Ever since Obama pressed forward with his awesome, controversial plan to provide free birth control to all, contraception and reproductive choice have been in the news in a way it hasn’t been in a long time. Of course, it’s an election year, so it makes political sense that hot-button issues are at the forefront. Whether you think it’s a crafty Democratic plan to energize their base or a crafty Republican plan to energize their base, it’s not unusual for “social issues” (or what some might call “human rights issues”) like reproductive freedom and gay and trans rights to be fashioned into wedges come campaign time.
However, the real anti-choice movers are not sleeping on this issue—they never sleep on this issue—and the last couple of years have been regressive as shit when it comes to allowing women to choose whether or not they want to be mothers. Which is why it bugs me when I see some of the recent pro-choice pushback framed as “victories” for reproductive freedom.
For example, the whole Susan Komen/Planned Parenthood dustup. Komen, a nonprofit that supports breast cancer research, announced they were pulling funding from Planned Parenthood, a provider of free breast cancer screenings for low-income women, because some Planned Parenthoods perform abortions. There was a huge outcry, and Komen’s Executive Director resigned while the organization promised to allow Planned Parenthood to reapply for the grants next year. Nobody said they’d GET them, they could just reapply. Not exactly ticker tape parade time, and unfortunately now a lot of people will think it’s fine to go back to supporting Komen when they are and have been for a long time highly anti-choice. If you think pro-choice is pro-woman, you should toss out your pink ribbon crap for good.
This week, Virginia was considering a bill that would mandate a transvaginal ultrasound for all women seeking abortions. There was a huge outcry, and Virginia’s governor withdrew his support from that part of the bill. Which, great, but there is still a personhood bill being considered there which, if passed, could make almost all forms of hormonal birth control illegal.
Virginia and Komen may be pro-choice victories in the sense that people spoke up and were heard, but that misses the much more important fact that these should not even be issues in the first place. Free breast cancer screeings for poor women? Not having to have a medically unnecessary, very invasive procedure as a punishment for seeking an abortion? These should be no-brainers. By even having to engage with these issues, we are losing. The pro-choice movement is being forced to re-fights fights we’ve won a long time ago. That isn’t progress. It’s 2012—it’s absolutely ridiculous that Congress could hold an all-male birth control hearing where someone jokingly suggests “gals” keep an aspirin between their knees to prevent unwanted pregnancy.
Having to fight to keep the status quo—having to “win” things we already have, like the right to FUCKING BIRTH CONTROL, is not a victory. Every time we are forced to revisit settled questions, the very best we can hope for is to hold our ground. That is a brilliant strategy, and exactly how the anti-choicers are advancing their agenda. We have to exhaust ourselves just to stay still, or slide slightly backward.
Even the Obama birth control compromise, which came about after a group of Bishops pitched a fit about Catholic institutions being forced to pay for their employees’ birth control, is still not much of a victory, because it reinforces the idea that we should be listening to a bunch of celibate religious leaders when it comes to making policy. Do we seriously need to debate whether America is a Christian theocracy?
I’m glad that the pro-choice movement is getting re-energized and making some noise, but you guys, we are not winning this war, and that is terrifying. The anti-choicers can and will keep chipping away at rights we have already won for ourselves. If we want to move the conversation forward—to demand that all women have absolute reproductive autonomy, access to birth control, safe and affordable abortions, affordable pre- and post-natal care, support for the children we choose to have and realistic child care options, we HAVE to see beyond these “victories.”