Defending a woman's right to choose

Everyone has identifiers, labels that have become part of their identity over the years and when placed side-by-side, form a clearer picture of who they are or the things that they stand for. Identifiers such as liberal, conservative, Democrat, Republican, they bring some of us together and rip others of us apart and this has never been more true than it is today. The American political landscape can be a dark and divisive place that scares many of us into choosing a side, even when that side stopped serving our best interests a long time ago.I have identifiers, too: liberal, Democrat, Latina, all of these pieces have informed my identity, but the lens from which I truly view the world has to do with my gender, and the world treats me differently as a result of my gender. Just by virtue of being born female, I will make less than my male colleagues, I am less likely to be published in more prestigious journals and publications, my career will be limited or derailed entirely if I choose to have children, I will be saddled with a majority of domestic and caretaking responsibilities, and according to the recent National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey from the National Institute of Justice, I have a one in five chance of being raped. Also, as a woman, my body does not belong to me. My body can be publicly dissected and discussed. My reproductive rights can be taken away at any given moment, mostly by men who know a great deal about the Bible but very little about biology and actually take offense by the use of words that are anatomically correct. This was illustrated when Lisa Brown, a state representative for Michigan, was speaking to the Michigan House of Representatives regarding some of the most restrictive anti-choice legislation in the country. In the context of this bill she said, "Finally Mr. Speaker, I'm flattered that you're all so interested in my vagina, but 'no' means 'no.'" Republican House leaders banned Brown from speaking on the House floor and Rep. Mike Callton even told the press that what Brown said was so vile, so disgusting, that he could never bear to mention it in front of women or "mixed company." All of this because a woman dared to use the word "vagina" when discussing reproductive rights. Clearly, what I'm here to discuss is a woman's right to choose. Despite it being 2012, it appears as if abortion will be one of the determining factors of the upcoming election and as evidenced by Maggie Allen's recent letter to the editor (Gun Rights 8/16/2012), abortion is still something that many Americans feel strongly about. Just to get this out of the way: I am strongly pro-choice. I believe that women should have access to abortion on demand and without apology, but that doesn't mean I don't respect other people's beliefs. I respect Maggie Allen and I believe she's entitled to her opinion, but I don't respect the dissemination of opinion as fact. In her letter, Allen pointed the finger at Planned Parenthood, saying that Planned Parenthood is responsible for the murder of millions of "babies." I'm not being facetious, but we all know what a baby is, right? Sometimes things boil down to semantics. A baby is a very young child, one that is newly or recently born. Abortions do not "kill babies." Over half of all abortions occur before the 9th week of pregnancy, meaning that in most cases a woman is aborting an embryo, something that cannot live outside of her womb; something that hasn't developed all of its organs; something not even capable of consciousness until the third trimester; something that will not form a neocortex until the third trimester, which means it cannot feel pain until that time. Medically speaking, we're not even talking about a human being. I understand there are those who are religious and believe that life begins at conception - and you're entitled to your beliefs, but religious beliefs should play no part in law. Some states are so fanatical about restricting access to abortion that they're even willing to force women to undergo vaginal ultrasounds or change the medical definition of what it means to be pregnant. In April of this year, Arizona's House of Representatives passed the "Women's Health and Safety Act," prohibiting abortions after the 18th week of pregnancy. This bill, which was signed by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer last week, includes a new definition for when pregnancy begins, defining gestational age as "calculated from the first day of the last menstrual period of the pregnant woman," which would move the beginning of a pregnancy up two weeks prior to actual conception. Medically speaking, gestational age can only be predicted within a 10-14 day period, so the Arizona bill ridiculously employs the reverse logic: because you most likely aren't pregnant while menstruating, the bill estimates that you became pregnant sometime around the two-week post-period mark. This means that if you're currently a woman menstruating in Arizona, you could be determined legally pregnant even though you are not actually pregnant. Allen was right about Planned Parenthood receiving federal funding, but by law, federal funding cannot be allocated for abortions. The organization has been receiving government funding since 1970 when Richard Nixon signed the Family Planning Services and Population Research Act. You see, this was before American politics became so divisive that it would be out of the question for a Republican president to sign such a thing into law with the belief that "no American woman should be denied access to family planning assistance because of her economic condition." Just this week the state of Texas announced that it will cut off state funding to Planned Parenthood following a federal court ruling last week, despite the fact that none of the Planned Parenthood clinics in the state that perform abortions receive any state or federal taxpayer dollars. These cuts threaten access to health care for more than 50,000 poor women and now, Republicans in the state also want to discontinue public funds to clinics that provide preventive health services to the poor. Lucy Nashed, a spokeswoman for Texas Gov. Rick Perry, said that "This decision is a win for Texas women, first and foremost. It's a win for our rule of law and for our state's priority to protect life." I'm sorry, maybe I'm just crazy, but how does cutting health care services for more than 50,000 women constitute a win for women? It's insane to me that those most concerned with the sanctity of life fail to see the women's lives they are threatening. Are women not human beings? Are we simply the cost of being able to get your way? It seems that very few people are aware that less than 3 percent of the services Planned Parenthood provides are abortion services. For those adamantly opposed to abortion, it would make the most sense for you to support Planned Parenthood because 76 percent of its clients are there to prevent unintended pregnancies by obtaining contraceptives. As a matter of fact, the organization has been credited with helping to prevent more than 584,000 unintended pregnancies. In other words, the organization helps women prevent abortion. Attacking Planned Parenthood is simply irresponsible and short-sighted. You know who goes to Planned Parenthood? Women like me who are low-income and uninsured. Planned Parenthood is the closest thing I have to healthcare, as it provides free pap tests and breast exams, both of which are critical services in detecting cancer. The organization also provides services to those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender, and they provide more than four million tests and treatments for sexually transmitted infections each year, including HIV. Because it provides abortions, Planned Parenthood is demonized, but the world would be a scary place for women without organizations like Planned Parenthood. A 2007 study by the World Health Organization and the Guttmacher Institute in New York found that most unsafe abortions occur where abortion is illegal. The study also found that abortion rates are similar in countries where it is legal and those where it's not, suggesting that outlawing the procedure does little to deter women seeking it. Does anyone remember back alley abortions and the women who lost their lives because of them? If it goes against your beliefs, why would you insist on denying other women the right to make this very private and difficult decision in the safety of their doctor's office? Why don't we ever discuss the unspeakable cruelty of forcing a woman to have a child that she not only doesn't want, but isn't prepared to care for financially, emotionally, or otherwise? It's difficult not to see the attacks on women's reproductive rights as a direct assault on women, or as a recent article for the Center for American Progress stated, "Abortion is the battle, but women's health is the war." I mean, have you been reading the news lately? The past couple of weeks have been littered with examples of politicians publicly displaying their uninformed and extreme views on women's health. There are politicians like Vice Presidential hopeful Paul Ryan who believes that abortion is not acceptable under any circumstances. Recently, when asked about the possibility of women obtaining an abortion after being raped, he said, "I've always adopted the idea that the method of conception doesn't change the definition of life." Meaning, that to the person who may become the Vice President of the United States, rape is just another form of conception, as valid as sex between two people in a committed relationship. Two weeks ago, Senate candidate and Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO) told a television station that "legitimate rape" rarely produces pregnancy because "the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down." First of all, that is literally an insane assertion with no basis in reality and secondly, it almost comes as no surprise that Akin wants to dictate what constitutes "legitimate rape," as this is the same man who sponsored legislation that would redefine rape in federal law to limit funding for abortion providers. During a recent interview, Pennsylvania GOP Senate Candidate Tom Smith suggested that having a child out of wedlock was analogous to rape, claiming that it would have a "similar" effect on a father. All women should be just as terrified of the upcoming election as I am. These are the men who are making decisions for us and they are basing their decisions on personal beliefs and misinformation. If we can't trust these people to have a basic understanding of how the female reproductive system works and why abortion is actually a healthier, more responsible choice for many women, how can we trust them to make decisions that govern our bodies? More importantly, if these same people don't trust women to make the right decisions regarding our bodies, how can they trust us to raise children?

********** Published: September 6, 2012 - Volume 11 - Issue 21