Monday, January 23, 2012

Thoughts on the Anniversary of Roe V. Wade (& Why Rick Santorum Is the Worst)

Thirty-nine years ago, on January 22nd, the Supreme Court ruled to protect a woman's right to access an abortion in Roe v. Wade. And since then, the government has minded its own business, respecting a woman's ability to make her own health decisions, and no one has ever argued about it.

Oh, wait… that's not what happened at all.

Despite a scary amount of attacks on a woman's right to choose in the last year (check out this handy infographic for details), President Obama recently announced a new health benefit that defends women's access to birth control, and to mark the date of the Roe v. Wade anniversary, he pledged to stay committed “to protecting a woman’s right to choose and this fundamental constitutional right," stating:

As we mark the 39th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, we must remember that this Supreme Court decision not only protects a woman’s health and reproductive freedom, but also affirms a broader principle: that government should not intrude on private family matters. I remain committed to protecting a woman’s right to choose and this fundamental constitutional right.

While this is a sensitive and often divisive issue -- no matter what our views, we must stay united in our determination to prevent unintended pregnancies, support pregnant woman and mothers, reduce the need for abortion, encourage healthy relationships, and promote adoption. And as we remember this historic anniversary, we must also continue our efforts to ensure that our daughters have the same rights, freedoms, and opportunities as our sons to fulfill their dreams.

Feministing points out a not-so-fun reality about abortion access that still needs to be addressed, if only we could all agree to keep Roe v. Wade intact in the first place:

When abortion was legalized in 1973, virtually all women had the ability to obtain an abortion. The Medicaid program, which covers health care for low-income people in the U.S., covered abortion just as it did other medical procedures.
But in 1977, Congress passed the Hyde Amendment, which banned Medicaid coverage of abortion. Abortion is the only medical procedure that has ever been banned from Medicaid. Most private insurance plans cover abortion. So it’s people who rely on Medicaid (and also: people who are federal employees or get their health care through a federal employee, people who get their health care through Indian Health Services and people serving in the military and those who get their health care through the military) are the ones who have health insurance that does not cover abortion. 
This means that they must pay out-of-pocket for a procedure ranging from several hundred to several thousand dollars. This means that they often are in the position of forgoing food, or paying bills or childcare in order to get their abortion procedure. 
So if you are fortunate enough to have health insurance in the US, you are likely to be covered for the full range of medical care should you have an unplanned pregnancy (for now anyway). If you happen to be a low-income person, and/or you depend on the US government for your health care, you’re on your own.
Now, anti-choicers like to try to make us all think that over at Planned Parenthood, for example, it's just one big abortion party, where women run over and gleefully get abortions, but that's simply not the case. I challenge people who are so quick to judge PP, and the countless young and older women who rely on PP for its vital healthcare services, such as cervical cancer screenings, to talk to an employee or patient at one of its clinics. We all have stories, and not all of them are even about abortion. And if they are, I think it would do the women of this country a huge service to be in a society where they're not shamed into keeping their mouths shut about those stories for fear of judgement.

To make things even scarier and insane, GOP Presidential hopeful Rick Santorum thinks that even women who have been raped should simply "make the best out of a bad situation" and "accept this horribly created pregnancy" as a gift from God. This disgusts me on so many levels. Namely because, as Tanya Somanader writes at Think Progress:

The problem with Santorum’s sense of humanity is that it doesn’t seem to extend to the victim. The emotional and physical trauma endured during and after a sexual assault often leaves a woman feeling robbed of any control over her own body and welfare. Robbing a woman of the choice to decide what to do with such “horribly created” consequences only contributes to the victim’s trauma. 
What’s more, Santorum’s argument forces a woman in these circumstances to share his religious beliefs and “accept what God has given to [her.]” A woman may very well share his belief and decide to carry the pregnancy to the term, but the fundamental point is that that should be her choice — not the government’s, and certainly not Santorum’s.

Maybe you agree with Santorum. Fine. Let's agree not to be friends. But mostly, can't we just agree that ultimately, and especially in cases of rape, that a woman should be able to choose what she decides to do with her body, and her life? And maybe we can't even agree about that. Fine. But here's the thing: Women will seek abortions whether everyone agrees about it or not. And when this choice is not protected, if we don't continue to fight for the rights we gained through Roe v. Wade, we'll go back to the horror stories of women dying from botched abortions and subsequent infections and hemorrhaging. Not only do I find Santorum's stance appalling and offensive, I believe he is an incredibly naive man to even consider that he has the power to control the women of this country's decisions about our bodies, and that, in the case of teen pregnancy, fathers should encourage their daughters to "make the right decision." The "right" decision is not always so simple, and it's not always going to be the same conclusion.

This afternoon I read a powerful article by Eleanor Cooney that was originally published in Mother Jones' September/October 2004 issue. I urge you to read it, particularly if you feel I'm exaggerating about the consequences of making abortions illegal or inaccessible. At the end of the piece, she writes:

Women of all kinds seek and have always sought abortion: married, single, in their twenties, thirties, and forties, teenagers. Some have no children, some have several already. Some never want children, some want children later. They are churchgoers, atheists, agnostics. They are morally upright pillars of the community, they are prostitutes. They're promiscuous, they're monogamous, they're recent virgins. They get pregnant under all kinds of circumstances: consensual sex, nonconsensual sex, sex that falls somewhere between consensual and nonconsensual. Some are drunk or using drugs, some never even touch an aspirin. Some use no birth control, some use birth control that fails.
Yes, I hope that we can find a way to reduce the number of abortions performed in this country. But I hope that happens because we are supporting safe sex education; encouraging our daughters and sons to not be scared to ask questions about sex and pregnancy; recognizing the value of organizations such as Planned Parenthood; and most importantly, by providing good health care to all women and men, no matter what their income.

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