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Some bittersweet news for listeners of Reality Cast. The sad news is that, after doing this show for nearly 400 episodes, I am bringing this podcast to a close. The good news is that you can still follow my work, as I’ve accepted a position at Salon as a full-time politics writer. I will miss the great folks here at Rewire and being able to cover reproductive health issues on a weekly basis with you, the audience. You guys have been great and I will miss this podcast.
So, for this, the final episode of Reality Cast, I’ll be looking at those wretched Planned Parenthood hearings and what a throwback to the 19th century they were. But I’ll also have a segment looking forward. I don’t want to end things on a sad note! I also have an interview with an AV Club writer about feminism and pop culture. So let’s do this thing, you guys.
I’ll be the first to admit I didn’t watch all five hours of Tuesday’s Planned Parenthood so-called hearing, which was mostly a bunch of Republicans lecturing Planned Parenthood CEO Cecile Richards about how affordable gynecological care is at turns evil and unnecessary. And really, that argument wasn’t even in the subtext, but right out front. Listen to Rep. Glenn Grothman of Wisconsin, for instance.
- hearing 1 *
Yep, as a guy, he has all his needs met, so he doesn’t see why women would need something different. The implication barely counts as an implication. He’s arguing that women should only be allowed the kinds of health care men need as well. Your heart, your lungs, whatever. But if you need care for your vagina or your uterus, that is wrong and bad and you don’t deserve funding for that. Other legislators didn’t go quite as far as Grothman in arguing that the only legitimate health care is the kind that men need as well, but they still cast aspersions on the idea that women need gynecological care specifically.
- hearing 2 *
This point came up over and over and over again, that Planned Parenthood doesn’t do mammograms. Cecile Richards pointed out that breast exams and mammograms are not the same thing. A breast exam is when the doctor examines your breasts by hand to make sure there are no lumps. Mammograms are another thing entirely. In fact, most gynecologists, not just Planned Parenthood, refer patients out for mammograms, which are done mostly at hospitals and radiology centers. So the implication here is that Planned Parenthood should abandon its core mission of providing gynecological care to turn itself into a radiology center. And that it should stop serving women in their 20s and 30s who are looking for birth control and other sexual health care services, so it can focus on women 50 and over who need mammograms. I hope the idiocy of this talking point needs no more expounding upon. Mammograms are important, absolutely, but it’s stupid to completely abandon providing reproductive health care to turn into a cancer screening organization. There is no need for Planned Parenthood to abandon its core mission, when there other groups that already do breast cancer screening.
But it’s also no mystery why Republicans think this is a killer argument. On one hand, they can claim to be for women, because they don’t want you to have breast cancer. But on the other hand, they can continue that there’s something sleazy and evil about affordable contraception and STI treatment. The underlying assumption here is that if women just committed themselves to abstinence, they wouldn’t need contraception and STI services. They won’t say it out loud, but the “as a guy” thing and the mammogram thing made it really clear that the goal here is demonizing gynecological services.
There were also a number of congressmen who pretended not to know what a nonprofit is, like Paul Gosar.
- hearing 3 *
And so on and so forth. He kept calling their increased revenue “profit,” as if Planned Parenthood had shareholders that were making quarterly gains off it. I realize that to conservatives, the idea that people might actually care about others and not do everything for personal material gain is hard to fathom, but that really is what nonprofits do when they bring in more money than they spend: They look to expand services. Gosar implied this was to make money, but again, that’s not possible. They don’t just take the excess money and start writing checks to board members. They use it to get more doctor visits and more birth control prescriptions to women. But that utter inability to imagine that there are people out there who actually feel compassion is driving this entire assault on Planned Parenthood.
That, and anger at women for having sex. When I started this podcast years ago, I would often argue that anti-choicers were coming for you birth control. And I got a lot of grief from people who were still under the false impression that antis just really loved fetuses and wanted them to live. But now we’re having congressional hearings about terminating contraception funding where congressmen repeatedly castigate a birth control group for not doing cancer research, mammograms, or health care that you need “as a guy”—in other words, telling Planned Parenthood they should be doing anything but offering contraception and other sexual health care services. Yeah, I don’t get people telling me I’m off my rocker about the war on birth control any more.
With that, I’ll give the final word to Cecile Richards.
- hearing 4 *
So, things are bad. Most of this show, week in and week out, has been about how the anti-choice movement keeps doggedly fighting, trying to wipe out safe sex and make sure we all pay with our health, our happiness, and sometimes our lives for the supposed sin of being sexually active. Unfortunately, they’ve had a lot of gains. State restrictions on abortion are forcing clinics across the country to close. The number of women seeking illegal or extralegal abortions, mostly by buying abortion pills on the black market, seems to be on the rise. The anti-contraception movement has moved from the fringe to the mainstream, causing Planned Parenthood defunding efforts, attacks on insurance coverage of contraception, and the end of contraception programs, such as the one in Colorado, that successfully lowered the unintended pregnancy rate.
But, in the years I’ve been doing this, I’ve seen a number of positive developments. For one thing, there’s been an amazing rise in anti-rape activism across the country, particularly on college campuses. And it became a major White House initiative.
- final 1 *
Along with that, we’ve had a surge in enthusiasm for teaching consent as part of general sex education. This Planned Parenthood video shows how that looks in practice.
- final 2 *
Teen pregnancy is down, like a lot.
- final 3 *
Guttmacher analysis shows that contraception use has been the main reason for the decline in teen pregnancy. Improved contraception use is also the main reason for the decline in abortion rates. Antis like to say abortion is down because more women are quote-unquote “choosing life,” or being forced to anyway by lack of abortion access. But since we haven’t had a surge in babies being born, which you’d get if women were bringing to term more, that doesn’t follow. Not only are people using more contraception, they are using better contraception. The IUD went from unheard of to the hot new thing in the time I’ve been doing this show.
- final 4 *
But one of the biggest changes I’ve seen is also the hardest to measure: Cultural shifts. When I started writing and doing this podcast, feminism was still a tiny part of the overall political and cultural discourse in our society, especially online. Since then, there’s been an explosion of feminist talk online, feminist themes in movies and TV, and discussion about feminism in the mainstream media. Cable news hosts used to be predominantly male. Now even Fox News has a primetime female host. When I started this show, I couldn’t think of a positive portrayal of abortion since the show Maude in 1972. Now Grey’s Anatomy, Friday Night Lights, and Girls have done positive abortion storylines on TV. In movies, you have Obvious Child and Grandma, which are indie films but still it’s progress. Same-sex marriage was legalized. The country has turned against abstinence-only programs, though conservatives keep sneaking them in by just calling them something different. I could keep going, but you get the picture. We have a long, long way to go. But we have come really far as it is.
I have done 398 podcasts that have ended with the Wisdom of Wingnuts, where I give the final word to some anti-choicer so that we can goggle at how out of touch they are. But I want to end this podcast on a positive note. So, here’s Tina Fey at a Center for Reproductive Rights event talking back to those assholes who keep fighting progress.
- final 5 *
Oh yeah, and feminist comedy became a big thing. Okay, I’m done listing our accomplishments, because this podcast may be over, but you guys out there still have a lot more work to do.