I had this post 3/4 written two weeks ago. I was going to get up on my glittery soapbox and rage against the ignorant, self-righteous, hypocritical machine that often is the Republican party and this Republican presidential ticket when it comes to women and the issues that affect them. The words “back the f— off my uterus” were in the second paragraph.
But then, last night, I watched the first half of the Half the Sky documentary, which is based on the beautiful, heart-wrenching and life-changing book of the same name by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. Half the Sky investigates the personal and political challenges and sufferings of women in developing countries. Issues like sex trafficking and genital mutilation. Gang rape and familial beatings. Girls stolen from their homes and brothels full of pre-teens. Things that you want to believe don’t exist. But they do. Oh, they do. And yet these girls — these women who hold up half the sky — they persist. They survive.
The stories of the women featured in the documentary reminded me that screaming about Republicans being bad guys trying to take away my access to contraception or the right to my body (not to mention the continued absence of rights to my gay friends) doesn’t get us anywhere. Might make me feel a little better, but it doesn’t actually do anything. It doesn’t change any opinions or open any minds. It doesn’t evolve our positions. It doesn’t educate.
Perhaps Half the Sky’s biggest lesson is the power of education. It is the key, the authors found, to empowering women and preventing these horrific crimes and advancing the world.
So instead of ranting against social conservatives, I’d like to talk for a moment about women in this country and the issues we face a month from Election Day. In particular, I want to address — educate on, if you will — birth control and abortion, two issues that provoke immediate, emotional reactions from most people, but two issues that boil down to women’s health and affect our society’s growth and well-being.
[Full disclosure: I am a raging liberal. I know this. My family knows this. My friends know this. I’m pretty sure even my dog knows. But really, this isn’t about politics to me. This is about humanity and community and understanding. I am open to criticism and conversation, but I’m really trying to avoid the political yelling, so I just ask for the same consideration.]
I understand the balking at mandatory free birth control courtesy of Obama’s Health Care Reform. I get it — no one wants to pay for someone else to get something for free. But here’s what “free” really means here: It means no copays. And not just for birth control, but for a range of preventive health care needs (Pap smears, cervical cancer screenings, mammograms). Like with any good investment, you have to put money down at the beginning; thus, the “free” part of this. But the long-term benefits of healthy women — as Half the Sky teaches us — are innumerable. Women are the way to better educated societies and stronger economies and worldwide solutions.
Birth control is essential to that progression. And while it may be unknown to the mostly male politicians who have never experienced hormones or periods or pregnancy or childbirth, birth control is also a near-miracle drug that does so much more than prevent loose girls from getting knocked up.
Birth control eases cramps. It decreases mood swings. It balances hormones. It even smoothes skin. And that’s not to mention the mental and emotional peace of mind it provides. Generally speaking, it makes women’s lives better and gives them more autonomy. Birth control means fewer babies, and fewer humans, particularly those born into poor and unprepared households, is a GOOD thing for this planet and this country. Fewer unplanned pregnancies leads to less of a strain on government assistance, which is the biggest gripe of most of the conservatives I know. Birth control allows women to focus on their educations and their careers, to start families when they’re ready, to make bigger and better contributions to their communities, to more readily change the world.
Mitt Romney believes companies should be able to reject birth control coverage on “moral” ground, implying that birth control is recreational and doesn’t count as preventive health care. He thinks states should be able to ban it. But birth control is critical to women’s health. I don’t hear anyone complaining about covering Viagra, and while erections are certainly nice, the well-being of women is more important. Especially when its benefits reach far beyond a nice romp in the sack.
Abortion is not birth control. Women don’t use it as such.
Abortion is not desirable. Women don’t fantasize about it.
And abortion is not just for young, poor women who can’t seem to keep their legs together. [Related aside: Abortion is expensive.]
The vast majority of women have strong maternal instincts and envision conceiving and growing and delivering and raising a beautiful baby [or babies] in a loving environment. But sometimes reality doesn’t duplicate that vision. Sometimes women don’t have access to birth control [AHEM]. Sometimes the condom breaks. Sometimes a beautiful baby starts to grow and something goes wrong. [Something like a brain stem or a heart; something that beautiful baby won’t survive without. Or something like a placental abruption; something that threatens the survival of that beautiful momma.] Sometimes a woman is attacked, and the emotional damage of carrying a child that is the result of tremendous trauma is too much.
In heaven, abortion doesn’t exist. Because it is excruciating and unforgettable. But we live on earth. And here, in a world where people make mistakes and bad things happen and beautiful babies don’t deserve to live two days with an incomplete body or without a mom or with resentment, abortion is necessary. There should absolutely be restrictions, but President Clinton said it best: “Abortion should be safe, legal and rare.”
Romney has pledged to defund Planned Parenthood because it supports abortion, and working toward the repeal of Roe v. Wade is an official piece of the Republican platform. This past weekend, my uncle assured me that Romney would never actually take these issues up and they’re a part of the platform solely to appease the social conservatives who feed him money. That may be so. But I don’t care. Because Planned Parenthood is a gorgeous organization that gives women mammograms and Pap smears and cancer screenings and preventative care and generally works tirelessly to improve the health of women across this country so they can contribute more to society. And Roe v. Wade gives us control over our bodies. Beyond taking that control away from women, reversing that decision would be disturbing for all us, as it would set a precedent for a huge reduction in our rights to privacy in general.
I’ve been told I shouldn’t vote based on social issues, that the economy is more important. But I am a woman and this is the only body I’m going to get, so it’s impossible for me not to protect it and my rights to it with all my might. Furthermore, these social issues are about the economy. An economy doesn’t thrive when half the population is carrying extra burdens and isn’t being cared for.
Furthermore, I believe that this country still sets precedents for the rest of the world. And if we’re going to help better the lives of women in Cambodia and Vietnam and Sierra Leone — the women profiled in Half the Sky — we have to ensure we’re setting a good example with the way we treat and value the women here.
P.S. Regardless of your political leanings, if you are a woman or love one, please, please, please go read Half the Sky. “Life-changing” is not an exaggeration.