Freedom Whore – Abortion, Shame, and The Right To Deny Me My Rights by Martha Plimpton Jul01

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Freedom Whore – Abortion, Shame, and The Right To Deny Me My Rights by Martha Plimpton

459728_870570-20140627ProtestersThere are innumerable contradictions and hypocrisies buried in Monday’s all-male, 5-4 Supreme Court decision on the Hobby Lobby, that gave corporations the right to decide what health-care options women are allowed to have. This is the second of two decisions that have come down in less than a week that effectively remind us that the Roberts’ Court does not actually consider women’s individual rights worthy of protection. The first decision, on buffer zones, told us that women seeking medical care can be shouted at, intimidated, harassed, and terrorized by “peaceful counselors,” a.k.a., anti- choice protestors, without the needed protection of a small area of sidewalk that at least kept women and clinic staff from being literally physically prevented from entering the doctor’s office. I suppose there are people who will say that this decision didn’t really affect women’s ability to get care, and that these clinics have other means of protection at their disposal. But they’d be ignoring the reason the buffer zones were created in the first place. They weren’t there because women are fragile and moody. They were created because women were being spat upon. Citizens were being terrified and threatened and harassed when trying to see a doctor about a private health concern. And people were being murdered.

But that’s the protestor’s right under the First Amendment, I guess. Women’s safety isn’t really a part of that equation. Women don’t rate. Especially not when they’re getting an abortion. An abortion! The worst thing in the known universe a woman can possibly do! Besides having sex in the first place, that is.

Then, of course, Monday’s decision that gave Hobby Lobby, a huge corporation employing thousands of women (presumably not all of them Evangelical Christians), the right to choose which medicines their employees—who pay for their coverage out of their paychecks—are allowed to avail themselves of. Wait, sorry, I need to be more specific here, because it’s not about which medications they’re allowed, it’s about which type of medication they’re allowed. In the words of Justice Alito, impartial champion of the rights of some, “This decision concerns only the contraceptive mandate and should not be understood to mean that all insurance mandates, that is for blood transfusions or vaccinations, necessarily fail if they conflict with an employer’s religious beliefs.”

So, from what I can tell, this basically means that you needn’t worry, and neither should Justice Ginsburg, Super Women’s Champion (except if you want a buffer zone between you and a spitting religious maniac), when she states in her dissent that this could jeopardize other people’s health insurance coverage; that it could open the door to pretty much any type of religious objection under the sun (kind of like how if you let people “peacefully counsel” the Justices from closer than 200 feet that might influence their sacrosanct decisions and the integrity of their “body”? No? Oh, okay). No, Alito wants us to know, and to feel secure in the knowledge, that this decision only affects women who want to have sex without getting pregnant or need to manage a reproductive health issue that contraceptives can help manage. So, only women of reproductive age are affected. Whew! [back of the hand forehead wipe of relief!] I was worried that maybe some other people might get upset because their rights might be in trouble, too! Thank goodness it’s just women who have sex and don’t want to get pregnant. Crisis averted, yo.

1395777727000-HobbyLobby-DENVER-COSome people have pointed out that there is already a workaround in the ACA that provides an out for women who do not share the religious beliefs of a not-for-profit religious organization, say a Catholic-run hospital or university. They may be correct in this, however that workaround for profit corporations is not, so far, outlined in the ACA itself, so we really don’t know how those women immediately affected by this decision are going to manage. We also have a Congress hostile to women’s rights and to the ACA, so getting that language in there seems a dubious proposal at this juncture. But is that really the point? I mean, according to this decision, for-profit corporations are now, in and of themselves, churches if they wanna be, basically. Is that it? Hmmm. I dunno. Wait! They’re people. Right? Wait, are they churches or people? We may never need to know the diff, thanks to the wisdom of the First Unapologetically Christian Court of America. I think that is the relevant question here, and that is what has people like me very, very worried for women. Even Hilary Clinton (a person I admire and respect, but who, apparently, at this particular moment, doesn’t feel that the RFRA and DOMA were part of the same cynical policy failure masquerading as compromise. I would like to get her to evolve her thinking on that, frankly) agrees with me. So no, it’s not hysteria, this response. We’re not going nuts and being reactionary, you know, like it’s that time of the millennium for us. We know what we are afraid of. It’s a concern based on experience.

Many people might end up taking issue with my point of view here or how I’m expressing it. That will happen. I can’t, nor am I intending to, speak for every single person affected by the majestic tentacles of misogyny and patriarchy that reach out in all directions and attempt to suffocate the life out of any sense of shared outrage or mutual support of each other’s struggle with either. Plus, I admit, my thinking is not particularly nuanced on a day like today. Like a lot of people, I’m mostly just pissed. After all, we all just got this news officially reminding us, once again, that women do not share the same rights as citizens of the United States that men, or corporations, or churches, enjoy. No matter how shitty the science, no matter how contradictory the logic, no matter how blatant the hypocrisy, it seems there are some people who will find literally any way, any Escher-like solution, go to any convoluted lengths, and spend any dizzying amount of money to deny my rights as a female citizen. It’s just the cost of doing business. Literally. Like anyone in that situation, I have some feelings about it. To those feelings, and on the point of language and its uses and failures, I should say before getting into it that there are well-established, nationwide pro-choice organizations that have found what they feel is the best and most effective, time- honored language for communicating about the need for “choice,” and it almost always excludes the actual word “abortion.” This is based on a lot of market research and the like which tells them that focusing on or highlighting abortion is not the best way to talk about what they do. Other terms are used instead—not inaccurately, but more comfortably. There’s a stigma, shall we say, that’s pretty effective in making even the most ardent supporters squeamish. Terms like “family planning” or “choice” are accurate and fair and right, but I’m not afraid of the word or the procedure or the practice of abortion, and I refuse to be intimidated out of asserting the reality of it, its frequency, its necessity, or its positivity as a hugely important medical advance for human kind. I believe fear of using the word contributes to fear of the procedure and shame about its use, and acquiescence to shame is at the heart of why I am writing this today. I am choosing to focus on and highlight abortion specifically here, and not just contraception or the broader subject of reproductive health in general, of which abortion is an integral part. If we want to change the conversation, as so many in this fight are desperate to do, well then, start saying “abortion” and say it constantly. Stress it, daily. Don’t let anyone make you afraid to say the word, anywhere.

464540937_7a73867599So many of us seem to have forgotten what life was like before Roe v. Wade, when women were dying in pools of their own blood. Or were being interrogated on hospital gurneys by police while they were bleeding out during a miscarriage. Or being raped by hack abortionists in unlicensed offices. Or needing hysterectomies because of botched illegal abortions. Or having to wait until too late in their terms because they couldn’t get an abortion in time, being forced to abort in filthy, unsafe, terrifying, life-threatening situations.

So many of us are deluded enough to believe—or have been duped into believing—that advances in women’s rights are the result of a curious flight of fancy that some ill-informed, hysterical woman made us think was a good idea for a minute, and not the excruciating reality of life for women before them. “That buffer zone? That was silly!” “That right to terminate a pregnancy? That was just your imagination, you thinking you need that.” “That contraception mandate? Why, you foolish ninny! Who told you you could have that? A LIBERAL? Ha ha! Rights, schmights. Don’t you know your body is public property?” Ridiculous women and their “needs” fucking up everything for all the fun people.

It never gets easier, hearing this stuff, watching the hatred for women’s autonomy be so routinely codified into law. You’d think it would, what with 200 new pieces of legislation restricting abortion in the states in the last three years, more than in the 40 years prior, that I’d get used to the trend and feel prepared for the next assault on my rights. You’d think that with all this “personhood” talk about how a fetus is a person with rights that trump a woman’s, and all the states that keep doggedly pursuing this line of legal reasoning despite its fantastic illogic—not to mention enormous unpopularity with actual living, breathing, thinking, voting people—you’d think I’d be calmer when getting another blow like this. You’d think knowing that the leading cause of death for pregnant women in the U.S. is not complications from childbirth (although that figure is frighteningly high for a developed country), or even from legal or illegal (on the rise) abortion, but murder by their spouse or partner. Or knowing that a woman is beaten by a spouse or partner every nine seconds in this country would have inured me, steeled me a bit more to the pervasive idea that women are property, basically, and really shouldn’t expect to be allowed to make their own decisions about their bodies, relationships, families, sexual lives, etc. You’d think that knowing that abortion is safer than nearly every single other outpatient or inpatient surgical procedure, yet is the most highly regulated and legislated in all of medicine, in 2014, would be enough to make me throw my hands in the air and say, “Welp! Guess women are just going to be second-class citizens forever!” You’d think knowing that access to birth control and abortion services is critical to women’s ability to participate in the work force, maintain their health and economic stability, get an education and increase the standard of living in literally every society and country on Earth, yet watching it disappear in my own country, state by state, for all but the wealthiest would make me shake my head and shrug my shoulders in perfect, powerless incredulity. That would seem to be the sane response, at this stage.

But no, I haven’t gotten used to it. I’m not going to. I still refuse to get used to it. Because I still believe it’s possible to live in a country that respects my rights and my autonomy. I still get angry when I am reminded that I don’t. Like a lot of other people who thankfully aren’t willing to be shut up or shamed or locked out or fucked over, I guess I’m just a sucker—a whore, if you will—for equal rights.

Shame is a terrific silencer. It can get almost anyone to sit down and shut up just at the moment they need most to stand up and get loud. Shame was a very effective tool in oppressing LGBTQ Americans for many, many, many years. It was a tool for forcing silence upon a huge and varied segment of our population as a discriminatory, hate-based culture was codified into law through myriad restrictions on their rights and freedoms. We’re finally seeing that change now, slowly, but dramatically. And that is a good, essential, powerful thing. The rights of my brothers and sisters of every single persuasion, color, and orientation are my rights, too. That’s how the rights of humanity work. That’s also the basis of the American myth. Our country is supposed to be the beacon to the world for those rights. Well, a lot of people rightly find that myth laughable. We have a depressingly long way to go, and we fail constantly in too many areas and too many ways to begin to list here, and others have done a much better job of it. However, at least with regard to marriage equality and LGBTQ rights, it should be obvious to anyone that we are making some progress. When huge multi-national corporations can lend their support to the cause of marriage equality, that is not nothing. It deserves acknowledgement, and it’s due entirely to the diligence, commitment, hard work and courage of every single person who has ever fought for those rights. That we are getting somewhere there as a society is proof that it is possible to change the culture and open the eyes of the law to include all people. It is possible. I take a lot of strength and inspiration from those successes, large and seemingly small, when I begin to feel hopeless or lost in the fight for women’s right to freedom from physical coercion, either by the state or an individual, or, now, from a corporation. After all, marriage equality is just shorthand for “equality under the law.” And that means, of course, ALL laws. Marriage equality is rightly recognized as the strategic door to opening many, many other doors for LGBTQ rights. It’s an awesome thing to learn from. That’s not to say that there aren’t miles to go, but we’d be kidding ourselves not to acknowledge the extraordinary strides made by people who’ve worked so incredibly hard to re-frame the discussion and change people’s lives for the better.

Stonewall-Riots-June-28-1969-2It’s because of those successes that I am inspired and reminded of the power of refusing to be shamed when trying to make change. It is notable that these two SCOTUS decisions come down so close to the 45th anniversary of the Stonewall riots. No longer willing to live in shadows and in fear of violence, inspired, organized, and angry, people came to their own defense and demanded that their humanity be recognized. It was one of the greatest moments in our country’s civil-rights history. The rejection of shame as a tool of oppression galvanized and motivated people who may have been afraid to come out before, and “coming out” became critical in forcing society to really look at and see LGBTQ people as human beings. When you reject shame and force people to look you in the eye as they’re denying your humanity, it’s a big deal. It simply is not as easy to do when you realize the person you’re denying is a person you love, or work with, or learn from, or even just know and always said “Hello” to on the street. Not only is there massive strength in being unafraid to be yourself openly, there is strength in knowing that once another person realizes they love someone who is being denied the right to live freely, they find it much, much harder to support laws that actively cause harm. And then they have to ask themselves, “What made those laws come about in the first place? It must have been ignorance. It must have been bigotry. It must have been fear. And maybe I’m a part of that ignorance. And maybe I need to change.”

One in three women in the United States has had or will have an abortion in her lifetime. It is one of the most common realities of women’s lives. Abortion is more than a choice, and it shouldn’t be a luxury. It is a critical and essential aspect of women’s lives and health care. And it is normal. It is not a disease. It is not a pathology. It is not a crime. It is not shameful. It is a fact of female human life that will never, ever go away, not under any fantastical circumstances. There will always be, for all time, as there has always been, a need for abortion care. Without access to safe, legal abortion care, women will find other means of terminating a pregnancy, whether those means are safe or not. Women who do not want to be pregnant will not stay pregnant, whether you try to prevent them from terminating or not. And a woman seeking an abortion has every right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as anyone else.

c0fceb65bbaf395bb0328d3a551ec7b9Rich women, poor women, women of color, women of deep religious conviction, women who protest at abortion clinics, women who work at those clinics, married women, single women, women with children, women without children, women who want children, women who can’t have them without risking death, women in India, Africa, Europe, Asia, women who live on tiny islands in the middle of the ocean, Muslim women, Catholic women, Jewish women, women in positions of power, women trapped in abusive relationships, women who run corporations, women in government, women who work at home, women who commute, women with grandchildren, women who live in slums, women who live on Park Avenue, lesbian women, trans men, women who serve in your military, women who strip for a living, women who are married to pastors, women who do sex work. All have had abortions, all will have abortions, all deserve access to abortion. All deserve to live according to their own free will and purpose, and all are individuals with their own needs and lives. Perhaps your wife, your girlfriend, your sister, your Mom, your friend who marched beside you at the Pride parade last Sunday, your aunt, your daughter, your teacher, your doctor, your Senator, your Congressperson, your nurse, your lawyer, your best friend, your fellow parishioner, your favorite hooker, your boss, perhaps any of them once had or will have an abortion. One in three women. That’s a lot. Hell, even I’m one of them. Yep, a lot of actresses, some you like, some you think are terrible and should never work again, yes, 1 in 3 of us has had an abortion. I know! It’s amazing. Except it’s not.

I count myself among the millions of women throughout history and in this country and over the world who have had abortions. Me, I don’t feel one iota of shame in saying it and I’ve never been shy about it. My friends and family all know. My romantic partners have always known. I make absolutely no secret of it. I’m saying it here because I want A) to contribute to the dismantling of an oppressive, artificial and unfair shaming of women who seek abortion care, B) make clear just how normal, common, and healthy a decision it is for the women who make it, and C) to encourage women who are part of this one third to be unashamed and come out of the abortion closet. Enough is enough. We’re normal people. We don’t need this shit with the shame and the fear. We’re normal. We’re women. We have abortions sometimes. Get used to it. (We need to find a better chant than that in time for the march on Washington on September 13, 2014. It just doesn’t roll off the tongue … )

No woman needs to justify her abortion under any circumstances to anyone. It’s her life, her business, her health, and her prerogative. I am capable of being my own moral agent, and I know myself better than anybody else. For context alone I will say that in my case, as is true for many women, there was nothing tragic or depressing about the circumstances surrounding my decision, and there was no guilt or remorse afterward. (There is no “post-abortion syndrome.” That is a fake, made up thing that does not exist, like the caveman riding the dinosaur at the Creation Museum, or autism being caused by vaccinations.) My situation was pretty run of the mill. I didn’t want to have kids at the time or with the people I got pregnant with. Pretty simple. Pretty straightforward. Totally okay.

I wasn’t raped, but I didn’t have to be to know I had the right to terminate an unwanted and unplanned pregnancy. My health wasn’t compromised by pregnancy, but it didn’t have to be for me to know I have the right to decide when or if to have children. My pregnancies weren’t the result of incest or abuse of any kind, but they didn’t have to be for me to know I have the right to determine my own physical life and future. I wasn’t underage, but I didn’t have to be to know that having a kid at that time wasn’t right for me. And I wasn’t free of all emotion about it, but I didn’t have to be to know that my life has value, that I am a whole person, and that I come first when making decisions about what is best for me and what I am capable of.

1101-march-for-womens-lives_standard_540x360I share these common realities with millions and millions of women the world over. Including the reality that I have used various forms of contraception for most of my adult life, so shut it with the “abortion as birth control” schtick. (Yes, duh, it is one form of birth control, as in it prevents the carrying of a pregnancy to term, or, “birth.” It is not a contraceptive, which prevents conception. Please learn to use the terms correctly if you are going to hassle us about it. It’s not that hard, Experts In Women’s Health Who Aren’t Women Or Experts.) Of course, I was and am extremely fortunate because I came of age at a certain time, in a country and a city where abortion was readily available, if not covered by insurance (which I believe it should be in all cases). I had the means to do what was right in my circumstance, what I wanted and needed to do, free from coercion, violence, harassment, excommunication, family rejection, or risk of financial ruin. Many women are not in that situation, and I am all too aware of this truth. Most women in the developing world will risk death from a botched illegal abortion. In fact, it is the leading cause of maternal death worldwide. And women in U.S. states with shrinking services are already taking matters into their own hands.

Women in this country, the richest on Earth and with resources available to so many, are in serious, very serious, trouble. The majority of women of reproductive age in the United States live in a county without an abortion provider. The number of women losing access to this basic, essential, critical piece of the health care pie is growing. And of course, we are mostly talking about poor women, women in states that have some of the worst records on maternal health, insurance enrollment, and teen pregnancy in the country. This makes me angry. Really, really angry. It is the real and true shame of this nation, that a woman’s race, income, zip code or immigration status can mean the difference between a safe and legal medical procedure that she needs, or dire, painful medical and life consequences. (And don’t tell me that a woman who has sex should be prepared for the consequences. Shut up. Pregnancy is not punishment for sex. If you think it is, I feel sorry for your kids.)

We all know that women will take matters into our own hands when prevented from receiving the care we deserve. Women are human beings, and human beings are resourceful and smart and determined. Human beings have personal imperatives and rights. Human beings have desires, motives, practical realities and responsibilities, and they will do everything in their power to make their lives work and to provide for themselves and their families. Human beings are resilient, courageous, resourceful and intelligent. Human beings have dreams and hopes and they know how to do what they need to do to achieve them. One of those many things human beings will do is to abort an unwanted pregnancy. You know that expression coined by Gloria Steinem, “If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament”? The reason it’s so potent a statement is because it succinctly highlights that we accept men’s human right to self- determination on their own terms because we accept that men are human, but women are something else. Women are “women,” and we don’t accept that their decisions are an inherently normal part of being human.

It is time we stop pretending that abortion is some anomalous act that is outside the realm of the acceptable and normal. That it somehow damages the family structure or the meaning of motherhood. It does neither of those things. It reinforces them. Anything that strengthens the health and lives of women is good for families. This is a known fact, both spiritually and in terms of health policy. Abortion availability makes women more able to provide for their families, plan their educations, maintain stable homes, control their own futures, protect their own health, avoid poverty, and participate in community and social and political life. Abortion is not a shameful act of failure. On the contrary, abortion is, quite simply, a medical decision to move forward in the knowledge that we are the ones in control of our destinies and our health, and we have the power to make decisions based on our own betterment and security. There are a million reasons why women sometimes have and need abortions. There is only one reason to deny them: POWER. A woman who can’t control her own body is a woman without any power whatsoever. That is a fact. Whether compelled by the state or by an individual or, as is now the case, by a corporation, it is a violation of a woman’s human rights to force her to do with her body what she does not want to do.

roedayUntil our culture accepts that abortion is a normal aspect of women’s lives, an essential one, a natural one in fact, we will be struggling with the political fight over our right to be respected as citizens with equal rights under the law. In spite of the shame we inflict on women for this basic aspect of our lives, it is not going to stop happening. Some of us humans are born with uteruses, and not all of us want to have children, and many of us will get pregnant unwillingly or by accident, and we will have abortions. If you cannot face the reality of abortion then you are living in a state of ignorance, fear, and bigotry against the very people you love; people who mean the most to you in this world. You are choosing to deny those you love their right to live as freely and as happily as you do. So, the shame is now laid at your feet. It is yours to come to terms with. Not ours. Women have the moral high ground here, and it is up to those who would prevent us from living freely to justify their fear of our freedom. Not the other way around.

Thanks to Gina Loukareas for fact-checking and hyperlinks, and to Kera Bolonik and Eric Gilliland.