Bodily Autonomy in the Aftermath of Alabama’s Abortion Ban

Sierra McAvoy for Refinery29

In the past few weeks, a variety of states across the U.S. have unveiled new laws that restrict women’s access to abortions. Georgia governor Brian Kemp signed into law the state's so-called "heartbeat bill," an effective ban on abortions more than six weeks into a pregnancy, and Alabama governor Kay Ivey signed the state's controversial near-total abortion ban Wednesday evening. Draconian new anti-abortion measures have also won wide margins of approval in Ohio and Missouri.

The new law in Alabama is the most restrictive anti-abortion measure passed in the United States since Roe v. Wade in 1973, banning all abortions except when "abortion is necessary in order to prevent a serious health risk" to the woman. Cases of rape and incest are not exempt as they are in other states.

In Alabama specifically, after a march on the state capital in Montgomery, many women have begun fearing the worst for their reproductive rights, with even referencing The Handmaid’s Tale. The Alabama ban takes effect in six months, so abortion is still currently legal in the state at the three remaining abortion clinics, but it is unclear how much will change in the coming months. Supporters acknowledge that they expect the ban to be blocked by lower courts, but many others believe it will be decided in front of the U.S. Supreme Court.

As the topic of abortion moves back into the political limelight, “bodily autonomy” is brought to the forefront of the conversation by pro-choice advocates. But what exactly does that mean, and how have women been denied this right throughout history? And perhaps most importantly, what will these new laws mean for women’s rights in the near future?

What is bodily autonomy?

In short, bodily autonomy refers to humans’ self-determination over their own bodies, and it follows that the infringement upon this right is intrusive and possibly criminal. If it is your body—be it your hair, blood, or bones—only you have the authority to make decisions that have direct ramifications on your life and well-being.

Bodily autonomy is perhaps best summarized by the 1978 Supreme Court case McFall v. Shimp. Robert McFall was suffering from a terminal bone marrow disease and would die if he did not receive a bone marrow transplant. The only potential donor for McFall was his cousin, Mr. Shrimp. Mr. Shrimp refused to donate his marrow to McFall, and so McFall took the case to court to mandate that Shrimp undergo the procedure. The judge, however, concluded that forcing a person to submit to an intrusion of his body in order to donate bone marrow "would defeat the sanctity of the individual and would impose a rule which would know no limits, and one could not imagine where the line would be drawn.”

To summarize, no one can force you to undergo any circumstance that would directly impact your well-being as another human being. You cannot be forced to donate blood or bone marrow, and by the same principle, you cannot be forced to have a child by the laws of the government.

Women’s bodily autonomy

Historically, women have been denied access to the right of bodily autonomy. These restrictions haven’t been consistent, however; they were generally nonexistent up until the rise of the rise of the Christian Church in the medieval period. It was during this time that religious leaders and writers like Saint Augustine and Saint Jerome outright attacked women and mandated scriptures and texts that infringed on women’s right to bodily autonomy, writing that women were “weak and hysterical and open to temptations.”  It was these church fathers who blamed Eve for the downfall of humanity, and by extension all women, everywhere, and because of this, fighting back against these sentiments and regulations on women has been an uphill battle since the modern era began.

The laws and behaviors used to restrict women’s sexual behavior have ranged from female genital mutilation (which is still practiced in many countries to this day), to forced marriages, to the denial of access to abortions. These mandates all represent an assault on women’s right to choose. They serve as a deliberate ploy to overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling upholding abortion access as a constitutional right in the United States.

What bodily autonomy means in a post-abortion ban Alabama

Limiting a women’s access to abortion will not stop women from having abortions. It will only limit women’s access to safe abortions. And further, the idea that these abortion bans are in the support of life or the unborn ignores all of the other facets that go into being truly “pro-life.” A true pro-life attitude would argue that the lives of women, the incarcerated, children in foster care, immigrants, and the poor matter as much as the unborn.

How can you help?

Donating to organizations like the Yellowhammer Fund. This fund provides financial assistance, transportation, and lodging to Alabama residents who need access to abortion services.

Volunteer at or donate to Planned Parenthood or ACLU. These organizations are taking the battle against abortion bans to the courts.

Take to social media. Spread the word and start a conversation with people who may not understand why this law is so dangerous to women everywhere.

Contact your representatives and VOTE. If you live in Alabama, vote for candidates that support reproductive rights and bodily autonomy. If you live elsewhere and see your state headed down a similar path, do the same. This is not only a fight for the women of Alabama, but for people all across the U.S. We’re not backing down. Will you?


By Vanessa Poulson

6 Podcasts That Make the World a Better Place

ESTHER FACIANE/GETTY IMAGES

If it feels like everyone and their mother is telling you about the podcasts that you “HAVE” to listen to, you’re not alone. Just a couple of days ago, I had someone recommend to me the new podcast Monster: The Zodiac Killer brought to listeners by the same team of the podcast The Atlanta Monster.

And while I politely, yet firmly, let this friend know that if I hear one more person recommend me a podcast about serial killers, they may or may not meet the same end as the Zodiac Killer’s victims, I usually welcome recommendations with open arms (and ears).

But there’s one brand of podcast that, personally, I don’t love all that much: the self-help podcast. Self help podcasts include shows like The School of Greatness, Life Coach, and everyone’s favorite, The GaryVee Audio Experience.

Though I’m sure people do actually learn something from these podcasts, they just don’t resonate with me. Maybe it has something to do with how inauthentic advice culture seems when you monetize it and turn it into a brand. Maybe it’s how so many people giving this so-called advice/motivation/life inspo never seem to talk about the systemic issues that stop people from pursuing their truest, highest self. Maybe I just hate being preached to about the benefits of manifesting.

If you, like me, are tired of the oversaturated market of self-help podcasts, let me give you a few recommendations for you to binge-listen. Though I can’t promise you that these podcasts are going to help you get out of your own way and pursue your dreams, I truly believe that each of these podcasts helps make the world a more enjoyable place to be.

Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend

Comedian, writer, and late-night host Conan O’Brien can’t seem to figure out why his friend circle is small, considering he’s spoken with hundreds of celebrities on his show throughout the years. So, naturally, he started a podcast to ask some of his favorite guests why they aren’t closer friends.

The result is a lot of funny, heartwarming, and insightful conversations with incredibly famous people. Much like another favorite of mine, Armchair Expert, these episodes give you an exclusive look at the other side of show business—away from the lights, cameras, and action.

Favorite episodes: “Stephen Colbert,” “Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally,” and “Michelle Obama.”

Why Won’t You Date Me?

Few comedians make anyone ugly laugh as hard as Nicole Byer. And few comedians can make light of thoughtful topics in such a humorous, cringeworthy way. Her podcast, Why Won’t You Date Me?, uses a format similar to O’Brien’s podcast (although Byer’s came first): she asks her guests—from Grace Helbig, to Rachel Bloom, to Jameela Jamil—why they won’t date her and why other people won’t date her.

The show dissects the gross, entertaining, and incredibly exhausting experience that is dating in the 21st century, and shows us that in the end, all we want is someone to love (and to do *~other~* things with).

Favorite Episodes: “Why’d You Stop Dating Me? (With Nick Snow),” “Do Men Not Respond to Funny Women? (With Joanna Bradley),” and “Tinder Troubles (With Will Hines).”

Committed

If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to be married to a porn star, at least one of these episodes is for you.

In Committed, author Jo Piazza interviews couples from all over the country about what it’s like to be married. There’s a husband and wife who both lost limbs at the Boston Marathon, a couple with one partner who came out as transgender during their marriage, and a couple with a 25-year age difference.

Piazza’s stories give a fresh perspective on dating advice, as all of these couples come from completely different backgrounds and have overcome their own truly unique situations. Have tissues handy—some stories will result in tears.

Favorite Episodes: “Suddenly Samantha,” “Jerry,” and “You Are My Safe Place.”

Conversations With People Who Hate Me

Dylan Marron goes where few have gone before: the comments section of social media. And the best part? He changes lives because of it.

In Conversations With People Who Hate Me, Marron finds the individuals who comment hurtful and hateful things in the comments of his social media posts and records their conversation. His conversations usually start out awkward (I mean, who actually wants to talk face-to-face with the people you talk shit about online?), but turn into eye-opening and beautiful conversations about mental health, social justice, and the human experience.

Favorite Episodes: “Hurt People Hurt People,” “Bigot Scum,” and “You Are a Liar.”

The Read

Part pop-culture breakdown, part on-air therapy, The Read, hosted by Kid Fury and Crissle, is a podcast dedicated to bringing you the tea and making you feel heard.

The hosts are engaging, hilarious, and full of heart. Plus, they have undeniable chemistry and aren’t afraid to air out their failures on air. The show is refreshing and exciting, calling out racism and sexism critically and intellectually while simultaneously making listeners burst at the seams.

Favorite Episodes: “Super Soulja Bros.,” “The Circle of Bey and Nike,” and “The Big White Mad.”

Armchair Expert

Anyone who’s even kind of into podcasts probably already knows about Dax Shepard's podcast in which he interviews actors, comedians, musicians, and psychologists about how they got to where they are now.

This podcast almost borderlines on self-help, but trust me. Shephard’s conversations show us the human side of some of the most decorated and accomplished people today, reminding us that success doesn’t look the same for everyone and that it takes guts, grit, and a hell of a lot of therapy to be simply okay with who you are.

Favorite Episodes: “Jason Mantzoukas,” “Joy Bryant,” and “Experts on Experts: Michael Gervais.”


By Logan Cross

Girls' Fan Art Isn't Embarrassing—It's Radical.


You begin with a love that surpasses all else, unhinging you from your squalid, preteenaged self. That streetlight like a stained-glass window; that profound, worship-deserving creature living in the mundane, tricking everyone else into underestimating its holiness—everyone but you. You listen to a song and you are disassembled, you are understood. You stare at photos of a stranger’s tattoos for hours, you conjure up heart-hungry fan fiction and make your own Wattpad account, you assort the lyrics and the videos and the everything on a Tumblr page. You compose a shrine from your own flushed loneliness, yes, but also from something more important—from your need to be seen, to be articulated, to be a visible, complex, worthy anything. It isn’t desperate, it’s glorious. But devotion in the hands and hearts of girls, of course, is always called hysteria.

Fandom isn’t just for girls, but historically—look at punk rock, look at the Beatles’ fame, where all that came from—teenage girls have sprinted ahead as its queens, its facilitators. A certain thought has pestered me for a while now, thinking about my own fan-herstory: maybe, like so many other corners of culture deemed girl-zones, fandom itself is an undervalued domain for art itself. The fangirl as artist; the subject of her fandom as muse. The fandom as an underground bastion of art, its own inclusive version of the Beats’ New York or North Beach, the Paris of the 1920s. I’ve been thinking about the legacies we admit to those sequestered realms of culture we consider “serious” (i.e. male, white) and those we sneer at, usually the domains of marginalized communities. The love of my pre-adolescent life, Harry Styles, is the reason I chose to research this idea. Harry Styles being this inimitable icon beloved for his—really, nonchalance—toward gender and sexuality, his languid defiance of their binaries, his progressive activism and hair and floral, enchanting suits, his voice, his intimate, versatile, perhaps not always profound but deeply loved, always well-made music. All of that has merged into a person embodying so much for so many.

Art that has been traditionally relegated to women is never considered art at all. Art that lives in the tiptoeing, needlepoint margins of history, art seething between the walls of domesticity and suppression, art that remakes the form of art itself, often can be found in the handiwork of womxn; how the yellow wallpaper might be able to crush itself if we could find the blades underneath its polite pastels. Art that unspools from womxn who aren’t supposed to make art, who aren’t supposed to be capable, is belittled and quarantined off from the art world and its history, ultimately caged in that same space as “chick lit”—things we call hobbies or feminine crafts, never anything more, never even aspiring to be. We tell them what they are before they even know.

When you search “Harry Styles” on Society6, a website enabling artists to print their designs on hundreds of different items and effectively let anyone monetize their art, you come across work like this, with the artists credited:


By clwxo on Society6


By vulcains on Society6


By Santana on Society6

And on Etsy, Styles’ lyrics embroidered on T-shirts and sweaters, a sort of perhaps unconscious atavism to that history of “women’s work” :

By Summerbee Store on Etsy


Or the Etsy shop Honey Baby Crafts, dedicated to One Direction-inspired jewelry.

These are homemade artifacts of devotion, latched onto phones and mugs and jewelry and bedspreads. They are constant records of our cultural history as it moves and evolves.

To borrow from Alana Massey’s excellent essay about contemporary Sylvia Plath devotees, from her book All the Lives I Want:

“Public derision is directed at girls wearing T-shirts of boy bands or one half of a best-friend-necklace pairing because we assume that such unsubtle devotion is the result of juvenile obliviousness, rather than bold and certain admiration.”

The gutsiness of teenage girls—the way anything we love carries shame, and yet still we love on anyways—peers through each watercolor of Harry Styles, every Rainbow Rowell or Adam Silvera book transmuted into an iPhone case or a comic, some beautiful Mitski stickers, every piece of, yes, art, incited by something we hold close to our chests and squeeze tight, all of the creations pried from our heads because of a band or a book or a song or a character. The gutsiness of queer girls, of girls of color, of girls with disabilities, of trans girls, of nonbinary teenagers. Of course, bigotry occupies most of our cultural spaces, and fandom is no exception—but the remarkable nature of its terrain is in its capacity to listen, to engage in discourse, to grow so much nuanced art from any seed thrown.

Those handicrafts occupy a status in cultural history similar to that of women’s diaries (as opposed to men’s journals, of course). The “feminine mediums of embroidery, needlework, sewing, clothing, and decoration were deemed ornamental rather than artistic. Paraphrasing Lucy Lippard’s essay “Household Images in Art,” the Brooklyn Museum writes, “previously women artists had avoided ‘female techniques’ like sewing, weaving, knitting, ceramics, even the use of pastel colors (pink!) and delicate lines—all natural elements of artmaking,” for fear of being labeled feminine artists.

Women artists’ desire to push away the traditionally “female” in their work is understandable; distancing themselves from anything womanly so as not to invoke those reactions of infantilization perhaps ensures their own survival not as women artists but as artists. The disavowal of the “girly” still thrashes in my own self-understanding, my tendency to disown my own adoration for melodrama, for wanting too much, for being too emotional, for wanting anything like tenderness or honesty or compassion. These aren’t, obviously, feminine traits, but that’s what they’ve been deemed, what they’ve been understood as for so very long that to unlearn their unimportance is a mountain I must not only climb but tear apart with my hands and teeth.

To reclaim art wholly, though, that “girly” matter, in its every hue, must be considered art-worthy too. Girl-love must be considered art-worthy; girl-pain must be considered art-worthy. Girliness is a reaffirmation of a gender binary that doesn’t exist, but it is worth recognizing that for so very long in our culture, our lives were defined by it. What we call “girly” usually means emotional, effusive, gentle, vulnerable. It’s what we derail in boys in favor of shut-offedness and emotional immaturity and suppression. What we call girliness is what we societally consider weak. Too-much. Too much feeling. What we call girliness is often what we are afraid to own up to in ourselves, and shouldn’t be.

The adoration that fan art owns up to, unapologetically, isn’t girly; it’s fucking magic. Almost every T-shirt and bracelet is inscribed with words of love, resistance, and queerness, even. Messages like “All the love,” a signature Harry Styles tweet-signoff, or “Treat people with kindness,” or my personal favorite, “We’re all a little gay.” Shirts emblazoned with close-ups of Styles’ guitar, with its stickers reading “End gun violence” and “Black Lives Matter.” If this is girliness, girliness is a progressive, insistent superpower. The love cultivated in the Styles fandom in particular overflows with acceptance, with a fluidity of loving and living, and a fierce collective voice against bigotry. At a Harry Styles concert, you enter an otherworld, the world you wish and fight for, a whole bouquet of identities and passions swaying clumsily together, queer and crushing binaries, the music like a warm home for a few hours.

Supporting the financial ecosystems girls createthat young, passionate people of marginalized identities createsupports not merely the future these young artists want to conceive, but the present too. To make this art a viable form of income is a radically feminist act: girls, and nonbinary fans in particular, reverse the archetype of a lovesick, drooling fangirl and actually profit off of that lovesickness.

These young, often LGBTQ+ artists pry a protectiveness out of me because I know what it is to be both coddled and underestimated. What it is to cultivate something glittering and profound, something flawed but feels like togetherness, a belonging you can’t shake. To unearth the truest true in, yes, a boy band or a YA book. These artists never cover up their devotion; they just go ahead and fucking paint. They go ahead and fucking create what every old white male art critic would scoff at; they make it without apologizing; they design floral, floaty dreamscapes of Harry Styles in a flower crown and a pink suit; they draw him over-tattooed and sullen; they drape the pride flag over him and embroider his lyrics on T-shirts with their own tiny doodles underneath. They convene love and creativity in startling, affectionate tapestries of love, of not acceptance but simple declaration: we are here, we’re queer, we’re artists and creatives as talented and true as the rest of you. We’re girls, and we don’t even think of apologizing for it.


By Sofia Sears

Illustration by Sean McCabe for RollingStone.com
Photographs used in illustration by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images, Warner Bros/Everett Collection, Scott Gries/Getty Images, Merie W. Wallace/20th Century Fox/Paramount/Kobal/REX Shutterstock, Kevin Winter/Getty Images, Jeff Daly/FilmMagic