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Jan 24, 2009
Brace yourselves, kids — I have to get serious here for a hot minute. I have a shameless confession for you: I am one of “those” feminists. You know, the ones who are unabashedly in support of abortion rights and truly believe that the underlying motivation of the *cough cough* so-called “pro-life” — let’s just call a spade a spade, shall we? — anti-choice, anti-woman, anti-privacy, pro-bulls*#t agenda — you know, the one run primarily and historically by wealthy, white, male ideologues? — is ultimately the oppression of women.
As Gloria Feldt so eloquently put it, "When you peel back the layers of the anti-choice motivation, it always comes back to two things: What is the nature and purpose of human sexuality? And second, what is the role of women in the world?" Sex and the role of women are inextricably linked, because "if you can separate sex from procreation, you have given women the ability to participate in society on an equal basis with men."
Let’s just be honest with ourselves here, women’s ability to plan if and when to have children, as well as the ability to raise those children free of stigma in a safe and healthy environment, is absolutely central to women’s equality. The inability to continue or end a pregnancy — for whatever reason — is equally unjust.
It’s the old “chicken-or-the-egg” argument: what else matters if you cannot control your own body? What good is one “inalienable” right when another is compromised? What good is the right to vote or hold office if you are unable to enter the workforce or are forced to take on an extra job just to afford daycare? What good is the right to an education if you can’t receive it? What good is the right to end a pregnancy when you can’t carry one without judgment because you’re a woman of a certain race, ethnicity or age?
Although it cannot be overlooked — we have certainly learned what happens when we take our eyes off the ball — access to safe, legal abortion must be viewed as a integral component of reproductive and maternal health and wellbeing. Politically and ideologically motivated attempts to control pregnancy and childbirth are ultimately mechanisms for controlling women and impediments to their full participation in global society. Adding insult to injury, they are also obstacle to achieving the highest standard of maternal and reproductive health — accomplishments that lie at the very foundation of global development and stability.
The so-called “pro-life” faction, especially those masquerading as feminists, will tell you that in their unrelenting quest to eradicate the right to abortion, they seek to save, protect and improve lives — but the reality of their agenda and achievements is something very different:
While most women in the U.S. will spend five years trying to get pregnant, they will spend three decades trying not to; and without any form of birth control, a woman would have approximately 12 to 15 pregnancies in her lifetime. In fact, in much of the developing world, where this number remains a reality, a woman dies every minute from pregnancy-related causes — even worse, most of these deaths are easily preventable.
Approximately 19 million women worldwide risk their lives and health each year by undergoing unsafe abortions — nearly 70,000 will die, millions more will be injured. The majority will take place in developing countries where family planning information and services are limited, and where women often face economic, social, cultural and geographic barriers to reproductive health care. In fact, prior to the legalization of abortion in the United States and as late as 1965, nearly 17 percent of pregnancy-related deaths in the U.S. were caused by unsafe, illegal abortions.
Maternal health indicators don’t stop with borders and power grids: even today in the United States, nearly half of all pregnancies are unintended, nearly 80 percent of adolescent pregnancies are unplanned — pregnancies that are more likely to result in lower birth weights, premature births and higher rates of infant illness and death — and women of color face disproportionately higher rates of maternal death, infant death, unintended pregnancy and abortion than white women.
Of the 46 countries in the developed fworld, the United States has the second-highest teen pregnancy and teen birth rates — yet, one-third of teens report never having any formal instruction about contraception.
Further, we know that girls who give birth in their teens are less likely to receive an education and prenatal care, and are more likely to live in poverty — perpetuating a dangerous cycle that risks not only their futures, but the futures of their children, as well.
So with all these pressing realities, it would seem to me then that if the carefully crafted rhetoric of the anti-choice, anti-abortion movement in this country were in the least bit genuine, they would be making every effort to improve reproductive health, reduce poverty, reinforce social services, promote education and eliminate stigma and misinformation.
And yet — not so much.
From 1995-2006, when anti-choice lawmakers had control of Congress, they worked relentlessly to make accessing abortion more difficult — instituting refusal clauses and counseling bans; imposing restrictions Federal employees, servicewomen, Native Americans living on reservation and women on Medicare, Medicaid and SCHIP — they did nothing to make abortion less necessary.
Since 1996, Congress has spent more than $1.5 billion dollars in taxpayer money on ineffective, inaccurate abstinence-only-until-marriage programs that often censor information about the health benefits of contraception and condoms for the prevention of sexually transmitted infections and unintended pregnancy.
Instead of providing young people with important information and health care, the Bush administration restricted teens’ access to birth control and other health care, cut funding for educational opportunities and support programs for teen moms and after-school programs that keep teens occupied during the hours when they are most likely to engage in risky behaviors.
Since President Bush took office in 2001, Congress voted more than 50 times on choice-related issues — the majority of which were anti-choice victories; the first federal abortion ban was made law against the expert testimony of medical professionals and without a health exception for the mother; Congress slashed funding for Title X, the nation’s premiere family planning program, which provides women with reproductive health services like birth control, screening and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases, screening for breast cancer and hypertension, prenatal care, postpartum counseling and well-baby care.
President Bush completely shut off funding for the United Nations Population Fund, and by imposing the Global Gag Rule — which prohibits U.S. family planning assistance to foreign nongovernmental organizations that use non-U.S. funds to perform, provide counseling or referral, or lobby for abortion — closed clinics and blocked contraceptive supplies for populations most desperately in need.
Not just an impediment to full democratic participation, an inability to regulate childbirth and pregnancy jeopardizes women’s health, lives and futures. The divisive and sensationalist rhetoric surrounding the abortion debate muddies more than it clarifies and has historically achieved very little in the way of progress.
The truth, however, remains clear and unrelenting: protecting the right to abortion — whether or not you will ever need one, whether or not you take issue with the legal precedent, whether or not you are personally or morally opposed — is more than protecting the right to continue or end a pregnancy. Protecting the right to abortion means protecting the health and lives of countless women and girls; it means protecting the future of all children — regardless of sex, gender, race or nationality; it means protecting our inalienable right to health and protecting the values that make up the very core of our notions of freedom and democracy.
Protecting the right to abortion is moral, responsible and right. So, on this day, the 36th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, it’s time we reminded ourselves and the opposition of this fact and it’s time we take it back.