Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Before Margaret Sanger

there was Emma Goldman, out there fighting, and going to jail, for women's reproductive rights.

Until the latter half of the last century, contraception was illegal, particularly for unmarried women. If you've ever read Mary McCarthy's "The Group," for example, you'll recall that one of the characters decides to get a diaphragm, on the recommendation of her lover. In order to do this, she (a) buys a cheap wedding ring, and (b) makes sure to go to a gynecologist who is known for not probing too deeply into the existence of the marriage signified by the ring. It's a polite fiction, of course, and the doctor and the patient both know it, but everyone maintains it so the doctor doesn't get arrested. (No, really.) Now, this took place in New York--imagine trying to pull this off in a small town, where everyone knows everyone, or even in a larger town, but with a doctor who insisted on seeing a marriage license. Also note that, although men could presumably buy condoms without a marriage license, this puts women's reproductive choices in men's hands. And, really, that hasn't worked out so well for women, has it?

Of course, that's exactly what's happening in the Democratic Party, right now. The current majority leader, Reid, is a Mormon (which may or may not be relevant) from Nevada (which is relevant so long as we have an electoral college), and opposes abortion. According to the LA Times, Reid also supported a non-binding resolution opposing Roe v. Wade. One of the two men (surprised?) being considered for head of the Democratic National Committee, Tim Roemer, also opposes women's right to make their own reproductive choices.

All of the parties are yammering about how they don't want to eliminate the right to choose whether to bear a child, but they want to be "more inclusive," they want to focus on late-term abortions (which are a vanishingly small percentage and number of the abortions performed each year, and typically are performed because the fetus isn't viable and/or presents a danger to the woman if the pregnancy continues), parental notification requirements for pregnant minors, and promoting adoption.

This is such a load of horseshit that I want to scream.

I could make an assortment of reasoned arguments, but let's cut to the chase. This is a bunch of middle-age, well-off white men dictating what more than half the population of this country can and cannot do with their own bodies. These men do not give two shits about the children once they're born--witness the number of children who go without health care, and the number of schools that are falling apart, thanks in part to the lack of funding for Every Poor Child Left Behind. If they did care, they'd be fighting for those children, they'd be choosing the Democratic party leaders on the basis of those stances. But no.

What many of these people do not seem to realize, with their mealy-mouthed pandering to a minority of the country, is that reproductive decisions are difficult and personal. Every woman I know who has been pregnant has thought about what she was going to do. Some chose abortion. Some tried very hard to get pregnant. Some had the child. Some chose an abortion at one point and a child at another. At least one aborted a child with severe defects (I don't know the specifics and it's not my business) and then had a healthy child. One went through a great deal of trouble to have a child by herself. Some had partners with whom they discussed these choices. Many were using contraception when they got pregnant (I personally know of three pregnancies wherein the women were taking the pill at the time they got pregnant, and another who was using a diaphragm). At least two who had abortions were minors at the time. How many of these women, or women like these women, have those men met? Have they talked to any women who chose an abortion and recognized it as a difficult, but correct, choice? Or are they just making decisions about women's lives without bothering to talk to women whose lives would be affected? Have they talked to the clinic workers who tell stories about the women who are picketing one day and bringing their daughters in the next (because, you know, their daughter's case is Different)? Do they understand that abortion providers work closely with their patients, to make sure the patients are comfortable with whatever choice they're making?

And you know the best way to reduce the number and percentage of abortions? Provide kids with accurate information--not this abstinence-only bullshit--and with access to contraception. Provide all women with access to contraception. Look at the countries that have lower abortion rates than we do--that's what they do. But since global gag rule george came into office? The number of abortions in this country has risen.

What the panderers also do not seem to realize is that the far right isn't only interested in ending abortion--many want to eliminate contraception, too. So those choices you have right now (if you live in a city--if you live in a rural area you may already be screwed), well, get ready to kiss them goodbye. And don't expect any help raising those kids, in the form of health care or public schools. But, hey, we'll give you a voucher!

What Emma Goldman and Margaret Sanger and many other experts in development realized is that providing women with the means to control their reproduction is the best way to improve the education of women and the participation of women in the political, economic, and social life of the society. Take away that control, and you take women out of the picture. Or maybe that's what they have in mind?


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