Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Roe v. Wade anniversary message: Don't tread on me


“Don't Tread On Me.”

It's a favorite saying of anti-government tea partiers and libertarians alike. Dating back to the Revolutionary War, this motto-- paired with the image of a rattlesnake coiled to strike-- summons along with it a call to defend certain natural rights to privacy and autonomy, a fundamental resistance to the authoritarian impulses of state power. Leave me alone, the snake glares, or else. Though the iconic phrase has been co-opted for many causes over its long existence,  today it seems as though only right-wing small-and anti-government advocates wave the Gadsden flag (as it is historically named) with pride.

But it’s no secret that tea partiers and the politicians who pander to them don't actually believe in freedom from government regulation -- at least, not without notable exceptions. For all their talk about financial, educational, and environmental deregulation, the glaring inconsistency of smaller-government activists and politicians lies in their fierce opposition to the deregulation of a most fundamental site-- the (female) body. My body. And this isn't just a back-burner issue. This is a priority. In the first six months of 2011, Pennsylvania lawmakers spent 30 percent of their days at the Capitol working to restrict access to safe, legal abortion when they should have been solving real problems.

Actually, that's small-minded of me. For some voters, activists, and lawmakers, my bodily autonomy is a “real problem.” They are so uncomfortable with the idea that I currently can choose whether or not to have a baby that even my right to use birth control is coming under fire in popular discourse. Iowa caucus runner-up Rick Santorum has infamously said that contraception is “a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.” It's no stretch of the imagination to think that if elected president, Santorum or any one of his like-minded colleagues will continue to push these paternalistic, religious, anti-sex, anti-liberty agendas.

And to them I say: don't tread on me.  Writing under a pseudonym in 1775, Ben Franklin commented on the appropriateness of the rattle snake as a symbol for the freedom-loving American spirit:
She never begins an attack, nor, when once engaged, ever surrenders... she never wounds till she has generously given notice, even to her enemy, and cautioned him against the danger of stepping on her.—Was I wrong, Sir, in thinking this a strong picture of the temper and conduct of America?

As the 39th anniversary of Roe v. Wade  approaches and my reproductive rights increasingly come under fire, I think it’s time to re-appropriate the Gadsden flag for its original purpose -- the symbolic defense of civil liberties against the creeping authoritarianism of the state.  Like the Gadsden flag's rattlesnake, American women have generously given notice that these onslaughts against our basic bodily autonomy are unacceptable. So let this year be a year filled with pro-choice visibilities, actions, and activism -- a shot across the bow for opponents of personal liberty and reproductive privacy. Consider this fair warning: don't tread on me.

Janna Frieman is an intern with the ACLU-PA’s Duvall Reproductive Freedom Project and a Master of Social Policy candidate at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Social Policy and Practice.


This post is part of the We've Had Enough Campaign's Roe v. Wade Blog Carnival.  See other posts on the importance of Roe and the attacks against women's health here:  http://www.wevehadenoughpa.org/blog.html

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