Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Sexual Politics and The Republican Agenda for Your Reproductive Freedom

I've been avoiding writing this because it's painful. I'm old and my reproductive capacity is long past done. I have my public option. I have plain old Medicare. No Advantage Plan needed, thank you. But you have a shaky economy, a ruinous mortgage, a job that might be downsized, the fear of losing your crappy health insurance, rising interest rates on your credit cards and the knowledge that you are living beyond your means. What would an unplanned pregnancy do to your life, male or female? I don't think it's dawned on many of you that you're losing your rights day by day. And last Saturday, while many of you were given a glimmer of hope that you might someday be able to chose a public option like Medicare, your reproductive freedom was stripped from you in the Stupak Amendment. Why did it happen? Why are you silent?

I hear people claim that they are pro-life who see no cognitive dissonance in their passionate support for the death penalty. These people sound batshit crazy to me yet they claim to be Christians of one sort or another and always patriarchal and authoritarian. I'm an atheist and I care more about the poor and the homeless, the mentally ill, the hungry and often neglected children living in single parent households with incomes below the poverty line, and desperate mothers with two minimum wage jobs than most of these "Christian" people who want to force you or your sister or girlfriend or wife to carry to term an unplanned or medically disastrous pregnancy.

Republicans claim to be all about small government, yet they want to legislate and restrict your access to reproductive health care other than the birth of a child should you get pregnant. They don't want any health insurance plan to cover women's pelvic exams, or birth control, yet Viagra is all good and a birthright for all men. Oh yes, the penis is that important, but the uterus's only politically important function is housing and feeding a fetus that must be born no matter what. The Christian Right Wing of the Republican party's agenda is to control women's bodies. To think otherwise is naive and uninformed.

My mother was a pioneering second wave feminist. I paid attention to the lessons she was passing on to other women. And one of the most important lessons of that feminist generation was that you have control of your own body and that includes your uterus. Those women insisted that words are important and white men in positions of power, in the guise of religion and knowing better than you, "little lady," what's best for you, work very hard to keep you down. They use words to marginalize and ignore you. My mother's generation of feminists fought hard for the change in abortion laws that Row v Wade brought to all of us. One of the battles they fought was for equal rights in the work place. They fought for an end to sexual harassment and sexual discrimination. And all along the way white men like Rush Limbaugh called them names like Feminazis. And conservatives pushed back at every point until our progress stalled and then began to move backwards. We still only make 79 cents for every dollar a man makes for the same work.

And slowly over time I heard younger women say, "I'm all for equality for women, but I'm not a feminist." That's when you began to give away your power. You allowed feminism to become a dirty word. Well, your power's gone now. Good luck getting it back. But I have a clue for you when looking for your lost human rights. Look at the roster of old white men who make the laws that govern us all. Look at the frat house that calls itself a church. Look at the members of the Family, the C Street old boys club of powerful and rich men who think the rules don't apply to them, but only to you. That's where you'll find your lost freedom. Now do something about it. Organize, mobilize, become activists. Take your power back. Become your own community organizer, network, be proud to be called feminists.

My Abortion in 1968: Pre Roe V Wade

I got pregnant in 1968. I'd left the man I'd been living with in Kauai and returned to Los Angles to stay in Z's apartment. She and her mate were house-sitting and their apartment was empty. They had a shop not far from the apartment in Westwood, called Satpurush where they sold handmade beautiful Indian clothes so popular with the Rockers coming back from their visit to an Ashram and their brush with mysticism and spirituality. All the seamstresses were Indian and everyone who worked at Satpurush was a vegetarian. I became their cook.

You might think cooking vegetarian would be quite simple, but it isn't. I got up early every morning and walked to a market in the neighborhood to buy fresh produce. When I got back to the apartment I perused the cookbooks for a tasty meal to make from my fresh supplies. It took the rest of the morning to make lunch. I got better and better at this important task and liked my job, liked the little apartment a block from Westwood Blvd.

Then the man I'd left in Kuaui found me and wouldn't leave me alone. He said he was in love with me, but he scared me. I'd seen him have episodes of disassociation when I felt he was a danger to me. This isn't a story about him, so I won't elaborate on that, but here he is in my life again and I don't want to have to run away again, so I make a deal with him. His terms, my conditions. We would take one last LSD trip. And if, after that trip, I still wanted him to leave me alone, he would.

I remember bits and pieces of the trip. I didn't fear him, but I knew I wanted him to stay out of my life. I had sex with him as a way to prove that even after having sex with him I still wanted him to go. It was coerced sex but not forced. And when the acid wore off I stated my desire to continue to live alone. I wanted him to move on, find someone else. And for the most part, he did move on.

A few weeks went by and I became ill. I was so fatigued I could barely move. I was constantly nauseated. Z suggested I go to the UCLA Med Center which was walking distance from the apartment. They were very nice at the Med Center. They did a couple of tests and sent me home to await the results. I got a call the following week to come in for my test results.

It was a very nice young man in a white lab coat who I met with that day. He sat almost knee to knee with me in a small exam room. He said, "I have good news, and I have bad news. Which would you prefer first?" "I'll take the good news first." "The good news is that you're pregnant." I felt as if I'd been kicked in the gut.

"You have a positive VDRL." I had no idea what that meant. I just looked at him, waiting for some elaboration. "A VDRL is a broad spectrum test for venereal diseases."

"So, I'm pregnant AND I HAVE A VENEREAL DISEASE?!?!! What's the good news in any of this???"

"We'll do a more specific test so we know how to treat it. In the meantime you need to be on prenatal vitamins. I'll give you a prescription for those now." He started writing on a prescription pad and I stood up. When I stood up my vision narrowed down to tiny points of light off in the distance. It was much like looking through the wrong end of binoculars only more extreme. I had no peripheral vision at all. I saw only the tiny vista off in the distance with no sense of anything on either side of me from here to there. It was all just darkness and then that bit of far off light where meaningless movement happened.

I was taken by the hand and let to the psych department. I had tunnel vision. I was seated beside the desk of an overweight middle aged woman with short hair. She said, "What seems to be the problem?" And I have never heard those words since that I don't get angry. I screamed, "I took acid with a man I'm trying to get rid of, I'm now pregnant and I have a venereal disease and tunnel vision you stupid cow! What seems to be the problem? I'm talking to a person who has no idea of anything that matters. Why the fuck did they put me here? You can't possibly understand anything! You think you have answers? THERE ARE NO ANSWERS! I WILL KILL MYSELF. I WILL NOT GIVE BIRTH TO THIS MONSTER!"

I really did feel as if my body had been invaded by a creature intent on killing me. And they did find a psychiatrist I could talk to. I told him I'd kill myself if I were forced to carry this pregnancy to term. I told him about my childhood sexual abuse and fear that no one could protect a child from either being a victim of sexual abuse or keep a child from growing up to be an abuser. I told him there was no way to find a nice man who wouldn't turn into a monster. And he believed me.

But abortion was not legal in 1968. Only in cases of rape, incest, or the life of the mother, would the State allow a woman to get a safe legal abortion. Three doctors had to examine me and agree that I was serious about my intention to kill myself. I had to find the man who impregnated me to inform him he needed to get tested for venereal disease. Then the medical board of examiners would rule on my case and get back to me. Three wise men would decide my fate.

The impregnator did not have VD. I am one of a miniscule number of women who has a false positive on a VDRL, the broad spectrum test given routinely to women suspected of being pregnant. I was tested more specifically and tested clean. However none of this made the slightest difference to me. I felt like I had an invader growing inside of me and the violent morning sickness only further confirmed my feelings. I hated myself and the little monster growing inside of me.

If the three wise men did not make their decision before the end of my first trimester I would be forced to carry to term or kill myself. I would not carry anything inside my body to term. I was making plans to kill myself. Let me count the ways, there are so many possibilities.

In the end, at the last possible moment, they let me have my legal abortion. It took place in the University Hospital. I was admitted the day before the procedure. My roommate was a woman in her forties who was having a biopsy of a tumor on her clitoris. We spent a lot of time talking. I was reading J. Krishnamurti's Commentaries on Living. She was reading Rachel Carson's Silent Spring. We had a lot to talk about.

The next day she and I went to our respective surgeries: she early in the morning on the second day, I later in the afternoon. We both came out of our anesthesia sobbing. I with relief, she with fear as she waited for the biopsy results. By the time I was getting ready to leave the hospital the next day she got her results. No cancer. And we both sobbed again our relief. We hugged each other, and then I left. I've never forgotten her. Women understand these things. Men it seems, do not.

So now we have the Stupak Amendment. And now we are back where we were pre Roe V Wade. It is men who want this kind of control over women's bodies, women's choices. It is men who want to prohibit women the freedom men enjoy. We can't get our birth-control pills covered by insurance, but they get their viagra covered. It's very important to men that they can have a hard penis so they can impregnate if they want. But our ability to prevent pregnancy, or terminate pregnancy is an abomination in the eyes of the Lord and a challenge to male authority and domination. So according to these Christian men, these powerful law making men, women should not have reproductive freedom of choice, the choice to prevent pregnancy or the choice to abort an unintended pregnancy should one occur. I'm starting to hate most men again.