It was in the not too distant past that abortion, while a still a divisive issue, was not consistently divided among party lines. Believe it or not, groups like Republicans for choice and the WISH list still played a role in elections. Republicans like Olympia Jean Snowe, whose open letter concerning her decision to retire may be found here, still served as example for me as to what a politician and a strong woman ought to be, even if I do not personally agree with all of her policies.
As recently as 2008, I spent some time campaigning and talking to pro-choice Republican women about why they should consider voting for Obama because of his record on supporting women. Many of these women were older, and they remembered the days prior to Roe v. Wade and the consequences of a world where woman do not have access to safe and legal abortions. The stories they told me were horrifying. One in particular, about a friend who was raped by her father as a teen and then was forced to marry an older friend of the father when she found herself pregnant, still makes me shudder. But there were others: friends who were socially ostracized after procuring illegal abortions, cousins who were forced to adopt out children against their will. (For anyone interested in reading about adoption in this era, I’d suggest reading Ann Fessler’s “The Girls Who Went Away”).
Unfortunately, since 2008 this country has been overtaken by a huge rise in anti-choice legislation, which has almost exclusively been introduced by Republicans. And when the Republican Party meets next week for their national convention it is likely they will agree to support a constitutional ban on abortion without exclusions for rape or incest. This news is, while not entirely surprising in our current political climate, disheartening, to say the least. More than 40 Republican House and Senate candidates currently support a ban on all abortions with no exceptions for rape or incest, including representative and current vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan. Voting Republican now means casting a vote against women’s access to abortion, and the implications of that are frightening. Just this week a pregnant Dominican teenager passed away from cancer because she had to wait over 20 weeks for her government to debate the morality of allowing her to obtain an abortion prior to getting the chemotherapy she needed. Just like China’s controversial one-child policy and recent stories of forced abortion, this is another clear illustration of what happens in the modern world when we allow government to interfere in a woman’s right to make personal decisions about her own body and reproductive health. News this week concerning reproductive health has been especially emotionally jarring, from absurd comments on how “legitimate” rapes do not result in pregnancy because women’s bodies have ways of preventing this (see Rep. Todd Akin R-Mass) to the pro-life activists who waited outside the home of a Planned Parenthood CEO in Florida to verbally attack her. I just want to scream. I’ve said it before on the Shesheet and I’ll say it again, we can never entirely know what another person is going through or what the best course of action may be for them when they are facing any impending major life event, including but not limited to a pregnancy. All we can do is support women and empower them by respecting their choices and defending their fundamental right to make these choices without outside interference.
With all of this floating around in my head, I recently passed a church billboard with a sign that read, “What if your mother was pro-choice?”
It is an argument I’ve heard thousands of times over. Before I ever volunteered or worked at pro-choice political organizations when I was a high school student at a diversity and leadership training, I heard a girl tell me that she was anti-abortion in all cases because her mother was raped and her mother’s family wanted her to abort. Had her mother chosen abortion, she informed me, she wouldn’t have been here now. In my response I emphasized that I didn’t think her mother’s family should have tried to pressure her into an abortion, and that I absolutely supported her mother’s choice to have her. I pointed out that thousands of things can influence a child’s coming into this world or becoming the person he or she is today. But that was all I said. I don’t agree with the logic that just because something was right for one person’s particular situation that it should be the rule for others, so I couldn’t find the words to articulate a personal story—only one of the many stories about why women need access to abortion.
This week the following article (http://www.rolereboot.org/culture-and-politics/details/2012-08-i-wish-my-mother-had-aborted-me) gained a lot of critical attention, compelling me to again I revisit the “What if your mother” conversation. In this thoughtful post, Lyn Beisner addresses those pro-lifers who call themselves survivors of abortion by describing how it would have been better for her mother had her mother had access to an abortion. It is not that Beisner wishes she had never been born, only that she loves her mother and, detailing a childhood filled with poverty and horrific abuse, knows her mother would have had a better life had she opted to terminate her pregnancy while as a teen.
The attacks against Beisner have ranged from commentators asking her to kill herself, to a nationally recognized pro-life blogger who, without the qualifications to do so, diagnosed Beisner as clearly clinically depressed and suffering from feelings of low self worth based entirely off that blogger’s interpretation of the article. In one comment, a woman told the story of how she was walking home from school and was invited into an older man’s home. This commentator said no, and, according to her therefore avoided an unwanted pregnancy. According to this commentator, if you want to avoid getting pregnant as a result of rape, it is that easy: “Girls just need to learn to say no.” These are the constituents who the Republican Party seems to be listening to when they claim to be somehow supporting women by taking away their options.
So, with all this going around in my head this week, I wanted to share a personal story, or rather my mother’s personal story.
Before I was born my mother and father were married and celebrating a very wanted pregnancy. Unfortunately my mother became very ill and needed to have an abortion to save her life. Without the legal right to that abortion my mother would not have lived. Period. Yes, she would not have given birth to my brother and me. She also wouldn’t have spent years as a social worker working to do an incredible amount of good in a variety of communities. But what she did after, and even my existence is irrelevant here, the point is she would have simply been yet another woman sentenced to death because a bunch of strangers thought they had the right to dictate what would be best for her and many other women like her. My mother is ardently pro-choice. For her, this means she wants all women to have access to comprehensive reproductive health care (or, for that matter, any form of health care they may need). This means she trusts them to make decisions about their own bodies and that should any woman face an unintended pregnancy, she will support their right to decide to keep it, or not. I feel incredibly lucky and thankful that my mother is pro-choice. Not because she chose to keep me, but because I know she supports my right to make my own decisions. That is all that being pro-choice means, and I cannot imagine what it would be like were she anything else.
I keep driving by that church billboard and wishing that I could tell them that my mother is pro-choice, and that I am exceptionally thankful she had the legal right to make that choice, regardless of what happened to her afterwards. I wish I could find the words to explain that if they really want to prevent abortions, the best way of doing so would not be to attack or make assumptions about another person’s situation. These same pro-life activists who are so against abortion are also often against making birth control available and affordable or providing safe sex education. They are also often against universal health care. Currently an unintended pregnancy is the number one reason why women fall into poverty in this country. In other countries where universal health care is the norm, women are able to take longer maternity leaves, they don’t face the consequence of losing their insurance should they need to leave a job, and should a child be born with developmental difficulties, they have the guarantee that that child will receive medical care for their entire life. It seems so simple. And yet a major political party just announced that women who get pregnant, regardless of the reason, should have their options dictated to them by strangers. They are telling us that women are not capable of deciding when to become pregnant, when not to be pregnant, and by extension how best to parent. Women do not deserve legislation that patronizes them, controls them, abuses them or trivializes their experiences. Too many of us unfortunately already know from personal experience that avoiding rape or an unintended and unwanted pregnancy is not as simple as just saying no. And it is time for us to stand up and remind the out of touch GOP that we are simply no longer going to stand for having our rights taken away. A famous woman who fought for our right to have a voice, Susan B. Anthony, once said, “no self respecting woman should wish or work for the success of a party that ignores her sex.” Please remember that as we near fall 2012.
In closure, I want to draw your attention to the following open letter to Representative Trent Franks, which I strongly suggest everyone read: http://www.rhrealitycheck.org/article/2012/07/19/open-letter-to-representative-trent-franks-what-caring-about-women-and-babies-rea