Thursday, the Arkansas House of Representatives is expected to vote on GOP Sen. Jason Rapert’s “trigger law” outlawing nearly every abortion in Arkansas if Roe v. Wade is overturned. The bill passed in the Arkansas Senate last week with three Democrats voting in support. Yesterday, it passed through committee with Rep. Mary Bentley (R-Perryville) starting off the debate with a Bible verse, a comparison of abortion to slavery and a mention of the discredited Planned Parenthood video. Rapert then chimed in with his accusation that women across the country are using abortion as birth control. He asked the legislature to build a “culture of life.” Rapert ended by invoking the image of God.


Women, on both sides, came forward to speak, including those who told very personal and emotional stories. But of course, we know the majority male, majority GOP legislature has already decided that women’s bodies need to be legislated and controlled. That women cannot decide for themselves, even with assistance from their family members, doctors and clergy, when facing a difficult choice. The narrative that women cavalierly run around having unprotected sex and choose not to use birth control, instead paying for expensive surgical procedures they will later live to regret, has been pushed by white conservative evangelicals for the past few decades from the pulpit, the stump and the guest commentator spots on cable television. The message is clear. Women are the enemy of the unborn.

Rep. Megan Godfrey (D-Springdale) spoke up last week for the women whose stories and pain won’t be “enough” to even be part of the conversation about our bodies. She pointed out, along with Reps. Denise Garner (D-Fayetteville) and Nicole Clowney (D-Fayetteville), that if fewer abortions are the goal, there are better ways to accomplish that than Rapert’s ban. But history shows us that the voices of women who offer a different perspective from those of men are often marginalized, especially in religious traditions. I grew up in a church where the most gifted and knowledgeable speakers were not allowed to be heard, except by other women, merely because they were female. Every single time I hear a male preacher go on about how women are to be seen but not heard I think about how he is actually engaging in self-preservation by working to prevent half his congregation from even being able to apply to do his job.


The truth is women suffer when men control the narratives of our faiths, our bodies and our lives. In those narratives, we become marginalized. We become the ones who need to be controlled, punished or saved. Recently, the country has gone through a collective reexamination of how we view women like Lorena Bobbitt and Monica Lewinsky, both initially seen as subjects to ridicule and shame for what they did instead of focusing on the wrongs they suffered at the hands of men.

A piece by Melissa Jeltsen for the Huffington Post discusses the new Amazon documentary about Lorena Bobbitt and points out much of the initial coverage of her was dominated by male journalists such as Charlie Rose, Matt Lauer and Geraldo Rivera, who primarily focused on her act of cutting off John Wayne Bobbitt’s penis and not on the physical and sexual abuse she allegedly suffered at her his hands


I remember the summer the Bobbitts hit the news. I had just graduated from high school and was preparing to go away to college. Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley and Jason Baldwin had been arrested for the murders of three young boys in nearby West Memphis. It seemed that was all anyone talked about until Lorena Bobbitt was arrested in late June. Even though she accused John Wayne Bobbitt of rape, forcing her to have an abortion and threatening violence if she left him, over the years when I heard her name, all I remembered was what she did to him. When I heard her husband’s name, instead of the credible allegations of abuse he committed against Lorena and two other women over the years, I winced remembering what he suffered.

We are the product of what we consume and John Wayne Bobbitt’s suffering was the focus of the male-dominated news coverage I watched week after week. As a result, instead of focusing on the pain of women, I, along with most of the country, considered the pain of the abusive man. As Jeltsen pointed out in her 2016 profile, “Lorena Bobbitt is Done Being Your Punchline,” the incident could have “launched a national dialogue about domestic abuse” instead of “a deluge of dick jokes.”

Lewinsky’s saga follows a similar path. She was a teenager when her married, former high school teacher began having sex with her. She was a White House intern when the leader of the free world began looking to her for oral sex. Of course, we all remember the “Saturday Night Live” skits painting Lewinsky as a flirtatious strumpet who seduced President Bill Clinton instead of a complicated young woman who had been on the receiving end of affection from older, more powerful men. Clinton, while impeached, pretty much got a pass from his supporters while Lewinsky was shamed and ridiculed for years.

I’ll freely admit that I put much of the blame on her until the recent documentary. Was this my own failing or could it have been a result of being raised in a church where women were responsible for the sins of men (Adam and Eve), attending a school where dress codes were designed to police girls for being “distractions” to boys and watching news coverage that was brought to me mainly by male voices and perspectives? I don’t know. I do know Lorena Bobbitt and Lewinsky suffered from this skewed perspective while the men who abused them seemed to bounce back, Clinton was reelected and John Wayne Bobbitt made a full recovery, appeared in porn movies and received $250,000 from a Howard Stern fundraiser.


What does all of this have to do with today’s vote in the House? Everything. For years, the needs and priorities of women have been put on the back burner. White men have long led this country so their comfort and opinions have been prioritized. As Godfrey pointed out, the pain of women should be at the center of the discussion. But that’s not what we as a country tend to do in our politics and in our media. Anyone catch the recent Esquire cover and article focusing on the plight of the white male? 

I predict that the narrative on abortion in Arkansas will continue to be controlled by the GOP evangelicals who believe women either need to be punished for our choices or saved from our naivety and these goals can only be accomplished by passing Rapert’s bill. I predict that the only women who will be truly heard are those who further that narrative. I predict that the pain of women who have made the choice to end their pregnancies for a number of reasons and continue to support the right of other women to do the same will not be enough. I predict, instead of looking at evidence that better wages, paid parental leave and better prenatal care lead to fewer abortions, that men cause unwanted pregnancies or that abortions performed late in the term are rare and often due to catastrophic health issues with either mother or child, many of the legislators will focus on religion and making us out to be the bad guys. That’s much easier than taking actual steps to help women and children thrive. Same as it ever was.

CORRECTION: The article said originally that the bill was on the House calendar today. It is on Thursday’s calendar.