The fight ain’t over | Reporter’s Notebook

Every year, Women’s History Month offers an opportunity to celebrate women throughout history and reflect on the struggles – and strides – we have made in being recognized as full human beings with the freedom of self-determination, of choosing our path, following our dreams and recognizing our worth.

You know, the basics.

Whatever your political stance, the fact that women – one of them a black woman – occupy the second and third highest position in the nation is a milestone in American history. The possibility of the first black woman appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court is another such milestone.

Indeed, there are many moments when true equality seems right around the corner.

And yet.

As we move through the second decade of the twenty-first century women find themselves facing a rising trend of restrictive legislation that seems hell-bent on limiting control of our own bodies and establishing — and enforcing — laws based on outdated gender roles.

Oklahoma, for instance, adopted “Failure to Protect” laws that can charge a caretaker with failing to protect a child from someone else’s abuse. In 2020, Rebecca Hogue, 29, was convicted of the first-degree murder of her two-year-old son, Ryder. The child died at the hands of Hogue’s boyfriend who later committed suicide after leaving a note saying the mother was innocent of the child’s death. Nonetheless, the jury found Hogue guilty and recommended life in prison. The judge, however, suspended the sentence to 16 months. Still, the grieving mother served time and now has a felony record.

That same year in Georgia, Melissa Henderson, a single mother of five, was charged with criminal reckless conduct after she left her children under the care of her 14-year-old daughter when COVID shut down their daycare center. While their sister cared for them, the youngest left the house and was found within 10-15 minutes playing at a neighbor’s home. Another neighbor called the police and two weeks later Henderson was arrested in front of her children and charged with criminal reckless conduct. If convicted, she faces a maximum penalty of one year in prison and a $1,000 fine. This, in a country that has no national child care program and, for far too many working parents.

Yet, reproductive care in the U.S. is pathetically regressive. According to the NARAL, only seven of America’s 50 states (Washington is among them) guarantee a woman’s birth control prescriptions must be filled; and a total of twenty-five states — 50 percent — have severely limited access to reproductive rights. Two states, Wyoming and Kansas, have restricted access altogether.

Even as women continue to succeed in all aspects of American life, legislative bodies in state after state are passing legislation that limits or prevents access to birth control or affordable prenatal care; severely restrict (and in a growing number of states, criminalize) a woman’s right to choose to end her pregnancy. Further, there appear to be no attempts to create and fund affordable daycare programs. Finally, there’s the threat of criminal punishment should anything happen to her child.

Then, there’s Texas.

Why it almost feels like a conscious effort to relegate women to a “barefoot and pregnant” status. Surely, we’re smarter than this. Surely. After all, driverless cars are in our future. If we can trust a hunk of metal to get us somewhere, surely we can trust women to handle their own lives and life decisions.

During months like this when we celebrate traditionally unrecognized American histories, it’s important to remember that one’s human rights are never given; they are claimed. Claiming the right to vote, to marry whom one chooses, to live where one wants, or the right to participate in the democratic process has never been easy. It has, however, been necessary. It’s wise, then, to remain ever vigilant and informed, and aware of any attempts to rescind those claims.

Diligence. A good thing to remember this Women’s History Month.