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Procreation Politics

womens-health

The news of the United States Senate discussing a limit on abortion is going to stir up conversation. By now we’re all pretty clear that some people do not approve of abortion. Those people should either never have one or never impregnate someone. Many other people consider it a choice with restrictions. Then there are others who don’t consider other people’s choices any of their business. In recent years any political discussion of abortion seems geared to appeasing a specific populace and there is usually a religious subtext.

However when discussing a term limit (in this case of 20 weeks gestation) it is a conversation about science and economics not about religion. Science is a wonderful thing and many of us owe a great deal to advances in medical research. Never before has the natal experience been so orchestrated and monitored. We now can manufacture zygotes that grow into fetuses that become babies. We can monitor and test for far more diseases and defects than we really care to consider. Many of these screenings occur at different stages in a pregnancy. Some maternal or fetal crises develop at any time (including into delivery.) It can be rather late in a pregnancy that an extreme fetal anomaly is detected. It is devastating news to receive and simply unthinkable that a woman would have no choice but to soldier on for perhaps five more months. With much of the fertility interventions we have now, multiples are not an unusual occurrence. Multiples always carry a higher risk both to the woman and the other fetuses. What happens when one fetus is threatening the life of the others in utero? How is the decision made to “protect the unborn” then made? It is also essential to keep in mind that a woman’s health can be jeopardized at any stage of a pregnancy.

If the health of the fetus or mother is not in jeopardy there are limited reasons a woman would seek an abortion after 20 weeks. Many of those reasons would cease to exist if we had safe, affordable, accessible abortions any and everywhere in this country. There will always be women who come to the decision later in the pregnancy (for varying reasons.) But for the most part, if abortion were as available as sonograms in this country, later abortions would be less of an issue. By making abortion accessible we’d also help to lower any stigma a woman might feel.

Having a later term abortion is never desirable for anyone involved. It involves a pregnancy that is visible, presumably a difficult decision process, and a more complicated procedure. You’d be hard pressed to find a woman making a casual decision about such a thing. That alone is reason enough for politicians to get over regulating women’s bodies and step up to improving women’s healthcare. It is outrageous that in the 21st century, people with resources can make (and shelve) all the zygotes they wish while people with limited resources must rely on the whims of their elected officials to control their procreation.

 
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Posted by on July 28, 2013 in Cultural Critique

 

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In Other Misogynistic News…

feminism-3

The highest court in El Salvador has decided that a 22-year old woman must continue with her life threatening pregnancy and give birth to a baby who if born alive will die immediately. The young woman has lupus and obstetric complications. She also has a small child at home. The court’s justification is the same spouted by anyone looking to control a woman’s body; they are protecting the fetus. The fetus in question is encephalitic and cannot possibly live as a baby for more than moments. There is an actual child who might very well lose his mother to this pregnancy. That this woman is being forced to endure this pregnancy is barbaric. A court ordered pregnancy is holding her hostage. She will witness her declining health and her growing stomach, helpless to alter the tragic outcome.

That this is occurring in El Salvador is less relevant today than it might have once been. Twenty or so years ago we may have been horrified but resigned. After all, El Salvador is a very religious country. But guess what? So is America now. Not since the Puritans landed on Plymouth Rock have we had such a powerful religious influence on politics and policy. In 2013 it’s rather difficult to point the finger at any other country’s religious fervor. Almost without exception all organized religions agree on a few points; there is an invisible entity that guides, there is a polarity of good and evil, and women have a place. It is not a coincidence that as the nation (finally) benefits from the feminist fights of the 1970s we are seeing reproductive freedoms erode. Those longhaired, bell bottom wearing woman marched through the streets with signs reading; A Woman’s Place Is In The House And In The Senate. And guess what? They are in the House and in the Senate. Their numbers don’t come close to representing 51% of the population, but it is an improvement. Equity in sports has a long way to go, but just remember what Billie Jean King had to endure. It is no longer legal to hire according to gender. That women still make less than 3/4 of what men earn, is an issue, but still it is progress.

So if it’s no longer legal to keep women out of office, the workplace or sports, what is a misogynist to do!? Well we know for a fact that sexism in medicine is both easy to engage in and rarely questioned. We know that medications are routinely researched and developed according to a male test subject. We know that great efforts have been made to ensure that men can always have sex (while on life-support if need be) but there is still no hormonal male birth control. Most medical machines and devices are designed for male patients (except for that gem, the mammography machine which if any man had ever to place any of his sensitive bits into would be redesigned in an instant.) When we combine the sexism of traditional medicine with the sentimentality of “it’s for the children” it’s far easier to attempt to marginalize 51% of the population. It’s not for the children; it’s never been for the children. If people cared a whit about the children we would have stellar healthcare and nutrition for all and the best K-12 system on the planet. We came close to that reality once, but I think we’ll all agree that there’s been some serious backsliding. It’s not for the children that we force a teenage girl (who is in fact a child) to endure a pregnancy and birth, or to look at a sonogram of her fetus. (How is it that using technological advances to traumatize girls and women is contemplated let alone allowed?!)

The truth is that any group outside of the power structure will suffer as they progress. We’ve seen it happen to every minority group. Homeostasis is a very strong force. There will always be those who feel that people they view as ‘less than’ are infringing on their rights by having rights of their own. But it’s hard to fathom how torturing a 22-year old woman and leaving her small child motherless makes anyone feel better about themselves.

 
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Posted by on May 30, 2013 in Cultural Critique

 

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Turning Back Time

Unknown

If you are over a certain age or have any sense of social history you may find yourself living a flashback. How in the world is reproductive freedom still up for dispute in this country? Forgetting for a moment the legality of reproductive choice; how is the subject still even a subject? Why would any person, let alone group, take up a cause that was settled decades ago? Is there a grassroots anti-prohibition movement underway somewhere? Are slogans being developed to appeal the Americans with Disabilities Act?

The common wisdom is that anti-choice supporters come at their crusade from a place of religious conviction. It certainly often looks like that, no? But the logical extension of such a premise is that these people would feel passionate about imposing all of their religious convictions upon others. It’s hard to see how or where this is happening. Even if their only religious conviction is that life (including sperm and egg) shall be preserved at any and all costs, it doesn’t seem to be happening. If it were, shouldn’t the same people protesting reproductive rights be protesting war and pollution? Shouldn’t the placards and protesters be blocking the headquarters of tobacco and gun manufacturers? Wouldn’t the crusaders be impassioned about veteran care and elder care?

The fact that there has never been any anti-choice movement that has taken up the cause of the born and at-risk reinforces the myopia of ‘the cause.’ If all the noise were really about ‘the children’ we would see a groundswell of domestic adoption of older and needier children. We would see zero-tolerance of any form of abuse or neglect of children. There would be full access to excellent health (including dental) care for every child. But almost 500,000 children languish in the foster care system. Children are abused and neglected every single day. These children might feel that being unloved is worse than being unborn.

I’ve no doubt that there are some people who consider it their one-way ticket to heaven to save even one embryo. But I also suspect that the momentum is the message. It’s appealing to belong to a group of like-minded people. It’s equally attractive to have a cause that one can brand as being on the side of ‘good.’ But there are so many crusades that fulfill these requirements. Why women’s reproductive issues? Could it possibly be that it’s ‘women’ that we’re talking about? Hmmm

If it really was about the sperm and the egg, why is there no furor over erectile dysfunction medication? Why is no one protesting the pharmaceutical transport of millions of wayward sperm? Why is there no political movement opposing artificial reproduction? Do you know how many zygotes are lost with each attempt? Has anyone calculated how many zygotes are sloughed off during implantation attempts? Do we know how many stay in the deep-freeze until the end of time (or next black-out)? Do we know how many of the little cell clusters never even make it out of the petri-dish alive? Wouldn’t it stand to reason that anti-choice advocates would be up in arms about such carnage? Isn’t it likely that the number of manufactured zygotes who do not become embryos are equal or greater to the number of abortions in this country? If you believe that life begins at conception, this should be quite troubling.

But none of those issues involve a woman’s body. Controlling a woman’s body would appear to be the only socially acceptable way to control a woman. Legally she has access to voting, employment and even some sports. Legally she must be viewed as equal, even as she earns 77 cents to every dollar a man earns. Really, the only way to stall or turn back progress would be to block her control over her own body. If this is packaged as a morality/religious issue, and if enough bright lights and pretty colors are used to distract us all from the completely illogical crusade to protect ‘life’ only once it’s inside a woman and becomes her choice; perhaps it has a chance of working. It is up to us, those of us who are scratching our heads wondering how the hell this is still an issue, to shine the spotlight on the hypocrisy. It is not enough to simply stake our claim to being pro-choice. We must not shrink from talking about biology (including how several forms of birth control do not prevent fertility but conception.) We must discuss artificial fertility and ignore fear of repercussion. We must preserve our right to determine what we do with our reproductive parts by shining a light on those who fervently desire to turn back time.

 
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Posted by on April 10, 2013 in Cultural Critique

 

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The Facts Of Life

Maude

It’s been forty years since the passing of Roe v Wade. Forty years. That’s a very long time. In 1973 we were still smoking in restaurants, elevators and hospitals. In 1973 women were called girls and people of color were called worse. Push button phones were the edgiest things in communication technology and fancy people had remote controls for their televisions. We’ve come a long way baby! Or have we? The fight against reproductive freedoms is in full force and we seemed to have learned little. Literally. If you were to listen to the arguments or soundbites of anti-choice proponents you’d find yourself wondering how you missed that particular biology lesson. It’s alarming to discover grown people (who have made reproduction their raison d’etre) know so little about reproduction.

Babies don’t live inside of people, zygotes, embryos and fetuses do (in that order.) Semantics you say? Perhaps, but words are power; just ask any 50 year old “girl” or racially slurred man.

Contraception and birth control are not the same thing (though their end results are the same.) Contraception prevents conception. Any barrier device (i.e., diaphragm, condom, etc.) or spermicide (in the best case scenario) prevents a sperm from fertilizing an egg. Sterilization would fall into the category of contraception as well. Any method or procedure that prevents a fertilized egg from becoming a baby is birth control. All hormonal methods fall into this category (i.e., I.U.D., birth control pills, implants, etc.) as part of their efficacy is that they work to prevent uterine adherence. Spontaneous and medical abortions are also birth control. If anti-choice advocates believe that a fertilized egg is a human life, they should take a long hard look at all birth control.

By ignoring the erroneous use of terminology and the manipulation of biological fact it’s as if we endorse the fallacies. Of course we need only go to the movies or watch television to know that we’re doing a pretty bang-up job of ignoring the whole issue altogether. It’s been forty years since Maude had an abortion (with zero viewer controversy,) yet you’d be hard-pressed to ever see a character rationally choosing this option. In 2013 soap operas (once the bastion of contemporary socially relevant dramatization) refers to abortion only with hush and horror; “She was seen outside of an abortion clinic!” A relatively sophisticated police drama depicted a female athlete (how 21st century) choosing to be charged for a crime she didn’t commit rather than have people know she had (gasp) an abortion. Routinely teenage characters are depicted as having only two choices when faced with an unplanned pregnancy (and both involve giving birth.)

Half of all unplanned pregnancies in the Unites States are terminated. It’s left to our imaginations to determine how many unplanned pregnancies occur. It’s a relatively safe bet that at any book club across our land there are at least a couple of stories to be told. And maybe that’s part of our fractured and false conversation. Women don’t talk about abortion. They’ll talk about everything else under the sun, but not abortion. You can’t get through a bridal shower without hearing about pee sticks, frequency, duration, enhancers, gizmos, gadgets and gewgaws. But nothing would bring the consistency of mucus conversation to a screeching halt like the mention of the “A” word. Why? How did we come to believe that there was any shame in freedom of choice? How did taking responsibility for our health, our lives and for the future become tainted? How did we fall under the spell of the anti-choice rhetoric?

We can create small individual revolutions by adopting appropriate terminology. It’s probably a bit of a buzz kill to discuss any gynecological procedure at a bridal shower. But there’s ample opportunity to correct on-air and real people when they refer to fetuses as babies. Pointing out that birth control works very much like abortion does could make some waves as well. We’ve gotten to a point in this country where the loudest voice gains the most credence, not matter how ill informed or flat out wrong that voice is. Tuning out the screamers is not good enough; we need to add scientific and sociological fact to the noise.

 
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Posted by on January 17, 2013 in Cultural Critique, Well-Being

 

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Dear Ms. Magazine

Happy Birthday Ms. Magazine!  It seems like only yesterday when you were born.  It must be annoying to hear that over and over again.  40, wow!  You look great!  Really you do.  Don’t give me that look, it’s okay to care about your looks if you’re a feminist, don’t try that on me.  You look great, really.  You know a lot of other magazines have very bloated advertising, and a rather eerie glossy finish.  But not you.  Yes you’ve freshened yourself up over the years, but that’s what keeps you modern and relevant.

Do you remember the first time you came to my house?  Me neither.  But I remember you being there in those early years.  My housewife mother must have heard about you at her consciousness-raising group and invited you home.  I’m guessing you got passed around a bit.  Household expenditures were tightly monitored (it was the 70s after all, things were tough all over.)  Come to think of it, it took some chutzpah to start a magazine outside of the standard advertising model on the cusp of the recession, didn’t it?  But you never did shy from a challenge.  They laughed at you.  I know you remember that.  Who did you think you were?  A serious magazine for women?  A business run by women?  They said a lot worse too.

It must have been hard at times, all that bullying.  They even made fun of your name.  You know, that name that is now a standard fixture in the English language; appearing on all official documents and forms?  You were the first to talk about abortion openly, instigating untold honest conversations and sharing in homes across the country.  You shone the spotlight on domestic violence, helping to place the shame where it belongs; on the perpetrators.  You gave voice to issues that often had no visible champion.  You helped us to understand our bodies and minds and how they can work.

You never have been popular.  I don’t mean that to be hurtful, it’s actually praise.  Who wants to be adored by the masses?  It’s far more satisfying to be loved by those who ‘get us.’  You did come along at the right time, that’s for sure.  No one was rolling out a red carpet or anything.  No, no.  But the swelling of bias and bigotry awareness of the early 1970s was a boon to Ms. and feminism.  Even the most misogynistic would begrudgingly admit that 51% of the population should be treated equally.  Not so far as enacting the ERA or anything, but wait, no sad stories, this is your birthday!

Milestone birthdays can be affirming but they can also be a bit jarring.  It’s a gift to age, to survive!  While no one wants to live in the past, it is the shared memories that give us a feeling of being a collective.  How many remember when grown women were routinely called ‘girls?’  Remember when we didn’t even have names?!  We were Mrs. Robert Smith or Mrs. Nathan Green.  We not only keep our first and last names now, but sometimes a man actually takes a woman’s name (gasp!)

I remember that you were the only magazine in our house, quite possibly ever.  I’ve no doubt you played some part in my mother returning to school and becoming the writer she always longed to be.  You probably had a hand in the household responsibilities being distributed to all family members (yeah that was just great, thanks!)  I can see your handiwork now, in my own outlook on life.  I struggle, like I know you do, with the backlash of some of our progress.  There are times I thought we’d be further ahead by now.  I know you know.  We still have work to do don’t we Ms.?  Maybe 40 really is the new 30!  Happy Birthday Ms. and thank you.  Now get back to work.

 
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Posted by on June 14, 2012 in Cultural Critique, Media/Marketing

 

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