“Who Owns Your Body? You? Or the State?”
Where’s my personhood amendment?
My name is Martha Plimpton. I’m a native New Yorker. I’m a United States Citizen and I vote.
We’re here to ask each other a serious question: Who owns your body? You? Or the state?
Women have been at the forefront of every major civil rights, labor and progressive movement in this country. And that’s a fact. We have marched for ourselves and for others. For fair wages and working conditions. For equality for our brothers and sisters of all races and sexual orientations. For marriage equality. For our families. In every way, for every reason, women have always been here for you. Women can be depended upon when you need bodies in the streets. Yet, here we are again today, in 2012, marching yet again, fighting yet again, for our basic fundamental rights as women, alone. What is it going to take to get the world to see women’s rights as human rights? We all thought that the marches we took part in in our teens, and in our twenties and in our thirties and now, yes, I’m in my forties, was all a memory. We thought we had gotten that message across. Apparently, we were painfully mistaken. And I want to talk about what has been happening while we’ve been asleep.
This didn’t happen overnight, even though it feels like it did. The truth is, while we were sleeping, women’s rights to privacy and physical self-determination have been steadily eroded over the past forty years, particularly in the last ten. But women are waking up now. We’re hearing the alarm and we’re seeing just how serious this is. We’re mad and making noise and they want to tell us it’s all in our heads. They want to gaslight us. You know what that means, ladies. John McCain, a man who believes wholeheartedly in the individual right to self-determination, in each American’s right to live freely without government interference. A man who should be commended for his service to his country and I mean that. Who has dedicated himself to this fundamental principle of autonomy and individual imperatives said recently that the War on Women, which he so helpfully place in air quotes was conjured. You know, like how witches conjure things. Now we’re witches. Well, we’re here to remind him who conjured it. It wasn’t us. It wasn’t us. Let me hear you. It was not us. Because guess what? It’s easier to fight a culture war against women and sexual morality than it is to explain why all Americans shouldn’t have comprehensive, fair and equal health care coverage. It’s easier to lecture women on the consequences of their sexual decisions than it is to, oh, I don’t know, bring jobs back to your states. It’s easier to wage a campaign of disinformation and demonization of Planned Parenthood than it is to admit the necessity of that organization. Right? And it’s easier to tell a woman to put an aspirin between her knees as contraception than it is to deal with the rising teen pregnancy rates in states which do not provide comprehensive sex education and instruction on the correct usage of contraception. It is no accident that the states with the highest rate of teen pregnancy are those without comprehensive sex ed and contraceptive education and without abortion services. All we need to do is look at their policies to know we’re not crazy. John McCain said women and men are no different in their rights and responsibilities. That was very nice of him. It was very nice of him to say that. But we know that when it comes to the reality of reproductive health, women bear the sole burden of responsibility in this society, do we not? People like John McCain and Speaker Boehner and all those guys over there say they care about the concepts of freedom and personal responsibility. And yet, these people think it’s perfectly ok to tell me what I can and cannot do with my own body. What type of insurance I am allowed to have. What kind of medical treatment I am and am not allowed to have access to. As if my freedom were any less important than theirs. Get loud people! A lot of people say it’s a violation of their freedom of religion to insist that a basic standard of health care coverage be available to all Americans. They say they don’t wait their tax dollars being used to pay for contraceptives. Well, guess what? I don’t want my tax dollars to be used to fund religious hospitals that would deny me medical care simply because I am a woman. They may not like the fact of my biology. They may think it’s dirty or shameful or that I should keep it to myself. Or even that I should be tied to it, like a prisoner, as if my biology made me less worthy of respect. But my biology is part of what makes me a human being. And whether they like it or not, I am a person. Here’s what we know: we know already that 39 states, that’s the majority of states in this country, have enacted fetal endangerment laws which make it possible to prosecute a pregnant woman for any activity or conduct which may or may not lead to the harm or death of a fetus. That’s more than half the states in the United States where a woman can be put in jail for doing one wrong thing while pregnant. What we know is fetal personhood laws are being proposed in state legislatures across the U.S., despite the objections of voters in those states in record numbers. These laws seek to minimize women’s rights to self-determination. What we know is that a record number of laws limiting or restricting access to abortion are being proposed and passed. More in the last two years than at any time since Roe V Wade. What we know is that around 430 bills were proposed this year alone, restricting women’s access to abortion healthcare and reproductive services and 75 of those bills passed. No other area of medicine is as restrictively legislated as women’s reproductive health. None. And I have had enough. We have had enough. It stops now.
Abortion is the most difficult medical procedure for most women in this country to obtain. A woman can only get an abortion in 12% of counties in the entire United States. That means that in 88% of United States counties, access to a constitutionally protected medical procedure is impossible to find. What good is a right if you cannot exercise it? Women are constantly told we’re either too stupid, too selfish, too ignorant, too thoughtless, too confused to make decisions about our own bodies and our own health. And yet, whenever we speak up about this, whenever we get loud, there’s a problem. Have you noticed this? Women aren’t allowed to get angry. When we get angry it means we’re crazy. Have you noticed this? We’re not even allowed to speak at a Congressional hearing we’ve been invited to testify at. Instead, we get lectured. We get lectured about consequences. Well, let me tell you something. We know the consequences of life without contraception and abortion services. We know the consequences of not having access to abortion and birth control and breast cancer screenings and pap smears. We know the consequences because we are the ones who die without them. No one knows it better than us, baby. The consequences are clear to us, even if they’re not clear to Darrell Issa or whoever: higher infant mortality, lower economic status, less political participation, lower education levels for women and their children, higher rates of maternal mortality, higher rates of death from unsafe, illegal abortion. In countries where the legal rights of women are denied, society suffers. All you need to do is look around you. Look at the world. Look at reality. We’re not making it up, ok? We’re not conjuring this.
So today, I’m wearing that badge of honor. It used to be a badge of shame. An excoriation. Today, I am wearing that scarlet letter that they would make me wear in embarrassment, in shame about my body. And I’m going to wear it proudly. I will wear it for as long as I don’t have the right to own my own body. I will wear it for as long as women are forced to carry to term their unviable fetuses because their own rights come last. I will wear it as long as women who are raped are shamed again by being forced to bear their rapist’s children and call it a blessing. I will wear it as long as women who insist upon having their basic healthcare covered by insurance are called sluts. I will wear it as long as mothers who suffer ectopic pregnancies are called murderers because they want to save their own lives by getting medical treatment. I will wear it as long as teenage girls are told they can’t access birth control services and then get told they’re irresponsible whores when they get pregnant. I will wear it as long as women are forced to give up their rights of equal protection the moment they become pregnant. And in the meantime, I will be voting. I will be paying attention. I will be walking about the world talking with my friends, taking note of those who would keep me in the dark ages. We will be paying attention: to local elections, school boards, city councils, seemingly meaningless local bills that we know become models for national legislation because they do. We will be paying attention. We will be engaged. We will be vigilant because look what happens when we aren’t. I do not want my daughters fighting this same fight twenty, forty, fifty years from now. Do you? Get up! Stand up! Stay up! Get loud! Make the decision: who owns your body? You? Or the state? You.
Thank you so much for coming. Stay involved.