Commentary Religion

To the Religious Right, I am No Longer a Woman

Robin Marty

After three kids, two miscarriages, a tubal ligation, and the chance to re-establish intimacy with my husband, did I really give up on my "true nature?" That's what the religious right says: I am no longer a woman.

In just the last seven years, I have experienced nearly every biological joy and trial that comes with being a woman. I’ve been on hormonal contraception. I’ve struggled with unexplained infertility. I’ve had a miscarriage. I’ve attempted vaginal birth. I’ve had an emergency c-section. I’ve had planned c-sections. I’ve used natural family planning to try to conceive. I’ve used natural family planning to try to not conceive. And, as a result of that, I became a woman with an unplanned pregnancy.

Currently, I am enjoying a state that I have never been in before–one where I don’t have to think at all about my reproduction, fertility, trying to get pregnant, trying to avoid pregnancy or being in a state of pregnancy. It’s a huge and welcome relief, frankly. Between miscarriage and two fairly closely-spaced births, I’ve spent well over two of the last three years having enough HCG in my bloodstream to be able to produce a positive pee test if I was so inclined. The seven months that have passed since I have had my last (and I do mean last) child is the longest I have been unencumbered by pregnancy hormones since 2009.

So it’s with a bit of irony that I read the incessant assertions from the religious right that I am in fact not a true woman anymore, simply because I have chosen to remove myself from the baby game. I already had one strike against me, obviously, just for advocating that women should be allowed to decide when or if they want to have children, and for believing that sex can be meaningful even if there isn’t some potential for conception to occur during the process. I’ve had sex to try and create children, and honestly, it can be a very stressful, non-magical endevor. As much as I can guarantee that all of my children were conceived equally in love, I can’t say the same about the… um… enthusiasm.

Since the birth of my son (and, nearly as importantly, the snipping and cauterizing of my fallopian tubes) I’ve had the chance to relearn both emotional and physical intimacy, two items that are often lost among couples with a houseful of small children or an empty house two partners are trying desperately to fill. It’s a task that is much more emotionally charged now that sex is for us alone, and without a worry about the “consequences” of sex that the religious right seems so focused on making a part of the bargain. We don’t need potential consequences. Our family is complete. After all, they already outnumber us. I’d hate to get even further behind.

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But to them, I am no longer a woman.

Women around the world have swallowed a detestable lie that a person’s identity can somehow be separated from his or her biological body… Women like [Sandra] Fluke who accept this detestable lie, have thereby rejected the glorious beauty and radiant splendor of what is really at the core of a woman’s being, namely her profound ability to procreate, to form a new life, to carry that life within her for nine months, to birth that new life into the world, and to nourish that life until it reaches independence.

The life-creating potential and nurturing capacities that belong to a woman’s very nature are most marvelous. But in the name of so-called freedom, Fluke and others want to elect a president who will support them in rendering their feminine bodies sterile and who will aid them in killing their offspring when their sterility strategy fails.

Have I lost all “beauty and splendor” now that I am permanently out of the baby-making business?  Do I no longer get to have an “indentity” now that my “profound ability to procreate” has come to an irreversable end?

For those willing to allow me to keep a sliver of womanhood, even if I have lost my ability to create and birth tiny human beings, I am still at the very least “corrupt.

Abortion strikes clear to the core of a woman because a woman’s God-given nature is to create, sustain, nurture, and protect new life.  Whether a woman ever gives birth is irrelevant.  It is still a woman’s essential make-up to bring forth new life into the world.  God designed us that way.

Just to believe that a woman should have the right to control how many (or even no) children she should bring into the world is a “corruption” of our very natures, according to those who are the most extreme.  Whether a woman gives birth or not, she is a “mother,” according to them, just by being female. Much like the state of “pre-conception” that Jessica Valenti discusses in her new book Why Have Kids? all girls and women of reproductive age are in a state of “mommy-to-be” whether she cares to be or not.

To them, there is no society of men or women, but men and “potential mothers.”  Once you remove yourself from the motherhood game, whether it occurs before or after you have children, you have denied your right to lay claim to womanhood.

Yet somehow, I don’t feel corrupt.  I don’t feel a lack of “splendor.” In fact, I feel exactly as much a woman as I did before I had my tubes tied, or before I gave birth or even, shockingly enough, before I was pregnant. I feel the same as I did about my gender, my beliefs, my true nature, and my potential.

Most of all, I feel relief. Relief that regardless of what happens in the future, there will never be a point where I will be forced to add onto my family due to lack of access to birth control or abortion. My family is complete. And I am complete, even if I’m missing a small part of my tubes that the religious right claims is the most important part of me.

News Politics

Missouri ‘Witch Hunt Hearings’ Modeled on Anti-Choice Congressional Crusade

Christine Grimaldi

Missouri state Rep. Stacey Newman (D) said the Missouri General Assembly's "witch hunt hearings" were "closely modeled" on those in the U.S. Congress. Specifically, she drew parallels between Republicans' special investigative bodies—the U.S. House of Representatives’ Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives and the Missouri Senate’s Committee on the Sanctity of Life.

Congressional Republicans are responsible for perpetuating widely discredited and often inflammatory allegations about fetal tissue and abortion care practices for a year and counting. Their actions may have charted the course for at least one Republican-controlled state legislature to advance an anti-choice agenda based on a fabricated market in aborted “baby body parts.”

“They say that a lot in Missouri,” state Rep. Stacey Newman (D) told Rewire in an interview at the Democratic National Convention last month.

Newman is a longtime abortion rights advocate who proposed legislation that would subject firearms purchases to the same types of restrictions, including mandatory waiting periods, as abortion care.

Newman said the Missouri General Assembly’s “witch hunt hearings” were “closely modeled” on those in the U.S. Congress. Specifically, she drew parallels between Republicans’ special investigative bodies—the U.S. House of Representatives’ Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives and the Missouri Senate’s Committee on the Sanctity of Life. Both formed last year in response to videos from the anti-choice front group the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) accusing Planned Parenthood of profiting from fetal tissue donations. Both released reports last month condemning the reproductive health-care provider even though Missouri’s attorney general, among officials in 13 states to date, and three congressional investigations all previously found no evidence of wrongdoing.

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Missouri state Sen. Kurt Schaefer (R), the chair of the committee, and his colleagues alleged that the report potentially contradicted the attorney general’s findings. Schaefer’s district includes the University of Missouri, which ended a 26-year relationship with Planned Parenthood as anti-choice state lawmakers ramped up their inquiries in the legislature. Schaefer’s refusal to confront evidence to the contrary aligned with how Newman described his leadership of the committee.

“It was based on what was going on in Congress, but then Kurt Schaefer took it a step further,” Newman said.

As Schaefer waged an ultimately unsuccessful campaign in the Missouri Republican attorney general primary, the once moderate Republican “felt he needed to jump on the extreme [anti-choice] bandwagon,” she said.

Schaefer in April sought to punish the head of Planned Parenthood’s St. Louis affiliate with fines and jail time for protecting patient documents he had subpoenaed. The state senate suspended contempt proceedings against Mary Kogut, the CEO of Planned Parenthood of St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri, reaching an agreement before the end of the month, according to news reports.

Newman speculated that Schaefer’s threats thwarted an omnibus abortion bill (HB 1953, SB 644) from proceeding before the end of the 2016 legislative session in May, despite Republican majorities in the Missouri house and senate.

“I think it was part of the compromise that they came up with Planned Parenthood, when they realized their backs [were] against the wall, because she was not, obviously, going to illegally turn over medical records.” Newman said of her Republican colleagues.

Republicans on the select panel in Washington have frequently made similar complaints, and threats, in their pursuit of subpoenas.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), the chair of the select panel, in May pledged “to pursue all means necessary” to obtain documents from the tissue procurement company targeted in the CMP videos. In June, she told a conservative crowd at the faith-based Road to Majority conference that she planned to start contempt of Congress proceedings after little cooperation from “middle men” and their suppliers—“big abortion.” By July, Blackburn seemingly walked back that pledge in front of reporters at a press conference where she unveiled the select panel’s interim report.

The investigations share another common denominator: a lack of transparency about how much money they have cost taxpayers.

“The excuse that’s come back from leadership, both [in the] House and the Senate, is that not everybody has turned in their expense reports,” Newman said. Republicans have used “every stalling tactic” to rebuff inquiries from her and reporters in the state, she said.

Congressional Republicans with varying degrees of oversight over the select panel—Blackburn, House Speaker Paul Ryan (WI), and House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Fred Upton (MI)—all declined to answer Rewire’s funding questions. Rewire confirmed with a high-ranking GOP aide that Republicans budgeted $1.2 million for the investigation through the end of the year.

Blackburn is expected to resume the panel’s activities after Congress returns from recess in early September. Schaeffer and his fellow Republicans on the committee indicated in their report that an investigation could continue in the 2017 legislative session, which begins in January.

Commentary Contraception

Hillary Clinton Played a Critical Role in Making Emergency Contraception More Accessible

Susan Wood

Today, women are able to access emergency contraception, a safe, second-chance option for preventing unintended pregnancy in a timely manner without a prescription. Clinton helped make this happen, and I can tell the story from having watched it unfold.

In the midst of election-year talk and debates about political controversies, we often forget examples of candidates’ past leadership. But we must not overlook the ways in which Hillary Clinton demonstrated her commitment to women’s health before she became the Democratic presidential nominee. In early 2008, I wrote the following article for Rewirewhich has been lightly edited—from my perspective as a former official at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) about the critical role that Clinton, then a senator, had played in making the emergency contraception method Plan B available over the counter. She demanded that reproductive health benefits and the best available science drive decisions at the FDA, not politics. She challenged the Bush administration and pushed the Democratic-controlled Senate to protect the FDA’s decision making from political interference in order to help women get access to EC.

Since that time, Plan B and other emergency contraception pills have become fully over the counter with no age or ID requirements. Despite all the controversy, women at risk of unintended pregnancy finally can get timely access to another method of contraception if they need it—such as in cases of condom failure or sexual assault. By 2010, according to National Center for Health Statistics data, 11 percent of all sexually experienced women ages 15 to 44 had ever used EC, compared with only 4 percent in 2002. Indeed, nearly one-quarter of all women ages 20 to 24 had used emergency contraception by 2010.

As I stated in 2008, “All those who benefited from this decision should know it may not have happened were it not for Hillary Clinton.”

Now, there are new emergency contraceptive pills (Ella) available by prescription, women have access to insurance coverage of contraception without cost-sharing, and there is progress in making some regular contraceptive pills available over the counter, without prescription. Yet extreme calls for defunding Planned Parenthood, the costs and lack of coverage of over-the-counter EC, and refusals by some pharmacies to stock emergency contraception clearly demonstrate that politicization of science and limits to our access to contraception remain a serious problem.

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Today, women are able to access emergency contraception, a safe, second chance option for preventing unintended pregnancy in a timely manner without a prescription. Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) helped make this happen, and I can tell the story from having watched it unfold.

Although stories about reproductive health and politicization of science have made headlines recently, stories of how these problems are solved are less often told. On August 31, 2005 I resigned my position as assistant commissioner for women’s health at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) because the agency was not allowed to make its decisions based on the science or in the best interests of the public’s health. While my resignation was widely covered by the media, it would have been a hollow gesture were there not leaders in Congress who stepped in and demanded more accountability from the FDA.

I have been working to improve health care for women and families in the United States for nearly 20 years. In 2000, I became the director of women’s health for the FDA. I was rather quietly doing my job when the debate began in 2003 over whether or not emergency contraception should be provided over the counter (OTC). As a scientist, I knew the facts showed that this medication, which can be used after a rape or other emergency situations, prevents an unwanted pregnancy. It does not cause an abortion, but can help prevent the need for one. But it only works if used within 72 hours, and sooner is even better. Since it is completely safe, and many women find it impossible to get a doctor’s appointment within two to three days, making emergency contraception available to women without a prescription was simply the right thing to do. As an FDA employee, I knew it should have been a routine approval within the agency.

Plan B emergency contraception is just like birth control pills—it is not the “abortion pill,” RU-486, and most people in the United States don’t think access to safe and effective contraception is controversial. Sadly, in Congress and in the White House, there are many people who do oppose birth control. And although this may surprise you, this false “controversy” not only has affected emergency contraception, but also caused the recent dramatic increase in the cost of birth control pills on college campuses, and limited family planning services across the country.  The reality is that having more options for contraception helps each of us make our own decisions in planning our families and preventing unwanted pregnancies. This is something we can all agree on.

Meanwhile, inside the walls of the FDA in 2003 and 2004, the Bush administration continued to throw roadblocks at efforts to approve emergency contraception over the counter. When this struggle became public, I was struck by the leadership that Hillary Clinton displayed. She used the tools of a U.S. senator and fought ardently to preserve the FDA’s independent scientific decision-making authority. Many other senators and congressmen agreed, but she was the one who took the lead, saying she simply wanted the FDA to be able to make decisions based on its public health mission and on the medical evidence.

When it became clear that FDA scientists would continue to be overruled for non-scientific reasons, I resigned in protest in late 2005. I was interviewed by news media for months and traveled around the country hoping that many would stand up and demand that FDA do its job properly. But, although it can help, all the media in the world can’t make Congress or a president do the right thing.

Sen. Clinton made the difference. The FDA suddenly announced it would approve emergency contraception for use without a prescription for women ages 18 and older—one day before FDA officials were to face a determined Sen. Clinton and her colleague Sen. Murray (D-WA) at a Senate hearing in 2006. No one was more surprised than I was. All those who benefited from this decision should know it may not have happened were it not for Hillary Clinton.

Sometimes these success stories get lost in the “horse-race stories” about political campaigns and the exposes of taxpayer-funded bridges to nowhere, and who said what to whom. This story of emergency contraception at the FDA is just one story of many. Sen. Clinton saw a problem that affected people’s lives. She then stood up to the challenge and worked to solve it.

The challenges we face in health care, our economy, global climate change, and issues of war and peace, need to be tackled with experience, skills and the commitment to using the best available science and evidence to make the best possible policy.  This will benefit us all.

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