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by Isabelle Baugé

This is the third blog in a series of four blogs that Isabelle wrote for her final project for the Self-Reg Foundations program.

Why do I need/want to reflect on… Justice? 

Because each day, in the World News…

… there is so much involving Justice, or the lack of it… 

Friday, June 24, 2022: The US Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, the landmark piece of legislation that had made access to abortion a federal right in the United States for nearly half a century. 

My choice for this particular blog is motivated by the universal nature of the theme. Although it happened in the United States of America, it reaches out to us beyond boundaries. In fact, on November 24, 2022, French lawmakers adopted a bill to enshrine abortion rights in the constitution, because the US Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade showed the need for new steps.

Why do I need/want to reflect on… Justice now?

Because meanwhile, in my personal life…

… as a woman, I feel under attack every single day I read the news. Emotion: angry? tired? A mix of everything? 

I am puzzled each time I look at the traditional Western personification of Justice, based on the Greek goddess Themis and her Roman counterpart Justicia. The famous blindfolded woman… a woman (how ironic!) with scales and sword. Her blindness highlights non-discrimination and fair application of justice. The scale is there to measure equilibrium and the sword represents the authority coming from a swift and final decision.

I miss the two French Simones (French writer, existentialist philosopher, political activist and feminist Simone de Beauvoir, and Simone Veil, Auschwitz survivor and health minister who championed the 1975 law that legalized abortion in France). 

I miss… Justice… Ruth Bader Ginsburg who emphasized during her confirmation hearing in 1993: 

“It is essential to woman’s equality with man that she be the decision maker, that her choice be controlling. If you impose restraints that impede her choice, you are disadvantaging her because of her sex. The decision whether or not to bear a child is central to a woman’s life, to her well-being and dignity. When Government controls that decision for her, she is being treated as less than a fully adult human responsible for her own choices.”

Reframing “Justice”

➟ Etymology: ‘Justice’ comes from the Latin iustitia = quality of being iustus, from the adjective iustus and the suffix -itia expressing “the condition of being”. 

ius = ‘right’, comes from the Proto-Indo-European *h₂yew- = ‘life force’, related to the Sanskrit yoh (health), yos (of life) and ayus (lifetime). ayus indicates a manifestation of energy and life that is finite, destined to decay and destruction. 

ius carries the same meaning of finiteness as in Sanskrit: the idea of rules and limitations for life.

When Justice is given, it determines a different state or condition from before in the recipient. 

It strikes me that the word Justice contains, in its etymological backpack, the concepts of life force, health and condition of being. Its very ancient roots remind us that the rules, structures and limits determined by Justice need to be based on the universal principle of health and life force. They are meant to support our condition of being.

➟ Self-Reg: Stuart Shanker’s most recent book’s title is: Reframed. Self-Reg for a Just Society. In the introduction, the author explains that Self-Reg has been and still is his way to respond to the question: “HOW does a society become just?” He indicates that “wanting to live in a just society is perhaps the most profound – and demanding – of all the prosocial drives that we have inherited from our distant past” and adds: “The demand for justice and equality ends up adding more stress to a stress load that is already crushing. 

Thinking of abortion rights, I see the overturn of Roe v. Wade as a dysregulating decision that changes people’s state of being, a modification of existing rules that acts on life, but not for the life of all. I observe how, as a result, health equity is being denied and how the criterion of priorities is not the risk of physical and social fragility for the individuals anymore. 

In our post-Roe world, reproductive health autonomy is under threat. Access to essential medical care is restricted for millions of people who can become pregnant. Health equity and reproductive justice are endangered.

Self-Reg tells us that the key to a Just Society lies in the manner in which it self-regulates, and that homeostasis applies as much to groups as it does to individuals. Losing a basic human right results in the body (our physical body, as well as our social body) reacting with the fight-or-flight response to shutting down or dissociating, in a protective mechanism meant to keep us safe. But this mechanism can also prevent us from living our lives. How can we self-regulate and co-regulate in this context?

Recognizing and Reducing the Stressors – Reflecting and Restoring the energy

Biological: Anger and feelings of injustice cause physical pain: they make us burn more energy, increase tension in the body which in turn increases pain. Anger is associated with increased inflammation in the body, which can worsen pain and overall health. Focusing on anger gives it more energy. When we feel stuck, we need to change our trajectory by focusing on countering our physical and emotional tension with self-regulating activities, whichever we know is working for us. For me, it is chanting, walking in nature and meditating. It is also learning, researching, educating myself and sharing with others.

Emotion: The ruling to overturn Roe v. Wade has triggered a cascade of intense emotions, such as hopelessness, despair, powerlessness or voicelessness across all generations (grand-parents, parents, children). Many teenagers who grew up viewing abortion as a long-settled issue now have fewer reproductive rights than their mothers had. Some are already calling them “the post-Roe generation.” 

Since June 24, 2022, many feel betrayed: a constitutional right they thought was immutable fell after being upheld for nearly half a century; upset and angry because “men in power” have made such an intimate decision for women; worried because abortions won’t stop but will become more dangerous; robbed because they don’t have control of their body anymore.

How can we shift away from anger and injustice? What can we do to get the feeling of being safe and secure back? 

Calm begets calm begets calm. But how can we lend our calm and create a calming environment in the midst of a social storm?

We need to remember the dyad and the Interbrain. 

  • If our partner, friend or child (young, teenage or grown-up) is upset, allowing space for them to hold their feelings is key
  • If we too are upset, we need to use words very carefully and might choose not to speak. A hug and moments of shared silence can at times do more than words, in particular when we are frustrated or worried
  • We need to see ourselves in the picture, with soft eyes, and give ourselves time and space to process our feelings, experiences, and thoughts (alone and/or with other adults first). 
  • If we are caring for a child, student or patient, we should not ask them to take care of us. Roe v. Wade overturned is upsetting, even devastating, for many parents, caregivers, and educators. Bringing our feelings and thoughts into the conversation with our child or student is important; however, as caregivers, we need to co-regulate with our young people, and must not ask them to hold and carry the load of our own worries. We must keep in mind the cascading effect of our own feelings on others

Cognitive: When we feel that we and our partner, or friend, child, student, patient, is ready to talk about the issue, it is essential to ensure a foundational understanding. Regardless of the age of our child, student, patient, partner or friend:

  • Words need to be as simple and clear as possible 
  • Listen, even if/especially when they don’t say anything. Ask questions. Listen. 
  • Ask them what they know and heard about the overturn of Roe v. Wade. Share what you know about consent, boundaries, safety, protection, about the importance for everyone to be in charge of their own bodies, about the consequences of other people making decisions on what happens to them. It is important that younger children understand the vocabulary you are using (for example: sex, abortion, miscarriage, law, justice, Supreme Court, illegal)
  • Books can be a good start for conversation. I cannot recommend enough the amazing Pourquoi les filles ont mal au ventre by Lucile de Pesloüan, now also translated in English: What Makes Girls Sick and Tired (the book is an eye-opening graphic novel about women and the systems of oppression that women and girls experience. It mentions abortion without focusing on it and is a good start for a dialogue about justice and equity).

Social: People seek abortion for various reasons, including (but not exclusively): no desire to have children, timing issues, need to focus on their other children, concern for their own physical or mental health, desire to avoid exposing a child to a violent or abusive partner, lack of financial security to raise a child. 

Studies have found that abortion denial is a cause for stress, anxiety and low self-esteem. 

The impact of Roe v. Wade overturned is a social stressor, because it requires couples, families and communities to adjust to a new normal, literally involving questions of life and death. 

  • Many feel that they are being bossed around or dominated by a power that is out of their reach
  • Because it is a polarizing topic, it can cause disagreement and trigger fight-or-flight responses
  • The criminalization of abortion can lead to an over focus on detecting social signals as well as pressure in social situations 

Prosocial: The elimination of the right to privacy and the criminalization of abortion have a significant prosocial impact: they upend lives, they tear apart the very fabric of families and communities with the risk of punitive involvement, even in cases of miscarriage. 

  • Just after June 24, 2022, the Department of Homeland Security’s intelligence indicated in a memo that domestic violent extremism was “likely” in response to the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. A list was provided of reproductive health care facilities and faith-based organizations as potential targets for acts of violent extremism and indicated risks of arson attacks by both anti-abortion rights and abortion-rights activists targeting pregnancy resource centers and health care facilities, as well as vandalism threatening religious facilities perceived as being opposed to abortion.
  • The stress overload related to reproductive health autonomy being under threat can shut down our ability to experience “cognitive empathy”: the awareness of what someone else feels.
  • In the same way Self-Reg observes a multiplying effect across the domains, we observe a multiplying effect of what is called by some a miscarriage of justice, especially for members of historically marginalized groups with mental illness, with far reaching repercussions.
  • In these times of uncertainty about the future, civil unrest, widening political divide, ongoing pandemic, and struggling economy, we observe the multiplying effects of social, political and economic instability. 

What can be done in order to reduce the social and prosocial stressors, restore the balance, and get back to homeostasis?

  • Being able to process this news gives us, and in particular our young people, the ability to express our beliefs and leadership on this issue. 
  • Converting fear and anger into hope by highlighting what we are for, rather than what we are against. 
  • Focusing on behaviors that will increase connection and focusing on the change we want to see; working from a place of togetherness (which is growth-promoting) rather than one of antagonism and polarization.
  • Working for justice, rather than reacting to injustice (which is energy-depleting).
  • Modeling leadership and suggesting actions such as volunteering, advocating vote before/during elections, donating, etc. 
  • Going to a protest together and connecting with a larger Interbrain; using the power of our own voice, in a physical (breathwork) and metaphorical way, contacting political representatives, interviewing our peers/parents/teachers etc.; creating videos or artworks (we can see an example of a teen’s perspective and a video scrolling down the article Roe vs Wade: The teenage perspective on the current and future abortion policies here).

This collective trauma spreads within families and communities, 

from personal to collective consciousness. 

Healing is a collective matter.

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