You don’t call; you don’t write.

Forty-two hours each week, I write and edit marketing materials. I read case files and verdict reports. I watch the window for blue jays and mourning doves and signs of the elusive coyote. I seldom carve out time for my own work.

But even though my day job (and my freelance business) eats up an extraordinary amount of time, I'm not too busy—I just make increasingly preposterous excuses. I need to edit someone else's manuscript; I need to run four miles; I need to play video games with my partner; I need to clean all the bathrooms; or—my favorite—I need to bake six loaves of bread. (On the plus side I'm in great shape, I'm well fed, and the house is spotless.) My point is that, while I've self-identified as a writer since elementary school, I'm barely writing. I cannot even access my anger as fuel.

I am a pretender. I am incapable of finishing ideas.

I can only try to do better.

Exposure

Leaf peepers, those voyeurs of dappled death, 

perverts accoutered with disposable cameras,

deviants hoping for a bared glimpse of a rouged 

maple or slender birch paling by the roadside.

They delight in nature's subtle malevolence,

the slow turn of chlorophyll unrenewed, the

brilliant rigor mortis of carotenoids, anthocyanins:

a deciduous lividity. Always, they depart before

the end, when the brown, crinkled ghosts of once

splendor, of "Quick, hun! Take a picture!" descend,

waiting to be burned or buried. 

Clowder

When the last cat is chloroformed, and

we swallow the frightened cries, steal the rumbles from their throats;

when we bare our teeth over the pinned bodies,

hold the warm hearts in our hands;

when we draw sanguine whiskers with scalpels and slowly shed our clothes,

stalk the halls wearing their matted coats, and

we forget ourselves, howling 'til we're hoarse—

until the others come to silence us, 

we will revel in our borrowed skins and scratch the bones of our oppression.

Sleepwaking

Misfirings begin at dusk. Already she’s cognizant of the minute hand

marching forward, announcing the triumph of a second passing, her skull

buzzing with six thousand anxious insects. There’s no time. She upends

bottles of water into her bromeliads, refolds rows of clothes, piles

Tums in rounded, impossible little pyramids. She counts spare cylinders

of Chapstick, teeters on the only two legs of a wooden chair touching

the floor—3:47—and draws her index fingers beneath her eyes, testing the

not-quite wrinkles, the soft purple hollow. Endless lists skim the dark lake

of her consciousness, and she flounders, briefly breaking the surface. In that

moment, she stares at nothing, everything, wishing less for some poetic

awakening and more for blankness, a certain unrippling quiet. Fear creeps

into curled limbs, but she emerges from the cocoon, shakes the lingering

stiffness from her body. She begins reorganizing the desk, her deliberate

fingers washed white by the monitor’s light. Nothing now but the hum

of a computer, the hushed whisper of breath.  She catches her darkened

reflection in the window glass, stares at, through the glare, and considers

the sleeping populace before her. Envies. 

Solicitude

Before it rains,

a low-pressure system swirls beneath my patella

and slips slowly past my internal Coriolis

back into pure atmosphere.

Before it rains,

I feel the aching damp, a catch

in each unhurried step – umbrella spines

briefly declining to align before reaching

an understanding.

Before it rains, I carry

this interminable gray sky, knowing

in the marrow, in the interstitial fluids,

a storm is coming. 

Breaking the Silence: Part III

Continued from "Breaking the Silence: Part I" and "Breaking the Silence: Part II."

Just before graduation, I unexpectedly turned up at a friend’s last-chance party. I’d been planning on staying in to work on my thesis, but I eventually caved to temptation. Why not pay my friends a visit? The party was just down the street, and it would undoubtedly be a bastion of nerds and marine biology students—my kind of gathering. I specifically remember how excited and surprised my friends were to see me, and we quickly delved into drinking, games, and serious discussions about Final Fantasy VI. I didn’t recognize everyone there, but that was to be expected—the host had invited his friends from back home.

I stayed longer and drank more than I’d planned, but I felt safe in that environment, and close enough to home. While I sat out on the front stoop considering leaving, the cold concrete stiffening my limbs, one of the host’s friends approached from behind. I’ll walk you home, he offered, proffering a hand up. We can hang out. In a fog of naivety, I took his hand. Flashed a grin. Sure, awesome. Let’s go. We can watch a movie. I didn’t think anything of it. An hour earlier we were talking comics and monster movies, and when I mentioned I had a copy of the latest Fantastic Four movie, his eyes lit up.

When we arrived at my apartment a few minutes later, I invited him inside, blithely tossing my jacket onto a chair. I busied myself in the galley kitchen, throwing together a messy batch of chicken, couscous, and cumin, chattering incessantly about Ultimate Fantastic Four. Did I eat it later? Did it burn? Did I scrape it into the trash the next morning? I still can’t remember what happened to the chicken.

I forgot about it as soon as I dropped the DVD into my PS2 and flopped onto the couch, smiling guest settling beside me. We hadn’t even arrived at Von Doom’s space station before my new friend swiveled toward me, shoving his knee between my legs. He firmly grasped my upper arms, locking them in place. That inexorable grip pressed me into the sofa, and before my brain could file a protest or register my frantic indignation, he attacked my mouth with lips, teeth, and tongue. Stop. STOP. I squirmed, accidentally jamming my elbow into the wooden armrest but otherwise failing to free myself. Me, the varsity athlete.

Before I truly had time to panic, my roommate’s head poked out of the doorway. Hey! she called, brow furrowing. What do you think you’re doing? I found myself suddenly free from my human shackles. Lips swollen. Eyes watering. Get the fuck out, she sneered. I cheered my roommate, my friendly interloper, my rescuer, as this fucking guy muttered something about “wanting it” and grabbed his jacket, storming out. When the door slammed shut, I opened my mouth to thank my roommate. But as I followed the disapproving arc of her glare, I instantly realized that her initial query had been to me rather than to my assailant.

In the conversations that followed between me, my roommate, the host of the party, and my at-the-time boyfriend, it was clear that everyone assumed I’d knowingly approved of his sexual advances by inviting him into my apartment to watch a movie. Despite our shared dialogue regarding comic books and video games, “movie” somehow implied more than passing interest, implied consent, became a euphemism for relinquishing body autonomy. My friends’ disbelief and disapproval was crushing. I “should have known better,” and my moral and sexual worth seemingly diminished—and really (thankfully), nothing terrible had happened.  

*

Friends, I’ve gotten off easy. I’m not breaking my ten year silence to explain that I’ve had a miserable life plagued with predators and presumed injustices. I live a life of privilege, and there are a terribly many who have dealt with worse. Rather, I’m trying to show you that we lock these experiences in dark, quiet places, and that we internalize unnecessary guilt and culpability. We shield our bruises from friends and family because we often (rightly) assume that we will be judged as lacking. We believe that we are somehow wrong or broken because we didn’t have the proper support. I’m letting you know that I could very well be your mother, daughter, sister, wife, partner, cousin, friend, coworker, or casual associate. I’m saying you must work towards the realization that victims are not Others, that what we say, wear, drink, smoke, and believe, or where we frequent, never means that we deserve punishment by violence or unwanted sexual advances.

Ask questions. Listen to the answers. Avoid blame. Move forward with love and understanding.

Breaking the Silence: Part II

Continued from "Breaking the Silence: Part I."

Later, on a pilgrimage to reconnect with high-school friends, I visited Montreal. We were freshmen, giddy with the prospect of drinking and dancing, and flush with hormones and history. We played drinking games while watching Dubya declare war, and after we’d washed away our cultural distaste, we filed out onto St. Catherine’s looking for trouble. And oh, did I find it. I quickly learned that alcohol sometimes provokes dark metamorphoses, turns so-called friends into mercurial, dangerous creatures. I spent the evening draped in a veil of concern, furrowing my brow at my ex’s gloomy transformation. He met my worry with a persistently curled lip, a few casually-placed shoves, and—more distressingly—a solid kick to my rear, just as we were entering a smoky establishment.

This behavior was unfamiliar territory. I settled into a confused, morose haze, mutely following my friends from club to diner to dance hall.  Once, I managed to enter into a halfhearted political dialogue with an interested waitress. Come on, my friends said, he’s just messing around—he’s just a little rambunctious. Lighten up. Come dance. You look so good in that skirt. Lights blurred.

I remember stumbling back to our shared hotel room, helplessly watching my girlfriend, my maybe ally, fall into bed with someone else, leaving me with my antagonist: my supposedly amicable ex. I remember the queer knot of disappointment and betrayal when he rested his weight on me, forced his mouth onto mine; and when he whispered my worthlessness, the hoarse twist of his voice as he grabbed my breast and said, “This is what you wanted from me, isn’t it?” Then, after a terrifying moment of silence, a reprieve. I slunk to the floor, curling my limbs around my body, and passed out.

The next morning, as we shoved our belongings back into my car, my ex sang sad songs about his poor behavior the night previous, about how his parents were divorcing, how hard it was for him, and how he didn’t quite know how to process his emotions. Our group clucked sympathies, and my heart sank. When I had my girlfriend alone, I tried to confide in her, give voice to the bitter seed of anger nestled deep beneath my sternum. I wanted honesty, non-judgment. I wanted to forget past jealousies or disagreements. For once, I just wanted compassion. It wasn’t like that, she said. I think you’re making a big deal out of nothing, especially when you were annoying him the whole night. He’s going through a really rough patch. I shrank in disbelief, sucked air through my teeth, and tried not to drown above water. You really only got what you deserved.  

Breaking the Silence: Part I

For many of us, violence exists as an abstraction. It’s a well-choreographed fight scene, a clean bullet wound, a statistic. We see violence as something confined to warzones, low-income housing, and dark alleys, or that it’s only exacted upon people who have done something wrong, to people who are “different” than we are. We believe that violence is perpetrated by strangers, or that victims of violence probably could have been a little more careful. Real violence, we think, doesn’t happen to people we know, people who are in the right places at the right times. We create a sense of “other,” shrouding ourselves in the misguided knowledge that our jobs and our comfortable neighborhoods and our ability to stay within well-respected boundaries of society protect us, and that anyone who doesn’t follow those rules has what’s coming to her.

Friends, I have struggled writing this. I was, and still am, afraid that folks who both do and do not know me will tap their gavels and condemn me for my choices—that I will be the Other, the woman who drank too much, spoke too loudly, or smiled too broadly. But I was recently reminded that our friends and family may be ignorant to our suffering, and may in fact hold certain views that they don’t realize are damaging to people they love, trust, and admire. We need to break our silence to create a meaningful shift in attitude and outreach.

I have been assaulted three times in my life.

*

I was at a punk rock show in a small, dark venue in Providence, Rhode Island. I had blue hair then, and for maybe the first time in my life, I felt comfortable in my skin. Powerful. My best friend had somehow managed to add our names to the guest list, and we glissaded through the side door laughing. We wove through the pulsating crowd, our hands intermittently laced, sweat plastering our clothes to our flushed bodies.

By the final set, we were wedged between the stage and a halfhearted mosh pit. A huge skinhead stumbled from the melee, alcohol evaporating from his pores. He wasn’t exactly an anomaly. We ignored him, swaying to the staccato horn blasts, until he pressed himself against my friend, meaty hands groping inexpertly at her breasts. He persisted, even as she struggled to push him away, and I lost all capacity for rational thought—I only remember the crush of blood thumping in my ears, drowning out the music. I leaned forward onto my toes to level my gaze, raised a jabbing finger, and started shouting. Seconds later, my ass bounced  hard off the edge of the stage, and a kind Samaritan threw the skinhead to the floor. As I struggled to my feet, sneering, a bouncer promptly tossed him out.

I rode a fierce adrenaline high back to campus, wearing my bruised tailbone and split lip like grotesque badges of honor. It wasn’t until I stripped off my clothes, stepped into the hot shower, and started scrubbing the makeup from my face that I noticed my hands were shaking. My mouth was sore. Someone hit me. Someone actually hit me, and he's still out there. Everything had happened so quickly that I couldn’t even remember the knuckles slamming into my face, but the evidence of his fist’s impact was plainly visible on my pale skin.

Realistically, we shouldn’t have to worry about unsolicited sexual advances in any environment, never mind in a public venue. Similarly, refusing said sexual advances should never prompt a violent altercation. At the time, I didn’t think about it like that. Only: had I done something deserving of such violence? Did I do something wrong? No, no of course not—I was simply doing the right thing. I was only trying to protect my friend. Maybe bruises and a little blood were acceptable losses.

Later, it seemed as though all my dorm mates had heard about it and had either congratulated my bravery or tut-tutted my need to be involved. But no one, no one, encouraged me to file a police report. 

Valentine

At precisely 6:14 p.m., a key turns in a door. As it opens, a slice of fluorescent brilliance knifes into a twilit room, illuminating a white cat. The innocuous bundle of fluff remains impassive until the person attached to the key strides into the isosceles light and pushes the door shut. Locks it.

“Miao,” the cat grouses.

“Seriously,” replies the man.

As he tosses his coat over the back of a couch, loosens his tie, and collapses into a chair, the cat mounts the top of the battered leather throne and warms the nape of his neck.

They sit together in soundless ambivalence, waiting for the next moment to steal them. 

In Just Spring

When the weather is just warm enough, I pass streams of school children spooling around sidewalk bends. They run as part of some morning PE ritual, following the long concrete path from school to street to orange cone. This cone marks a half-mile halfway point, seems to signal, we are in the home stretch.

 

And if I'm waiting at the interminable red light on the corner, I'll watch the first pack of runners round the corner: preteen boys with neon trainers and gangly, long-legged gaits. They easily lope past their friends and make for the cone, slivers of teeth gleaming through open-mouthed grins. Those early runners toss their unruly hair like would-be stallions, offer high fives to the peers they pass. We know we are fast.

 

Eventually the groups of runners thin, and spans pass between one boy and the next. Their frames are not built for knifing through the chill morning air. Doggedly, they pursue their classmates, heads low and chests heaving, fighting their way upstream without the reckless grace of the pack leaders. No smiles. No hand-gesture displays of camaraderie. I see nothing but grim determination, or perhaps desperation. We will catch you, someday.

 

For me, the light is finally green.  

Anger Management

“You’re two apologies short of an anger management problem,”

she says, folding hands with chewed nails into the v of her lap.

I mimic, adopt a placating posture, explain—I don’t get angry.

I avoid confrontation, use the restroom two floors down to eschew

through-stall conversations, take the stairs rather than risk

the possibility of an elevator encounter. I confide my concerns in my aging

mother, my increasingly tolerant husband, my cadre of Twitter followers who

love quick quips bemoaning workplace woe, the tyranny of religion and

gender politics, or a simple, unexpected downturn in luck. Anger, I say, is a waste

of time. I flip stations when NPR plays Republican sound bites, when a caller

brings a particularly ignorant question to the attention of Diane Rehm, or when

I’m afloat in the frustrating doldrums of Pledge Week. I am becoming fluent

in the language of deep breathing and long distance running. You see—

“Have you ever wanted to shoot someone?” Haven’t you? Listen,

I don’t support the NRA, don’t even buy American. I am familiar

with Harris’s three principles of self-defense, and still do not

believe safety is the second amendment. Lady, I don’t get angry. I just

imagine. I have pushed one thousand dreams down stairwells,

nurtured countless cancers. I have rubbernecked along

phantom highways of despair, have ground the heel of my favorite

black boots into the neck of the corporate machine. I have never

hit someone who did not deserve it.

Our Lady of Praying Through It

I first noticed the sign while driving a trunk full of groceries back to the house. I’d managed a particularly frustrating day at work, as you do, and then braved the rush hour crush of supermarket shoppers in the death-trap Kroger parking lot. The prospect of a relaxed evening—laps full of cats, video games, a thoughtfully prepared dinner—seemed miraculous, and I looked forward to it. But all sublime meditations vanished as I approached the traffic circle, a backlit sign glaring over the hill. A chime of anger throbbed painfully in my skull.

40th ANNIVERSARY OF ROE VS. WADE

HAVE MERCY ON US LORD

I live in a quiet town stippled by acres of corn and soy. We have a few small pizza chains, a farmer’s market, coffee shops, an ice cream stand, and a smattering of other local establishments: liquor stores, a roller skating rink, townie bars, schools, and a preponderance of churches. One such church sits nestled at the entrance to my subdivision. They generally use their street-side sign to advertise innocuous activities such as vacation bible school, potluck dinners, bring-a-friend Sundays, and teen-friendly lock-ins—the town is blissfully bereft of overtly political or religious signage. The advent of Roe’s anniversary, however, seemed to necessitate a targeted strike.

Furious, I mentally catalogued the sign’s myriad array of problems as I drove down the hill toward my house. I wanted to turn around and go back to the store for oaktag and poster board; I wanted to dash out why they were so very wrong in block letters and Magic Markers. I didn’t, of course. I went home, I complained to my husband and to my friends, and I tried to enjoy dinner. As much as I resented that church, they had first amendments rights just like everybody else. It was their property, after all.

Four days later, the sign’s language is still up—and I’m still thinking about it. It exemplifies a facet of religion that is particularly problematic to me: public judgment, and the imposition of a faith-based moral code on the rest of the population. Whether that takes the form of tracts or witnessing or a sign on a hill, many believers find it necessary to branch out beyond their communities and force everyone else to listen. I have to drive by that sign every time I leave the house—there’s no getting away from it. It exists as a passively hostile entity in my very own neighborhood.

Their sign seeks to shame our society for upholding a practice that helps desperate women safely obtain care to live their lives in the manner in which they please. It says that we should afford more protection to the potential of embryos than we should to the women who carry them. It implies that women who seek abortions are sinners in need of mercy, salvation, because they’ve committed a crime in the eyes of some imaginary deity they may or may not believe in. We are not all looking for forgiveness.

 “God’s Mercy” is an untenable notion that fails to solve real-world issues, and thus the sign laments without offering constructive application. Why offer prayers when you can take action? Why not advocate for easy access to affordable birth control of one’s choosing? Why not promote sexual education that offers practical solutions beyond the yawning abyss of abstinence? Why not discourage abortion by making it easier to raise a child in our society? So many religious institutions peddle guilt and shame without understanding that societal changes involving subsidized childcare, universal healthcare, and paid maternity leave would encourage life—everyone’s life.

Be Heard

When I was a young mischief-maker, my mother took me to the polls. It didn’t matter whether it was a local, state, or federal election—we waited in lines and filed into the red, white, and blue striped voting booths together. Sometimes, if I happened to be very lucky, one of the poll attendants would indulgently pass me an “I voted!” sticker. As I grew older, my mother continued to include me in her political deliberations: I sat in on meetings with the Friends of Education, was encouraged to hold signs with her at local elections and busy intersections, and attended grand political rallies. I remember willing my hands to steady, repeating a mental be cool, as I shook Al Gore’s hand and mustered up some strangled variant of, “IT’S AN HONOR TO MEET YOU, MR. VICE PRESIDENT.” (I’ll also never forget my mother’s disappointed face as she crowed, “Really? You couldn’t think up anything intelligent to say to that man?”)

But this formative political inclusion cemented the notion that voting is important, a privilege. My mother made it clear that being an active and informed voter was my civic duty as an American, and that to effect change, I needed to become a part of the political process. As such, when I turned eighteen, a few friends and I marched down to town hall to register to vote. Someone tipped off a local paper, and a reporter showed up to document the event, spin it into a story about how some of America’s youth were still passionate about politics. That newspaper clipping still lives in a photo album at my family’s home: me with my slip of paper, flowered halter top, huge grin.

Let me be clear: while my mother and I agree on many politically-charged issues, she never dictated my beliefs. She taught me that educating oneself, ignoring biased news outlets and political advertisements, and seeking truth is crucial to becoming an informed citizen who will work for the betterment of society. For those who are the least privileged. And truly, it’s not difficult these days—there are treasure troves of non-partisan websites that will give you a complete rundown on where candidates stand on a number of hot-button issues. You can look up your sample ballot online and make sure that you research all the candidates, even the unfamiliar local names, and read the fine print on all the proposals you’ll have to take a stand on. You can—and should—look into the so-called non-partisan candidates for school boards and the Supreme Court—they are often endorsed and funded by a major political party.

Elections, especially local elections, are important, and your vote does matter. Even Presidential elections can be decided by a sliver of votes, and local elections can be even closer. These are people who will be potentially making decisions about your future, your body, your ability to earn a decent living. We don’t always make it easy to vote in this country, especially if you have a job, but I implore you to brave the cold temperatures and long lines to make your voices heard. It’s extraordinarily easy to be cynical about politics, denounce business as usual, and sneer at partisan in-fighting. But for some folks out there, it's an ongoing struggle for representation and consensus. To quote a friend, AK, "For some of us, it is our safety, our lives, our bodies. While others theorize, we suffer."

Asking For It

The sun hasn’t come up yet.

A young woman briefly checks the weather on her mobile phone, notes the unseasonably warm temperatures predicted for the afternoon, and selects a summery dress from her closet. She hurriedly finishes her morning ablutions, fills an aluminum tumbler with coffee, forgets to snag her pre-packed lunch from the refrigerator, and zooms out the door.

At work, she spends four and a half hours sorting through e-mails, crafting new product language, and organizing RFP responses. When she finally decides that it’s time for a bite to eat or a cup of coffee, she grabs her key, purse, and badge, and takes the elevator to the first floor.

It’s a beautiful day. She sees a glorious blue sky beyond the glass double doors: lots of sunshine, obscured only by a fine haze in the distance. But when she passes through the turnstiles and opens the building doors, a strong gust of wind blows her entire dress over her face. Though she always tries to be viewed as a professional, anyone with a window and a pair of eyes can see her snug blue underwear and veiny thighs (which she is particularly ashamed of). The mobile weather report apparently failed to describe the blustery character of the day.

Red faced, head low, she clamps the flimsy material back down over her hips and retreats to her car as fast as her heels will allow. 

“Well,” the wind says to anyone who will listen. “Did you see what she was wearing? She was totally asking for it.”

Control Issues

I am admittedly plagued by constellations of worry.

Many of these small anxieties can be quietly swept into a corner, buried in a book, or alleviated by a night of uninterrupted sleep. I constantly remind myself that, in all likelihood, my migraines do not indicate the presence of an aneurysm, or that the new and unexplained ache in my side probably isn’t an aggressive cancer. I recognize that my fear of abandonment is largely irrational, and that the neighbors probably aren’t judging the weediness of our lawn.

I own these mental exercises in personal distress, and I have the ability to control them. But when I learn more about the individuals in local, state, and federal government who seek to wrest this control away from me, a cold flower of dread blooms beneath my breast. I exist in a perpetual state of nausea. The fear that these politicians inspire is not irrational or illogical—their legislation has the capability to institute policies that could damage my health and wellbeing.

Let me explain. For all intents and purposes, I am a woman of privilege. I have a job, a house, and health insurance, and I am in a committed relationship. I am thus an individual with the resources necessary to make tough decisions about family and healthcare. In plainer terms, I can obtain the hormonal birth control necessary to quell a medical condition and to enjoy a healthy sexual relationship with my partner, and I have the means necessary to deal with an (unlikely) unexpected pregnancy—whether that ends in a fetus carried to term or an abortion. Both choices are perfectly valid.

Freedom from politicians acting on faith-based initiatives also allows me to handle my life in the event that I become the victim of unfortunate circumstances. I can effectively erase the physical evidence of sexual assault through timely medical intervention, potentially limiting the associated mental trauma as well. I can obtain prenatal care that provides me with the opportunity to assess the validity of the fetus and its impact on my body, and make decisions accordingly. This control over my own reproductive circumstances allows me to live my life in a fulfilling manner, without fear.

That’s the beauty of choice—it allows each person to live their life in the manner in which they choose. My personal reproductive choices do not have to match the decisions that you and your family make. The important thing is that we all have the opportunity to take different paths. In the absence of choice, we only have fear and uncertainty. This is not a “pro-life” approach, as a plethora of predominantly male politicians would have you think.

Yesterday, Indiana Republican Senate candidate Richard Mourdock thrust himself back into the national spotlight by stating, “And I think even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.” To be clear, Mr. Mourdock believes the misguided notion that there should be no allowances for abortion even in the case of rape and incest. (For what it’s worth, it doesn’t make sense to have any sort of qualifiers for a safe and legal abortion.) He believes that even after physical and emotional trauma is visited upon a woman, she should not have the opportunity to decide whether or not she’d like to carry that horror’s child. He is not alone in this belief; in fact, the Republican Party platform is “firmly against” abortion, without exception.

Imagine you’ve been raped, and you’re fortunate enough to have been able to make it to a hospital with rape kits. You’re being tested for sexually transmitted diseases. You may have stitches in unmentionable places. In a daze, you ask the nurse for the morning after pill to protect yourself. Instead of providing you with the medication, the nurse smiles and says, “I can’t give you an abortion bill. This is all a part of God’s plan.” God apparently wants you to deliver the potential child of your attacker, and he also hopes that you’ll be able to afford the costs associated with it—for at least the next eighteen years. (And, did you know that if your rapist finds out that you’ve had a child, the rapist can demand at least partial custody in most states?)

Or, imagine that you want to be pregnant. You and your partner are giddy with the anticipation of welcoming your child into the world when routine prenatal testing determines that your child will be born with a serious congenital defect. If the fetus even makes it to term, the chances that this child will live at all, nevermind have a fulfilling life, are grim. Perhaps you want to carry this child to term and give it a chance. Perhaps you don’t. Similarly, it’s possible that a pregnancy could cause significant harm to the mother. It is important that you have the opportunity to save your own life if that’s what you desire. But, if most Republicans had their way, you wouldn’t be able to decide.

And yet for many political zealots, it’s not enough to overturn Roe vs. Wade. “Personhood” amendments are popping up in Republican-led legislatures all over the country, many of which seek to define a full and complete human being as a zygote. Therefore, anything that interferes with or destroys a zygote can be held responsible for murder. This is folly, and it raises a number of issues. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, it is estimated that half of all fertilized eggs die and are spontaneously aborted—usually within the first seven weeks of pregnancy. If a zygote has full rights of personhood, natural spontaneous abortions would label a plentitude of women murderers, even if they are not prosecuted. How does one fully determine whether the miscarriage is “natural” or “unnatural?”

And what about birth control? While most forms of contraception prevent ovulation, a variety of birth control methods do have the potential to interrupt the implantation of a fertilized egg in the uterus, thus rendering birth control illegal by proxy. Birth control has allowed women a certain measure of independence and control of their sexual destinies for the last fifty years.  I could detail the myriad array of uses birth control has beyond contraception (and indeed, that’s one of the reasons I take it), but that’s not the point. The point is that it’s not wrong to have sex, and it’s certainly not wrong to want to avoid an unwanted pregnancy. Being forced to live in an environment in which birth control has been criminalized is tantamount to living in the dark ages, terrified that our own bodies and desires will betray us and force us into roles we do not want or are not yet ready for.

“Personhood” legislation also stymies opportunities provided to women by in-vitro fertilization (IVF). During the normal course of IVF treatments, a number of embryos may be created and destroyed in order to provide the would-be mother with the best chance of a successful implantation. The destruction of those embryos would be illegal under a “personhood” amendment—doctors who perform IVF treatments could potentially be held responsible for any embryonic failures.

Any legislation that imposes limitations on abortions, access to birth control medication, or even IVF services has the potential to damage me, you, or someone you love. The proper course of action is never to restrict an individual’s choice. Regardless of your political or religious leanings, be cognizant of the fact that when you cast your vote for a socially conservative candidate, you are severely limiting the decisions you or your loved ones can make about your body in the future.