Tuesday, July 2, 2013

What Part of “My Body” Don’t You Understand, Thoughts on Reproductive Freedom

If you are a woman, a significant part of your existence is focused on your “ladyparts”. This is regardless of whether you plan to use your uterus for its intended function or not, as a woman’s reproductive system is set to the “on” position from roughly ages 12-45, if left on its own.  Even if no sperm makes a visit, you still have to, on a monthly basis, take care of things. So the idea of essential reproductive rights—that is the ability to control one’s own reproductive system—is never far away.
Nevertheless the predominance of these necessary rights changes throughout one’s life-for myself, as I got older, out of college, established in my career, an unintended pregnancy lost the scariness that it had when I was in high school. In high school, even college, it was the worst thing imaginable. When I got married and wanted to have kids I had very different reproductive concerns.
“Reproductive freedom” encompasses much, a 12 year old getting a papillomavirus vaccine, a 19 year old contemplating an abortion, a 25 year old gender-questioning woman, a 28 year Native American woman being encouraged to undergo sterilization (probably by a white doctor) an 18 year old African-American woman sterilized against her will for “lack of intelligence” (again, decided by a white man), a 41 year old considering a hysterectomy and breast removal to avoid cancer, a woman in her 50s contemplating her best treatment for menopause. All of these can fall under the rubric “reproductive rights”, and I would also add women’s childbirth choices and early childhood/infant choices. All of these rights can be covered by one simple rule; a person has right to make her/his health decisions about her/his own body.  A person has the right to research-based medical advice, essential reproductive health care-be it an abortion, homebirth, surgery or no surgery.
This is inherently a women’s issue, or more specifically anybody with a female reproductive system because frankly, the male system is not much, and the only time it *does anything* is when it interacts with the female reproductive system. And once it’s in the female reproductive system that is all. I know an embryo has half male DNA but the ENTIRE birthing process, from prenatal through early infant care, is completely female. It is the female who has to bear the pregnancy, which can have real health consequences, the birth process-which has a higher mortality rate than abortion, and really, the child-rearing process. We can talk all we want about shared parenting, men have come a long way and that’s great for everybody.  But the simple fact is by design the post-natal process, named the “fourth trimester” by some is really about the mother.  To a large extent in most families mothers by choice, do the majority of child-rearing even after the immediate post-natal period. Frankly, I think this is hard-wired to some extent, part of nature’s way of continuing the human race. Women have to choose this, not have it forced on them.
People who claim to be “pro-life” have a rather narrow view of “life”. In their eyes “life” is most precious at the prenatal stage, when arguably, it is not life really at all. “Life” does not extend to the pregnant mother-whether her health is a concern, whether the process to create the thing inside her was by her choice, or that her life with a new child might be impossible if her financial situation is precarious. I heard little outcry regarding the case of Reyna Garcia, who miscarried while working under unsafe-for her pregnancy-conditions. More than 3,700 pregnancy discrimination charges were filed with the EEOC last year, in spite of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978. Because of this continued discrimination, the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act was recently reintroduced to address these issues. You’ll be shocked, shocked, to know that the House Republicans, while having time to pass a bill to restrict abortions after 20 weeks, do not have time to pass a bill aimed to protect pregnant women.
Having a child is expensive, and raising a child is expensive. Women who are denied abortions, because they do not have the money or missed the magical 20-week point-of-no-return deadline suffer in terms of health and in terms of financial status. And by financial status I am not talking about a car payment, I’m talking about food, housing. Do you know who the poor people of the world are-they are women and children. Yet “pro-life” politicians are generally the same politicians who want to cut food stamps and limit health care access-either by restricting Medicaid funds and/or limiting Medicaid expansion under the ACA. Again, it’s funny how important that “life” is when it is inside a woman. Once it gets out, not so much.
“Pro-lifers” have no qualms about forcing a child on a woman, and make no mistake when you make contraception education non-existent, contraception, and early abortion alternatives such as plan B or RU486 difficult to get, and/or expensive YOU are forcing a child. This one of the many reasons pro-choice woman simply cannot take “pro-life” people seriously. If you really want to limit abortion it’s not difficult.  You educate young people early; you provide safe, reliable, affordable contraception. If you want women to have babies maybe you could strengthen the “safety net” instead of constantly cutting it. Let’s be clear, these restrictions will only hurt the most vulnerable women. White, wealthy women will always have a doctor to help. They always do.
As somebody with no current reproductive worries I have not been very emotionally invested in this issue until recently, when apparently with no other pressing concerns, the collective legislatures of Texas, Ohio, and North Carolina decided that restricting a woman’s right to her body was necessary. With more than 100,000 people I watched the You Tube stream of a huge crowd demanding to be heard on the right to choose. No matter what happens in Texas, and odds are the anti-abortion bill will pass in some form or another, that kind of organization is incredibly inspiring and will hopefully lead to good things in some form or another.
Why these battles have to be constantly fought is a question those of us pushing reproductive freedom have to ask. I think a part of it, as I alluded to earlier, is broadening the coalition. Freedom of your reproductive system includes many things, including forced sterilization, which has been a larger issue affecting women of color. North Carolina, while seeing fit to punish woman who desire to end pregnancy, have not done justice to the thousands of women sterilized against their will. Addressing health access broadly, and not allowing controversial issues to be isolated, linking reproductive freedom with the many issues it crosses paths with, could this help?
To those of you “pro-lifers” please JUST.STOP.ALREADY. Please freedom-lovers, give us our freedom-nobody has ever explained to me why liberty ends at my uterus. In West Texas where the fertilizer explosion was that leveled the town, there was no fire code, hence no sprinkler system or firm alarms (via @MikeElk). So while safety regulations are too much, apparently there is no end to the restrictions to what a woman can do with her own body. We can’t regulate corporations but uteruses? Yes, yes we can.
As for the “life” question. -I do not question what is inside a pregnant woman is “life”. But yeast is “life”, so is a tree, a mushroom, a cat. We do not treat all form of life the same, and the concept that the mass of differentiated cells inside a woman’s body should preempt that woman who is an independent, living breathing fully formed person  . . . no. You can show me all the dismembered fetuses you want, you can tell me all the Kermit Gosnell stories you want-it does not matter. Because what I see is a women’s choice to protect herself, to maybe even save herself. Every child a wanted child, and every woman’s life is more important then what her body makes. Period.

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