Men Against Women’s Rights

Lady justiceThere is something unnerving about the rush of Republican presidential candidates to go on record as standing firmly against women’s reproductive rights.

Addressing a recent gathering of the National Right to Life Committee – which itself stands firmly against reproductive rights for women; its sole concern is with the fetus – a handful of the leading Republican candidates tried to outdo each other in expressing their anti-women positions. This was before Wisconsin governor Scott Walker threw his hat into the ring with a stirring promise to work for “the unborn.” What Walker means is this: he has zero interest in the mothers of those “unborns;” but he welcomes the political support of anti-abortion forces.

And anti-abortion forces have a lot of political muscle. A sample of the comments being made by candidates seeking to capture it would include:

Jeb Bush, whose “moral absolutes” do not include a woman’s moral right to make her own reproductive decisions, points to the laws passed during his tenure as governor of Florida: the funding of adoption counseling – but not abortion counseling, banning late term abortion, and imposing medically unnecessary regulations on clinics offering abortion.

Rick Perry wanted the anti-abortion group to understand that when he was governor of Texas his record on denial of a woman’s right to choose was best of all. “That’s a fact,” he said. “We passed a parental notification law. I signed a parental consent law. I signed a sonogram law so mothers facing that agonizing choice can actually see.” Forcing parental involvement on very young women who often need to keep their decision private, and all women to view a medically irrelevant sonogram whether they wish to or not – these are the sources of Perry’s pride.

More recently, we have the ever-articulate Donald Trump entering the fray with the comment that “it really, really bothers me, the whole concept of abortion.” Trump’s interest in women, which is well-documented if problematic, does not extend to an interest in their right to make their own reproductive choices.

And lastly, Marco Rubio seeks to enter the White House because it “needs an occupant who values and prioritizes life.” Read: life of “the unborn.” If Rubio gave a fig for the lives of uncounted thousands of women put at risk by the restrictive laws he supports – his values and priorities might shift.

All of the above are men, without the vaguest notion of what it is like to be pregnant as a result of abuse, incest, assault or a multitude of other wrongs, or simply what it is like to be a woman denied control of her own body, her own most private and personal decision-making.

Such is presidential politics today.

On Making Abortion “A Thing of the Past”

This first appeared on Huffington Post

“One day our country will be abortion-free,” says Pro-Life Mississippi board member Tanya Britton.

Rose Mimms, Director of Arkansas Right-to-Life, wants to “make abortion unthinkable.” Read: impossible.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s stated goal is “to make abortion a thing of the past.”

We have been here before. None of the above zealots are old enough to remember exactly what it was like, but I could describe for them the time when abortion was unthinkable, impossible and illegal and the country was what Britton would describe as “abortion-free.” It was only legal-abortion-free, of course, and this is what that was like:

Women died. By the untold thousands. They died of sepsis most often, a singularly terrible way to die. They also died of things like puncture wounds, desperately trying to end what was a torment to their bodies and souls. They had found themselves with unintended pregnancies – most often caused either by uncaring and irresponsible husbands or by inexcusable acts of rape, incest or circumstances over which the women themselves had no control.

Women of means died less often; they could generally access a safe abortion, even if it meant traveling to a more enlightened country than these United States. Primarily, those who died had little money and less power; often they already had more children than they could care for. Those who denied them the right to an abortion did little or nothing to help them care for present or future children.

So here we are again.

Abortion opponents can make it impossible, unthinkable, illegal; they cannot make it a thing of the past. Because women desperate to end unwanted pregnancies will always, always, always find ways to do so. Some of them, as is already happening, will die trying.

At least Britton, Mimms and Perry are honest about their goals. Others continue to obfuscate. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties would have the Supreme Court believe that their corporate religious sensibilities are offended by employees’ having the right to terminate a pregnancy before it actually begins, since they equate contraception with abortion. In state after state laws are being passed that are medically unnecessary, scientifically inaccurate, and constitutionally illegal, all in the name of “protecting women” or “protecting the rights of the unborn.” In reality, every law is designed as another step toward making abortion “unthinkable,” impossible and again illegal.

Until they can make it illegal again, making it inaccessible is enough. Again, women of means are seldom being harmed; women without money or power are suffering and dying.

It is not possible to “end abortion.” Not even religious extremists in other countries are able to do that, even though in many countries religious extremism attempts to rule women’s lives. Every day, women in Kenya and Afghanistan die trying to end unwanted pregnancies.

As George Santayana put it, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Unless we remember the tragedies women faced when abortion was “a thing of the past,” we will be condemned to watch those tragedies return.

Women will die.

Win some, lose some…

It’s a not-too-encouraging new twist on the old baseball adage: win some, lose some, some get rained out.

Women’s health & rights recently won one – Albuquerque –  lost one – Texas – and guess who still gets left out? The woman (and often her husband or partner) who simply wants to exercise a constitutional right to make a very personal, very private and usually very difficult decision to terminate a pregnancy.

The Albuquerque issue was a blatant attempt by right-wing ideologues to circumvent the law and ban late-term abortions outright. It would have immediately affected the entire state, since the only two clinics (and specifically the openly-advertising Southwestern Women’s Options) performing the procedure are in Albuquerque. Although late-term abortions are a tiny, tiny fraction of all such procedures, they are often the most wrenching, difficult and extremely private of decisions; for now, New Mexico women at least retain the right to make such decisions when necessary — and the access needed to carry them out.

Texas women fared worse. The Supreme Court turned down an appeal to block another blatantly anti-women law passed by Texas in July, which will force the immediate closing of as many as one third of the clinics in the state offering abortions.

Texas Governor Rick Perry proudly proclaimed that this means Texas women “are now better protected from shoddy abortion providers operating in dangerous conditions.” Excuse me? If I could get Mr. Perry to read my own story in Perilous Times, he might know what shoddy abortion providers operating in dangerous conditions are actually like. Tragically, because they are now denied access to safe and legal procedures, Texas women without resources may be forced to turn in similar directions.

Highly trained, dedicated physicians have been available to perform abortions in Texas clinics. Whether they have admitting privileges at hospitals within 30 miles of the clinic — as is now required — has absolutely no bearing on “the safety of Texas women.” But the law now enables one harsh, strident, anti-women segment of the state to impose its will on disempowered women. All but a handful of clinics in Texas will be forced either to close or to stop offering abortions. Some Texas women will be able to travel the long distances necessary to access safe procedures but others — women without money or power, desperate to end an unwanted pregnancy that could bring lead to unbearable hardship?

They not only lost one, they are now left out. My heart aches for those women.

Women lose in Texas

texas our texas

texas our texas (Photo credit: jmtimages)

Does it surprise anyone that Texas legislators have succeeded in making abortion virtually impossible for Texas women? Probably not. It saddens me. I know how it feels to be unintentionally pregnant — in my case it followed a workplace rape — and desperate. You tend not to be thinking about that collection of cells that might possibly, eventually, develop into something viable; you are thinking about the rest of your life.

If  you are without money or resources (many women of means in Texas will manage to go elsewhere for a safe, legal abortion) you are likely to do desperate things.

Before 1973, those desperate things included attempting to self-abort with  knitting needles and coathangers, or by ingesting or douching with potentially deadly  solutions. Women traded stories, myths and reputed recipes for becoming un-pregnant again. In some cases these led to a successfully ended pregnancy; no one knows how often they ended in sterility or injury or death. When you see your life unraveling, you will take a lot of risks to keep it together.

Certainly this punitive legislation may reduce the number of abortions in Texas. The bill in toto could be a cause for jubilation or rage, depending on where one stands. But one can only feel sad for the increase in the number of unwanted children whom the great state of Texas cares little about, or the desperate women who now will take dangerous risks.

Hearing Wendy’s voice – & others

Mandatory pre-abortion waiting period laws in ...

Mandatory pre-abortion waiting period laws in the United States of America. Mainland U.S. edited from a 600px map by Jared Benedict at Libre Map Project and non-continental states from http://www.uscourts.gov/images/CircuitMapoutlined.eps by the United States Department of Justice. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Gail Collins, in her traditionally precise prose, wound up a recent column on Wendy Davis‘ now historic filibuster in the Texas legislature thusly:

A few years back, Davis told me about an incident during a debate when she had asked a veteran Republican a question about a pending bill. Dodging her query, he said: “I have trouble hearing women’s voices.”

“I guess they can hear her now.”

Amen.

There’s something about hearing women’s voices that can make men, especially men who would like to tell women what they can or cannot do with their own bodies, too uncomfortable to listen.

In one poignant story included in my new book Perilous Times: An inside look at abortion before – and after – Roe v Wade (plug intended) Karen Mulhauser tells of the time when she testified before a congressional committee about being brutally raped in her home. She was trying to make the point that had a pregnancy resulted she would not have wanted it to continue. But Congressman Ed Patten (who died at 89 in 1994, after serving 17 years in Congress) “appeared to be asleep.” Representative Silvio Conte (1921-1991; then a Republican from Massachusetts) turned his swivel chair away from her to face the wall.  Mulhauser, former head of NARAL Pro-Choice and current chair of Women’s Information Network, was angered — but not silenced.

Some voices, those of women without resources who are facing unwanted pregnancies in states where safe abortion is de facto impossible, are going unheard. And those women are doing desperate things.

But it is for them that Wendy Davis, and Karen Mulhauser, and every woman and man who believes in a woman’s right to choose, is raising her own voice of encouragement and support. And those voices will be heard.