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Posts Tagged ‘Planned Parenthood’

With the election looming, we decided to write this one together. Call it our endorsement. Because we’re women! Two generations of them. And between the two of us, we’ve held all kinds of roles: daughter, sister, wife, mother, employee, self-employee, employer of others, homeowner. We are upstanding members of society, participate in the economy, and, in fact, we were both raised Catholic (more on that one later). Our votes are highly coveted, and there is smoke pouring out of our–between the two of us–four ears. Because, spoiler alert: we loathe just about everything the Romney-Ryan ticket stands for. So do most of the women–all of whom are apparently assumed to be fair game for courting as well–we know.

What we loathe even more is the idea that we can be categorized or stereotyped–especially when the box into which we have been placed is dead wrong. Because we are women who fit certain demos, we’re supposed to buy the slate of lunacy they’re selling. Nonsense. (Also, we’re feminists who love fashion, baseball, cooking, and reading. What box do we fit into now?) And that the Republican ticket has made the assumption that women will buy their nonsense is actually laughable, and quite probably a waste of their efforts. (Shhh. Don’t tell ‘em.) Why?

First, let’s do some math. Supposedly, we women–you know, the large monolithic group of us–are most concerned about the economy. If that’s true, and given the fact that most women these days, married or not, are also working, doesn’t it make sense that the vast majority of us would want equal pay for equal work–without being considered some crazy-ass man-hater for pointing out the insanity of paying women 23 percent less than men for the same job?

And then there’s the right’s anti-life positions. There. We’ve said it. For all their talk about being pro-life when it comes to a woman’s right to choose, elsewhere on the dial, on everything from social programs to environmental protections, the ticket is decidedly against it. But don’t take our word for it. Read what Thomas Friedman had to say this weekend:

In my world, you don’t get to call yourself “pro-life” and be against common-sense gun control — like banning public access to the kind of semiautomatic assault rifle, designed for warfare, that was used recently in a Colorado theater. You don’t get to call yourself “pro-life” and want to shut down the Environmental Protection Agency, which ensures clean air and clean water, prevents childhood asthma, preserves biodiversity and combats climate change that could disrupt every life on the planet. You don’t get to call yourself “pro-life” and oppose programs like Head Start that provide basic education, health and nutrition for the most disadvantaged children. You can call yourself a “pro-conception-to-birth, indifferent-to-life conservative.” I will never refer to someone who pickets Planned Parenthood but lobbies against common-sense gun laws as “pro-life.”

“Pro-life” can mean only one thing: “respect for the sanctity of life.” And there is no way that respect for the sanctity of life can mean we are obligated to protect every fertilized egg in a woman’s body, no matter how that egg got fertilized, but we are not obligated to protect every living person from being shot with a concealed automatic weapon. I have no respect for someone who relies on voodoo science to declare that a woman’s body can distinguish a “legitimate” rape, but then declares — when 99 percent of all climate scientists conclude that climate change poses a danger to the sanctity of all life on the planet — that global warming is just a hoax.

The term “pro-life” should be a shorthand for respect for the sanctity of life. But I will not let that label apply to people for whom sanctity for life begins at conception and ends at birth. What about the rest of life? Respect for the sanctity of life, if you believe that it begins at conception, cannot end at birth. That radical narrowing of our concern for the sanctity of life is leading to terrible distortions in our society.

Even Connie Britton and Sarah Aubrey, the stars of the show Friday Night Lights, wish Mitt would quit it. His use of the show’s slogan “Clear Eyes, Full Hearts,” inspired them to pen a take-back-the-cause. Check it:

And “Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can’t Lose” wasn’t just about winning games. Rather, it was a rallying cry of hope and optimism in a community where everyone had a fair shot — no matter their background, no matter their parents, no matter their gender. And no matter their politics.

So it has been surprising that the phrase has been usurped and co-opted by Mitt Romney and his campaign for their gain. And it got us thinking: What would the women of Dillon think about this?

Dillon is a classic American town filled with hard-working, middle-class Americans, who just want to lead productive, healthy lives. And the women we represented on the show — the women we are in real life — are like the millions of women across the nation. Women who want to make our own health care decisions. Women who want to earn equal pay for the work we do. Women who want affordable health care.

And finally, before we start to sputter (too late?), we take more than a little bit of offense about the way the right wing has taken religion in general, and Catholicism in particular, away from the rest of us. (Dorothy Kelley–mother-in-law to Barbara and grandma to Shannon–was a devout Catholic: what that meant to her was social service, volunteering, and treating others like she might hope to be treated. And a penchant for Birkenstocks.) Especially infuriating is the way that Catholicism in particular (again, we both wore Catholic plaid for a sizable chunk of years) has been distorted to be predominantly about sex. As in: gay or straight, don’t have it. Unless, of course, you’re out to make a baby. (If that’s the purpose of marriage and/or sex, how come it’s okay for senior citizens to marry? And, we’re sorry, but but did Jesus ever say, “Thou shalt not have sex”?)

That’s their version of morality. Period, end. The whole Do unto others thing? Meh. Ourselves, like many of us women, we define morality in a broader–ack, dare we say more Christian?–sense, and that has to do with a sense of social justice. For people, and for the earth. (And for the people who find themselves affected and in need of help in the face of natural disasters.)

Us? We’ll be taking that ideal to the voting booth with us, casting votes that are in our interest, and–do unto others!–the interests of others, as well.

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I’m starting to wonder if this presidential election might hinge on apron strings.

In the wake of the last debate, we’ve all been caught up in binders and trapper-keepers and funny Facebook memes – along with some hijinks on Amazon, where a bunch of smartypants hijacked several binder pages.  I think we’re missing the point.

According to the New York Times, both Obama and Romney are in hot pursuit of the women’s vote.  Which is to say, they seem to think that Double Xers may determine the next president of the United States:

 … And on the campaign trail and on the air, the candidates and their allies argued intensely all day over who would do more to help women. At the same time, the topic of whether the heated encounter Tuesday night had alienated the very female voters they were seeking to connect with became fodder for cable TV discussions.

The level of intensity left little doubt that the election was coming down not only to a state-by-state fight for territory, but also to one for the allegiance of vital demographic groups, chief among them undecided women.

Whew.  Whether the chattering class is right or wrong, it appears we have a lot more power than we’ve had in quite the while.  Let’s think this through.

The bedrock issue in the debate over the women’s vote has had to do with reproductive rights:  abortion and contraception.  Key issues.  Agreed.  Especially because the next president will more than likely be appointing one, or maybe two, justices to the Supreme Court, who may hold the future of Roe V. Wade in their hands.

And then there’s the funding of Planned Parenthood, which not only provides family planning services, but also provides women without health insurance life-saving care for breast cancer, among other medical issues.  My friend was one of them.

But the real issue as I see it is the vision of women’s role in the workplace and the home.  I found one of Gov. Romney’s responses in the debate to be key.  The question had to do with inequalities in the workplace, including the pay gap — Go here for a state-by-state chart of gender pay inequity — which the Governor sidestepped with the unfortunate comment about binders.  What I found revealing, not to mention troubling, was the end of his response, which related to the woman he had hired as chief of staff while governor of Massachusetts:

 Now, one of the reasons I was able to get so many good women to be part of that team was because of our recruiting effort, but number two, because I recognized that if you’re going to have women in the workforce, that sometimes they need to be more flexible. My chief of staff, for instance, had two kids that were still in school. She said, I can’t be here until 7:00 or 8:00 at night. I need to be able to get home at 5:00 so I can be there for — making dinner for my kids and being with them when they get home from school. So we said, fine, let’s have a flexible schedule so you can have hours that work for you.

On the surface: flexible schedule.  Good.  One of the issues we’ve been writing about is the challenge faced by working women, who put in the same hours as their male counterparts, and then have to dig into the second shift when they get home.  But look again at the governor’s answer, then ask yourself this:  Where was the chief of staff’s husband and/or kids’ daddy at 5:00?

That’s it, right?

Why is it that in 2012 some folks still assume that household and childcare duties are women’s work?  And why, as one of the sources in our book fumed, do we plant work life balance smack in the middle of the “women’s issues” silo?  Shouldn’t this be a human issue?  A family issue?

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I cook dinner most nights, no matter what time I get home from work.  And I’m damn good at it.  No, scratch that.  I’m really good at it:  I inherited my culinary mojo from a long line of incredible Italian cooks (Ask me about my aunts’ gnocchi or cannoli sometime, or my mother’s ability to throw together anything fantastic without a recipe).  Plus, I like to eat good food.  But that’s my choice.  Proscribed gender roles have nothing to do with it.

The issue here, as the presidential election heads down the home stretch, has to do with perception as well as policy.  And I suspect that the nuances of the latter are often driven by the former.  And in this case, the perception in question is gender roles in the home as well as the workplace.

Cue the aprons.

The most recent time-use survey from the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that women still own the second shift. Most telling stats?

On an average day, 19 percent of men did housework–such as cleaning or doing laundry–compared with 48 percent of women. Forty percent of men did food preparation or cleanup, compared with 66 percent of women.

All of which, presumably, is on top of a 52 hour work week.

Now, can a president do anything to change all that?  Probably not.  But given that I have been given a lot of power in this election, my vote goes to the guy who doesn’t assume my place is in an apron.

Speaking of which, my husband is wearing one right now.  I’ve got one eye on the Giants game as I write this.  He’s firing up the ‘que and throwing together a salad.

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With the recent rise of Republican Rick Santorum in the Iowa caucuses, we’re sure to hear a couple of words again and again as the right-wing’s quest to rebuild America continues:

Family. Values.

I can’t help but cringe every time I hear that catchphrase.  Not because I dislike families – I have a terrific one of my own, thank you very much – but because I have to wonder WHOSE families those wingnuts are talking about.  Why did they get to appropriate the phrase?

What I also wonder is this: Why is the word “family” code for a lot of social conservative dogma that is not only irrelevant to what raising a real family is all about, but more importantly, leaves women – who do the bulk of that raising – out in the cold?

In the interests of real family values, I vote that we reclaim the term for ourselves.

But back to Santorum, whose message apparently resonated so well in Iowa:  Let’s start with reproductive rights, wherein Mr. Santorum goes way beyond the pro-life position by suggesting that contraception itself is a dangerous practice — whether you’re married or, God forbid, single.  As reported on ThinkProgress, Santorum told CaffeinatedThoughts editor Shane Vander Hart,“[contraception] is not okay. It’s a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.”  How things are supposed to be, he said, is for the purpose of procreation.  Here’s the video.

An extreme position?  Not completely.  You may recall that many conservatives in Congress recently voted to defund Planned Parenthood even though abortions only make up 10 percent of the services it provides to women without other means of health care, and that abortion services receive no federal funding.  And here’s the irony:  As the Guttmacher Institute points out:

Publicly funded family planning services help women to avoid pregnancies they do not want and to plan pregnancies they do. In 2006, these services helped women avoid 1.94 million unintended pregnancies, which would likely have resulted in about 860,000 unintended births and 810,000 abortions

Access to contraception is also an issue of women’s health. Here in the U.S., the Institute of Medicine recently came out with guidelines that urge health insurance under President Obama’s health care overhaul to include FDA approved contraception as preventative care.  Why? Proper spacing of pregnancies can prevent a host of serious health risks for both mother and child.

And while we’re at it, here’s another case in point: the Affordable Care Act, which Santorum and the rest of those family values folks want to repeal. Let’s review. Who suffered most under our health care system of old? Women. And when women suffer, it’s often the kids who pay the price. So much for those family values.  Lest you forget how our old health care system affected women: pregnancy was a pre-existing condition.  Women, especially when they have kids, are statistically more likely to work part time jobs that do not provide health benefits — which is fine so long as they can depend on a well-employed husband for job-related health insurance.  But what if he loses his job?  Or what happens to the kids if mom happens to be single?  (Oh, that’s right.  Family values don’t apply to single mothers.)

There’s even something more basic when it comes to so-called family values: putting food on the table, and for the majority of the 99 percenters, this has become an ever-more difficult proposition. While it would be ever so Norman Rockwell for every family to have a mom (or, hello, a dad) at home with the kids, where in this economy is that even feasible (that is, if mom and dad are lucky enough to have jobs)?  As HuffPost blogger Dan Bimrose notes over there on the politics page:

A Rick Santorum candidacy would be a family values candidacy. The family unit is extremely important to working class America. It is to these working class voters he was addressing and referring to when he said:

“They share our values about faith and family. They understand that when the family breaks down, the economy struggles. They understand when families aren’t there to instill values into their children and into their neighbors as Little League coaches, as good neighbors, of fathers and mothers being part of a community, that the neighborhood is not safe and they are not free…”

The implication is that the Democrats are responsible for broken families. If the breaking up of American families is truly the cause of our economic failures, which is an incredibly weak argument, he may want to point his finger at Republicans like himself.

What he fails to mention is that the reason that the parents are not there to instill values into their children and coach their baseball teams is because those mothers and fathers are working their ass off. While Republican governors such as the likely former candidate for President Rick Perry seek praise for their ability to create minimum wage jobs, the people working those jobs realize they simply do not pay the bills. They need two of these jobs and their wives need one and none of them provide adequate health care.

And how about the fact that women still make 77 cents to a man’s buck? Or the fact that for many women — the ones working to help put that food on the table — affordable child care is nothing but a pipe dream because as a society, we’ve never made it a priority? And what happens to the kids when neither mom nor dad can find a job, or if they do find one, it only pays minimum wage?  And yet: the same folks who hold up the sanctity of the family are often the ones who vote to dismantle social welfare programs like Medicaid or food stamps.  Or vote against extending unemployment benefits.

The so-called family values folks would also have us believe that gay marriage threatens not only the social fabric of our nation, but our own marriages as well. Really? Exactly how does that work?

The list goes on, mainly arguments of privilege. But then, if you’ve ever been part of a family, you probably get it.  Maybe prayer in school, opposition to gay marriage, and blowing up the safety net are the kinds of values that made your family strong.  But I seriously doubt it.  If the health of the American family is what we’re after, the values that matter most are more along the lines of equal opportunity, access to good health care and quality education, and above all, an abiding sense of compassion.

On the other hand, I do agree with Santorum et al. on one thing.  The American family is indeed under attack.  The question is: by whom?

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At long last: your birth control pills will finally be covered by insurance! The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has announced sweeping new guidelines for women’s health care to take effect Aug. 1, 2012. Among other things, these new guidelines will classify birth control pills as preventative medicine, meaning they’ll be covered without co-pay or deductible. “Victory!” the email from Planned Parenthood cried. Huge news, hugely important — and it has us thinking about something else. Something that might surprise you.

With the co-pays soon to be off the table, we got to wondering about the real cost of birth control.

It’s tricky territory, touched upon in a recent issue of New York Magazine, which screamed from the cover: Fifty years ago, the pill ushered in a new era of sexual freedom. It might have created a fertility crisis as well. And again in the form of a personal essay by Elaine Gale, called Breaking up with feminism: A heartbreaking loss led to a new and deeper relationship–with the Feminine.

At issue: the not-so pleasant side effect of the power to impose a little control over our reproductive lives: that while we indeed have incredible control to suppress our fertility (while still expressing our sexuality) while we establish ourselves professionally, or financially, or just allow ourselves to get the sowing-of-the-wild-oats out of our systems, well, we don’t have control over when our reproductive systems time out.

Just typing that out loud feels like we’re traitors to the cause. Because, you know, the Pill is a good thing, as we’ve mentioned before. As Vanessa Grigoriadis writes in the NY Mag piece,

…the Pill, after all, is so much more than just a pill. It’s magic, a trick of science that managed in one fell swoop to wipe away centuries of female oppression, overly exhausting baby-making, and just marrying the wrong guy way too early.

True, dat. Quoting Kelli Conlin, president of the National Institute for Reproductive Health, Grigoriadis goes on:

“Today, we operate on a simple premise–that every little girl should be able to grow up to be anything she wants, and she can only do so if she has the ability to chart her own reproductive destiny.”

…These days, women’s twenties are as free and fabulous as they can be, a time of boundless freedom and experimentation, of easily trying on and discarding identities, careers, partners.

And, you know, why shouldn’t we take equal part in that experimentation–a time that’s become so fundamental to the American experience, science types are trying to get it distinguished as an entirely new life stage? The Pill gave women power and freedom and equality — and what could possibly be more empowering than that? These very things were the great promises of feminism.

Which brings us to Gale’s story:

I loved all the things Feminism whispered to me at night when I couldn’t sleep:

“You deserve the world on your own terms.”

“I will take care of you and make sure that things are fair.”

“You can have it all!”

…Meanwhile, my life had a repeating narrative: professional success, romantic mess. There was Mr. Right Now, Mr. Adorable Slacker, Mr. Too Bland, Mr. Has Potential, Mr. Too Old For Me, and then Mr. Artistic But Unstable.

I always thought that I had plenty of time to get married and crank out some children. Women can do anything they want when they want, right? That’s what feminism was always whispering in my ear.

Then, at age 36, she married her husband. She writes:

We decided that we wanted to have a child, although at the time, I partly saw it as another box to check off. After the miscarriage, feminism and I had our falling out.

What’s feminism got to do with it? Here’s Gale’s take:

Feminism was always going on and on about the importance of having choices. But I found that my biological choice to have a child was snatched away from me while I was being liberated.

I had been told that I could have my career first and have children second. That it wasn’t either/or. I thought that it was going to be better for us than it was for our mothers. But my mom ended up with a wonderful career as a university professor and had three children.

Confused, I rued the day I fell under feminism’s sway. How could I have been so naive? How could I have put off having children so late that I have possibly missed the opportunity to have children at all?

Tough stuff. And props to Gale for that kind of blunt honesty. And, in terms of delaying pregnancy, she is hardly alone.

The CDC, which surveyed data between 2007 and 2009, found that the birth rate for women over 40 in the United States rose steadily in those two years. In other age groups, it fell by 4 percent. Researchers claim that it is the sharpest decline in three decades.

…women aged between 40 and 44 experienced a 6 percent increase in births. Meanwhile, women aged 20-24 (“peak childbearing years”) apparently decided to put babies on hold, as birth rate in that age range plummeted 9 percent.

One analysis attributes this phenomenon to fertility medicine. Makes sense. The study itself draws a link to the economy. That makes sense, too. And, when looking at such steep changes over such a short period of time, those things are likely no small part of the story.

But. We think there are other factors at play here, too, part of a larger trend. The same kind of things that we believe to be behind the Extended Adolescence phenomenon, the same kind of things that we believe to be behind the kind of commitmentphobia New York Magazine and Lori Gottlieb have written about.

Namely, that having a whole lot of options (or being told you have a whole lot of options) breeds a certain reluctance to commit. And what could possibly be more of a commitment than a baby? Real estate? Marriage? A job? A move? Bangs? Please. With the possible exception of a tattoo (although I hear they’re doing impressive things with tattoo removal technology these days), a baby represents the ultimate in commitment. Women today have been sent out to conquer the world. We’ve been told we can do anything, that we can have it all! And that we are so very, very luckyto be able to do anything, to have it all! And, given those messages, is it any wonder we’re a little gun-shy when it comes to commitment? Is it any wonder we want to get our fill of the world and it’s opportunities before we sign on to settle down?

But it’s more than that. A baby represents a far greater lifestyle change for a woman than for a man: even if the woman and the man are parents to the same child. In all likelihood, it’ll be mom who’ll take a time-out from the working world (and she’ll probably–and by “probably” I essentially mean “most definitely”–get dinged for it)–but most families today can’t afford to have one-half of the breadwinners at home forever. Especially with a bonus mouth to feed, a mouth which may one day need braces, a mouth in a head that will one day require a college education… So it makes a lot of sense that a woman might want to wait until she gets a little more established, professionally, before she takes herself out of the game, even if its only temporarily. Because once she jumps back in, she’ll find she’ll be paying a price.

Back to Grigoriadis:

The fact is that the Pill, while giving women control of their bodies for the first time in history, allowed them to forget about the biological realities of being female until it was, in some cases, too late… Inadvertently, indirectly, infertility has become the Pill’s primary side effect.

And ironically, this most basic of women’s issues is one that traditional feminism has a very hard time processing–the notion that this freedom might have a cost is thought to be so dangerous it shouldn’t be mentioned.

And that, we tend to think, is the real trouble here. Not the cost itself–but the reluctance to admit to it. It seems to me that we’re shying away from what may be the biggest challenge for women today: admitting that freedom might–no, does–come with a cost. In the reproductive realm, yes, clearly — but in the larger sense too: We’re missing the rather nasty message that every choice entails a trade-off. That we can’t have it all.

You read that right, sister. You can’t. I can’t. No one can. It’s an ugly message, so is it any surprise so few of us want to go there?

So often, when we talk about “choice,” we focus on all the options, and the things that we choose. But, by its very definition, making a choice entails not choosing something else. (It’s no coincidence that the word “decide”, the very word we use for making up our minds, ends in -cide — which means to kill.) We just like to leave that part out; we don’t talk about it.

But we think we should talk about that. Not least because there’s something about talking about stuff that makes even the suckiest of stuff suck a little bit less. Seems like Grigoriadis might agree:

Sexual freedom is a fantastic thing, worth paying a lot for. But it’s not anti-feminist to want to be clearer about exactly what is being paid. Anger, regret, repeated miscarriages, the financial strain of assisted reproductive technologies, and the inevitable damage to careers and relationships in one’s thirties and forties that all this involve deserve to be weighed and discussed. The next stage in feminism, in fact, may be to come to terms, without guilt trips or defensiveness, with issues like this.

The reluctance to discuss the very real consequences of putting off getting pregnant because we’re afraid doing so would somehow discount the very important freedom that comes with being able to put off getting pregnant does us a disservice. Is that freedom of any less value because it comes with trade-offs? When we talk of choices only in terms of what we choose–and never with a nod to our feelings over what we consequently choose to leave behind… well, how empowering is that, really? (And when we talk of “having it all” as though all “all” entails is a big bowl of cherries, how are we to feel when we realize that, in aiming to have it all, what we’ve really wound up with is all of the work?)

They’re tough questions, and they require tough honesty. Isn’t there some kind of pill for that?

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Surely you have heard that the Republican-controlled House of Representatives has voted to reinstate the Global Gag Rule that prevents any family planning agencies that provide information about abortion service from receiving any U.S. foreign aid.

Who gets hurt?  Women, children and anyone who believes the conversation about women’s issues needs to move forward.

But once again, that conversation has been hijacked by the right-wing strategy to frame deeper issues related to women and families in terms of a women’s right to choose.  For a refresher, let’s look at the vote by Michele Bachmann and others on the right to defund Planned Parenthood — even though abortions only make up 10 percent of the services it provides to women without other means of health care, and that abortion services receive no federal funding.  As we wrote before:

I know of one woman, in fact, whose life may have been saved by Planned Parenthood. She discovered a lump in her breast shortly after losing her work-related health insurance. Where did she turn for a mammogram? Yep, Planned Parenthood, which ultimately shepherded her through the scary process of not only the diagnostics, but ultimately surgery, chemo and radiation.

The Global Gag Rule has been the ball in a decades-long — and ugly — game of political ping-pong since Ronald Reagan was in office.  Here’s a little bit of the backstory, courtesy of the Center for American Progress:

The global gag rule—first instated by President Ronald Reagan in 1984, rescinded by President Bill Clinton in 1993, re-imposed by President George W. Bush in 2001, and rescinded again by President Barack Obama in 2009—prevents U.S. family planning assistance from going to organizations that perform or provide information about or referrals to legal abortion services. What’s more, organizations that receive funds cannot use their own money to provide abortion-related information or services, or advocate for liberalized abortion laws. The rule imposes no similar restrictions on advocacy against such laws. When in force, the global gag rule comes on top of the Helms amendment, the 1973 law that prohibits direct U.S. funding of abortions overseas.

Under the global gag rule, these organizations face a choice: either participate in the American right’s global campaign to restrict women’s rights and access to reproductive health care or lose critical U.S. funding.

That funding is crucial for agencies that cover a number of issues related to healthy women and children.  Like clean water.  Sanitation. The current rule, which primarily affects women in developing nations, is even more draconian than George W. Bush’s version, which at least made an exemption for HIV/AIDS education.  This new iteration of the rule does not.  But there’s more.  What also gets cut out of the equation when these agencies are defunded is access to contraception.  Back to the Center for American Progress:

And there is clear evidence that access to family planning improves women’s health and overall well-being. Maternal mortality rates see significant reductions when women can control the timing and spacing of their pregnancies. Access to family planning can help women avoid the pregnancy-related complications some 15 million women confront every year. And when women have the resources to control their fertility, they can take advantage of educational and economic opportunities that benefit not only women but their families and communities as well.

Ironically, the Guttmacher Institute has found that when abortion becomes illegal, abortions don’t decrease — they just become dangerous.  Life-threatening, actually. And what better way to avoid abortions than to provide contraceptive services.  No brainer, right? Go figure. (In fact, here in the U.S., the Institute of Medicine recently came out with guidelines that urge health insurance under the Affordable Care Act to include FDA approved contraception as preventative care.  Why? Proper spacing of pregnancies can prevent a host of serious health risks for both mother and child.)

But what makes us even more angry is the way the debate on abortion sucks the energy out of the fight for a better world for women and children — here and abroad.  Suddenly, regardless of where we stand on a women’s right to choose, we’re in a defensive position.

And that’s important because it means they control the conversation. Our attention spans are shorter, we live in a soundbyte society, and so there’s no room for nuanced discussion. Point, counterpoint.  And when we’re on the defensive, there’s no space to speak to other issues, let alone attempt to reframe the whole conversation.

We’re gagged, in more ways than one.

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It’s International Women’s Day, and if you haven’t heard of it, you’re not alone.

By way of celebration, I’m compelled to take stock. The good, the bad, the ugly.

Ugly’s first: According to a new report issued by the White House entitled “Women in America: Indicators of Social and Economic Well-Being,” women of all levels of education earn, on average, 75 percent what their male counterparts do. The study–incidentally… or not so incidentally, the first of its kind since 1963–also found that women are more likely to be living in poverty than men.

Uglier still may be HR 1, the House of Representatives’ proposed budget resolution that would drastically cut domestic and international family planning programs, eliminate funding for comprehensive sex education, and completely defund Planned Parenthood. (Tell your senator to vote that sucker down here.) In a word: shameful.

And the ugliest of them all (sorry, but it can no longer be ignored): Charlie Sheen, national spectacle. The man is a wife beater who has terrorized women for years. Yes, the trainwreck that is he has had its entertaining moments, but it’s time to look away. Fo serio.

Of course, compared to places where women have no right to education, little access to health care, a lack of economic opportunity, or where they are forced into early marriage or to endure sexual violence, we’re looking pretty good. But these issues are our issues. Violence begets violence, and when you don’t value half of the population, violence is pretty much inevitable.

Which brings me to the good: the staggeringly important work that Hillary Clinton‘s doing–doing not because it’s glamorous, but because it’s important–detailed in a fabulous piece on The Daily Beast. In “Hillary Clinton’s War for Women’s Rights,” writer Gayle Tzemach Lemmon digs deep–and reminds us that, perhaps like many of us, Clinton works hard: she’s already out-traveled every one of her predecessors, having banked 465,000 miles and 79 countries so far, and the cause she champions–empowering women–is slowly gaining steam.

Children now study the young readers’ edition of Three Cups of Tea as part of their classroom curriculum, while an increasing number of college-age students are committing time to NGOs involved with women’s issues. And though Washington is proving slower to embrace Clinton’s cause, her own popularity is soaring: she is the second-most-admired woman in America (after Oprah Winfrey), according to a Newsweek poll of women in late February. Meanwhile, the State Department’s 2012 fiscal-year request includes $1.2 billion in programs specifically targeting women, $832 million of which will go toward global health initiatives. Tellingly, comparisons with past years can’t be made, since the department only started tracking women-focused dollars in 2010.

Those are the sorts of things I feel I should be writing about. (Or at least pointing you towards something like this, Newsweek & The Daily Beast’s list of 100 Women Who Changed the World.) But, you know, today I’m inclined to just Thank Goddess for my ladies, who make my life better every way and every day. For listening. And talking. For rescuing me when my heart was broken, when my car was broken down, when I couldn’t keep food down. (It was ugly. On a Mexican vacay. You know who you are–and I am forever in your debt.) For making me laugh, and letting me cry. And it occurs to me that if the women in my life make my life that much better, what might all of us do for the world?


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Ladies, we need them.  Friends of the double-X variety, that is.  Three cases in point.

Case No. 1 brings us back to Lara Logan, the foreign correspondent who was brutally attacked and raped in Egypt, and then tsk-tsked by many observers for, you know, being there in the the first place to do her job.  Writing for both ProPublica and the New York Times, foreign correspondent Kim Barker tells us precisely why we need women in jobs like hers — and why they need to speak out.  She writes of a time when she herself was groped by several men while covering a story on the Chief Justice in Pakistan:

At the time, in June 2007, I saw this as just one of the realities of covering the news in Pakistan. I didn’t complain to my bosses. To do so would only make me seem weak. Instead, I made a joke out of it and turned the experience into a positive one: See, being a woman helped me gain access to the chief justice.

And really, I was lucky. A few gropes, a misplaced hand, an unwanted advance — those are easily dismissed. I knew other female correspondents who weren’t so lucky, those who were molested in their hotel rooms, or partly stripped by mobs. But I can’t ever remember sitting down with my female peers and talking about what had happened, except to make dark jokes, because such stories would make us seem different from the male correspondents, more vulnerable. I would never tell my bosses for fear that they might keep me at home the next time something major happened.

You caught that, right?  To complain means to be sent home.  As in:  See, girls?  This job, it’s not for you.  Barker continues:

I was hardly alone in keeping quiet. The Committee to Protect Journalists may be able to say that 44 journalists from around the world were killed last year because of their work, but the group doesn’t keep data on sexual assault and rape. Most journalists just don’t report it.

The CBS correspondent Lara Logan has broken that code of silence. She has covered some of the most dangerous stories in the world, and done a lot of brave things in her career. But her decision to go public earlier this week with her attack by a mob in Tahrir Square in Cairo was by far the bravest.

And then there’s the case of 17 former and active duty military women who have filed a class-action suit against the defense department for, according to the Washington Post:

…alleging that the military had failed to stop rapes, investigate reported crimes or prosecute perpetrators. Despite ample evidence of the problem, the suit alleges, Gates and Rumsfeld “ran institutions in which perpetrators were promoted . . . and Plaintiffs and other victims were openly subjected to retaliation.” While the suit is new, the problem of sexual assault of service members by other service members has long been known to the military leadership.

But nonetheless, kept quiet.  When women soldiers bring such stuff to light, it just verifies the outdated notion that they shouldn’t be there in the first place.

And finally, there’s the (appropriate) firestorm over last week’s House vote to deny federal funding to Planned Parenthood because they provide (whisper) abortions.  No matter that Planed Parenthood also provides a number of other health services, including contraception, for poor women who have no other access to health care.  (And no matter that while funding was denied to Planned Parenthood, funding was approved for Pentagon sponsoring of NASCAR) It took California Congresswoman Jackie Speier to stand up and courageously talk about her own “procedure” — something she says she did not take cavalierly nor did she welcome — to make the debate real.  As Amy Davidson writes on a New Yorker blog:

Is there a way to talk about the health of women and children that is about women and children’s health, and not about politics? Part of the issue is abortion, of course, as when the House voted today to cut off federal funding for Planned Parenthood, even for other services. (It still has to pass the Senate.) In the debate over that measure, right after Chris Smith, of New Jersey, made a graphic anti-choice speech, Jackie Speier, a California congresswoman, had her turn: “You know, I had really planned to speak about something else, but the gentleman from New Jersey has just put my stomach in knots.” She said that she had had an abortion, years ago, because of complications in a pregnancy:

I’m one of those women he spoke about just now…. That procedure that you talked about was a procedure I endured. I lost a baby. But for you to stand on this floor and to suggest, as you have, that somehow this is a procedure that is either welcomed or done cavalierly or done without any thought is preposterous.

That was brave of her. That is also why it would be helpful to have more women in Congress: to make these discussions normal.

Our point exactly.  Whatever our jobs, we need to be part of the conversation in order to normalize it.  And to do that, we not only have to stick around — but like our sister sufragetttes, we need to multiply.

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The pill. So singularly significant, that’s all the ID it needs. And soon, May 9 to be exact, it will celebrate its 50th birthday. And while how much of the change those 50 years have seen can be attributed to The Pill is debatable, it’d be pretty damn hard to deny the effect that little plastic case has had on the lives of countless women. In the sexual realm, yes–although, as you’ll find in the current slew of stories on this very subject, many believe the link between the Pill’s arrival on the scene and the sexual revolution to be (wildly) overrated–but more so (wait for it…), in terms of the choices over one’s life that control over one’s body opened up. As Nancy Gibbs writes in Time magazine’s current cover story, The Pill at 50: Sex, Freedom, and Paradox:

when contraception was put under a woman’s control, it put many other things under her control as well…

By the 1970s the true impact of the Pill could begin to be measured, and it was not on the sexual behavior of American women; it was on how they envisioned their lives, their choices, and their obligations. In 1970 the median age at which college graduates married was about 23; by 1975, as use of the Pill among single women became more common, that age had jumped 2.5 years. The fashion for large families went the way of the girdle. In 1963, 80% of non-Catholic college women said they wanted three or more children; that plunged to 29% by 1973. More women were able to imagine a life that included both a family and a job, which changed their childbearing calculations.

As I myself put it some time ago:

Finally, women could screw with abandon! Or at least with a greatly reduced chance of a lifelong reminder of a night of screwing with abandon. No longer would our dreams have to take a backseat to an accidental pregnancy. With the choice of when–and if–we’d become mothers in our own control, all kinds of other choices–like hey, what do I want to do with this life of mine??–materialized.

All was not immediately groovy, of course. Many doctors–even Planned Parenthood–would not prescribe the Pill to women unless they were married. The Catholic Church forbade its use. And then there was the stigma–that, though “nice girls” might get carried away in a moment, they certainly don’t plan for such moments. And if they did, well, it’s a slippery slope to becoming the town strumpet–or so suggested Peggy’s smoking gyno, in this Mad Men clip, who offered the sage advice that “even in our modern times, easy women don’t find husbands”:

That’s fiction, of course… but yesterday’s On Point offered the real-life counterpart. The show counted Gibbs and Elisa Ross, ob/gyn and staff physician in the Women’s Health Institute of the Cleveland Clinic, as guests, but the standouts were the callers, who recalled their own experiences, marked by the absence of choices when it came to their reproductive systems–and, subsequently, their lives. Two of the callers were in college and engaged or just graduated and newlywed when the Pill was approved. One, Catholic, said she sobbed when the Catholic Church came out against its use: she had a toddler and a new baby–just 14 months apart–and was justifiably freaked out that, before she knew it, she’d have an entire litter to raise. The other, just prior to her wedding, which was to take place in between she and her husband-to-be’s senior years of college, was denied the Pill by her Catholic doctor. (Which should give us an additional something or two to think about, in light of today’s “conscience clauses,” which allow hospital workers and pharmacists to refuse to fill prescriptions, based on their own beliefs.) She got pregnant on their honeymoon. She loves her children, of course, but she said she wonders what kind of path her life would have taken, had things been different. But the best call was from a man, a physician, who said there was one woman in his class at med school. In 1990, he returned to that school, as Dean, to a class of med students that was nearly 50% female. And he thought it was wonderful: “Women are born healers,” he said. “Men have to be taught.”

Indeed, left without the excuse that hiring women–or even accepting them into school–would be a waste, as they might get pregnant and drop out or quit at any time, women’s numbers both in the workplace and in college exploded. Which is, of course, good stuff. The Pill, low unemployment (Gibbs quotes federal manpower expert Howard Stambler saying, of 1966’s 3.8% unemployment rate, “There are almost no men left” to hire), the strengthening women’s movement, Title IX, they all conspired to bring women into the fold. And, historically speaking, quickstyle. But, pithy as ever, Gloria Steinem in 1962 offered an insightful warning:

‘The real danger of the contraceptive revolution may be the acceleration of woman’s role change without any corresponding change of man’s attitude toward her role.’

And that, dear reader, is the rub–and not just in terms of man’s attitude. But in terms of our own aptitude to deal with all the incredible choices we have before us–and in society’s aptitude to support the woman who wants both, to be a mother to her children and the mistress of her own destiny.

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