Review: Barely Free

Reverend Dr. Stephanie Rutt is founding minister of the interfaith Tree of Life Temple in Amherst. She lives in Nashua. To learn more about his writing, visit

As I watched the reactions to the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade, I noticed a small group of young women huddled together, celebrating happily. And my heart broke. I wrote this with them in mind.

“Please forgive this grandmother’s offering, but I cannot in good conscience remain silent. Why? Because I can remember what you can’t and I’m afraid you celebrate at your peril. As a teenager, I’ve known girls, barely younger than you, who got pregnant and had to sneak into strange, often dingy rooms to have an abortion because telling their parents just wasn’t an option. . Sometimes fathers cared deeply and followed. Sometimes not. But what was clear was that the pregnancy was on the girl only. Most of all, I remember being so scared for them, hoping they would be okay and the worst wouldn’t happen. Those were the years just before Roe vs. Wade become law.

Yet even as women soon discovered and enjoyed a new autonomy over their sexuality and reproductive rights with the adoption of Roe and the availability of the pill, there remained a clear resistance to these freedoms, particularly on the part of of the most fundamentalist Christian communities where there was strong patriarchy. This resistance is now fully visible throughout our country.

Think of the recent Texas ruling on abortion that many states are now replicating. Suppose the real protection of the welfare of the unborn child is the issue, and life begins at conception, as Christians firmly believe. Why didn’t the ruling also require expectant fathers to immediately begin paying child support with confirmation of a positive pregnancy test? And why haven’t similar vigilantes been legalized to help report any financial failings found or, worse, report any father trying to evade responsibility? Wouldn’t that also have been in the best interests of the unborn child? But no. No such responsibility for the man, now a father, has been legislated.

And over the years I have noticed that the most extreme example of this double standard can occur when there is sexual abuse within the family. I pray you’ll never be one of those moms (yes, you never imagine it could be you) who finds out your husband is visiting your daughter’s bed at night and naturally believes that your clergy leader will help and will support you. Unfortunately, it’s not entirely uncommon to find that the blame is on you because, of course, the natural solution would be for you to be a better wife.

As very restrictive anti-abortion laws now take effect across the country and many do not allow exceptions for incest or rape, my dear young women, please pause and consider what will happen next. to this thirteen-year-old now pregnant with her biological father’s child? She could be your younger sister. And where would you go if, God forbid, you were brutally raped and found pregnant?

Oh, my dear beautiful, lively and joyful young women. When a secular democratic society turns into a theocracy based on a particular religious tradition, or in our case just part of a tradition, the fundamentalist wing of the Christian faith, a scrambling of church and state occurs. And men tend to win while women lose. And that is exactly what is happening.

You think I’m an alarmist? Christian fundamentalists have been laying the groundwork for this transformation for quite a while now but thankfully other God-loving Christians have joined the fight to push back. I invite you to read former President Jimmy Carter’s article, “Losing My Religion for Equality”. He talks about severing his six-decade ties with the Southern Baptist Convention after the Convention said women were subject to their husbands and underscored its opposition to women as pastors.

It really scares me that you imagine what could happen as Christian fundamentalism, bent on nothing less than patriarchal theocratic rule, sweeps across the country now emboldened by a Supreme Court majority. For example, could women soon be subtly but persistently discouraged or even prohibited from pursuing other leadership roles in our society? If the goal is to largely silence a woman’s voice and restrict her full participation, isn’t it a stretch to imagine a future where even a woman’s right to vote might be curtailed? question ?

After all, in such an environment, would she ever dare to have a difference of opinion with her husband or other male figures, and make it known? Wouldn’t she naturally look to them for guidance in right thought and action? Wouldn’t the male voice, and the vote, then speak naturally for her, for all women?

Did you read The Handmaid’s Tale? If not, oh my dears, do it now! Wake up before it’s too late! Wake up beautiful, joyful young women while you are still, barely, free.

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