In the wake of the unsettling shooting death of abortion provider George Tiller last week, and the release of The Purity Myth — a new book by feministing.com founder Jessica Valenti — it’s clear: Today’s feminism battleground is women’s bodies.

In it, Valenti warns of the rise of the purity movement, which she says seeks to protect virginity — a term without medical definition, she discovers — amid a “girls gone wild” world of promiscuity. What it unintentionally does, she argues, is polarize women: “(Girls’) sexuality as ‘good’ — worth talking about, protecting and valuing — and women’s sexuality, adult sexuality, as bad and wrong.”

I was floored to read about the movement’s attempts to “protect” young women: Purity balls (in which daughters ceremonially pledge their purity to their fathers) or scaring them into chastity by pushing false facts through U.S. government-funded abstinence education. (Premarital sex lowers your GPA, abortions put you at risk of breast cancer, and contraception doesn’t work anyway, didn’t you know?)

 

She dives into some fraught and timely territory, highlighting abortion “informed consent” laws in the U.S. that require doctors to tell women they are “ending a human life” or show ultrasound images of the fetus to the woman. “Its purpose is to shame women into thinking that if they really knew they were getting an abortion ... they wouldn’t have one,” she writes.

The movement’s goal is more insidious than just pushing purity, Valenti argues. Throughout the book, she shows how such practices reinforce notions that women are not responsible enough to manage their sexuality.

No clearer is that message than with Tiller’s death. After all, there are few greater political statements than to take away the means for a woman to control her own body.

The shooting death is, in a word, unfeminist. It’s not a matter of political opinion or religious belief. It’s not the right of Scott Roeder, who has been charged in Tiller’s death, or anyone else, to tell a woman what to do.

Tiller’s family announced Tuesday it would shutter his clinic, leaving only two other providers of late-term abortions in the U.S. — a thought not lost on anti-abortion blogger Jill Stanek, who posted names and photos of these two clinics three days after his death.

Reproductive freedom — from intercourse to birth (or termination) — is under attack. Feminist battles have been fought and supposedly won, but somehow the ability for women to assert control over our own bodies diminishes still.