Is abortion a partisan issue? A religious issue? A feminist issue? Or is its ability to polarize all of these categorizations what makes it such a difficult issue for Americans to comprehend? It seems to always come back to the same debates. As a California voter, every year I must reject a measure that requires a teenage girl to tell her parents before she receives an abortion. South Dakota has twice voted against banning abortions in the state, yet the limitations there have created a de facto ban. It is an issue that is never resolved, one to which no one can lend a fresh perspective or new compromise.
Until recent developments in local and federal government, I thought that this stagnancy was a bad thing. The issue of abortion, however, has expanded into what some call the new “war on women,” the “final frontier of the culture war” or, as sex advice columnist Dan Savage puts it, “the war on straight rights.” I personally now see abortion for the first time as a true war on a woman’s right to choose.
This war is not just against a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion, but also to choose where she works, to choose to live through a dangerous pregnancy, to choose when she gets pregnant in the first place and to choose her medical coverage and sexual disease testing. The various bills under consideration, both in Congress and in state legislatures, place unfair burdens on all these facets of life that will not affect men. All because a bunch of people, men and women, Republicans and Democrats, religious and not, are so flustered about abortion.
The attack on Planned Parenthood is no doubt the most disturbing because, as many Williams students already know, women don’t just use Planned Parenthood to get abortions. In fact, only three percent of Planned Parenthood’s expenses are on abortions. That leaves 97 percent for other services that are essential for women’s health. Regular trips to a gynecologist are not cheap, but Planned Parenthood provides these services for women who could not otherwise afford it. I don’t think many people, even those in favor of the bill, would argue that those services pose the same threat to American values as abortion does. Planned Parenthood’s other major service, contraception, apparently is up for debate – and next on the federal chopping block.
It astounds me that this is even an issue. We have a population problem. Even in the late 1800s, the Supreme Court saw the banning of contraception as damaging to liberty. State governments were not even enforcing their own bans on contraception.
It is not a right-to-life issue – unless we want to lend validation to Elle Woods’ claim that “masturbatory emissions are reckless abandonment,” and that a man’s sperm has some sort of life force we must protect. Limiting access to contraception is purely a way of forcing a belief on other people’s choices and autonomy, despite the fact that those choices are harmless. Meanwhile, the government is still allowing Medicare and Medicaid funding to cover Viagra. By pursuing such policies, we empower men to want and demand sex, while arbitrarily limiting a woman’s ability to protect her body from the consequences.
However, the bill, HR 358, which would allow states to block Medicare and Medicaid funding of contraception, has even worse implications for women. The ironically-named Protect Life Act would allow doctors who, for moral or religious reasons, do not wish to perform an abortion, to decline and not assist the woman in finding an alternative. That seems harsh enough, but the bill also does not make any provisions about cases where a woman’s life is in danger.While we still have not pinpointed that time at which life begins, we can be sure that it is well underway by the time a woman has gone through puberty and become pregnant. Yes, this is a rare scenario, and yes, most doctors would not be so extreme. But do we want to leave this to chance? Why not act with the same determination to close loopholes that could allow an innocent woman to die as we do with loopholes that allow for abortion funding with taxpayer dollars? It all comes down to the same issue, no matter what side of the aisle you’re on – a right to life. In this case, the right of an already living, breathing woman who could have her choice to continue living denied.
Williams has, for the most part, already reacted negatively to these changes. After The House approved the Pence Amendment – the bill that would de-fund Planned Parenthood – members of the QSU, The Women’s Center, Peer Health, RASAN and The Women of Color Resource Center called an action meeting Sunday to address the bill and the larger social movement against women’s rights. These groups will be tabling in Paresky with cheat sheets for students who want to take action, and on March 3 they will be hosting a panel with faculty and community members that addresses all sides of the issue, from the economist’s to the feminist’s perspective. They hope to also hold a rally in Baxter Hall and are in touch with the local Planned Parenthood to see what additional action can be taken.
If put into effect, this legislation will alter the way that employee insurance is covered. Ladies of the College community, if your insurance covers abortion, maybe even contraception coverage, you might have to pay for it out of pocket without government subsidies. Williams gentlemen, Planned Parenthood helps you too. Unwanted pregnancies affect both partners in a relationship, so wouldn’t it be nice if you didn’t have to spend a fortune on contraception? I encourage each and every one of you to take a second to sign the petitions on the Internet, and to stop by the tables to learn more on how to take action.