Wednesday, July 03, 2013

One Week Later

Birth control pills were approved for contraceptive use in America when my mother was 14 years old. And Roe v. Wade legalized abortion in America in 1973. That same year, I turned 4 years old and  became part of the first generation of American girls raised having safe and accessible choices when it came to our reproductive destiny.

Flash forward 40 years.

It is 11:50pm on a hot Tuesday night in Austin, Texas. I am crowded into the rotunda of the state capitol building with thousands of other people who are all wearing orange shirts, scarves and hair ribbons and screaming at the top of their lungs. Around me are half a dozen friends my age, and we are screaming too while we sweat and check news feeds on our phones as the clock nears midnight. My ears are vibrating in pain at the sheer volume of the voices—so guttural and primal and sustained—raised in a deafening unison roar. Then the clock strikes twelve, and impossibly, the volume of the screaming grows even louder. I have no idea if we’ve been successful in killing #SB5, but it damn sure feels like we’ve done something important by coming together and raising our voices in this way. I go home exhausted but too energized to sleep. I am wide awake.


Flash forward one week.

I’m still hoarse. My hair continues to stand up when I see photos or videos or read well-written accounts of what happened on Tuesday,June 25th in the Texas state capitol building. They are calling it “The People’s Filibuster.” And having been part of it, is still very much with me and many, many others.

The whole thing—and all of the action that has followed—has made me do a lot of reflecting, and I found myself wondering: Why am I so damn passionate about the abortion issue? Why did I wear my headphones listening to Texas state senator Wendy Davis filibuster against anti-abortion legislation on the senate floor almost all day while I was at work?  Why did I rush down to the capitol that night when I saw the 3rd point of order raised against Senator Davis—and the intense reaction to what was going on in the rotunda—live on the 10 o’clock news? Why did I stand there for hours and hours with thousands of orange-clad strangers who, like me, desperately wanted to be heard that night? Why did I go back to the capitol this week to stand with 6,000 others there to protest the blatantly anti-woman legislation that is back in front of the Texas legislature?

The answer to all these questions is simple: Because this issue—women’s accessibility to safe, affordable LEGAL gynecological services including pregnancy termination—is not only important to women, it says a great deal about how women are viewed in our society. 

A bit of background: When I became sexually active in my late teens, I had access to inexpensive birth control via the Planned Parenthood clinic in the town where I was attending college. I also got regular “well woman” check-ups at that same clinic (required in order to maintain my birth control prescription), and I was able to do all this without my parents’ or my partner’s permission or intervention. To me, taking care of my lady business was simply a part of becoming an independent young woman. It never occurred to me that what I was doing with regard to my reproductive health would (our could) ever be anyone else’s business. Because I had no memory of what life had been life prior to the pill or legalized abortion, I never considered what I was doing a fragile freedom that might be threatened or even disappear. In essence, I’d received all the spoils of a war that I knew little about. And, like many women my age, I became complacent and assumed my reproductive rights were protected. But clearly, I was wrong.

It didn’t happen overnight—the most insidious change rarely does. Over the past two decades, the lines between the church and the statehouse have become so blurred that the foundational principle of the separation of church and state has become little more than a hollow footnote in America. Simultaneously, politicians who run on platforms of “limited government” and “personal freedom” while also advocating for the increased government intrusion into women’s reproductive organs have continued to win local, statewide and national elections. The result of this perfect theocratic storm has been that, little by little, the rights that my grandmother’s and mother’s generation fought so hard to secure are being stripped away. Like many other women in America, I now live in a state where a very vocal, organized, fundamentalist religious minority has managed to bring us to the brink of passing some of the most restrictive anti-abortion legislation in the entire country. Meanwhile, our state leaders and GOP legislators have the gall to smile their lipless smiles and tell us that it’s all for own good. And this condescending “Don’t you worry your pretty little head about it… we know what’s best for you” stance is insulting, infuriating bullshit.

Let me clarify that I am NOT “pro-abortion” as I’m sure some would be quick to label me. Come ON!! Who in their right minds would wish that they or someone they love would ever EVER have to undergo an abortion? No one, that’s who. That’s why the bogus-yet-frequently-repeated claim that those of us who are pro-choice are actually “pro-abortion” makes my blood boil. It’s just fucking stupid, and if you say it, I have no choice but to think that you’re an ill-informed, myopic idiot.

I have a young daughter, and the thought of her ever facing the agonizing choices that come with an unplanned or unsustainable pregnancy is enough to make my stomach turn and bring me to tears. As a parent, my ultimate goals are to protect her, guide her toward good choices in her life, and to do everything within my power to ensure she is safe, happy and healthy. And I hope beyond description that she will never undergo an abortion procedure. But as a realist who resides on planet Earth, I also understand and accept that no matter how much praying anyone does, unplanned and unsustainable pregnancies can–and do--happen to females of child-bearing age regardless of their race, address, financial situation, sexual history, religion, marital status, or political affiliation. And yes, that potentially includes my daughter. What I hope for her is to never have to consider having an abortion, but if she does, I want her to have options and access and not be shamed or criminalized for her choice. Period.

The people of my grandmothers’ and mothers’ generations fought hard to ensure that first, women were granted access to birth control and later, that the cloak of danger and criminality that surrounded abortion was lifted. And after years of admitedly taking these freedoms for granted, I now have all of their fight inside me.
Also inside me is the fight of that indignant 19 year old casually picking up her birth control pills at the women’s clinic who cannot fathom why my—or any other woman’s--reproductive choices should be anyone else’s damn business.
Now I have a daughter who is nearly 9 years old. She deserves the same reproductive freedoms that I and all of the other American women of my generation have been guaranteed as a legal right. And Hell yes, I’ve got her fight inside of me too.

So even if the Texas legislature wins this battle, they now have a full-fledged war on their hands. I'm ready for the fight, and I'm bringing lots of people with me.


Alyssa Burgin said...

Thank you for a very well-written summary of how so many of us are feeling. There were signs at the rally that expressed my thoughts--"I can't believe we're still fighting this s***"--or similar. My father was an advocate for women's reproductive rights all of his adult life, and if he knew this stuff was going on twenty years after his death, he'd come back and haunt Rick Perry. Come to think of it, maybe he is doing exactly that.

Unknown said...

Well said, KM. I would like to share this post with my daughters, who are wondering what I'm so up in arms about, I'm sure. Thank you for pouring this out!

Unknown said...

Thank you, KM. I will share your commentary with my daughters, who I'm sure have no idea what I'm so upset about. This sums it up very well.

Anonymous said...

So well said - thank you.

And I'm also just glad to see you back here. Hope all is well.

Anonymous said...

This article should be in print, in every paper in the country! So well said. The lines of church and state are currently being erased...agree totally. And where do these people think they have the right to control women like they are a parcel of property! Burns my brain. Thank you for all your efforts! I wish you well.