From Witch Hunts to Abortion Bans - Bitter Threads

From Witch Hunts to Abortion Bans

The Patriarchy's War on Women's Bodies and Power

In recent months, the rollback of abortion rights has highlighted a disturbing trend: the systematic control of women's bodies by patriarchal forces. This isn't a new phenomenon. Throughout history, women, particularly those who deviated from societal norms, have been targeted and oppressed. From the witch hunts of medieval Europe to today's abortion bans, the message is clear: the patriarchy seeks to control and subjugate women.

I. It's Not About Saving Babies, But Controlling Women

If this mostly male legislative body was truly focused on saving lives, there are numerous actions they could take that would have a more significant long-term impact.

A. Inconsistent Concern for Life

  1. Lack of Support for Maternal and Child Health: Many of the politicians and groups advocating for abortion bans also oppose measures that could save lives and support families, such as expanding Medicaid, providing paid family leave, and ensuring affordable childcare.
  2. Healthcare Disparities: Countries with strict abortion laws often have higher maternal mortality rates and poorer healthcare outcomes for women and children. This indicates a lack of genuine concern for life beyond the womb.

B. Focus on Punishment Over Prevention

  1. Criminalization of Abortion: Efforts to criminalize abortion focus on punishment rather than prevention. Instead of providing comprehensive sex education and access to contraception, which are proven to reduce unintended pregnancies, the focus remains on punitive measures.
  2. Limited Support for Preventative Measures: Comprehensive sex education and access to contraception are essential for reducing unwanted pregnancies and the need for abortions. However, many of those who push for restrictive abortion laws also oppose these preventative measures.

C. What Could Be Done Instead

  1. Comprehensive Healthcare: Providing access to affordable healthcare, including prenatal and postnatal care, contraception, and comprehensive sex education, would genuinely support both women and children.
  2. Economic and Social Support: Policies such as paid family leave, affordable childcare, and financial support for low-income families would help ensure that children are born into environments where they can thrive.
  3. Education and Empowerment: Empowering women through education and economic opportunities not only reduces the need for abortions but also supports the health and well-being of families and communities.

II. Limiting Bodily Autonomy

Abortion restrictions directly infringe on a woman's right to make decisions about her own body. By denying women the ability to choose whether or not to carry a pregnancy to term, these laws control one of the most intimate aspects of a woman's life. Bodily autonomy is a fundamental human right, and restricting it undermines a woman's freedom and independence.

III. Economic Control

Access to abortion has significant economic implications. Women who are forced to carry unwanted pregnancies to term may face financial hardships, including the cost of healthcare, loss of income, and the economic burden of raising a child. This is especially detrimental to low-income women, who may not have the resources to support an unplanned child. By controlling reproductive rights, these laws can trap women in cycles of poverty and limit their economic opportunities​.

IV. Social and Psychological Impact

Forcing women to continue unwanted pregnancies can have severe psychological and social impacts. Women may face stigma, mental health issues, and disruptions to their personal and professional lives. This social control perpetuates gender inequality by reinforcing traditional gender roles and limiting women's participation in society​.

V. Health Risks

Restricting access to safe and legal abortions can lead to dangerous health outcomes. Women may resort to unsafe methods to terminate pregnancies, risking their lives and health. In places with strict abortion laws, maternal mortality rates tend to be higher due to these unsafe practices.

VI. Political and Ideological Control

Abortion laws are often influenced by political and religious ideologies that seek to control women's reproductive choices. These laws can reflect and reinforce patriarchal values that prioritize control over women's bodies and lives. By controlling reproductive rights, these laws maintain the power structures that keep women subordinate to men.

VII. Impact on Life Plans and Opportunities

Access to abortion allows women to make decisions that align with their life plans and goals. Without the ability to control if and when they have children, women's opportunities for education, career advancement, and personal development are significantly hindered. This control over reproductive choices limits women's full participation in society and their ability to achieve their potential.

VIII. Historical Context: Witch Hunts and the Persecution of Women

A. Witch Hunts as a Tool of Control

Between the 15th and 18th centuries, Europe was gripped by the hysteria of witch hunts. Tens of thousands of people, predominantly women, were accused of witchcraft and executed. These hunts served as a tool to control and subjugate women who did not conform to the societal norms of the time.

B. Targets of Witch Hunts

The women targeted during these hunts often shared common characteristics: they were single, widowed, or outspoken agitators, and many were healers or midwives. For instance, in the German city of Würzburg, the witch trials of the early 17th century saw entire families, including children, executed. The underlying misogyny was clear – women who stepped out of line were to be feared and eradicated.

C. Religious and Social Justifications

Both the Catholic and Protestant churches played significant roles in these persecutions. The Malleus Maleficarum, a treatise written by Catholic clergymen in 1487, outlined the necessity of eradicating witches to maintain religious and social order. This book fueled the fires of hysteria, portraying women as more susceptible to demonic influence.

XI. Modern Parallels: Abortion Bans and Women's Rights

A. Current State of Abortion Rights

Today, the battle over women's rights has shifted to the realm of reproductive health. Recent legal changes in the United States, such as the overturning of Roe v. Wade, have severely restricted access to abortion. States like Texas and Alabama have enacted laws that ban abortions even in cases of rape or where the woman's life is endangered.

B. Control Over Women's Bodies

These abortion bans are modern manifestations of the same patriarchal control mechanisms that drove the witch hunts. They strip women of their bodily autonomy, forcing them to adhere to laws that have no regard for their personal circumstances or health.

C. Motivations Behind Abortion Restrictions

The motivations behind these restrictions are deeply rooted in conservative and religious ideologies. Political leaders and religious groups push these laws under the guise of protecting life, yet their real aim is to maintain control over women's bodies and choices.

X. Patriarchal Fear of Powerful Women

A. Historical Fear of Women's Power

Throughout history, powerful women have often been met with fear and repression. Joan of Arc, for instance, was burned at the stake in 1431, accused of witchcraft and heresy. Her crime? Leading the French army to victory and defying traditional gender roles.

B. Contemporary Examples of Powerful Women

In modern times, powerful women continue to face backlash. Figures like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Kamala Harris are frequently subjected to sexist attacks, both in the media and by their political opponents. These attacks aim to undermine their authority and perpetuate the notion that women should not wield power.

C. Intersection of Power, Strength, and Repression

The repression of powerful women intersects with issues of race and class. Women of color, in particular, face compounded discrimination. Serena Williams, despite her achievements in tennis, has faced racist and sexist critiques throughout her career. This intersectionality highlights the broader societal fear of women who challenge the status quo.

XI. The Ongoing Fight for Women's Rights

A. Advocacy and Resistance

Despite these challenges, there is a robust movement advocating for women's rights. Organizations like Planned Parenthood and the Center for Reproductive Rights work tirelessly to protect and expand access to reproductive healthcare. Activists continue to fight against the systemic oppression of women.

B. Importance of Solidarity

Solidarity and allyship are crucial in this fight. Intersectional feminism, which considers the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender, is essential for creating a unified front against oppression.

C. Call to Action

It's imperative for everyone to get involved in advocacy. This can include voting for candidates who support women's rights, donating to relevant organizations, and participating in activism.


From the witch hunts of the past to the abortion bans of today, the patriarchal control over women's bodies remains a stark reality. The fight for women's rights is far from over, and it is crucial for us to remain vigilant and active in this struggle lest we slip backwards and begin jailing women who seek abortions...and eventually sentencing them to the death penalty. 

Photo by Dima Valkov


    1. World Health Organization: Maternal Health
    2. American Psychological Association: The facts about abortion and mental health
    3. Associations of Unintended Pregnancy With Maternal and Infant Health Outcomes
    4. National Partnership for Women & Families: Reproductive Rights and Economic Security
    5. American Adoption: Emotional Effects of Giving a Child Up for Adoption
    6. Clear and Growing Evidence That Dobbs Is Harming Reproductive Health and Freedom
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