Medical science supports women’s access to sexual health services, education, counseling and contraception use, and now with its recent ruling on the Institute of Medicine report, the Obama Administration indicated its support for medical science and women’s sexual sovereignty even as religious conservatives voice strong opposition.
What should have been a no-brainer summer breeze is a political tempest. Mandatory vaginal ultrasounds, blasted as state-sanctioned ‘rape’ by women’s groups, and fetal-personhood bills have been making the state rounds. In the nation’s capitol, misogynistic hearings excluded any women from expressing their views on contraceptive health care, while during subsequent protests, Oklahoma Senator Judy Eason McIntyr had choice words to share on her picket sign: “If I had wanted the government in my womb, I would have fucked a senator.”
It’s all so damn unsexy and makes me question whether we are moving in reverse or making headway over women’s basic sexual health rights.
The birth of the pill took decades (talk about a lengthy gestation), from the time activist Margaret Sanger started the American Birth Control League in 1921 to 1951 when she convinced Dr. Gregory Pincus, an endocrinologist, to research the use of hormones in pregnancy prevention. With the direct help of a few benefactors, and the indirect help of Searle Pharmaceuticals, 1954 saw the first clinical trials in the US, and 1957 the ‘pill’ was officially approved for use in women suffering ‘menstrual disorders.’
Three years later, the pill would be approved to prevent pregnancy. By 1965, over six million women were taking the pill, making it treacherous times for hymens, uteri, vaginas. That’s because certain establishments - religious, societal and otherwise - believe that a woman’s belly is best wrapped around a growing baby or standing in front of a kitchen sink. Leaving a woman’s womb to her own devices was viewed as selfish, immoral, insane or antithetical to the female purpose.
Crazy me, but it sounds like we’re hearing the same language of foul almost fifty years later in the modern day version of those famous witch hunts, especially if you’re sporting a pair of ovaries and want to keep your gonads to yourself.
Choice, Tribal Warfare and Lady Bits
Today’s contraceptive choices revolutionize women’s reproductive rights, empowering them to separate sexual activity from procreation. This is important. Deciding when to have children and how many to have is a hallmark of a civilized community and the foundation of basic human rights.
“The right of women to control their sexuality—the basis for sexual rights—is an indivisible part of their human rights, and that without it, women cannot fully realize their other human rights,” asserts The International Women’s Health Coalition, an organization committed to advancing the condition of women worldwide, which points out that, in practice, few countries’ laws and policies provide women with effective protection against coercion, discrimination, and violence, and fundamentalist states and movements all over the world consistently target women’s sexual and reproductive autonomy.”
Reading that, accusations of tribal warfare in our own country against womankind, aren’t so off base. Despite the medical and social evidence, clearly there are those who have missed the memo that states, given a choice, women generally don’t want more children, they want more for the children they have.
What’s Good for the Goose is Better for The Roost Too
What’s more, expanding the capacity of all women to choose when to bear children is the surest route to achieving an environmentally sustainable population. Robert Engelman writes about female emancipation in his book More: Population, Nature, and What Women Want (Island Books, 2007). In an interview with WorldWatch Institute, Engelman argues that in societies where women’s rights are equal to men’s, women take control of their own fertility and invariably have two or fewer children, on average. “Such low fertility rates then lead to a gradual decline in population in the absence of net immigration.”
With rare exception, the choice to use contraception should be a woman’s prerogative, based on consultations with her health care provider (and if someone is pair-bonded, we’ll just assume her bedmate is involved in these discussions too) as to what is the best form of pregnancy prevention.
“It makes sense that those who bear children and do most of the work in raising them should have the final say in when, and when not, to do so. By making their own decisions based on what’s best for themselves and their children, women ultimately bring about a global good that governments could never deliver through regulation or control: a population in balance with nature’s resources,” says Engleman.
Right about now in this essay, a bit of levity would help, except at times like this, when I’m feeling hopping mad at the wingnuts who fling their creepy ideas in our faces, and our rights out the window, my adolescent boy humor goes dormant. Thank Goddessness for bloggers whose funny bones still buzz in the face of these modern day witch-hunts.
“I'm a comedian, not a scientist or another type of professional smart person, so I have a limited understanding of that which occurs at the microscopic level inside my lady-parts,” writes Sara Benincase. “However, I did once have a job at Planned Parenthood Federation of America for six weeks, which taught me a few things about the goings-on in the general vicinity of my undercarriage.”
Her journey to pro-choice land included the common experience of a condom gone rogue and a compassionate health care provider who walked her through the morning after pill. This is the stuff that has pundits flinging words like “slut!” at people who take a stand and responsibility for what goes on between their legs. I suppose if she’d just gone on to become an unwed single mother – dropping out of college and mooching on society instead of launching a successful career making people laugh and think – they would have graciously written her social welfare checks while calling her something worse.
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