Women’s Rights: Back to the Dark Ages

Sometimes you feel like it’s morning: the sun is shining, the birds are singing, and the world is a better place than it was yesterday. Then again, sometimes you feel like night is falling, the wind is howling and there’s a monster under the bed.

When it comes to the status of women’s rights in America these days, the sun is going down and the monster has come out of hiding.

Standing Up and Pushing Back

In better times, I was part of the women’s movement that pushed back on the rules and restrictions men placed on women. We stood up to block men from treating us like second-class citizens, if we even rose that high. Their patronizing attitudes, their assumption of unearned privilege, their unwanted and discriminatory “protection” all rankled.

Women without choice & equal rights, Sad, women's rights, protestersWe marched and sang to promote change. Leaders of the women’s movement refused to talk to male reporters. This tactic demonstrated the lack of female journalists and helped break down barriers to hiring them. But most of all, we voted. Men had rarely encountered women voting on a single issue—or voting in our own best interests. And men accustomed to telling their wives who to vote for discovered that approach didn’t work anymore.

The future looked like a brighter, more open place: a place where women could go to medical school or law school, wear what we wanted, do any job we wanted. Men could no longer ask us insulting questions during interviews, call us by derogatory names, and deny us the ability to succeed.

Women’s Rights Go Downhill

Today, it seems we are going downhill with women’s rights. Republicans in some states have adopted a punitive, even hostile, approach toward their female citizens.

  • A politicized Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade, which guaranteed women the right to control our own bodies.
  • Since then, 14 states have implemented anti-abortion laws. Some protect the live of women and girls. Some don’t.
  • Texas passed a law allowing private citizens to sue anyone who helps a woman obtain an abortion for $10,000—payable by the defendant. Already, one man has filed a “revenge suit” to get back at his ex-wife.
  • Several states have attempted to block the movement of their female citizens to prevent them from traveling to another state where abortion is legal.
  • Florida Ron DeSantis is considering requiring all female student-athletes in the state to provide detailed information about their periods in order to compete in organized sports.
  • South Carolina has proposed a law that would sentence women who have abortions to the death penalty.
  • As soon as SCOTUS repealed Roe v. Wade, Wisconsin used a “trigger law” to reinstate an 1849 abortion ban that threatens doctors and nurses with felony charges for providing abortion care, and bans abortion in nearly every case – including in cases of rape and incest.

Death Panels Ahead

If any of the above come as a surprise, you haven’t been paying attention. Neither did some of the women who voted for these politicians and supported anti-abortion laws only to discover that abortion is health care that can save a woman’s life. If you don’t like the idea of insurance companies deciding what health care you can receive, you will really not like a governor or judge deciding that you have to get close to dying before you can have an abortion.

Death Panel, women's rights, abortion, health care, Grim Reaper


Not so very long ago, Republicans called this concept, “Death Panels.” I guess they liked the ideal well enough to implement their own.

NOTE: I don’t normally mention political parties in The Next Phase Blog because this is not a political blog. But the fact remains that the attempt to take women back in time is being waged only by members of the Republican Party.

Resurrecting the Comstock Law

Now Texas Republicans are resurrecting the Comstock Law, an 1873 “Act for the Suppression of Trade in, and Circulation of, Obscene Literature and Articles for Immoral Use.” The Comstock Law made it a crime to:

  • Sell or distribute materials that could be used for contraception or abortion,
  • To send such materials or information about such materials through the federal mail system, or
  • To import such materials from abroad.
Your Honor this woman gave birth to a naked child, Comstock Law, vice, pornography

“Your Honor, this woman gave birth to a naked child.”

Ostensibly aimed at obscenity and pornography, it also targeted birth-control devices and information on them, at abortion, and at information on sexuality and on sexually transmitted diseases.

This law, promoted by a 19th-century misogynist and bigoted moralist, should have been repealed long ago. Probably, no one in Congress considered that action worth the time and attention. After all, who wanted to return to 1873 for laws governing reproduction?

Clearly, some people do—and those people are all Republicans. Texas is attempting to use the Comstock Law to block shipment of abortion pills through the mail to women trapped in their state.

Sliding Back to the 18th Century

As, I said, women’s rights are sliding backwards. In Texas, this retrograde motion goes back to 1873. In his 2022 ruling on Dobbs, Justice Samuel Alito goes even further, referring to a decision by English Jurist Sir Matthew Hale, whose treatise, “History of the Pleas of the Crown,” was published after his death in 1736.

Pundits proclaim that Republicans are taking women’s rights back to the Dark Ages. In fact, however, Historian John M. Riddle believes many women actually may have had more access to reproductive care in the actual Dark Ages than they have in many parts of the United States today. Just FYI, the Dark Ages ran from the early medieval period, roughly the 5th century to 10th century.

Not only do these rulings disregard the health and safety of women, they disdain current public attitudes toward abortion. Most Americans favor a woman’s right to abortion.  Currently, 61% say abortion should be legal in all or most cases, while 37% say it should be illegal in all or most cases.

Extremist Minority Rule and Women’s Rights

Doctor, Fainting Woman, women's rights, Comstock LawThis is what happens when gerrymandering a state discourages open debate on issues and allows one party to dominate regardless of majority opinion. This is what minority rule looks like. It allows a small group of extremists to dictate the laws that govern all women’s health and even our lives.

If you don’t like what has happened to women’s rights—and I don’t—pay attention now and remember on Election Day 2024.