I hate to admit it, but I'm jealous -- not full-on green with envy, but definitely a little green on the edges. As a reproductive rights advocate, I'm jealous of the gay rights movement. There, I've said it out loud.
There's a massive cultural shift occurring in the United States. The Supreme Court may not make sweeping judgments and we may or may not end up with a Constitutional Amendment protecting same-sex marriage but in the court of public opinion, the case has been tried and won. More than half the population supports gay marriage and families. The American Academy of Pediatrics affirms that children of gay parents are healthy and happy; where once physicians thought homosexuality a pathology. So am I selfish to wonder when will abortion and women's rights to reproductive self-determination be a cultural norm?
I wholeheartedly stand with gay Americans in this movement. I hope the Supreme Court rules in favor of gay marriage and that financial equality for gay families can be achieved. I support unequivocally the sexual and reproductive rights of all people. But when will it be our turn? On the same day the Supreme Court heard the California Prop 8 arguments, North Dakota was making headlines in an attempt to strip the women of that state of their right to abortion by forcing closure of the only clinic there. On the same day when the current California Attorney General (the first female to hold the office, by the way) said confidently that Prop 8 would lose in a statewide vote now because this was a matter of human rights, state legislators around the nation were proposing personhood bills -- declaring effectively that women's bodies are just vessels and certainly not their own.
Will I see a day, as gay rights activists have, when both political parties make the strategic calculus that opposing reproductive rights will only alienate voters? Politicians are now publicly supporting gay marriage because of personal reasons, perhaps a dear family member or friend is gay. Don't most politicians also have women in their families? Half of American women have an unintended pregnancy at some point and one-third of them choose to terminate the pregnancy; does no politician know any of these women? Will my daughter see the day when abortion is not a political lightening rod, but rather a medical procedure that she can decide upon based on a constellation of variables in her life that only she can assess?
I don't think I'm asking for too much. After all, women make up more than half of the U.S. population and one in three American women will have an abortion in her lifetime. Around the world, particularly in developing countries, millions of women are injured and tens of thousands die because they have few safe options to end an unintended pregnancy and resort to clandestine procedures. They are stigmatized for seeking abortion, shunned in their communities, and in some countries, even arrested. This is happening now; it's not a thing of the past. Young girls are forced to marry and have children while they're still children. Here, many state lawmakers believe the decision to parent or not should be held by the state -- not a woman.
All rational public health and human rights arguments are on the side of those who support access to safe, legal abortion. Human rights advances aren't a zero-sum game either; we could make gains for gay couples and for women. One movement doesn't hurt the other. And yet abortion remains a political lynchpin -- here in the United States and in many places around the world.
Let me be clear: I am thrilled that we've come to this juncture in our history -- where gay rights are defined as human rights. I see these victories as my own victories too. The right to love and marry who you want, to have children and raise a family (or not) when you want are shared goals. But I can't help it; I still wonder when will women get their turn? When will women's rights really be human rights? More to the point, when will abortion rights really be human rights?
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