No Constitutional Right to Tampons

Amanda Marcotte

The "abortion is icky" argument is such that the anti-choice crowd could easily start agitating for a ban on menstruation without skipping a beat.

When Verizon decided to block text messages sent out from NARAL to members who had signed up to receive them, the public reaction was swift and fierce. The company reversed its decision within hours of a NY Times article being published about the situation, after the public—and more than 16,000 text messages to the company to register that outcry. Turns out a lot of people figure that the same technology used to transmit earth-shatteringly important messages like, "U horny? Me 2. My place 10? I got cndms, u bring lube" could be used to protect the rights that help make that message possible.

The vehement and immediate reaction to this shows that Verizon unintentionally hit a real nerve out there. I think part of the explanation is that the little bit of censorship was a perfect emblem of the unfair obstacles out there for progressives that reactionaries don't have to deal with. Verizon initially told NARAL that the company "does not accept issue-oriented (abortion, war, etc.) programs – only basic, general politician-related campaigns (Mitt Romney, Hillary Clinton, etc.)." Of course, the oh-so-convenient side effect of this policy would be that those following a straightforward and secular model–who are much more likely to be progressive–get dinged; reactionaries who bundle their political messages in the language of religion get a free pass to be political without being "political."

But I think the main reason the censorship hit a nerve was the way that Verizon's defense used the words "controversial or unsavory" to describe text messages they reserve the right to censor. Pro-choicers know all too well about the use of unsavoriness to attack women's basic rights–contemplating the mechanics of a D&C isn't conducive to craving a sandwich, after all, and anti-choicers, knowing this, don't bother to use real arguments most of the time and just bombard people with provocative pictures of bloody fetuses and lurid descriptions of the process of an abortion, and let people's disgust take over their logical thought processes. Surgery is disgusting ergo surgery should go away ergo surgery should be banned, at least if you contemplate the details of the cutting and slicing and suctioning and bleeding. Or, as Atrios puts it, "abortion is icky."

The "abortion is icky" argument is such that the anti-choice crowd could easily start agitating for a ban on menstruation without skipping a beat. The fact that menstruation is incredibly common shouldn't slow them down; after all, the anti-choice position demands that you believe that more than 1/3 of American women are murderers. Menstruation is, except maybe to a handful of insistent earth mother crunchy feminists, generally regarded as pretty icky. I throw a bloody tampon at you, you'll probably do your best to avoid it. Getting the camera out for some gruesome and shocking close-ups of the macabre used tampon just carefully thrown out in the trash or heartlessly flushed down the toilet would be simpler than getting pictures of aborted fetuses. Blow up the bloody tampon pictures, put them on some placards and you're ready to start convincing people that this is so disgusting that someone needs to ban something to make it stop.

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When feminists protest and point out that banning menstruation is both not going to work and just a way to abuse women, label them "pro-menstruation." Have pundits on Fox News imply that anyone who defends the right to menstruate is part of a bloody feminist army trying to force all women to bleed all the time. Male pundits and shock jocks could make rib-nudging jokes about how those sex-hating feminists just want to make sure that every night is a "not tonight, Aunt Flow is here" night. Religious nuts would come up with snappy slogans like, "Jesus did not bleed on the cross so you can bleed on your panties!"

To cover up the anti-woman bent of the anti-menstruation campaign, ban advocates would cultivate an army of soft-spoken good Christian women who want to ban menstruation for women's own good. To bolster their claims that menstruation hurts women, they would point to the instances of toxic shock syndrome, menstrual cramps, and anemia, all while ignoring that the proposed alternatives of non-stop pregnancy or mandatory hysterectomies run higher risks. Leslee Unruh of the Abstinence Clearinghouse could go on TV to accuse Big Cotton of duping women into menstruating to maximize their profits. Republican candidates for President would scramble to cover up any campaign donations received from Tampax or Kotex.

Feminists For Life would offer a "moderate" position that would allow women to menstruate for the period after childbirth for up to 6 weeks, so long as they returned to a pregnant status afterwards. Hearing the magical word "moderate," a flock of mainstream liberal pundits and Democratic politicians are drawn like moths to the flame. Even though polls show that the right to menstruate without government interference is wildly popular, Democratic consultants would advise politicians that they don't want to seem too soft on menstruation. A bipartisan committee would put together a plan to avoid having to ban menstruation through government-funded hysterectomies and government benefits for those who choose non-stop pregnancy as their menstruation stoppage plan.

Mainstream feminist organizations would protest the plan by pointing out that the non-stop pregnancy plan would burden young teenagers the most, requiring non-stop pregnancy to start as early as nine years old. Menstrual ban proponents would react to this by accusing NARAL and Planned Parenthood of fostering child abuse by suggesting that young teenagers should be touching themselves all the time with instruments of child torture like tampons and pads. Moderates float the idea of a parental consent law, mandating that girls ask permission of their parents before they start to menstruate, giving plenty of ban advocates the chance to gloat on blogs and to reporters about how their daughters would never lower themselves to the practice of menstruation.

"Let the states decide if they want this disgusting practice in their backyards," would become the mantra of the menstrual ban advocates. Some states would pass laws restricting access to pads and tampons so severely that women have to pool their resources to have someone smuggle in crates of Tampax from other states. The hysterectomy rate would go through the roof. Liberal men who oppose bans on menstruation would be accused of just wanting sexual access to women who have fully functioning uteruses without being pregnant all the time.

Lest you think my fearful fantasy here sounds a little too paranoid, let me point you to this story about a school in NYC that's conducting a crackdown on the grave threat of teenage girls who want the right to menstruate in peace.

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