When does life begin?

I was enjoying a visit from my sister and brother-in-law a while back when I was asked a very interesting and enlightening question. You see, I’ve been through a life changing event. Last year, in a feat of strength, I conceived. And nine months later, I had a baby. It was an amazing, life-changing event.

And so, while sitting on the couch taking in the breath, feel and sound of a newly born human, my brother asked me, “So, now that you’ve had a baby, when do you think life begins?” When he asked me this question, I was deep in the thrall of sleep deprivation, and didn’t really realize where the question was coming from. I think my response was something on the lines of, “What? I don’t know.”

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I assume he asked me this in light of my political history. If you know me or have read this blog at all, you know I am pro-choice – staunchly so. I’ve written many blog posts supporting a woman’s right to chose if and when to have a child. I’ve also been an abortion clinic escort for many years. And so I can only assume my brother wondered whether, having experienced pregnancy and childbirth, my views on reproductive matters had changed.

So, when does life begin?

At conception? At implantation? At 12 weeks? 20 weeks? At quickening? At viability? When you’re born? When you start to remember things? Maybe. It is such a subjective question. There is no right answer.

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But the thing is, for me, being pregnant only more keenly highlighted the importance of self determination. Until you’ve been pregnant, you haven’t actually faced the possibility that, under different circumstances, someone else could control your health outcome and even whether you live or die. Being pregnant made me even more grateful that if I had to make a choice about my pregnancy it would be MY decision – not some priest’s or politician’s or some health board’s decision. If I chose to sacrifice my health for the sake of the baby it would be my decision. I was in control of my own body.

So does the moment life begins matter to me? Sure it does. I mean, I AM alive. But the moment life begins cannot bring back the any of the millions of women killed by illegal abortion. The moment life begins cannot put food into the mouths of a poor family. The moment life begins cannot make a woman’s teeth grow back. And the moment life begins doesn’t make me willing to relinquish control of my body and my life for the sake of another.

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I am a mother. I am pro-child. I am pro-family. And I am pro-choice.

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Two Worlds Collide: Abortion Clinic Escort meets Engineer

What does one do when personal anonymity is compromised by the very nature of one’s business association?

One comforting aspect of being a clinic escort is the idea that no matter how rude, obnoxious, hateful, or nosy the protesters get, a clinic escort can keep his or her personal identity on the down low. Like an anonymous superhero, I swoop in, throw some elbows, then go home unaccosted. We clinic escorts do our best to not reveal personal attributes while on duty. Details such as name, employer, religious beliefs (or lack thereof) and neighborhood of residence are topics we regularly avoid in the presence of anti-choice extremists. But what does one do when personal anonymity is compromised by the very nature of one’s business association?

Today I escorted at my clinic. It was a normal day. It was kinda cold. I didn’t wear enough clothing so my legs were cold. After about an hour on the beat, I look up and see a man I work with chatting up some of the protesters. I lost it. My fellow escorts were probably quite amused by my evolving measure of shock. I was all, “What’s he doing down here? Is there some event going on? No! He’s just walking through. He’s not with them. Keep walking! Oh, no! He just didn’t. He’s holding a sign!”

It was epic disappointment. I thought he was cool. I thought he was one of the elite and educated. I thought he was respectable! Alas, he is not. All respect – gone in an instant. You are not cool. We will not have beers. We won’t share joyful words at the company holiday party. We will not chat at the company picnic. You will forever be that guy, anti-guy. It’s fine to be anti-choice; but to harass women too? That’s not respect. That’s exactly the opposite.

But another dilemma underlies this situation. Did he tell the other antis he knows me? Did they ask him about our association when he, albeit discretely, acknowledged me? Do they know my name now and where I work? Could they influence him to create bias against me at work? If they know my name, could they find my home, my husband, and my family?

In the age of church sanctioned domestic terrorism, personal safety is paramount. Violent “pro-life” extremists threaten, stalk, and intimidate clinic staff with impunity. They put up “wanted” signs with abortion providers’ faces on them. They start databases listing clinic employees’ names and places of work. They insult and intimidate women at clinic entrances.

And our Congressional leaders turn their heads. Rather than take the opportunity to repudiate violence and commend reproductive responsibility, public figures use their pulpit to shame women and bolster extremists by pandering to the religious right on social issue after social issue. Even leaders who support a woman’s right to control her reproductive life pass up the opportunity to discourse on social causes, labeling them inconsequential compared to economic well-being.

Has my anonymity been compromised? Maybe. Am I mad about it. No. Just disappointed. But most of all, I am pissed off that I even have to worry about it in the first place.

Compassion In Perspective

Rather than stigmatize women, society should respect a woman’s sense of autonomy and self-preservation…Before you judge, stop and feel the hate. It flows from both directions.

I woke up today as on so many other days. Face washed. Teeth brushed. Cats fed. Rain forecast. Sun still hidden. Winter wear secured. House left behind in a haze of hot exhaust mixed with the crisp morning air. I drove past the exit for my office; and headed downtown toward the abortion clinic. I am a clinic escort.

As a clinic escort, I absorb the evangelical vitriol of anti-choice harassment so that women who have made the difficult decision to abort are not obliged to absorb that for which they have no more capacity to harbor. It is my purpose for waking before the sun,  the reason I am built of inert bone and catalytic flesh – to transform hate into compassion. I am rarely surprised by the fountain of hate that flows so freely from the mouths of those who purport to worship a god who asks nothing but love.

Misogynistic exhortation is the status quo for the clinic escort. But when the misogyny flows even more freely from the people I aim to shield, I am readily turned about. He told me he didn’t “give a shit about that bitch.” I first thought he spoke of the skulking protester. He didn’t care if she died. He didn’t care if she and that baby died either. He would do it himself.

I could not walk with him.

To feel the hatred flow from the escorted, as I did today, is a stark reminder of why the fight for safe, legal, accessible abortion can never waiver, must not fail. Rather than stigmatize women, society should respect a woman’s sense of autonomy and self-preservation. Women deserve safety, opportunity, love, and respect – not violence, subservience, hatred, and contempt.

Open your eyes. Before you judge, stop and feel the hate. It flows from both directions.

Without Roe v. Wade

I am thankful that, because of Roe v. Wade, no woman in the U.S. has to endure illegal abortion – especially not my sisters.

Today, reproductive freedom is a right that every woman in the United States possesses, but few women truly appreciate. A woman can attend university, buy her own house or car, and thanks to Griswold v. Connecticut is able to enjoy sex with the person of her choice without the fear of becoming pregnant. Today, a woman has a choice whether and when to have children, and how many she will bear. And in the event of a pregnancy – whether wanted or unwanted, expected or unexpected – a woman has the choice whether to complete that pregnancy or to terminate it.

Many of my married friends don’t realize that we women were once considered non-entities. They don’t realize that not long ago, they could not have received a bank loan in their name without a male relative’s approval. Many of my friends don’t know that, though it was illegal in this country for 150 years, abortion was a common, private family matter for thousands of years before it was first made illegal  in the U.S. in Connecticut in 1821. And sadly, many of my friends don’t realize how badly women and their families suffered as a result of criminalization of abortion.

On this 39th anniversary of the transformative Roe v. Wade ruling, I am thankful that piles of dead women have stopped showing up in morgues because of botched and unsafe backstreet abortions. I am thankful that doctors no longer refuse to treat miscarrying women for fear of facing criminal charges for aiding an abortion. I am thankful that women who are victims of rape are no longer forced by the state to carry their rapist’s baby to term and then share parental rights with the rapist.

When abortion was illegal, women had to navigate dangerous, murky channels to find an abortion provider. Often, women paid exorbitant prices and endured sexual abuse from amateur backstreet abortionists. Illegal abortions were performed in unsanitary conditions by ill-qualified persons. Abortion complications were rampant. And hospitals would not treat women with abortion complications until death was knocking – too late too often. I am thankful that, because of Roe v. Wade, no woman in the U.S. has to endure illegal abortion.

But what I am most thankful for, is that my sister was able to have a legal, safe abortion when she found herself pregnant at the hands of her physically abusive boyfriend. If abortion were illegal , she would have been connected to her abuser forever. She might have feared leaving her abuser. She might have feared his abuse turning on her children. She might been trapped in a relationship with an abusive man. She might have died at his abusive hands, or at the hands of an exploitative, swindling amateur abortionist.

Because abortion is legal, my sister no longer has to endure physical and mental abuse. She is not trapped in an abusive relationship. She doesn’t have to fear the abuse will turn on her children. She doesn’t fear her children will normalize abuse or become abusers themselves. She isn’t afraid of leaving her abuser. And best of all, she is alive and safe. And she hasn’t regretted it for even one second.

On this 39th anniversary of Roe, I am glad that my sister was able to take her future into her own hands. Because of women like her, we are all empowered.

Embattled Birth Control?

Personally, “unrestricted, unlimited sex, anytime, anywhere” sounds pretty damned fun to me.

On August 1st, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced historic new requirements for insurers on services for women that should be covered by new insurance plans at no cost (i.e. – without a copay). To determine what medical care would be covered, the Institute of Medicine was charged with reporting to the DHHS what services and screenings for women are needed to fill gaps in recommended preventative care. In the IOM report, “Clinical Preventative Services for Women, Closing the Gap“, the committee defines preventative services as,

measures—including medications, procedures, devices, tests, education and counseling—shown to improve well-being, and/or decrease the likelihood or delay the onset of a targeted disease or condition.

The services recommended by the IOM include common sense stuff:

  • well-woman visits;
  • screening for gestational diabetes;
  • human papillomavirus (HPV) DNA testing for women 30 years and older;
  • sexually-transmitted infection counseling;
  • human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) screening and counseling;
  • FDA-approved contraception methods and contraceptive counseling;
  • breastfeeding support, supplies, and counseling; and
  • domestic violence screening and counseling.
Well, unless you live under a rock or are completely unconcerned with women’s reproductive issues, the fall out from the release of these new HHS guidelines has been epic. Both for it’s greatness, and for it’s sheer moronic misogyny. As expected, the National Women’s Law Center, Feminist Majority Foundation, National Organization for Women, NARAL, and Planned Parenthood Federation of America (P2) have all come out in support of the new guidelines. Representatives from many organizations are commending the HHS for actually listening to and implementing the recommendations of real medical experts and scientists. Some of the reaction has been beyond epic, such as this Bollywood-inspired song and dance routine made for Planned Parenthood:
Any feminist woman knows the depths of Bill O’Reilly’s misogyny. But he feels he continually needs to remind the world how low his opinion of women. On his awful, bias-as-hell show back in July, O’Reilly spoke to a fake liberal woman and a conservative woman about the HHS’s mandate for insurers to cover birth control. (Any liberal who was asked the question as he stated it would have pointed out that O’Reilly’s description of the regulations was inaccurate.) The conversation was completely biased, as O’Reilly asks “liberal” contributor Leslie Marshall if the government should pay for “everybody’s birth control…in the world”. Even leaving out the fact that O’Reilly misrepresents the DHHS requirements (that private insurers pay for birth control for private policy holders, not the government!), he goes on to insult every female birth control user by saying they are “to blasted out of their minds to use it anyway”. Since O’Reilly doesn’t care to actually engage women in a substantive manner, he obviously doesn’t know that the 56 million women who use highly-effective birth control don’t take it when they are “blasted out of their minds”. In addition, he attacks the “health care deal for the ladies” talking to Lou Dobbs, saying we ‘all’ will have to pay for this. Someone should call him up and explain how, we are all ALREADY paying for it!
Although the regulation includes an exception for religious institutions, the Family Research Council argues that the regulation “undermines the conscience rights of many Americans.” Um, yeah, he must mean the less than 1% who don’t use any contraceptive method whatsoever. (I argue that women working for religious institutions should not be subject to their beliefs if not shared, and should have an alternative option for contraceptive coverage.) A spokesman for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, says “pregnancy is not a disease, and fertility is not a pathological condition to be suppressed by any means technically possible.” Someone should let him know that no one said pregnancy was a disease. But there are,however, many conditions and diseases associated with pregnancy, many of them fatal for the pregnant woman. Oh, but wait, the Catholic church doesn’t care about the pregnant woman. I forgot.
The arguments against prohibiting cost sharing for preventative services only gets more ridiculous. Stephen Colbert can state it much more hilariously than I. And Jon Stewart breaks it down on the Daily Show. The arguments of opponents to this mandate are not rooted in science or medicine. They are solely rooted in religion. The catholics say the rules are “messing with God”. Other conservatives say giving away free birth control will result in rampant promiscuity. And conspiracy theorists argue that free birth control is just the first step in the government’s assertion of complete control over the reproductive lives of the citizenry for population control purposes. Um, communist China anyone?
These arguments become especially irreverent when you consider that of women of reproductive age who do not want to become pregnant, 99% use a contraceptive method other than natural family planning, and two-thirds of us take a highly-effective method (i.e. – sterilization, the pill, IUD, etc.) regardless of our religious beliefs. And these conservative, anti-choice pundits seem to forget about the fact that not all women using contraceptives are unmarried young people, contraceptive use helps breastfeeding women breastfeed longer by helping them space their pregnancies and increases the socio-economic status of women who are consequently able to delay pregnancy, preventing unplanned pregnancy reduces the need for abortion, couples are less likely to separate after a planned pregnancy than an unplanned pregnancy, contraceptives help prevent the spread of sexually-transmitted infections and HIV, and some women are prescribed contraceptives for reasons other than pregnancy prevention (such as endometriosis). I could go on, but I think I made my point.
The DHHS will be taking public comments on the new regulations through the end of September. Personally, “unrestricted, unlimited sex, anytime, anywhere” sounds pretty damned fun to me. (I hope my husband is up to the challenge!) Plus, I am TOTALLY DOWN with becoming a 4-star General in Obama’s Army of Flesh Thirsty Young Sluts! And, seriously, who would compare domestic violence counseling and breastfeeding advice to getting a pedicure? Oh, wait…