KILLING US SOFTLY: On abortion we’re one compromise away from third world status

flsqueeze5This week I traveled to Tallahassee to “tell my abortion story” to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Along with two other women, we went to make women’s voices heard as the fate of the Mandatory Wait Bill (SB 724) was “considered.”I put “considered” in scare quotes because we all know that there’s no “consideration” in these matters.
And, the fact that I was the only one of the three of us who was able to tell my story proves they never intended to deliberate. They hid behind a procedural rule to cut off testimony, because what could women possibly add to a debate that’s already been decided? The suppressed testimony of the two other women can be found here, and here. They had a lot to add, as you’ll learn when you watch these videos, and it’s outrageous that they weren’t permitted to be heard.My own testimony focused on the fact that while our stories are different, we share the opinion that we don’t need Tallahassee politicians inserting themselves into our lives to remind us of the seriousness of our decisions. Everyone knows that mandatory wait laws are impediments made in bad faith by snickering opponents of reproductive rights.

My own testimony focused on the fact that while our stories are different, we share the opinion that we don’t need Tallahassee politicians inserting themselves into our lives to remind us of the seriousness of our decisions. Everyone knows that mandatory wait laws are impediments made in bad faith by snickering opponents of reproductive rights.It’s clear to me that the only way to fight back is to step out of the shadows, so let the headlines read “Local Woman Has Abortion 25 Years ago: Still Doesn’t Regret It.”In the 40-plus years since Roe v. Wade, we’ve lost so much ground that reproductive freedom barely exists anymore, and this threatens our basic human rights as women. I believe that if we don’t put a human face on it we’re ceding another victory to our opposition.It was a mistake we made in the 90s. We thought that finally having a Democratic president after 12 years of Reagan/Bush meant we could rest easy on this issue of women’s rights. The rising tide would float all boats. We were wrong.

This is precisely when things went haywire. Political thinkers and Democrats in Congress began asking, “Where can women compromise?” And the answer was ‘late term abortion,’ which is a procedure that’s used only under the most extreme circumstances when the life of mother or child is at stake. People needing this procedure aren’t seeking birth control. They’re fighting for their lives. And yet this seemed a “reasonable” place to cede ground — and it was the camel’s nose under the tent.

Once you abandon the foundational premise that we’re equal members of society with full agency over our healthcare decisions, the forces that desire to “keep us in our place” are empowered on all levels. Forget equal pay, or the right to seek healthcare without discrimination. We’re all “daddy’s little girls” now.

I remember having this discussion with my mentor, a professor of political theory at my university, while I was in grad school. This was the person who taught The Handmaid’s Tale in Intro To Political Science 101. His discussion of the book showed how reproductive rights encompassed more than the literal ability to terminate a pregnancy. They circumscribe our agency as human beings. Losing control of the size and nature of our families leaves us open to institutional abuse and economic marginalization.

Soon, bipartisan negotiations began under the delusion that right wing ideologues would bargain in good faith. It’s just a mandatory counseling session here, and a 24-hour “cooling off” period there. What’s a transvaginal ultrasound between friends? Surely this won’t lead eliminating most of the women’s clinics in Texas, or contribute to a woman in Indiana being sent to to prison for a ‘suspicious miscarriage.’ To suggest this was a slippery slope down which the rest of rights would soon tumble was considered unreasonable.

And yet, the ground lost through mandatory wait laws, mandatory counseling, mandatory invasive imaging, admitting privilege rules, and insane over-regulation has added up to the effective virtual repeal of Roe in many states. Republicans in Mississippi cackled openly about how laws requiring abortion providers to have admitting privileges in local hospitals were aimed at eliminating abortion in the state altogether.

It’s a feature, not a bug, when no facilities exist to access the procedure.

It’s a feature, not a bug, when a woman is priced out of the ability to access the procedure.

It’s a feature, not a bug, when a woman is time-limited out of the ability access the procedure.

It’s a feature, not a bug, when a woman is shamed out of the ability to access the procedure.

And what’s the effect of all this? Here’s Sen. Hillary Clinton in 2009 clearly articulating how chipping away at reproductive rights sends women into a “cycle of poverty and abuse.” When asked if the administration had any plans to further restrict abortions in the developing world she responded:

“I’ve been in hospitals in Brazil where half the women were enthusiastically and joyfully greeting new babies and the other half were fighting for their lives against botched abortions.”

“I’ve been in African countries where 12 and 13 year old girls are bearing children. I have been in Asian countries where the denial of family planning confines women to lives of oppression and hardship.”

It’s easy to articulate when we’re talking about other countries but we too often refuse to look into the mirror ourselves. It’s obvious that restrictions on access to women’s healthcare is creating a United States that accepts third world status for women. Tell me again where it is that we jail women for suspicious miscarriages. Saudi Arabia? Sierra Leone? Oh right … Indiana.

The fight continues this week. On Monday, Planned Parenthood is taking a bus of volunteers up to Tallahassee again to lobby against the Mandatory Wait Bill. I’ll be there again to testify in the last committee stop before it goes to a floor vote. We will be heard — one way or another. We’re taking this issue back and letting it be known that reproductive rights are the next third rail of politics. Touch it at your peril.

3 comments

  1. It’s on the house floor this week. As someone who knows what it is like to walk around with a dead fetus inside her body for 48 hours because of a lost and very wanted pregnancy, the fact that there is no exemption for miscarriages is personally painful to me. Besides the bill itself being wrong, the lack of consideration for women who were raped, for example, is deplorable.

  2. J. St. Lawrence · · Reply

    A thousand yes’s to this — all of it. We were wrong to ever concede abortion should be “rare.”

    Democrats thought they were agreeing that teenagers should have access to intelligent sex education and birth control, but the same forces to which that “compromise” was offered shifted immediately to “abstinence only” education and equating birth control with “abortifacients.”

    We have let this critical human rights issue slide much too far, for far too long, and is not a valid bargaining chip for anyone’s triangulation. We need to push back hard and consistently and to be very clear:

    Abortion must be safe, legal, and ON DEMAND.

    Thank you and the others you mentioned for traveling to Tallahassee to testify. The fact that the deck was stacked in advance and the purveyors of this latest assault on women’s health connived to silence some of you only proves how important this issue is — to all of us.

  3. Farah S · · Reply

    Abortion on demand, no exceptions, and free for low-income women through safe public health services. Plentiful access, freedom of choice, low cost, no insulting interference, covered by all insurances like most health care procedures, safe, and private. This is what women want and need, and we aren’t going to stop until we get it. ALL men and religious nuts need to Shut the Hell Up and STAY OUT of women’s personal business!!!

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