If you are even a little bit pro-choice, you need to vote Democratic this year

Starting out with a shout-out to Taylor Ferrera’s “Legitimate Rape” song:

Republican Senate candidate Todd Aiken’s ignorant comments about “legitimate rape” and his claim that women who were raped would not get pregnant has received a great deal of well-deserved attention this week. The spotlight is now on women’s reproductive rights, and it’s important that we keep investigating and talking, beyond the issue of “rape exceptions.”

The Republican party wants you to know that they are officially a “100% pro life party,” (their words, not mine; listen to today’s Diane Rehm Show) and they are finalizing the platform for the GOP convention next week will that will further solidify that position.

Democrats are officially pro choice. What about people who are “in the middle”? What does that mean on this issue? Being “in the middle” is a difficult concept due to the totally asymmetric effects of a “pro-life” or “pro-choice” approach.

Pro-life activists want to impose their morality on everybody else. If they win enough seats in power, if you disagree with them, too bad, you have do to what they say. Yes, this is particularly ironic and problematic when a lot of old white men are very very concerned with your sexuality and use of contraception, and they want to deny your options for reproductive health and medical care.

On the other hand, if a lawmaker is pro-choice, and you disagree with them, you can still act on your own conscience and what is best to you. Nobody will compel you to use birth control or get an abortion–if you don’t believe in those practices you don’t have to use them or even endorse them. You just have to allow that other people have different thoughts, experiences and lives and therefore might make different choices than you.

It’s natural to feel a little bit “in the middle” or unsure about some of these issues. I find it almost impossible to discuss abortion in the abstract. It’s easy to say you would never need an abortion but the fact is that life is unpredictable and you never know what might happen. Conservative Senator Rick Santorum’s wife faced a tragic situation: in 1996 she was five months pregnant with a fetus that was not viable, and she had an infection that threatened her own life. She was able to have a lifesaving late-term medical procedure, care that could have been called into question under an anti-abortion regime. In a pro-choice legislative world, you have the freedom to make the best medical decision for yourself when faced with a worst-case scenario. Any girl or woman between the ages of about 12 and 50 could find herself in a situation with an unplanned or medically dangerous pregnancy. Women need the legal right to handle those important medical decisions privately, in consultation with their doctors.

In North Carolina, this year the state legislature passed laws making it harder to access abortion, through the ridiculously titled “Women’s Right to Know” act that introduced state-mandated language a doctor had to say, as well as mandatory ultrasounds. This is legislating medicine, which is just wrong. This law has resulted in some very cruel situations, in which a women with a much-wanted pregnancies that were not viable had to endure having ultrasound images placed in her line of sight and to have the doctor describe the images in detail.

A while ago I was talking to a friend and mentor of mine about how hard it can be to stand up and speak in favor of reproductive rights, and she reminded me that “nobody likes abortion.” You don’t have to “like” abortion to be pro-choice. Of course I would like to see a reduction in the number of abortions taking place, through education and widely available contraception. But the fact is that access to abortion is fundamental to women’s health and reproductive rights. “Rape exceptions” may appeal to a hypothetical middle ground, but they are not enough–and by the way, there is a sneaky change in the conversation happening right now. “Rape exceptions” are usually discussed in the context of Federal funding of abortion: under the Hyde Amendment, funding of abortions for low-income women is not allowed, except for pregnancies that are the result of rape or incest or that threatened the woman’s life. But in this week’s discussion about abortion, as spurred by Todd Aiken, suddenly we’re talking about whether abortion should be ALLOWED at all in the case of rape or incest. This is a big change, a hard turn to the right.

The Republican platform of being “100% pro-life” requires an awful lot of certainty–more certainty than is reasonable, in my opinion. It takes a lot of hubris to be 100% certain to tell a woman what she must do with her body.

The GOP platform is still being developed but at this point it is likely to include a call for a constitutional amendment banning abortion, and a call for “personhood” status, with 14th Amendment constitutional rights applying to zygotes from the moment of conception. If the ideas in the platform were enacted, they would likely outlaw some forms of birth control, including emergency contraception.

Think that Todd Aiken is on the fringes? Not at all.

ThinkProgress reported on the work that Mitt Romney’s running mate Paul Ryan and Todd Aiken have done together in Congress, trying to advance a Personhood bill:

Rep. Todd “Legitimate Rape” Akin (R-MO) and GOP vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan both cosponsored the bill that introduced America to the despicable term “forcible rape.” As it turns out, this may only be the second most sweeping attack on reproductive freedom that both men partnered on. Ryan and Akin also cosponsored a federal personhood bill, the Sanctity of Human Life Act of 2009, which declares that a fertilized egg is entitled to the exact same legal rights as a human being:

This is what the Republicans want to make the law of the land, and when they talk about letting states decide the details, even when some latitude is possible, Conservatives are busy trying to enact restrictions in state laws as well.

Women need to get out the vote in droves this November. Think about your own best interests, and that of your sisters, daughters, friends and mothers. The Republicans are pushing a truly extreme agenda that seeks to control and punish women.

You have an important choice in the voting booth. Are you willing to have our government dictate to a married woman that she can’t use birth control? Tell a sexual assault survivor that she has to carry and give birth to her rapist’s baby? Deny emergency contraception to a teenager who wants to prevent a pregnancy? I hope not. I urge you to vote Democratic to protect women’s rights.

The Diane Rehm Show has an excellent hour today with a diverse panel discussing the Republican Party Platform. If you listen to that you’ll hear just how stark the choice being offered by the two parties really is.

Additional reporting & commentary:

Rape exceptions aren’t legitimate by Irin Carmon on Salon.com. Todd Akin’s right about this much: Rape exceptions are wrong. You either believe in bodily autonomy, or you don’t

Rape Exceptions Don’t Work
by Amanda Marcotte on Slate.com

Obama On Todd Akin: ‘Rape Is Rape’ by Sam Stein on HuffingtonPost.com

Paul Ryan Cosponsored All the Most Extreme Anti-Abortion Bills
by Kate Sheppard on Motherjones.com

Do U.S. Abortion Restrictions Violate Human Rights? by Anu Kumar — puts women’s reproductive health into a human rights perspective, on HuffingtonPost.com

The state of my home state, North Carolina

We must fight to protect our rural landscapes, clean air and water. Don’t Frack North Carolina.

The month of June was an absolute whirlwind. I was hoping to get to some of my own creative work in June but I found myself swept up on North Carolina state politics. Since 2010, when the Republicans won a majority of seats in the state House and Senate (controlling both houses for the first time in more than 100 years), the new leaders have been on a tear with terrible legislation. Our Democratic Governor Bev Perdue has done her best to bring some balance to this situation but it has been very difficult, dealing not only with the Republican opposition, but also some Democratic legislators who broke ranks in a big way.

I care so much about my state, and this is really a new thing for me, to absolutely love my state and never want to move. I moved a lot growing up, usually living in one place no more than four our five years. I attended five different schools by the time I was in 8th grade.

But now in North Carolina, we have put down strong and deep roots, both on a personal level, raising our daughter here for 12 years, and on a professional level. We’ve made a huge family investment by building the Manifold Recording studio in Pittsboro. It is a dream come true project for us, one that required five years of time and treasure to build. Now Michael and I are like Ray and Annie Kinsella in Field of Dreams, living out the “if you build it, they will come” aspect of the project. It is going very well. This is our home and we never want to leave.

BUT. But at the same time, our state is under fire from many directions. So in May and June I found myself investing a lot of time in statewide causes, particluarly the effort to stop fracking from being legalized in North Carolina. You can read my previous informational posts on fracking:

What you need to know about Fracking in 400 words or less

Why you need to know about Fracking — it may be coming to a field or neighborhood near you

This spring, I started a Facebook page, Don’t Frack North Carolina — Citizens Say No to Fracking in NC, which really took off in May and June. The page has grown into a community of more than 4100 people who “like” it, and that adds up to a viral outreach of more than 1 million “friends of friends.” We sent many letters and made calls to the Governor and legislators to try to stop the pro-fracking bill. We had a brief victory when Governor Bev Perdue vetoed the bill. I am truly, truly grateful to the Governor for taking this courageous stand. But then the worst possible outcome came when the legislature voted to overturn the veto and it was overturned by ONE vote. As if that’s not bad enough, some Democrats voted to over-ride the veto, and two in particular stand out. Representative Becky Carney of Mecklenburg accidentally voted YES instead of NO and the Republicans would not let her correct the mistake. And Representative. Susi Hamilton of New Hanover county voted to overturn the veto under pressure that reportedly involved cutting a deal to get $60 million in film tax breaks for Wilmington. Now I love the film industry in North Carolina–but it should have nothing to do with whether fracking is allowed! Democrats were furious after seeing Hamilton give a fellow legislator a “high-five” after the film tax breaks passed. She really sold out the environment in the whole state in a case of brazen political dealing. I hope she realizes that her district is directly down stream from the frack target zone. Environmental problems from fracking will flow right into the Cape Fear River in HER back yard. Hamilton was supposed to be an environmentalist. The League of Conservation Voters had just given her a “rising star” award in June, which they swiftly revoked after Hamilton’s vote in favor of opening our state to fracking.

AND, in other developments–Governor Perdue had vetoed revisions to the Racial Justice Act and the Budget, which effectively defunded Planned Parenthood.

To say I feel demoralized right now is an understatement. I am very discouraged, but not giving up. My natural optimism has taken a blow. I no longer feel that things will naturally get better, that worst case scenarios will inevitably be avoided, that our leaders will be wise and ultimately do the right thing. I am probably more realistic–this will be a hard fight and a long road to travel. I miss my can-do, “Mojo Mom” optimism as applied to protecting my home state. It fueled me. But now I am faced with a grittier, flintier reality. The Democrats are in deep trouble. The Republicans are on an ALEC-fueled tear. I am in the process of trying to figure out how I can make the biggest contribution I can with my time, talents and energy. I will be working hard to re-elect President Obama and devoting serious time to several of my statewide causes.

At the same time, it’s time to get back to my own work. I have good things developing over at www.DoingRightByOurKids.com that I will be sharing here. As I told my co-creator Irene van der Zande last time we talked, politics is very frustrating because you can work hard and lose, or see progress go backward. When you teach people about protecting child safety, giving them a solid framework, excellent information, and tools for respectful relationship building, you are making progress that will move forward to create better communities. So that is the kind of work I need to be doing in balance with my political activities. Onward…..

[correction, July 10: an earlier version of this post mixed up the words “overturned” and “sustained” in regards to Governor Perdue’s veto. This updated version correctly states that Democrats Becky Carney and Susi Hamilton voted to over-ride the Governor’s veto.]

President Obama stands up for women’s rights

I was so heartened by President Obama’s recent message standing up for women’s rights. A must-watch video.

Women need to take back the contraception debate

Women need to take back the contraception debate. The fact that there is a “debate” at all shows you how firmly the Religious Right has grabbed the reins and steered this conversation. Even supposedly objective reporters seem to be covering the story using the basic terms of the debate as put forth by the Right. (See for example, Newsweek’s cover story, “The Politics of Sex” by Andrew Sullivan.)

I utterly reject the way the health insurance/contraception issue is being discussed. Of course last week many women saw just how biased the discussion was when Congress convened a panel of religious men to discuss women’s reproductive rights. The panel was called “Lines Crossed: Separation of Church and State. Has the Obama Administration Trampled on Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Conscience?”

ABC News reported:

Among the witnesses invited by [Congressman Darrell] Issa to attend the hearing was a representative of the Catholic bishops, who oppose the Obama administration “accommodation” on birth-control coverage. Joining them are many other men of other religions. Not invited, complained Democrats, were representatives from the Catholic Health Association, which is run by a woman and actually runs the Catholic hospitals, nor Catholic Charities, both of which said Friday they supported the president’s plan.

Ranking committee member Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., wanted to invite third-year Georgetown Law Center student Sandra Fluke to testify, telling Issa it was important to have at least one woman at the witness table because the issue involved health repercussions for women. Read Fluke’s full testimony here.

Issa’s staff sent a letter to the Democrats, saying, “As the hearing is not about reproductive rights but instead about the administration’s actions as they relate to freedom of religion and conscience, he believes that Ms. Fluke is not an appropriate witness.”

“It was just crushing to hear the chairman’s reason to not allow my testimony,” Fluke told ABC News. “I can understand that [the issue] is connected to religion, but I don’t understand how you can have an open conversation without hearing from the women who have been personally affected by this.”

Cummings, the ranking Democrat, and Maloney asked Issa to reconsider and let Fluke testify, noting she was in the audience, when the hearing got underway Thursday.

“It was staggering to sit there and feel like this panel of men was going to talk about my health and women like me,” Fluke said. “It felt so very wrong.”

Of course this discussion was about women’s reproductive rights and that is the frame we need to take back. Reproductive health care IS women’s health care and if you are in the business of providing health insurance, you need to cover it fully. America decided long ago that contraception is utterly mainstream as demonstrated by the fact that almost every woman uses it, for any number of reasons–none of which are anyone’s business except between a woman, her doctor, and her family if she chooses to discuss her health with them.

Megan Wood on Salon.com has an excellent interview with historian Nancy L. Cohen, author of the new book Delirium: How the Sexual Counterrevolution is Polarizing America. Cohen came up with the term counterrevolution because “I think what’s been missing from the debate about why American politics are so polarized and really, frankly, so insane these days is this recognition that there has been a concerted, organized movement to turn back the changes brought about by the sexual revolution: feminism and gay rights. And it seemed to be logical to coin a term to talk about this broad shadow movement that’s been effecting our politics for 40 years.” She also encourages Democratic politicians to take a principled stand on women’s issues, and stop being afraid of talking about these issues politically. The numbers are in our favor with “sexual fundamentalists” being outnumbered 2 or 3 to 1 in the electorate.

So let’s keep talking, raising our voices, and refusing to be silenced or excluded from these debates. The more people like Darrell Issa try to shut us out, the more the intolerant right exposes just how extreme, controlling and misogynistic their agenda really is.

You can take action and sign on to a letter to Congress from MomsRising.org by following this link.

“Join us in demanding that the U.S. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hold a new hearing—and this time have a meaningful representation of women and mothers!”

Why I can’t afford to have another baby as a member of the sandwich generation

This week I am truly seething just thinking about the efforts to restrict women’s access to contraception. Wasn’t this a battle we fought and won almost 50 years ago? Who are old white men to dictate a woman’s reproductive choices? The talking heads, pundits, policymakers and Bishops sure don’t appear to have many women among them.

As for policy I would say emphatically that if you are in a position of providing health care or health insurance, you must provide all of the safe and legal reproductive health care that a woman or man would need. For women in particular, reproductive health care is often our main need for health care and the issue that gets us into the doctor’s office on a regular basis. The truth is that women have all sorts of reasons for their reproductive choices, and I believe firmly that none of these decisions should be anyone else’s business besides a woman and her doctor and any family and friends she chooses to involve.

You would think that at age 43 and married for 15 years, this might be a hypothetical issue for me, or one that I would only be worried about for my daughter’s generation, but it’s not. In my case, it has been incredibly clear to me lately that I cannot afford to have another child. Not for financial reasons, but because of where I am in my life and the incredible pressures I have been under. For the past two years, I have been not a “stay-at-home Mom” but rather practically a “stay-at-home-adult-caregiving daughter.” Starting in March 2010, my life as I knew it started to fall apart. My father fell ill suddenly and needed intense attention (especially since my parents were divorced and I am an only child), then immediately after I had gotten him moved and settled, my mother got critically ill and lived only seven weeks before passing away. I took care of my mother for those intense seven weeks, which was both an honor and a sad, immense life milestone. Some days, I feel like I will always divide my life into Before and After losing my mother, who was my confidante, support system and my best friend. And, in addition to the emotional transitions, a year and a half later, I am still finishing up my work as the executor of her estate. And now, my husband is learning what it means to be a sandwich-generation son averting a crisis by finding care for his mother and helping her relocate nearby.

All the caregiving energy I have is going into my family members including my father and mother-in-law, as well as my daughter. I cannot afford the stress, physical demands, or sleep loss of mothering another child. I am 43 and I am moving on to another stage of my life, and I am thrilled to be the mother of an almost-teenager. I can’t imagine starting all over with another baby until I am ready to be a grandma, a decade or more from now. And ironically, my husband and I would have welcomed a second child with open arms up until I turned 40, but we were apparently suffering from “secondary infertility,” which means that we had no trouble getting pregnant the first time (3 months of trying), but were never able to get pregnant a second time (5 years of trying). I say ironically, because the medical consensus is that even if we were probably infertile and could not count on having more children, there was always a chance that I could become pregnant, so if we decided that our family was complete, we would need to use birth control. Because of additional medical benefits, I chose a contraceptive that was both expensive and would be outlawed by “personhood” laws that have been backed by conservatives including two Presidential contenders, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich. Santorum has very specifically, directly opposed contraception even for married couples. All of which makes me ask, what country am I living in? What year? What planet? Of course if people don’t want to use birth control that is their personal decision but where do they get off telling other people what to do? I feel like we have lost all sense of what responsibility and accountability means when employers talk about offering birth control as part of an insurance plan as an infringement of their own religious beliefs. No one has to use birth control and offering heath insurance does not mean that you endorse the personal choices that people make under that health care plan–again, important health care decisions of all kinds are not anybody’s business except a patient and her/his doctor.

Why am I telling you these personal details? Because life is complicated, and women are smart and thoughtful people who deserve to be trusted. Because I am angry and outraged that anyone would try to come between me and my health care in such a personal, imperative part of my life. Because it is absolutely essential that women to keep speaking up–the Susan Komen-Planned Parenthood funding backlash shows that a spark is there, that women will speak up against the War on Women [see also NY Times] which has really gotten out of control. Because the media coverage of the latest controversies about birth control has lacked the personal, grassroots voices that bubbled up so effectively and suddenly in response to the Komen controversy. Real women with real-life concerns need to reclaim our stories and stand up for what we need, every day. What do you have to say?