"The Republicans will take your Planned Parenthood away -- that's why you should vote for the Democrats."
I was talking to a younger secretary in an office where I worked. Apparently, what I said was sinking in. Her eyes widened, despite being weighed down with a heavy layer of eye liner and mascara. We were in the office of the company's word processing operator. Her name was Mary and she was then in her sixties. She had a slight hump on her back, an interest in eclectic music -- including the Egyptian legend Om Kalsoum, who she played in her office just loud enough to be heard through the walls, accompanied with the slamming of the top of her word processing machine against the wall and her nearly constant muttering and swearing. Mary was a Democratic Committeeperson and nothing she had said had sunken into the young woman's mind like "they'll take away your Planned Parenthood."
The year was 1984. Ronald Reagan was running against Walter Mondale. I was 25 years old and had been out as a lesbian for several years. I was very excited about Geraldine Ferraro. I was closer in age to the young secretary but was friends with Mary the word processing operator and Democratic Committeeperson.
I was born to older parents -- and my close relationship and eventual friendship with my mother may very well be the reason that I have always had older friends. In Tea Leaves: a memoir of mothers and daughters (published by Bella Books in 2012), I chronicled three generations of women --
My grandmother, Ethel, a devout Episcopalian, life-long Republican, and wearer of white gloves [who], gave birth to my mother, Jane (Plain Jane, her childhood nickname), who became an equally devout atheist (burning her Bibles in the backyard) and a Democrat. My mother identified with the "silent majority," but was a feminist ahead of her time, and when the women's liberation movement caught up with her, she joined it. When I was old enough, she sometimes took me with her, the two of us marching and attending rallies, waving our matching mother/daughter coat hangers at pro-choice events. I was the less adventurous one--hanging back and watching with something bordering on amazement as my mother heckled the hecklers and squeezed the balloon testicles of a Ronald Reagan cardboard cutout.
A friend of mine, ten years my senior, in college before abortion was legal, remembers carrying the number of a doctor who performed abortions around in her pocket so she could give it to her heterosexual female friends who were "in trouble."
My mother who had been a practical nurse for a time, most likely had heard some horror stories about back alley abortions -- and though she didn't talk about these stories she remained decidedly pro-choice for her entire life.
History has a way of repeating itself. Against my better instincts, I went on to work in other offices. It's often said that the workplace brings you into daily contact with people you wouldn't spend your time with otherwise. With a few notable exceptions, I have found this to be true. This is how I came to understand that many women today have no knowledge of what life was like for women before Roe v. Wade. Post-feminism is a kind of denial. At best, many younger heterosexual women -- in their late thirties and early forties (old enough to know better) are in denial that their rights can be taken away. The image of an ostrich with its head in the sand often came to me. My guess is that they represent the women who are planning to vote for Mitt Romney. Unfortunately, it is not unusual for people to vote against their own interests. But for some reason, I am outraged and appalled when these people are female and the issue is legal abortion.
I could think of a few bumper stickers: "One illegal abortion can ruin your entire day -- or career if you're lucky enough to live to have one" or "One back alley abortion can prevent you from ever having a child again. How's that for contraception?" This is not an issue that concerns me directly. But I am a lesbian who came out in the feminist movement in the early 1980s -- ironically, many of us (including myself) were on the front lines escorting women (who slept with men) into the abortion clinic. At that time, the party line was what affects one woman affects all women. And it is no mistake that in the "culture wars," abortion, gay marriage, and birth control are grouped together, as illogical as it is. It's not about the bible, rather it is about controlling sexuality. Abortion rights is just the tip of the iceberg.
On a recent visit to a women's center of an East Coast university, several young students explained to me that they -- and their peers -- are raised to think of themselves as in all ways equal to their male contemporaries. Then they go to college -- where they face problems such as date rape which are still rampant.
Yesterday's New York Times endorsement of Barack Obama states that Romney "says he is not opposed to contraception, but he has promised to deny federal money to Planned Parenthood, on which millions of women depend for family planning." And while Romney has said that he makes exceptions in his prolife views for women who are victims of rape or incest, his pick for a running mate, Paul Ryan, is opposed to legal abortion in all cases.And Mitt Romney has made it clear to his conservative base that he is a pro-life candidate. While he announced one cleverly worded sound bite that "he knew of no legislation against abortion rights that he would support." He later told the Columbus Dispatch,
As he also told the Dispatch,
One thing I would change, however, which would be done by executive order, not by legislation, is that I'd reinstate the Mexico City policy which is that foreign aid dollars from the U.S. would not be used to carry out abortion in other countries.
And it is my preference that would return to the states and to the people and their elected representatives the issue of abortion as opposed to having the federal government impose, the Supreme Court impose its view on a one-vote majority. But that's something that will be up to the court. That's not something I can decide as president, that's something which the court would have to decide.
Have no doubt -- Mitt Romney plans to take Planned Parenthood's funding away and he plans to do his best to let the Supreme Court and then the states overturn Roe v. Wade.
Welcome to the world where your rights can be taken away if you don't fight for them.
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