Women leaders in S. Carolina show representation matters
Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Op-ed (Published on May 25, 2023)
Author: Dr. RL Booker
Editor: Veronica Mobley
As society changes, we see a massive movement for the dignity of all people to be recognized and actualized, not only in areas some would call "liberal bastions" of our country, but also in conservative states like South Carolina. On April 26, six Republican lawmakers, one independent and all Democrats in the South Carolina legislature voted against a bill that would have blocked nearly all abortions in the state. The bill failed 22-21. The state currently has an abortion ban after 22 weeks of pregnancy. Of 46 members in the state Senate, only five are women. All five women voted "no" on the abortion ban. Republican Sen. Sandy Senn stated, "Abortion laws have always been about control ... and in the Senate, the males all have control. We the women have not asked for, nor do we want, your protection. We don't need it."
Republican Sen. Penry Gustafson stated, "No matter the intent, there are millions of women ... in this state who feel like they have been personally addressed in this legislation ... who feel like they have not been heard." Then, Gustafson spent more than 30 minutes detailing the bodily changes women experience during every stage of pregnancy.
Republican Sen. Katrina Shealy explained her opposition: "Once a woman became pregnant for any reason, she would now become property of the state of South Carolina ... maybe I'm confused about this legislation, or maybe the men who wrote it know more about pregnancy than the women in this chamber or across this state or the country who can actually get pregnant and give birth."
Shealy said that earlier this year, three Republican women and one Republican man introduced what they considered a woman-centered bill in the medical affairs committee, but committee members said "a woman shouldn't introduce it; they needed a man to introduce it for it to get heard." Shealy called that an insult to all women.
Irrespective of their personal views on abortion, a key point these women made was that representation matters. People of color, people with disabilities, LGBTQIA+ people, non-religious communities and so many others have made that point for decades.
In my Oct. 28, 2021, column "Trusting Women: On abortion, the question is whether we trust women," I wrote about why I, as a Christian man, choose to trust women when it comes to abortion. We as Christians have to let go of the notion that God has given us the absolute right to never be wrong. I leaned into the wisdom of the Rev. Michelle Higgins, Rabbi Lori Koffman, and Pastor Jes Kast, who agree that women should have bodily autonomy, access to healthcare, and that their dignity must not be questioned, but respected. When we do not trust women with this decision, what are we really saying?
The point of this column is not to advocate for or against abortion, nor is it to attack those who want policies aligned with the values they believe are centered around Christianity. Rather, it is to help us ponder these vital questions: How often have women been dismissed when presenting their perspectives about political and legal issues? Why are women dismissed when they speak about issues that impact women? What can you do to be a better ally for women?
The National Institutes of Health defines "allyship" as people using their power and abilities to "work in solidarity and partnership with a marginalized group of people to help take down the systems that challenge that group's basic rights, equal access and ability to thrive in our society."
Aspen Russell, research assistant with the Association for Women in Science, provides recommendations about how to be an ally for women. First, learn about issues important to you. Individuals must do their own work to build an understanding of the histories, contexts and current issues before they can effectively empathize with their colleagues and peers.
Second, education can be achieved through courses, workshops, conversations with friends, activism, advocacy and other approaches focused on inclusive practices.
Third, intervene in conversations when necessary. By intervening when someone seeks to put down women, you begin to establish a new norm and create an environment others can grasp onto. By establishing it is OK to speak against bias, you begin to destigmatize allyship.
Fourth, and what I would deem the most important recommendation, is to listen more and speak less.
This final recommendation reminds us of the need to provide space, not take it up. Aspen explains that taking on the role of a sounding board fosters an environment for uninhibited conversation. Conversations can be pivotal in creating trust. Conversations can be the foundation for learning and meaningful action. So, the next time you have a conversation with women about abortion, I challenge you (just as I challenge myself) to listen. Listen deeply. Listen with an open mind and heart in an effort to sincerely understand, rather than speaking with the intention of imposing your own worldview.
South Carolina Senators Fight for Women
Video from Good Morning America