SDS Womyn's Caucus Blog

A Witch is A Witch

Posted on: June 11, 2009

-Joanna-Philly SDS

Dissidents-despite the age in which they have lived and struggled-have been put to death-murdered-by institutions and individuals fighting for woman’s right to control her body. From the Inquisition throughout Europe in the “dark ages” to the outlawing of midwifery and the establishment of the medical industry in early 20th century America, with its professional, male doctors, woman’s health advocates, especially those fighting for control of reproductive care, have been labeled as witches, moral hazards, illegal, heretical, justifiably punished with death.

In short, woman’s fight to control health care, her own as well as her right to provide it without “official” sanction, is a historical battle that can not be isolated from the past. In a pamphlet by Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English, “Witches, Midwives, and Nurses, A History or Women Healers,” the authors outline how women have been pushed from controlling health care and their bodies by institutions that benefited (and benefit) from their oppression. By marginalizing women as unfit to care, except in the intentionally innocuous role of nurses, these institutions ( for example the church, state, and university) created the current dependency on an inadequate health care system inherently tied to profit and patriarchy. During the Inquisition it was stated that, “When a woman thinks alone, she thinks evil” (“Witches, Midwives, and Nurses, A History or Women Healers,”10) and apparently the dominating spirit expressed in this hateful speech is still at work among Christian extremists in the U.S.

To truly understand the threat that abortion, midwifery, and birth control pose to the American Christian right, the historic oppression of women by a patriarchal elite must be acknowledged. It is in this framework that Dr. Tiller’s assassination should be placed. For, according to precedent, Tiller represented another menacing witch to be burned.

Tiller’s true crime was not killing babies and angering Jesus, even if the killer and his supporters preach this on high. Tiller threatened the dominant mythology of church, state, and the heath care industry that women can not and should not think for themselves when it comes to their bodies- for everyone’s safety seems to be linked to maintaining patriarichal control.

Interviewed on Democracy Now! on June 1, 2009, Dr. Shelley Sella, who worked with Dr. Tiller since 2005, remembered him saying that, “The woman’s body is smarter than the doctor…” This statement sums up the danger that he and other abortion and reproductive health care providers pose to those fighting to maintain control over womens minds and bodies. Woman- to these individuals and institutions- is unfit to make decisions and certainly a sexual and moral danger to society if let loose. What the killing of Dr. Tiller, as well as that of other Dr.’s and health care workers that have been recently targeted by religious extremists, signifies is the continued threat to patriarchal control posed by women and men who struggle for autonomy.

A witch is a witch to killers who disguise murder as mercy- the inquistion appears alive and well.


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