An interesting thing happened this weekend: I heard from many, many Democratic men and women whose fathers, brothers and sometimes mothers, are devoted Mitt Romney/Paul Ryan supporters. So, I thought, what could I say to my father, also a conservative, at this 11th hour that might make him understand why I think Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan are not just terrible options, but genuinely dangerous to me and his grandchildren?
There is the economy. And, national security. And education. And poverty. And the environment. And war. And, of course, the economy. But, what about fundamental rights? I happen to think those are, well, the foundation for everything else. Without those what becomes of the rest? Why do some of us think those are important and others don't? Why do some of us think they are at risk and others not? I know that it may seem like a luxury to consider rights. But there is nothing distant or abstract about what we, women and men, will face if Mitt Romney becomes president.
Consider Ann Romney.
On Aug. 20 of this year the nation found out that Ann Romney suffered a miscarriage and depression in 1978, between the births of her fourth and fifth sons. One week after this revelation, she walked into the GOP Convention. She might as well have basted herself in sugar water and walked into an apiary. (I have written extensively about some of these cases here and elsewhere, so, for anyone that's read before -- this is a pass along summary.)
- If Ann Romney miscarried today, she might live in a state that is or is considering requiring her to prove her miscarriage was natural or face felony charges. This is a consequence of any personhood based anti-abortion legislation. Here's a good list of 15 state ballot and bill initiatives to date.
- If she miscarried today, she could be charged with manslaughter or murder. Like Christine Taylor who fell down the stairs in her house, went to the hospital to make sure she wasn't miscarrying and was charged under Iowa's fetal homocide law. Thirty-eight states have these laws and they are being used to prosecute women instead of protect them from abuse as originally intended.
- Or, like 15-year-old Rennie Gibbs, could face life in prison because of Republican state legislators steeped in scientific illiteracy and personal religious beliefs. Yes, Rennie Gibbs had a history of using illegal substances. No, these substances did not cause her miscarriage.
- Or, maybe, like Amanda Kimborough, and hundreds of others, Ann Romney would have to consider the chances she might be charged with "chemical endangerment" and imprisoned, possibly for using medication for her illnesses (breast cancer and Multiple Sclerosis). A chemical is a chemical and endangerment is endangerment. If the Republican Party leadership takes the course of action it has outlined and pursued in various states, women with cancer will risk death because they can be denied treatment, like chemotherapy, as happened to Angela Carder and others in parts of the world that have already gone down this path.
- Today, having miscarried, Ann Romney would have to consider being at the mercy of a personhood obsessed pharmacist, police officer, nurse... well, anyone, really who thought her actions or medication contributed to her miscarriage.
- Even if she hadn't miscarried there would be concerns. If she, like many women, experienced depression (which she did), sadness or despair during her pregnancy, the situation would be equally full of risk in some states -- especially if, like Bei Bei Shuai, she was suicidal. Suicide is one of the two leading causes of death among pregnant women (spousal homicide is the other). Or, like Laura Pemberton she might today find herself, arrested while in labor, legs shackled together, taken to a hospital, and forced to have surgery because the state had an interest in her birthing decision.
- Today, when she needed to see a doctor for her miscarriage, she'd have to think twice since many doctors, in order to protect themselves or act according to their consciences, could either lie to her, deny her care, or turn her in to the police for investigation. That or be the targets of domestic terrorists. Yes, that is the correct term for people who blow up buildings, threaten and kill people out of ideological motivation.
And this is just if a woman miscarries. We haven't even touched on a woman's right to an abortion, reproductive health care, rape and emergency contraception, or family planning resources. Mitt Romney will alter the composition of the Supreme Court with the intent to overturn Roe v. Wade and supports personhood legislation. He supported the Blunt Amendment giving employers the right to determine female employees' use of contraception, he will put the "global gag rule" back into effect -- consigning millions of women to death, he will eliminate Title X funding for family planning, he will get rid of Planned Parenthood -- have you said that last bit out loud and thought about its literal meaning? Before even touching on the non-reproductive services offered by Planned Parenthood that tens of millions of women rely on for health care. Are you worried about jobs and the economy? Try employing people and investing in them knowing that the president and his party have set out to virtually eliminate a person's access to family planning. You know what entitlement program is? When your government creates a jobs program for boys and men, for whom it believes "money is more important" by systematically making it impossible for women, who bodily bear the brunt of reproduction, to plan their families and work in sustained and productive ways out side of the home. It's beyond offensive. But it's also bad economic policy.
But, back to basics. First, restrictions on abortion (it's not a myth, here are stats, more than 90 restrictions this year) and Romney's explicitly stated intent to overturn Roe v. Wade in favor of states' rights -- isn't about "criminalizing abortion." It's about criminalizing women.
We are putting every single fertile girl or woman who might potentially become pregnant on alert and at risk. What we're talking about is who controls women and their bodies. Women? Because if women are not in possession of themselves and in control of their own bodies, then they are in the possession, literally, of others. They are, in effect, property. Don't believe me? Think I'm just a wacky feminist or a condescending dem? If you are a moderate Republican who believes that Barack Obama is a socialist and that "they will never do what they say," or as many friends have said to me, "what I do with my body is my choice and is a private matter," and "we can't go backwards," please consider Ann Romney and her miscarriage.
An Op-Ed by a prominent public thinking conservative in the Washington Post recently told us, as is rote, that issues like contraception and abortion aren't "actual problems," that it's a red herring to say that related constitutional rights aren't secure after 40 years. The writer is a thoughtful man, so he either is deliberately ignoring the evident and substantive risks inherent in personhood ideas and what Romney/Ryan changes to the Supreme Court mean or he genuinely doesn't care if women are second class citizens. Being concerned about these rights is not only the concern of women, nor it it reducing women to their reproductive organs as the conservative mantra goes, it's perceiving rights as being secure and accessible only to some, in this case, men -- which they undeniably are.
The scenarios above, all based on our current situation and at risk of becoming exponentially worse under a Romney/Ryan administration, are not making me feel like my status as a citizen is being respected or that my rights and those of my sisters, my daughters, my mother, my aunts, my female friends and neighbors, cousins and coworkers are secure.
Funny, this feels like an "actual problem."
This is gendered harassment and bullying -- pure and simple. Whether we are talking about bills, laws, the Republican Party Platform, or ballot initiatives, the effect, if not intent, of these machinations is to make sure women feel insecure and vulnerable. It's designed to keep women in line. I just don't get it. Why do people think this cannot happen when it already is?
Second, this is a problem with norms and ours are masculine. Think about the degree to which the "abortion" debate (and rape and birth control while we're at it) is dominated by a sperm-in/baby-out mentality. This is understandable, given that for men (who make up the overwhelming majority of our political representatives, that is how reproduction works. But, this is not the way it works for women. In between the sperm-in/baby-out is the baby-in. When we talk about abortion we focus on the avoidance of birth -- of the baby-out. You can think of it that way or this way: as stopping the effects of sperm-in: stopping insemination. Here is an example of how this works. When Paul Ryan, says that rape is another method of conception, what he is actually referring to is "sperm-in" -- insemination. In addition to the "act of starting," as in "to conceive," "conception" also means "idea." So here's one: Rape is not so much a method of conception, as it is a method of insemination. Rape is always one person's idea, and to use the word "conception" in conjunction with it is a perversion that denies "consent" in both senses. If Ryan et al had to live with "baby-in" instead of just "sperm-in" they night have a different opinion. There are men who don't understand. There are, of course, men who do. They would be able to cross-gender empathize without considering it a denigration. Ryan and I have different perspectives because our biology and experiences are different and he cannot separate his religious beliefs from my practice of my rights. Ideally, there would be parity in respect to our ways of being. But, our laws, our language, our media -- thoroughly androcentric in their sperm-in/baby-out framing -- are struggling with incorporating the dual reality of what it means to be human and have rights.
I don't much care for our recent focus on rape and "exceptions" because I think they mask core truths -- like it's no one's business why a woman chooses to have an abortion, like the obvious connections between planned parenthood and economic stability, and like the fact that the real question is who we trust to make decisions and for whom. The same writer cited above has, in the past, explained a common conservative idea, he thinks Roe was a poor decision that "short-circuited a democratic process of accommodating abortion differences." Why aren't abortion "differences" women's to parse individually? Why should women making decisions about their bodies and lives be subject to the whims of know-nothing conservative state legislators who deny science and regularly compare women to farm animals and dogs. I wonder if he also thinks interracial marriage, for example, should be turned back to the states?
Today's Republican Party illustrates their inability to trust women to make decisions by themselves. Women are morally competent, autonomous human beings and, while they may always seek guidance and opinion, do not guidance from men -- be they spouses, fathers, judges, doctors, brothers, legislators. It's not that complicated. (And, please, if this were about "life" the Republican Party would be defunding the military, pumping birth control through the water system, and lobbying to change the national anthem to Kumbaya.)
That's why the single issue has never been abortion. It's equal protection under the law in defense of my fundamental rights. What we're doing is negotiating who controls women. I didn't write "women's bodies." I'm not separate from my body and my reproductive rights aren't separate from my fundamental rights. They are my fundamental rights. It's just that my human body is not the "norm" supported legally and judicially and constitutionally. Every wonder why we call "reproductive rights" "reproductive rights"? Why aren't they just "rights"? I mean they are for men -- privacy, bodily autonomy, equal protections, freedom, life.
This control of women, our bodies, our sexuality, our reproduction is how patriarchy functions. If anyone doubted before this year that we live in a patriarchy for some bizarre reason, there was no greater demonstration than the all-male panels on women's heath put together by Darrell Issa and composed of men dressed in medieval clothes brandishing medieval ideas. As has been thoroughly articulated elsewhere, patriarchy and democracy are incompatible and we have before us, in this election, two clear camps. And, although the Democratic Party is only marginally less ruled by men, they at least seem to understand the difference and recognize it in policy formation.
So, as theologian and philosopher Mary Daly may have put it:
What's it going to be, "dickocracy" or democracy?
That might make my father sit up if he's reading this.
That is why this is much, much more than "abortion." And why people who can't tell a pregnancy test from a swizzle stick might want to stop commenting on what constitutes "actual problems" for the bulk of us.
Republicans forget themselves.
p.s. Also, the fact that the personhood movement is openly seeking to institute a theocracy does not mean that there aren't deeply religious men and women who recognize the implications of what is happening and reject their approach to "life." The Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, which was founded in 1973 is a case in point. The coalition includes a broad and diverse interfaith group who understand the profound issues related to "choices."
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