Jessica Valenti, feminist writer and Nation contributor, noticed something that should irritate and concern everyone who cares about the progress of women in America: When it comes to high-minded discussions about feminism, nobody knows quite how to talk about abortion.
Organizers of the TEDWomen conference -- a prominent forum for these discussions -- have chosen to "solve" that problem by prohibiting any talk about abortion at all.
A spokeswoman for the conference explained to Valenti that abortion did not fit into their focus on "wider issues of justice, inequality, and human rights."
Jaw, meet floor.
Omitting abortion (or any other topic on women's minds) from a "permissible" list of topics for a feminist forum is wrong (duh). But claiming that abortion has nothing to do with "justice, inequality, and human rights" is so wrong, it borders on bizarre.
Tell a woman in South Dakota, forced to carry her rapist's baby to term, that it has nothing to do with justice. Tell a woman in Michigan, where a woman who wants her insurance to cover abortion has to buy a separate policy, that it has nothing to do with inequality.
And, as Valenti points out, tell a woman in Ireland, where Savita Halappanavar died because she was denied an abortion that could have saved her life, that this issue has nothing to do with human rights.
I hope the organizers of the TEDWomen conference and others like it come to their senses. But it's not enough to have the conversation about the broader relevance of abortion rights on a conference stage. We have to be able to have it in our legislative chambers, in our communities, and even at our kitchen tables.
Simply put, abortion isn't just about abortion. It's about a woman's power to determine her own destiny, to plan her own life. That power is diminished when any medical procedure, including abortion, is made illegal... or prohibitively expensive... or practically impossible to obtain.
Comparing abortion rights to tax policy, as the TEDWomen organizer did, ignores the reality of the abortion issue. This isn't just a question of whether a woman is allowed the choice to have an abortion. It's about whether that choice really exists for her -- without having to drive six hours, or buy an extra insurance policy, or face the withering scorn of state legislators who force her to hear a misleading lecture before the procedure.
Like many other feminists, I find discussions about balancing work and family to be fascinating, important, and (as the mother of triplets) extremely relevant to my own life. But those discussions begin with the assumption that these choices are mine to make. And, unfortunately, that's just not the reality for too many women in America and around the world.
Want to fix that? Then we have to talk about abortion. That's what Planned Parenthood and other advocates are doing: broadening the national conversation on abortion to help people understand how women's lives really work.
This conversation is critical to the continued progress of women in America. And it's too bad that attendees of the TEDWomen conferences are being cheated out of a chance to participate.
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