Earlier this week my local paper published a syndicated columnist who wrote a piece entitled “In Defense of the 50’s”. Basically, this was an old fart who rambled on about how great life was back then, with a lot of impressions based on TV about how life was saner, better, and had less teen pregnancy, abortion, and divorce than we have now. In short, it was a load of crap.
Forget for a moment that the old fart in question had to be a child at the time, or at most, a teen who apparently wasn’t getting any. Teen pregnancy occurred frequently, but girls got married, had secret abortions, or were hidden away in homes for wayward girls, only to return home just in time to meet the new, miracle “brother or sister born to Mom and Dad” in their absence. Even less lucky girls had their babies taken from them against their will and put up for adoption. You won’t find statistics on this, because records weren’t being kept. But ask for the stories. In my own circle, I have heard stories about smokescreen marriages to gay men, maiden aunts who lived for decades with a “very dear friend”, an adult child who discovered his elderly parents were actually his grandparents, and whose older sister was actually his mother, a woman who feared the stigma of divorce, even after getting a death threat from her husband, and more shotgun weddings than I can count. These were educated, middle-class, church-going families. Incest and rape occurred in the 50’s too, but victims seldom testified, as victim blaming was the defense strategy of choice. The 1950’s weren’t more “virtuous”, only more secret.
Dreamy opinion pieces like this speak to our longing for an easier life. If you have fewer choices, you have fewer dilemmas. And there is a faction that is earnestly working to return to that mythical time.
The Tea Party is by its nature, unattractive to women, minorities, working class and poor. It exists to minimize taxation of the very rich at the expense of everyone else. Billionaires are not typically a group that engender a lot a sympathy. So the question before them is how to get women to vote with them? Abortion is their key. One would think all women would be in favor of keeping abortion legal, but many women simply do not see a difference between a live born baby and an early pregnancy. This viewpoint is not something that can be argued, and the Tea Partiers have successfully used it to keep these women voting against their own best interests in terms of jobs, pay equality, day care, and health care because they will sacrifice anything to “save the babies”. The most recent example of this was the election of Mark Sanford over Elizabeth Colbert-Busch in spite of his poor record and personal failings. The wedge? Colbert-Busch “may have had an abortion.” All that was needed was innuendo. These medical records are not available to anyone, unless she discloses them. Even as a doctor, if my patient doesn’t choose to tell me about her abortions, I have no way of learning about them. So this claim had absolutely no basis in fact, because there were no discover-able facts. Unfortunately, the implication was enough to defeat a solid businesswoman with a spotless reputation who promised to do what her constituents needed in favor of lyin’ cheatin’ scoundrel who went to court the very next day to defend himself in a stalking case.
To the Tea Party, defeating abortion is just a first step. The ultimate goal is to eliminate reproductive freedom entirely. People like the Koch brothers and Rupert Murdoch don’t care about the fate of fetuses. They want power and women are getting in their way. Remember, once women got access to birth control in the 60’s, things got just a wee bit out of hand. Suddenly, women didn’t have to sacrifice home and family to have a career. It was possible to have both. Suddenly, men had to compete with women for jobs. Suddenly women were voting for things that mattered to them, things that helped them to work and care for their families. You can see the problem with this.
If abortion becomes illegal again, it will only be because of the adoption of personhood for embryos. Right now, Roe v. Wade can withstand all challenges if an embryo is not considered a separate person with legal rights. If personhood is adopted, it will then allow states to make all hormone-based contraception illegal, because junk science claims that these medications could cause an abortion. Elimination of effective contraception for women turns back the clock in one swipe.
Those of us who care about women’s health and women’s issues need to fight this head on. Whether we are pro-choice or pro-life, personhood is not just the means to defeat Roe v. Wade but the ultimate goal. Personhood will make all women of reproductive age less important than the embryo they might be carrying. It will allow governments to jail women for perceived endangerment of a fetus, to outlaw birth control for any reason, and to force women to give birth even if they have been raped. Our state governments are already trying to do these things. Once birth control is gone, our freedom is too.
Do we really want to turn back the clock to sixty years ago?
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