its mother, doesn’t the Government also share the responsibility to ensure the quality of life for both mother and child?
How I see it, if the Government has the power to determine who lives, they also have the power to make sure the life saved is life beyond birth, right? Pro-Life versus Pro-Choice is not just an issue of life versus death. It’s an issue of the institution, laws, and governing ideas versus the lack thereof.
We need to stop Hester Prynne-ing people! We must stop blaming the people who have little say and have little choice and condemn those who do.