Mark McCormick: The fight against women’s erasure continues after Aug. 2 abortion vote (Column)

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Note: The Lawrence Times runs opinion columns written by community members with varying perspectives on local issues. Occasionally, we’ll also pick up columns from other nearby news outlets. These pieces do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Times staff.

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Kansas Reflector welcomes opinion pieces from writers who share our goal of widening the conversation about how public policies affect the day-to-day lives of people throughout our state. Mark McCormick is the former executive director of The Kansas African American Museum and a member of the Kansas African American Affairs Commission.

The busloads of men I had accompanied as a journalist to 1995’s Million Man March seemed stunned by the news media count of only 400,000 men on Washington, D.C.’s mall the previous day. I wrote that journalists at the march must have used the three-fifths compromise in calculating the size of the crowd.

Aerial estimates put attendance between 800,000 and 1.2 million.

The idea of counting a human being as three-fifths human has its own horrors, but at least we were counted. Women don’t appear in the U.S. Constitution. Their unenumerated existence explains for some why guns have more rights than the women in our lives.

The historic vote Aug. 2, however, could mark the beginning of the end of the systematic erasure of women in this nation. Kansas women likely looked at the results of the vote and wondered if there was anything they couldn’t do.

Voter registration zoomed by 1,000%, according to news reports in the weeks leading up to the special election, and more than 60% of those registrations were women. The resulting tidal wave of turnout helped Kansans turn back an effort to turn the clock back on women and their right to govern their own bodies.

Of course, abortion to many people isn’t so cut and dried. There’s nuance, they say. Complexities.

But leaning too much into those “complexities” likely would require a violation of a woman’s agency to decide if she wants to become a parent or not. We were facing the probability of the government forcing women to carry pregnancies to term.

Almost simultaneously, many Kansans bitterly and angrily fought mandatory masking measures during the pandemic, considering such a request as tyranny. No way we men will ever find our bodies managed and directed the way society seems to want to do for women.

Frankly, women having these intimate, personal rights put up for a public vote was wrong in the first place. Inalienable rights shouldn’t fall subject to the tyranny of the majority. It was wrong for women to have to turn out in droves to defend a right they should already enjoy.

It felt as though draconian restrictions on contraception and prying, criminal investigations into any miscarriage would follow on the heels of this vote were it successful. The whole situation was terrifying.

But these efforts aren’t new.

I remember the national push during the 1970s to pass the Equal Rights Amendment. Even as a child, I understood that women deserved equal rights. I couldn’t understand why people considered this effort controversial. But controversial it was. It didn’t pass.

One of my co-workers once shared that there was a time when she couldn’t have her own credit card. She could only carry one with her husband’s name.

In the recent HBO documentary “The Janes,” about a group of Chicago women who pioneered abortion services in the 1960s, women said they couldn’t receive birth control unless they were married. Many bought dime store rings and called them “Mrs. (made-up husband’s name)” to get the care they sought.

I once interviewed the trailblazing entrepreneur Xavia Hightower, who ran two mortuaries in two Kansas cities. To get a loan, her bank insisted that she needed a husband to manage her affairs. So, she married a man to come to the bank with her, and she continued running her business.

I’ve barely scratched the absurdities women have had to deal with.

Even in the issue of police terror, we aren’t affording women’s voices the attention they deserve.

How often have you read about police departments losing rape kits? How seriously do we take the issue of stalking? And in recent years with the spate of the killing of unarmed Black men, it appears that police officers are sexually assaulting women at alarming rates during traffic stops. There’s a federal investigation into this matter right now in Kansas City, Kansas.

Maybe that’s why, for many Kansas women and women across the nation, the Aug. 2 “no” vote felt worthy of a Helen Reddy primal roar.

That vote indeed should mark a new beginning.

A beginning for women to add themselves to the American mosaic, where for so long, men and their accomplices simply painted over them.

— Mark McCormick is the former executive director of The Kansas African American Museum and a member of the Kansas African American Affairs Commission.

Through its opinion section, the Kansas Reflector works to amplify the voices of people who are affected by public policies or excluded from public debate. Find information, including how to submit your own commentary, here. Find how to submit your own commentary to The Lawrence Times here.

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

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