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USA

The more things change, the more they stay the same

When the United States entered World War I, there was an immediate need for American armed forces to expand quickly. Men were drafted, and volunteered to serve in the military. During this time in history women, for the most part, did not serve in any capacity in the armed forces. Men between the ages of 18 and 31 made up the bulk of the fighting force. In 1917, federal officials were horrified to learn that one-third of U.S. troops were infected with syphilis or gonorrhea. Of course those numbers were horribly wrong.

While venereal disease was a problem for the armies of the day, different nations handled these diseases differently. Germany provided brothels for their soldiers, higher end for the officers, lower end for the enlisted soldiers. France legalized prostitution and, like the British, gave their troops condoms. For the United States:

American soldiers were ordered to be chaste and were punished if they weren't. All encampments were enclosed in barbwire and had a single guarded entrance. Guards were empowered to screen all men entering a camp for possible sexual encounters with French women. The least suspicion got a soldier an immediate irrigation of his penis and bladder with a solution of potassium permanganate. Men who had any evidence of gonorrhea or syphilis were hospitalized and/or confined to the stockade, pay and allowances suspended. Condoms were never  -  never  -  given by the U.S. Army to American soldiers.

Of course, that was only for the soldiers in the war zone. In the United States morality laws were enacted. 

[O]fficials passed a federal law that outlawed sex work within a five-mile “moral zone” of every military training camp in the country. When they learned that most infected soldiers and sailors actually contracted their STIs back in their hometowns, they worked to expand this prohibition to cover the entire nation. And when they discovered that most of the women who supposedly infected the men weren’t professional prostitutes, they expanded the program even further.

So, beginning in 1918, federal officials began pushing every state in the nation to pass a “model law,” which enabled officials to forcibly examine any person “reasonably suspected” of having an STI. Under this statute, those who tested positive for an STI could be held in detention for as long as it took to render him or her noninfectious. 

This, “model law,” was rarely if ever used against men. I should add, that this law was put in place by old white men.

The Plan enjoyed complicity, if not outright support, in high places. New York Mayor Fiorello La Guardia gave speeches lauding the Plan; then-California Governor Earl Warren personally spearheaded its enforcement in his state. In 1918, the attorney general personally sent a letter to every U.S. attorney in the country, assuring them this law was constitutional; he also sent a letter to every U.S. district judge, urging them not to interfere with its enforcement.

Governors and state legislatures responded to the federal government’s “model law” with enthusiasm. STIs were a hated epidemic, and sex workers, often incorrectly blamed for spreading most STIs, served as popular scapegoats. By 1921, every state in the union, as well as hundreds of municipalities, had one of these statutes on their books. Cities and states enforced these laws, off and on, for the next half-century.

Imagine, it is 1918, you are walking down the street. A group of (male) police officers arrest you because they have a reasonable suspicion that you have venereal disease, the reasonable suspicion, you are a woman. You are then taken somewhere, and given an exam to see if you really are infected. You may possibly be there for days, or longer if you are diagnosed as having an STI. Now we can be fairly certain that women were not infected with gonorrhea by divine providence, so it stands to reason that men were also spreading these diseases, and not just women.

Today, while we do not have morality patrols, we do have a group of old white men working to impose their morality on American women. Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Ohio, Georgia, Missouri, Kentucky, Arkansas, Utah, and Iowa have all passed some form of abortion restriction in the last couple of years. While those on the right claim that these laws are to protect the sanctity of life—it is really about controlling women, their bodies, and their sex lives. 

It has been 101 years since these morality laws were passed to protect American manhood (please read that dripping with sarcasm). Today, we are seeing laws passed, not based on science, or knowledge we have gained over the last century about the human body, but based on the morality of a minority of people who will do everything they can to force a woman to give birth, but will do nothing for that same woman, and her child after it is born.

If these folks really wanted to stop abortions they would ensure that American children are given comprehensive sex education classes and access to birth control. 

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