I was debating whether or not to blog this major news, but decided to do so anyway:
The Obama administration has decided to stop trying to block
over-the-counter availability of the best-known morning-after
contraceptive pill for all women and girls, a move fraught with
political repercussions for President Obama.
The government’s decision means that any woman or girl will soon be able
to walk into a drugstore and buy the pill, Plan B One-Step, without a
The essential issue, which never changes for women, is control of our bodies and their reproductive ability.
Our lives, in short.
The most fortunate of women have a few choices, many of them culturally pre-determined:
Never have sex unless or until you want to become pregnant
Never have sex unless or until you are married and have a partner to help you raise a child
Never have sex
Have an abortion
Put your unwanted child(ren) up for adoption
Many of us have, or will have, a sexual life beyond the boundaries of marriage or the explicit, specific desire to become someone’s parent. For some of us, it may result in an unplanned pregnancy — or pregnancy scare.
Ready access to Plan B means any woman who fears she might face an unplanned pregnancy has the option to forestall that terrifyingly, permanently life-changing event.
Those of us who delay marriage — or may never even choose it — and wish to have a sexual life without the result of children must have access to safe, affordable, accessible choices beyond the Religious Right’s favorite method — snapping our knees safely shut from puberty to menopause.
Managing one’s sexual impulses and desires, let alone those of our male partners/husbands, is sometimes challenge enough. STDs are rampant and add another layer of worry or concern, as they should.
Then there is the matter of one’s fertility, for some a coveted gift, for others a burden. Shit happens. Condoms slide off, or break or, yes, sometimes never get used at all.
And I am speaking only of consensual sex, not the many women suffering rape and its aftermath, emotional and physical.
Plan B is a much simpler choice — on ever level — than abortion for many women.
This is huge step for American women’s reproductive rights, and one that’s only — really — about 40 years later than what Canadian women took for granted when I was in collegeand needed access to Plan B. There, it was an easy, quick, non-political issue.
I moved to the U.S. when I was 30, still unmarried. I have been nauseated, enraged and wearied ever since by the relentless, ferocious, get-the-the-fuck-away-from-my-uterus political battles in this country over when, where, or even if a woman should have ready, safe, affordable access to birth control information, birth control and/or abortion.
It’s my body.
I do with it — tats, piercings, hair color, shape and size, clothing (or lack of it) — as I wish.
Those who remain utterly determined to control and manage women’s sexuality, by trying to demonize and/or politicize our most personal and private decisions, are anathema to me.
Anyone who watched the debate this week between Vice President Joe Biden and Congressman Paul Ryan heard this phrase repeatedly from Ryan. If Mitt Romney wins, the only way an American woman will be able to get a legal, safe abortion in this country is for those three reasons — she is pregnant through rape, incest or her life would be threatened if she carried to term.
Ryan then went on to say something oddly disarming in its inherent lack of self-awareness. He talked about how, looking at a first sonogram of his daughter, he was thrilled by the beating heart in the tiny “bean” on the image, so much that he and his wife still call that child “Bean.” …Ryan’s moral intuition that something was indeed wonderful here was undercut, tellingly, by a failure to recognize accurately what that wonderful thing was, even as he named it: a bean is exactly what the photograph shows—a seed, a potential, a thing that might yet grow into something greater, just as a seed has the potential to become a tree. A bean is not a baby.
The fundamental condition of life is that it develops, making it tricky sometimes to say when it’s fully grown and when it isn’t, but always easy to say that there is a difference and that that difference is, well, human life itself. It is this double knowledge that impacts any grownup thinking about abortion: that it isn’t life that’s sacred—the world is full of life, much of which Paul Ryan wants to cut down and exploit and eat done medium rare. It is conscious, thinking life that counts, and where and exactly how it begins (and ends) is so complex a judgment that wise men and women, including some on the Supreme Court, have decided that it is best left, at least at its moments of maximum ambiguity, to the individual conscience (and the individual conscience’s doctor).
I am solidly and unmovedly pro-choice.
I think the right to a safe, legal abortion is a fundamental right for women who — as we do — want to control when, how or if we become someone’s parent. We might get pregnant, unplanned, at 13 or 18 or 28 or 37 or 42. An unplanned, unwanted pregnancy is one of the most fundamentally life-altering events in any woman’s life.
The right to abortion is the most important way for us to preserve the most essential autonomy we have over our own bodies.
“The life of the mother” ignores a basic fact women know intimately — it is the sudden death of our dreams, hopes, plans and ambitions that, for many of us, determines the difference between “life” and death.
A woman with no:
— reliable income
— clean, safe home
— partner, whether male or female, married or unmarried
— family to help her with baby-sitting or childcare
— education or access to education
— safe, loving marriage
is not a woman who wants to, or should — weak, scared, broke — become someone’s mother. Women’s role on this earth is not simply to create children, no matter their emotional or intellectual strength.
Women become pregnant through laziness, ignorance, ambivalence — and a lost, broken or unused condom. Women get pregnant if they screw up their birth control or never knew exactly how to use it properly in the first place. Women get pregnant when they least expect it. (My husband was born to a woman who was 49.) Women get pregnant by men who, they soon realize, or already know, are absolutely unfit and unready, emotionally, financially, professionally, to become someone’s father and assume those lifelong responsibilities. Women get pregnant by men they are married to who are, they discover, having an affair. Women get pregnant by men who turn out to be scary shits, even abusive.
And single mothers are those most likely to fall into poverty.
No woman wants that for her future, or a child she might be forced to bear.
I do not think choosing abortion is a decision to be taken lightly, without a clear understanding that you are making the choice to end a life. It is no substitute for intelligent, thoughtful, responsible, consistent use of effective birth control. If you’re too scared to ask your partner to use a condom or find and use an effective form of birth control, your decision to abort is, in my mind, a sad, painful consequence of your own unresolved ability to handle your own sexuality.
• Of the approximately 750,000 teen pregnancies that occur each year, 82% are unintended. Fifty-nine percent end in birth and more than one-quarter end in abortion.
• The 2008 teenage abortion rate was 17.8 abortions per 1,000 women. This figure was 59% lower than its peak in 1988, but 1% higher than the 2005 rate.
• Compared with their Canadian, English, French and Swedish peers, U.S. teens have a similar level of sexual activity, but they are more likely to have shorter and less consistent sexual relationships, and are less likely to use contraceptives, especially the pill or dual methods.
• The United States continues to have one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the developed world (68 per 1,000 women aged 15–19 in 2008)—more than twice that of Canada (27.9 per 1,000) or Sweden (31.4 per 1,000).
From the American on-line magazine Salon:
There is hope for America yet: A new survey finds that most adults in this country believe that teens should be taught about both abstinence and birth control. What’s more, seven in 10 adults agree that federal funds should go toward teen pregnancy prevention programs that have been “proven to change behavior related to teen pregnancy” (i.e., actually work). And three-quarters of teens and adults think that antiabortion policymakers “should be strong supporters of birth control.” Sanity prevails!
Now here’s the bad news: Most teens “say they have all the information they need to avoid an unplanned pregnancy,” according to the report by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, and yet “many admit they know ‘little or nothing’” about contraception. Forty-seven percent feel clueless about condoms, and a whopping 72 percent admit ignorance about birth control pills. Worse still, 42 percent of teens believe contraception doesn’t matter all that much, that you just get pregnant “when it is your time,” says the survey.
I do not want men in positions of power telling women when they may become a mother.
If there’s a default expectation for women, it’s Becoming A Mom.
Surely every one of us wants kids. Don’t we?
No, some of us do not.
I don’t have kids and never wanted to. Neither do either of my younger half-brothers. So, sadly — as those of us without kids often enjoy time spent with them — there are no children anywhere in our extended family, no nieces or nephews, no grandkids.
There’s a reason some women don’t want kids, but one we rarely discuss publicly.
Like me, some childfree women were parentified at an early age, pressed into premature service as the adult, the responsible one, the person who reluctantly but efficiently dealt with doctors and teachers and bankers and realtors and lawyers far too young — often because their parent(s) was/were mentally ill, and/or alcoholic or drug users and they had no other family to turn to.
This tends to make for lousy parenting, as your caregivers are often physically or emotionally absent or careless. Worse, they’re often exhaustingly selfish, needy, demanding, immature and insatiable.
Just like a baby.
Except that babies gurgle and coo and smell delicious and are charming as well as exhausting. They grow up and their needs change.
These sorts of parents rarely do. We often spend our childhoods and teen years and early adult years — the ones falsely glorified as a time of totally selfish independence and freedom — dreading the latest email or phone call signaling the next crisis. We may spend savings we barely have to repeatedly rush out and rescue our parent(s), as their own friends and even relatives burn out, give up and turn away.
So, by the time society expects us to start cooing lovingly over our own kids — as well as everyone else’s — you’re simply worn out. The whole idea of starting another job being someone’s caregiver and protector feels, as it is, overwhelming.
Nor do these sorts of parents want to baby-sit for you. Nor might you even trust them to do so, so the sort of automatic family support and love many people assume is normal and take for granted — and which makes parenthood look a lot more affordable and appealing — is never going to happen for us.
We rarely say this publicly because:
It’s not cool. If your Mom gets cancer or your Dad has a stroke, sure. People will be kind because they can relate. There are no pink ribbons for those of us carrying the weight of an alkie or a parent who’s in and out of mental hospitals.
These burdens are ugly and painful, and often only end when that parent dies or ends up in others’ professional care.
Non-mothers are often dismissed as selfish, cold, unloving bitches. Nice!
Non-mothers are pitied, their infertility assumed. It’s almost never seen as a deliberate choice.
Non-mothers are considered people who want nothing to do with children. Wrong! Kids are fine, and often fun. I just don’t want the lifelong responsibility for one, or several.
In 2008, Nebraska decriminalized child abandonment. The move was part of a “safe haven” law designed to address increased rates of infanticide in the state. Like other safe haven laws, parents in Nebraska who felt unprepared to care for their babies could drop them off at a designated location without fear of arrest and prosecution. But legislators made a major logistical error: They failed to implement an age limitation for dropped-off children.
Within just weeks of the law passing, parents started dropping off their kids. But here’s the rub: None of them were infants. A couple of months in, 36 children had been left in state hospitals and police stations. Twenty-two of the children were over 13 years old. A 51-year-old grandmother dropped off a 12-year-old boy. One father dropped off his entire family — nine children from ages one to 17. Others drove from neighboring states to drop off their children once they heard that they could abandon them without repercussion.
The Nebraska state government, realizing the tremendous mistake it had made, held a special session of the legislature to rewrite the law in order to add an age limitation. Governor Dave Heineman said the change would “put the focus back on the original intent of these laws, which is saving newborn babies and exempting a parent from prosecution for child abandonment. It should also prevent those outside the state from bringing their children to Nebraska in an attempt to secure services.”
One father dropped off his entire family.
On November 21, 2008, the last day that the safe haven law was in effect for children of all ages, a mother from Yolo County, California, drove over 1,200 miles to the Kimball County Hospital in Nebraska where she left her 14-year-old son.
What happened in Nebraska raises the question: If there were no consequences, how many of us would give up our kids?
What does it say about the college coed Susan [sic] Fluke, who goes before a congressional committee and essentially says that she must be paid to have sex? What does that make her? It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute. She wants to be paid to have sex.
She’s having so much sex she can’t afford the contraception. She wants you and me and the taxpayers to pay her to have sex. What does that make us? We’re the pimps.
The johns, that’s right. We would be the johns — no! We’re not the johns. Well — yeah, that’s right. Pimp’s not the right word.
OK, so, she’s not a slut. She’s round-heeled. I take it back.
Women in the United States are living in the most toxic era I can remember since moving here in 1988. We joke nervously on Facebook about when burquas will be required.
It’s become so bad that one of the few remaining moderate Republicans, a woman who supports the right to abortion, Olympia Snowe, will not be running again. Like all of us, she’s fed up.
Reported The New York Times:
“Everybody’s got to rethink how we approach legislating and governance in the United States Senate,” Ms. Snowe said in an interview on Wednesday. She shook her head at how “we’ve miniaturized the process in the United States Senate,” no longer allowing lawmakers to shape or change legislation and turning every vote into a take-it-or-leave-it showdown intended to embarrass the opposition.
The vote set for Thursday, framed as a choice between contraceptive coverage and religious freedom, was not the reason Ms. Snowe made her announcement, she said. Her retirement decision was bigger than any one vote. But people familiar with her thinking say the re-emergence of such hot-button social issues helped nudge her to the exit.
Georgia Chomas, a cousin of the senator who described herself as more like a sister, said social conservatives and Tea Party activists in Maine were hounding her at home, while party leaders in Washington had her hemmed in and steered the legislative agenda away from the matters she cared about.
As I posted last week, the American economy remains in the toilet. Having officially left Afghanistan, remaining American troops are being targeted there and killed by people we’ve spent billions trying to help.
Women’s rights look like the easiest, softest next target. Women have become complacent, people tell me, persuaded that the battles of the 1970s are long-over, our freedoms won and secure.
So the problem is not just that the woman and her physician (the core relationship protected in Roe) no longer matter at all in deciding whether an abortion is proper. It is that the physician is being commandeered by the state to perform a medically unnecessary procedure upon a woman, despite clear ethical directives to the contrary. (There is no evidence at all that the ultrasound is a medical necessity, and nobody attempted to defend it on those grounds.) As an editorial in the Virginian-Pilot put it recently, “Under any other circumstances, forcing an unwilling person to submit to a vaginal probing would be a violation beyond imagining. Requiring a doctor to commit such an act, especially when medically unnecessary, and to submit to an arbitrary waiting period, is to demand an abrogation of medical ethics, if not common decency.”*
Women’s rights advocates say these legislative and ballot efforts around the country to establish fetal personhood are part of a move to place greater restrictions on women’s access to abortion.
“Over the past several years, we’ve seen more and more attempts to restrict abortion directly,” said Elizabeth Nash, state issues manager at the Guttmacher Institute, an organization that describes itself as advancing sexual and reproductive health and rights through research and policy analysis. “These efforts around redefining ‘person’ are a little more of a back door approach, because they don’t use the term abortion. They’re not an outright abortion ban. Instead they’re using a less obvious approach in a way that does not exactly indicate exactly how far they go.”
According to the Guttmacher Institute, new laws in 24 states in 2011 restricted access to abortion services, while according to the advocacy group NARAL Pro-Choice America, the number of “anti-choice” measures being implemented in states has risen steadily over the past decade, from 303 in 2001 to 713 in 2011.
The United States is still facing the highest unemployment since the Depression.
Income inequality is at a record high.
Millions of home-owners are in foreclosure.
And legislators are focusing their energies and animus on.…our reproductive freedoms?
This is the story in France right now, with the BBC reporting there are already 40 journalists in the tiny rural town of Villers-au-Tertre, near the Belgian border.
The woman, a nurse in her 40s who has two daughters and grand-children, confessed to killing eight of her own babies between 1989 and 1996, but only two corpses have been found at their current home. Police suspect she might have brought the other corpses with her when they moved in.
The woman, mordbidly obese, managed to keep every pregnancy secret from her husband.
Not sure if this story is more a cautionary tale against morbid obesity or abortion versus infanticide.
Chilling, powerful report from Peter Hitchens, (brother of fellow journalist and author Christopher Hitchens, better known in the U.S.) in The Mailon Sunday. (Try to ignore his conservative, off-message digs at feminism and homosexuality because the rest of the piece is worth it):
By the year 2020, there will be 30 million more men than women of marriageable age in this giant empire, so large and so different (its current population is 1,336,410,000) that it often feels more like a separate planet than just another country. Nothing like this has ever happened to any civilisation before.
The nearest we can come to it is the sad shortage of men after the First World War in Britain, France, Russia and Germany, and the many women denied the chance of family life and motherhood as a result…
I visited several state comprehensive schools, primary and secondary, in Danzhou and in the nearby countryside.
These were not official visits, nothing had been prearranged, and European foreigners are so rare in this part of China that the children (and often their friendly teachers too) were enthralled to see that the Europeans they call ‘long-noses’ really do live up to the name.
But as the children stared and chattered and giggled – and pulled at their own little noses to make fun of my enormous one – I quietly counted them, while my colleague Richard photographed them.
And in every cheerful classroom there was a slightly sinister shortage of girls, as if we had wandered into some sort of science fiction fantasy.
We had come to this region because of rumours that it has the most startling ratio of boys to girls in the country. One academic source has suggested there could be a ratio of 168 males for every 100 girls in Danzhou.
Something is clearly out of kilter. In one class of ten-year-olds, only 20 out of 80 were girls. In another classroom, it was 25 out of 63.
It is possible that some girls were being kept away from school because their parents did not think it worth sending them, but even so, the inequality was enormous and perplexing…
What lingers in the mind, in the midst of this surging economic and political titan with its dozens of vast, ultra-modern cities, its advanced plans to land men on the Moon, its utopian schemes to control population and its unstoppable power over the rest of the world, is the inconsolable misery of the bereft parents, the pinched squalor of the places where they must try to live a happy life, the jaunty wickedness of the cheap abortion clinics and the classrooms full of the ghosts of all those girls who were never born.
I found this piece, and the cultural disposability of girls, of future women, nauseating and heartbreaking.
If you live in the United States, almost everything you buy was made in China. They own our debt. They own our future.
These are their values.
These practices arise in areas where cultural norms value male children over female children. Societies that practice sex selection in favor of males are quite common, especially in countries like the People’s Republic of China, Korea, Taiwan, and India.
In 2005, 90 million women were estimated to be “missing” in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, China, India, Pakistan, South Korea and Taiwan alone, apparently due to sex-selective abortion. The existence of the practice appears to be determined by culture, rather than by economic conditions, because such deviations in sex ratios do not exist in sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean.
Sex-selective abortion was rare before the late 20th century, because of the difficulty of determining the sex of the fetus before birth, but ultrasound has made such selection easier. However, prior to this, parents would alter family sex compositions through infanticide. It is believed to be responsible for at least part of the skewed birth statistics in favor of males in mainland China, India, Taiwan, and South Korea. Even today, there are no scientifically proven and commercialized practices that allow gender detection during the first trimester, and ultrasound is fairly unreliable until approximately the 20th week of pregnancy. Consequently, sex selection often requires late term abortion of a fetus close to the limit of viability, making the practice frowned-upon even within the pro-choice community.
A new Utah bill would make it a crime for a woman to try and terminate her pregnancy through deliberate self-harm.
From The New York Times:
But critics say legislation inspired by an unusual, perhaps even freakish criminal case, could open up a vast frontier around the question of intent and responsibility and give local prosecutors huge new powers to inquire about a woman’s intentions toward her unborn child.
For example, if a pregnant woman gets into a vehicle, goes on a wild ride way over the speed limit without wearing a seatbelt and crashes and the fetus is killed, is she a reckless driver? Or is she a reckless mother-to-be who criminally ignored the safety of her fetus?
Under the bill, a woman guilty of criminal homicide of her fetus could be punished by up to life in prison.
“So many things can happen, and it’s all in the eye of the beholder — that’s what’s very dangerous about this legislation,” said Marina Lowe, the legislative and policy counsel to the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah, which has urged Mr. Herbert to veto the bill.
Some women’s advocacy groups say the bill simply codifies what many states are already doing, using existing laws about the unborn to prosecute apparently errant mothers.
Just last month in Iowa, for example, a pregnant woman who fell down the stairs at home confided to emergency workers that she was not sure she really wanted to have her child. Though the woman did not immediately miscarry from the fall, she was arrested anyway under a state law that makes it a criminal act to harm a fetus. She was released after two days in jail, and the charges were dropped.
At least 38 states have laws against fetal homicide, generally intended to create additional penalties when a pregnant woman is assaulted or killed. And two states, Delaware and New York, also have laws specifically making self-abortion a crime….
Lynn M. Paltrow, the executive director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women, a nonprofit group based in New York, said the focus on the child obscured the bleak story of the teenager, who also deserves, she said, empathy from the world, and the law.
“Almost nobody is speaking for her,” Ms. Paltrow said. “Why would a young woman get to a point of such desperation that she would invite violence against herself? Anybody that desperate is not going to be deterred by this statute.”
Here’s the tricky part.
That “u” in the word uterus? Even in the word fetus?
It’s not the same “u” as in “any of your f——g business.”
It took the jury 37 minutes to reach their verdict on the man who described planning the shooting death of Kansas abortion doctor George Tiller as “a relief” after he’d pulled the trigger, reports The New York Times:
Abortion rights supporters lauded the ruling, saying it sends a strong, unambiguous message to others who believe violence against abortion doctors is justified that such acts will be punished. Abortion opponents, meanwhile, said that Mr. Roeder — who admitted to the killing in open court but said that was the only way he could stop the deaths of babies — had not received a fair trial, and that the outcome would only encourage more violence.
During closing arguments on Friday morning, Mr. Roeder sat silent and expressionless as prosecutors portrayed the shooting of Dr. Tiller at his church on May 31 as not just premeditated murder but as “a planned assassination” that had been proven “not only beyond a reasonable doubt but beyond any doubt.”
“He claims justification,” Kim Parker, a prosecutor said, calling on jurors here to uphold the law, not Mr. Roeder’s views of abortion, which, she said, he had proudly trumpeted on the witness stand. “These are not the acts of a justified man. These acts are cowardly.”
Mr. Roeder’s lawyers had called for acquittal. Mark Rudy, a public defender, told jurors that Mr. Roeder, 51, had developed such strong feelings about his religious faith and against abortion that he had ultimately felt compelled to shoot Dr. Tiller, who had performed abortion for three decades and was a focal point for controversy nationally.
The entire “debate” manages to omit the key player in these narratives — the women who feel an abortion is necessary and who seek a safe, legal way to obtain one. It’s a woman’s body and her right to determine what happens to, and within it. Roeder and his ilk are terrifying in their self-righteouness.
In Oklahoma, a new law requires any woman seeking an abortion to first answer dozens of personal questions, including why she wants the procedure. That information, names omitted, would eventually be posted on a state Web site.
Those who support the measure say it will help them better understand why women are seeking abortions. Abortion rights advocates call the law intimidating and invasive, and this week, they are challenging it in court. Legal experts say the law is another test of how far states can go to regulate abortion.
A Necessary Law, Or Intolerable?
The survey in Oklahoma’s new abortion law includes some of the following questions: Would having a baby dramatically change a woman’s life, or interfere with her job or education? Is she unemployed, or unsure of a relationship with the father?
How can we counsel, how can we treat, how can we offer counseling to mothers to be that are choosing abortion, if we don’t have hard-core facts?
– Oklahoma state Sen. Todd Lamb
“This is not going in and getting a wart removed. This is a procedure that ends a human life,” says Oklahoma state Rep. Dan Sullivan. He says the law is valid and necessary.
“And because it’s a special procedure, we believe that it’s appropriate to be able to find out why these are going on and if there is something that we can do to change that,” Sullivan says.
But abortion rights activists call the law — and the survey — intolerable….
Forty-six states have laws that require clinics and hospitals to submit some kind of reports about the abortions they perform. But clinics in Oklahoma say this law is an invasion of privacy that goes far beyond abortion reporting requirements in any other state.
Linda Meek, executive administrator of Reproductive Services in Tulsa, Okla., says it’s discouraging and intrusive to patients.
“If they want to reduce the number of abortions, then they need to concentrate on educating women about preventing unwanted pregnancies, educating them about emergency contraception, birth control — and making birth control more accessible,” Meek says.
Abortion rights groups also fear that women could be identified based on the information they provide, especially women who live in Oklahoma’s small rural communities.
How much should a woman be asked before she can have an abortion? Are any questions fair?