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Respecting Women

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During the recent debate over women's health, 240 members of Congress, mostly men, voted for denying affordable health care to women. At the head of the pack was a Congressman from New Jersey, Chris Smith. He has been fighting against women for over three decades.

This outrageous attack on women's health and reproductive rights provoked another member of Congress, Jackie Speier of California, to reveal that she had undergone an abortion. "I lost a baby," Speier began softly, admonishing Republicans for graphically describing the procedure she had endured. "But for you to stand on this floor and to suggest, as you have, that somehow this is a procedure that is either welcomed or done cavalierly or done without any thought is preposterous."

The legislation points at Planned Parenthood, the punching bag for anyone who opposes women's health. Planned Parenthood is the one agency that provides local services to over five million women. The money coming to support these services cannot be used for abortions. It pays for things like mammograms, pap smears and birth control.

Serving as a Peace Corps nursing instructor in Northeast Brazil, I recall sitting in the health clinic examining babies. A woman shuffled in who was bent and drawn, and I thought in my naïveté that this was a seventy-year-old woman bringing her grandbaby in for health care. Women never came in for health care themselves; they only came to the clinic when the babies were sick.

As I interviewed her and examined the baby, I discovered that this was her baby. She was thirty-five years old. She told me that in her reproductive life she had already had twenty-one pregnancies.

That was a moment in which my life shifted. And I became deeply committed to women's reproductive rights. Sitting in that health post or going door-to-door talking to women, I came in contact with the stark reality that many women have no say-so in when and how they get pregnant.

All these years later, we know that education and access to birth control make a tremendous difference for women, their health and the health of their families. Two things have not changed: Planned Parenthood and its presence in the community; and Rep. Chris Smith and his opposition to women.

I have testified in committees before him at various times in my life. He has not become the least bit enlightened. Now he has been joined by enough members to make his dream come true.

You want to make abortion rare? Then let's make sure women are educated and have the ability and means to become pregnant only when they and their mates want a child that they are committed too for the rest of their lives. Let's listen to their stories of what they need to be healthy and strong.

Even the new president of Focus on the Family has recently indicated an interest in joining abortion rights advocates to make abortion less common.

But this legislation and debate isn't really about Planned Parenthood. It isn't really about abortion. It isn't about even birth control. It has always been about controlling women. It has always been about questioning our ability to be moral beings.

I think we need to have more women in Congress like Rep. Jackie Speier. And less members like Chris Smith. Then maybe women will get more respect. Meanwhile I will stand with Planned Parenthood.