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.