I know, I know. How can I write a blog without Lily and 9? But I really need to excuse them today because the topic is women’s health. True, they are both female and will actively ponder women’s health for about eighty percent of their lives. But that time is not now. 9 is, well, 9. She has abstract notions about storks and birds and bees. As a fourth grader, she has yet to see The Movie they show girls in fifth grade about how special it is to get your period. Lily, five years older than 9, has seen The Movie, but has yet to get her period (possibly because she’s got about zero body fat). Though she has told no one about this (and no one will know until I, decades later, have a nervous breakdown during the Kavanaugh SCOTUS confirmation hearings) she has also experienced sexual assault by an older teen at a party.
Today, those girls are off the hook- -just us grown-ups in the room. Here’s what I, a grown-up like you, have to say about women’s health.
Women have a right to determine their own health care. This includes reproductive health care.
Early in my adult life I learned that I had to fend for myself in matters of health care. I married the first time when I was nineteen years old. My husband was a journeyman bricklayer, a union member who had health insurance through his union. He opted not to put for me to be on the health insurance plan because he said it was too expensive. I was on birth control pills when we married, though I’d assumed that one day we’d have kids. No, he said. No kids, and, for me, no health insurance. I was too intimidated and naïve to argue or even discuss this with him, this man I’d married who also forbid me to drive the car. He made it clear: he was the one earning the income while I attended college full time, therefore, he made any and all decisions involving money.
The only health care option I could afford was Planned Parenthood. That’s where I got my annual exam, and where my birth control prescription was renewed. Some people have a funny idea about Planned Parenthood, that it’s some kind of thinly-veiled abortion mill. Not true. Emphatically not true. It’s where women of limited income can receive reproductive health care and receive the tools to plan when and if they want to have a family.
Predictably, the marriage was over in five years. I can now afford my own no-frills health insurance and am a supporter of Planned Parenthood. Unlike that bad marriage, my gratitude to this organization lasts.
When it comes to women’s health care, or anyone’s health care, I am pro-choice. Pro-choice does not mean pro-abortion (please write this down 100 times if you don’t understand it so it has a chance to sink in). It means that if a pregnancy needs to be terminated for the health of a woman (mental, physical, or in the interest of best supporting her existing children), we, as a society, have to grace to let this happen safely.
The movement of conservative factions in America to nullify the protections and rights determined by Roe v. Wade is rife with hubris. It reminds me a lot of how the religious missionaries in the American west treated the tribes they purportedly came to serve. They were smug and self-assured in their belief that indigenous people were lesser beings than themselves, that they needed to be guided by superior beings with superior knowledge to be redeemed. We all know how well that went (and if you don’t, study up on the Whitman Massacre, November 29, 1847, as a prime example).
The effect of eroding women’s reproductive rights is to make them lesser citizens, because they will have fewer rights than men. I am serious in my belief that men who father children they do not intend to support should be required by law to have vasectomies, because if we’re going to demonize, blame and torment people about unplanned pregnancies we really do need to be inclusive. With the availability of genetic testing, proof of paternity is now a snap!
And while we’re on the subject, what about in vitro fertilization? If some kind of moral or ethical truth requires every woman who gets pregnant to remain so, doesn’t that also mean that women who can’t get pregnant should remain that way because they, too, are part of God’s plan? And what do you think God’s feelings are about erectile dysfunction pharmaceuticals? I’m guessing he’s not too impressed.
It’s not just (mostly rich, conservative, white) men who are threatening to make abortion illegal in America, there are women who bend this way, too. These men and women are clear that they believe a fetus is a human life (or they will at least say so if they believe it will give them political advantage), but what about post-fetal life, when there’s an actual baby? A baby who might grow up in poverty? You don’t have to worry about that with a fetus, but after the baby is born. . .Conservatives, you can’t have it both ways: you can’t limit a woman’s means and choices for reproductive health and, in the same breath, bitch about welfare mothers. Well, yes you can because you do, but it sucks and I think you know it sucks.
Let’s take another trip down history lane, to when women in America were fighting for the right to vote. Here, in Washington State, women did attain suffrage in the mid-1880s. The state legislature repealed this right after a few years, and much of the impetus for this came from (drum roll, please) women, particularly women from the East Coast. One strong objection to universal suffrage: women voting was simply not feminine! A particularly persuasive argument was that if women have the right to vote, they will vote in temperance and you can kiss your booze goodbye! News, or fake news? The right to vote was terminated by an all-male legislature; women, once again, became lesser citizens than men.
If you’ve been paying attention to the current Roe v. Wade conversation in our society, you may have heard that public opinion about abortion has shifted significantly in the nearly 50 years since that case was decided. Is it because abortions are on the rise? No, because they are not. It is because of a technological advance called ultrasound, the visual tool to show how the cells are splitting, making bits and pieces that slowly take human form. Think about that for a minute. When one enters post-fetal life in the external world, lots of people who insisted you be born stop paying attention.
If you want to solve a very serious reproductive health problem in America, why not do something about our rising maternal mortality rates, or the increasing wealth gap and racial prejudice that contribute to this trend? How about solving the problem of child malnutrition caused by poverty and inner-city food deserts? If you truly believe human life is sacred, why not advocate against gun violence? To me, the deepest hypocrisy exists in those who are both pro-life and pro-gun.
There are better things we can do with our time and energy than demonize and harass women and their health care providers for safely, sanely, and, at present, legally making the best individual choices for reproductive health.
If we, as a society, are addicted to demonizing, let’s include everybody. It’s only fair.