Letty Cottin Pogrebin: The War Against Women, Take Two

By | Mar 31, 2012

By Letty Cottin Pogrebin

In 1959, when I was 19, there was no birth control pill, doctors did not prescribe diaphragms or IUDs for unmarried women, and abortion was a crime. So when I got pregnant, I decided to kill myself by jumping off the Triborough Bridge.

If I had to carry the pregnancy to term, my life would be over anyway, I reasoned. I could never face my professors or go home to my traditional Jewish family with an “illegitimate” child. My shande (disgrace) would shame them. I’d be a single mother with a baby I didn’t want and no chance to make something of myself, let alone find a man willing to marry me.

I felt doomed—until a friend told me about a doctor who, at great risk to himself, was devoting his life to performing medically safe abortions because his daughter had died after a botched kitchen-table procedure.

Memories of that terrible time have returned during this election season, in the wake of the Republican War on Women and, at the state level, recent efforts to impose government control over women’s health and reproductive decisions. Here we are in 2012, back at square one, defending our right to birth control.

I can’t believe we have to spell it out all over again: Without affordable and accessible contraception and abortion, not only will women’s freedom be hobbled by unintended pregnancies, but more unwanted children will be born. And unplanned children are more likely than planned children to be abused or neglected and are more likely to engage in antisocial or criminal behavior. Yet the draconian child welfare cuts in the budget devised by Rep. Paul Ryan prove once again the truth of Rep. Barney Frank’s classic line: “Republicans believe life starts at conception and ends at birth.”

I can’t believe we have to fight all over again against those who bray about the sanctity of life when what they really care about is reining in women’s autonomy, punishing female sexuality and controlling women’s bodies. Then again, maybe it’s just as well that these issues have surfaced so baldly, forcing American women (and men) to confront the ultimate agenda of conservatives and religious fundamentalists before it can become government policy.

Just since January, more than 430 proposals for abortion restrictions have been introduced in state legislatures. (In all of 2011, 1,100 were introduced, and 135 became law.) These include mandated waiting periods; parental consent and notification requirements; deceptive pre-abortion counseling (often just bogus warnings that abortion causes breast cancer or infertility); bans on all abortions beyond 20 weeks’ gestation; bills that prohibit Medicaid funding of abortion, restrict abortion coverage in private health insurance plans, or require a pregnant woman to undergo invasive, non-medically indicated ultrasounds; bills that force her to look at a fetal sonogram, listen to the fetal heartbeat and be lectured at by doctors who, more often than not, resent this demeaning exercise as much as their patients do.

Recently, Mississippi voters resoundingly defeated the so-called Personhood Amendment, a state ballot measure that would have given the fertilized egg more rights than could be claimed by the woman in whose body it existed. Even religious groups split over the measure. But two Republican presidential candidates who got a ton of primary votes, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, endorsed the amendment. The measure has been advancing in several other states, according to Personhood USA, a Christian ministry that has gathered more than a million signatures supporting it. While presumptive nominee Mitt Romney declined to sign a pledge endorsing similar measures before the Iowa caucuses, he has made statements in support of a constitutional amendment that would state that life begins at conception.

Most American women use birth control. Most Jews use birth control. But if you’re one of them—in the eyes of many Republicans running for office—you’re not a responsible adult who understands the merits of planned parenthood but an emasculating, uppity, sex-obsessed slut. Or as one pundit put it: “A woman who votes for a Republican is like a chicken who votes for Perdue.”

Santorum thinks sex is only for reproduction, not pleasure. Rush Limbaugh called Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke a “slut,” a “prostitute” and a “sex-crazed coed” for arguing that her school’s health insurance plan should include coverage for contraceptives. Religious-sponsored institutions balk at paying for such coverage, and even after President Obama crafts a compromise that has insurance companies picking up the bill, the morality police dig in their heels. Pay for women to be able to have sex without consequence? No way.

Yet insurance can foot the bill for Viagra, and men can have sex without consequence (no nausea, bloating, health risks, labor pains, delivery ordeal or obligation to help raise the child) and no one calls them sex-crazed.

Let’s be clear, ladies: These conservatives don’t trust us to think for ourselves. They valorize a time when there were two kinds of women, virgins and whores, and men knew which was which. They infantilize us. They want to short-circuit our personal aspirations, squelch our rising workplace power and move us back to the kitchen and nursery—and the easiest way to do all that is to deny us the right to determine when, or whether, to bear children.

Coda to my story: I had the illegal abortion. I graduated from college. Four years later, I got married. My husband and I had three much-wanted, deeply loved children who have given us six grandchildren—none of whom would be here today had I been forced to choose between compulsory pregnancy and jumping off a bridge.

Sadly, the tragedy of that false choice may soon await millions of women if we fail to actively support and elect candidates this year who are truly pro-choice on reproductive freedom.

Letty Cottin Pogrebin, a Moment columnist for more than 20 years, is at work on her tenth book, How to Be a Friend to a Friend Who’s Sick.

5 thoughts on “Letty Cottin Pogrebin: The War Against Women, Take Two

  1. Davida Brown says:

    The biggest misconception the Jewish people have about most Christians is that they think all Christians go to their leaders (pastors, preachers, priests) to obtain answers to the thorny ethical questions of life. We do not have a “body of knowledge” written by past sages or church leaders to find opinions that agree with our desires. We have one source: the Bible, and one Voice, God’s. He does not vacillate from one opinion to another; in other words, you cannot manipulate Him to get what you want to hear. Granted, there can be gray areas of disagreement in the Judeo/Christian Bible, but many, if not most issues are black and white and cannot be disputed for persuasive personal reasons. And, I might add, we wouldn’t want such a situation. Does this sound dogmatic and close-minded? It is neither. Proverbs 1:7 tells us that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” The truly free person, male or female, is one who fears God, understands His Word and obeys His instructions. Nothing is more liberating than that. The one who is bound and confined is he or she who rejects the very same.
    We can’t hide anything from His sight: His divine searchlight reaches our innermost being and He knows what our thoughts and motivations are. We cannot know or understand Him outside of His Spirit. I can tell you He hates abortion/infanticide and it was only openly and legally practiced by pagans and those of God’s people who rebelled against Him. He loves that small being in the womb that He created. Regardless of how a woman gets pregnant…that child, a separate being from the mother, has a right to live as any other person does. They are the most innocent of human lives and they do not deserve to die for the sake of convenience. God chose them to be in existence and loves them as He does you. By the way, if it matters to you or anyone who reads these words, abortion, like any other top ten sins (or lesser) is forgivable by God. He loves a contrite heart and does not deal with those in denial. Read Psalm 51:14-17. I grew up with a mother (and aunt) who lived out the consequences of abortion. My mother became mentally/emotionally unstable because, having once, in better times, been a Bible teacher, she chose to live in denial. It backfired big time in how she related to her daughters. Choosing life is His way. Believe it!

    1. Cindy says:

      Instead of abortion, let’s substitute blood transfusions and organ transplants. Jehovah’s Witnesses can sling scripture with the best of ‘em, Davida. How about they start lobbying politicians and picketing blood drives and even bombing a few blood banks ? Don’t forget to prohibit insurers from covering any of that. I mean, if someone has to die or spend years on dialysis because they can’t get a new kidney or a bag of O positive, tough. All that matters is that some stranger can feel nice and holy at your expense.

  2. hag says:

    I guess you really haven’t read it.. the god in the Bible is a god of war and vengeance.. you like the fairy tale god, that comes down chimneys with presents…. the Bible has been written to justify the take over of other peoples land and lives…

  3. Davida Brown says:

    Bless you, whatever your name is! We all have a chance to join the side of Life. God is merciful and He is just; He created us… He is the potter; we are the clay. He gave me a second chance in life when I blew my first one. Men wrote fairy tales and one of the biggest is evolution. It is amazing how we so easily bought the lie. There are many more where that came from. There is One Who is Truth and He is reaching out to you; He is no respecter of persons…there is room for all in His house. There is always room for you in His heart. See Him!

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