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No Country for Young Women: America’s War on Girls’ Bodies | The Nation

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Jessica Valenti

Jessica Valenti

Feminism, sexuality & social justice. With a sense of humor.

No Country for Young Women: America’s War on Girls’ Bodies


Activists marked forty years since a US Supreme Court ruling established a nationwide right to abortion with a demonstration at a Mississippi clinic in January. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

There’s no easy answer as to why some judges in the United States would rather force a teenager to have a baby than allow her to have an abortion. It’s clearly not about logic—a girl deemed too immature to have a minutes-long medical procedure surely can’t be adult enough to raise a child for eighteen years. It’s not about the best interest of the state, or what’s best for the girl herself. Yet over and again abortion policies dictate that we ignore common sense—not to mention basic decency—and mandate that girls carry pregnancies they don’t want. (Women, too, of course—but for now let’s focus on the young among us.)

Some girls are lucky—they live in states without parental notification and consent laws, or have legal guardians who care about their bodily autonomy and right to decide if and when to become a parent. But many girls do not have this good fortune.

One young woman in Nebraska—a 16-year-old ward of the state—has just been forced to carry a pregnancy she does not want because a nearly all-male state Supreme Court says she should. Without legal guardians to protect her from state interference in her reproductive health, she will have a child against her will.

The young woman appeared in a lower court when she was ten weeks pregnant seeking a judicial bypass for parental consent to abortion. She, along with two younger siblings, had been removed from her drug-addicted biological parents because of physical abuse. According to Jessica Mason Pieklo of RH Reality Check, the teen told the court she had basically raised her siblings, and didn’t think she could be the mother she would like to be right now.

The young woman also underwent counseling about her decision to terminate the pregnancy and had plans to graduate high school early. The judge told her, “When you have the abortion, it’s going to kill the child inside of you.” Now tell me, who is the immature one?

There is no logic here, just fear. Fear of young women’s bodies, young women’s sexuality, and young women’s autonomy. And parental consent laws are just one violation in a long line of bodily injustices young women are forced to endure in the US.

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American culture and policy “protect” young women by constantly reinforcing the idea that their bodies are not their own but dangerous and in need of outside control. We fret about what they wear, implementing biased dress codes that target girls, especially those with more developed bodies. We obsess about their sexuality, whether through insisting on their abstinence or assuming their promiscuity.

The only thing US culture and politics does more than “protect” is punish. We don’t believe girls when they are raped, saying they must have asked for it—especially when they are young women of color. We teach them to hate themselves, letting them believe their natural hair is “unacceptable,” that their bodies are public property, and that the violence done to them can be made into “satire” with no concern for their humanity.

Parental consent laws are an awful combination of this protection and punishment, a chilling violation of girls’ human rights shrouded in the language of caring. These policies target the most vulnerable, while telling girls it’s for their own good.

Young women deserve our respect, but even more they deserve the dignity and the ability to make decisions about their own lives and futures. Giving up control is a small price to pay to let them do so.

Leslie Savan has noticed how the Murdoch newspapers are ignoring polls that show Lhota lagging and de Blasio ahead.

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