In the past few months as I’ve gotten deeper and deeper into women’s rights issues, I’ve seen many calls for the ERA to finally be adopted. The Equal Rights Amendment, a proposed amendment to the United States Constitution, would guarantee women the same rights as men. According to the official website, it was first proposed in 1923. It finally passed out of Congress in 1972, but since then it hasn’t been ratified by enough states to become law.

To be completely honest, my first reaction to this particular issue was to scoff. Why, I thought, should we need to specifically call ourselves out in the Constitution? That everyone has equal rights should be a matter of course. We shouldn’t need to codify it.

To everyone shaking your heads, let me explain something. I came of age in the 1990s, a time I look back on now as somewhat magical. Women’s rights were everywhere. People were having important discussions about equality on sitcoms. Popular music confronted social issues in thoughtful, powerful ways. And of course there was Lilith Fair. I went through high school and college feeling that women were powerful and could do anything, and those beliefs were bolstered by my surrounding culture. There were still problems, I knew, but they would be swept away in due course. I felt that humanity was on an inexorable upward climb.

It’s worth noting that at the time, I was a staunch Republican who got regular doses of Rush Limbaugh at home, and I was eager to point out to anyone who would listen that I was no “femi-Nazi”, but a “classical feminist”. It wasn’t embarrassing to be a feminist. It was normal. The issue wasn’t over whether or not to support women’s rights, but how to go about it.

With this background, you might see where I would get a little complacent. Perhaps that was the case for many feminists; I’m not sure. But something happened, because that golden age of feminism is no more.

After 9/11, the inclusiveness of the 1990s was shattered. We stopped being welcoming. We became suspicious of anything new, anyone who didn’t fit the “norm”. “Traditional values” became more and more important; they were comfortable, easy, a safety net. Never mind that these traditions are pretty new in terms of human history; they’re what we know and what our parents knew, so they must be for the best.

As progressiveness slowed, enmity grew between the traditional majority and minorities who had finally begun coming into their own.

I noticed the way fear had replaced openness in our society, but I thought it would pass. I didn’t think I really needed to do anything.

When a friend of mine in Mississippi started lobbying on Facebook against Initiative 26 last year, I didn’t think it was a big deal. Or at least, I didn’t think it would ever apply to me. I thought, here’s some lawmaker doing something silly in a different state. It’ll never pass. But as I watched, she continued to lobby, and it slowly grew apparent that it wasn’t going away. I think at some point I started reposting a few of her links, and I was gratified when ultimately the bill failed. I figured it was over.

Then Georgia put forth its “fetal pain” bill earlier this year.

Now it affected me. (I could empathize with those it would directly affect; I’m infertile. But more importantly, I could actually make a difference, as a resident of Georgia.) For the first time, I wrote about women’s rights on my blog. A couple days later, I wrote more. I posted links on Facebook. And I wrote the governor.

The bill passed.

After that I became more and more aware of similar bills being put forth across the country–the “personhood” movement. At a time when the recovering economy should have been everyone’s top priority, lawmakers were instead slowly chipping away at Roe vs. Wade. And then the attacks on contraception began–contraception, the most obvious way to avoid abortion entirely.

Whenever I would discuss my growing unease, someone would always tell me that these issues were a “distraction”.

Maybe they are a distraction, but if so, I’m not the one doing the distracting. The people actually making these laws are. And, worse, with people not allowing themselves to be “distracted”, these things are passing.

If this movement is indeed a “distraction”, my guess is that the people putting forth these laws are trying to distract us from the fact that they have no idea how to create jobs, or from the fact that the economy is recovering bit by bit. While they’re at it, they’re appealing to a radical base that longs for the “good old days”, and it’s working.

Whatever the reason, proponents of these laws are pushing thought out of government while pulling private matters of family and health into it. They’re forgetting that we know the cost of prohibition.

As a woman, I can’t sit back and view all of this as “politics as usual”. Not with the very culture changing around me. Not with more and more men and women speaking out against human rights. Not with the sudden rise of vitriol and suspicion toward rape victims. Not with the generally emerging sense that it’s okay for people who are not doctors to make medical decisions for other people, with no exceptions. Not with this apparent shift from making laws based on logic and science to making them based on unsupported beliefs.

We are no longer a country that doesn’t need an Equal Rights Amendment–if we ever truly were. Instead, we are on a road of hatred, marginalization, and silencing, on which people feel compelled to comment that when women are really raped, they can’t get pregnant, or that women should never have been given the right to vote.

The ERA would not solve the problems we’re currently facing, but it would be an important first step toward equality in the home, workplace, and political sphere. It would give us the ability to protect our rights in ways beyond protesting, lobbying, and writing letters. As the political tides shift, we need that protection. We need something as a buffer against anti-woman trends that could otherwise render us powerless.

One way to get the ERA passed is to find three more states to ratify it. Georgia is one possibility; there are fourteen others. Attempts are also continually made to get the ERA back through Congress. A survey from 2001 indicates that, at least at that time, the people were behind the idea of codifying equal rights.

To help immediately, you can sign this petition. As of now, there doesn’t seem to be a way to donate to the cause online. You can find various t-shirts and stickers here and there, but it’s unclear if the profits would help the cause.

In the long term, you can support legislators who support the ERA, through voting and campaign donations. You can call or write your lawmakers and ask them to support it. And you can talk about this issue with your friends and family.

The past year has proven to me that our rights are not inalienable. Not until we put them into the Constitution.

Equal rights for women

In my previous post, I talked about Georgia HR 954, a bill that would move the cutoff point for abortions to 20 weeks and limit the circumstances under which which abortions can be performed in the state. I addressed some specific problems with the language of that bill in the post.

Now I’d like to talk a bit more about why broadly-written legislation like this is problematic, and why this debate is not so simple as “kill children” vs. “don’t kill children”.

Soraya Chemaly of the Huffington Post has compiled an excellent roundup of information on this topic, entitled 3 Videos Everyone Who Assumes Women Are Free Should See.

The first video tells the stories of women who were criminalized for wanting to have their babies on their own terms. In other words, their stories aren’t about abortion at all–they’re about when and how the women and their partners wanted to bring their children into the world. Why were hospitals interfering in these decisions? Because the state governments had passed “personhood” laws for zygotes, giving doctors the right to supersede mothers. In one instance, law enforcement came to a woman’s home, dragged her to the hospital, and forced her to have a C-section. In America.

Here’s a direct link to that video.

As Chemaly points out, the “personhood” idea behind these laws is the same thing as the Personhood Pledge most of the Republican candidates for president signed. What does this mean? That these men have promised to, if elected, work to grant “personhood” to life inside the womb at fertilization. So, for example, if a woman has a miscarriage, she could be charged with feticide.

What this sort of law ignores is that women are not incubators. Here’s how Chemaly puts it:

I’m not keen on pitting a woman’s rights against those of her fetus. Although useful to understand certain issues, it sets up a false and misleading dichotomy. Gestation, during which a woman chooses to share her body in complex, fully integrated ways, is the exact opposite of separation. Women are not separate from their fetuses. A key strategy of this movement is to pretend that they are and to enshrine that idea in dangerous laws. Women are not production facilities or vessels or any number of other updated variations of spermist theory homunculous container. But, because of the constructs being established by this movement on “behalf” of zygotes, a hospital can waive your right to life, in violation of your or your family’s instructions, to save your fetus.

I think there is an interesting social aspect to consider here. A lot of the female advocates of “personhood” for zygotes and/or stiffer abortion legislation are mothers. Mothers are exceedingly familiar with self-sacrifice. It comes naturally to them. They give up much and more for the good of their children. Some women do so happily, others reluctantly, but all eventually become some sort of martyr, some sort of hero. To these women, their own lives don’t matter. To these women, an abortion would be a failure, regardless of circumstance.

I am not a mother myself, and I probably never will be due to infertility…but these feelings are not foreign to me. I held them throughout my young adult life as a fervent anti-abortionist. I knew–knew–that I would give up my life for my child, without hesitation. I was convinced that my theoretical child deserved to live more than I did, and that if there was ever a time when a pregnancy threatened my health, I would choose the baby over myself. Even if the baby was in danger and I was not, I’d choose it over myself. If I was ever raped, I fervently believed that I would raise that child and make something good out of something terrible. If I knew that my child would be born with severe physical or mental disabilities, I would have it and love it, because it would be my baby, and the difficulty would make me stronger. Knowing ahead of time would just give me time to prepare.

Abortion, for me, was simply not an option, and I didn’t see how any woman could feel differently.

This is where the problem begins. When you believe everyone should think the same way you do, and you start supporting legislation that forces them to follow your way of living.

Time has passed, and my opinion has shifted. I am no longer certain what my decisions would be in the situations above. I spent much of my young life hating myself, believing I wasn’t worth anything, and those feelings informed my decisions. Now I have come to see at least a little of my own worth, and I am not so eager to sacrifice myself.

I am not saying that I would not do it. Technically, we all give things up every day just to maintain the status quo. Compromise is the cornerstone of any relationship, and we all have at least one person we must compromise with. I am not just doing what I want, living as if I don’t affect the world; instead, I am seeing my value and place in it, and thinking more broadly than I was before.

And because my opinion has shifted, I can now see that there are times when an abortion might be the right decision for a family. It will always be a painful decision. But now I see that it is one to be made by the people involved: the mother, the father, the doctor. Not by blanket legislation that ends up taking reproduction decisions out of the home and handing them to the state.

I am not in favor of late-term abortions; once a fetus is to the point that it could survive outside the womb, it is unconscionable to terminate its life. I am interested in the fetal pain issue and will continue researching the studies that have been done in that vein; someone on Facebook sent me some references to look into. Ultimately, if there is going to be an abortion, I think it should happen as early as possible.

But there may come a point when it’s obvious to everyone involved that something needs to be done, and broad, restrictive legislation only causes further pain in those instances.

Georgia HB 954 and big government

People are all of a sudden starting to hear about Georgia State Rep. Terry England’s comparing of women to livestock, and using his statement to rally people against HB 954, the “fetal pain” bill. This is old news. Rep. England made his comments last month; here’s coverage from the Huffington Post.

In the ensuing weeks, the bill has been rewritten, and there are now allowances for the health of the mother, thus rendering the current rallying cry inaccurate and possibly damaging. The real issue with this bill is not the fact that one man said something ludicrous. It is that this legislation would give the Georgia government control over the relationship between doctor and patient, leaving the doctor essentially impotent and the patient with no input into her medical care whatsoever.

The text of the bill can be found here.

Section 1 is the justification for the bill. Its main claim is that there is “substantial evidence” that fetuses feel pain at 20 weeks. I would say this is the argument on which the entire bill depends. However, I am having trouble finding this “substantial evidence”.

This is the most recent study I can find concerning fetal pain. Unfortunately, it’s from 2005. (I do find the summary interesting in respect to the claims made in HB 954’s Section 1.) This particular study’s results indicate that fetuses aren’t capable of feeling pain until the third trimester.

If someone has a medical journal link (not an opinion piece, blog, online petition, or even a “news” story, unless it has references) with more updated information, I’d be glad to see it.

From the get-go, the bill begs the question–a logical fallacy. Section 2 is just as problematic. Note how all the provisions allowing physicians to do their jobs have been stricken. The decision is not in the hands of patients and the medical professionals who actually know what they’re doing; lawmakers are instead giving them a blanket rulebook to follow.

Section 2 also contains the new language that will supposedly protect women from carrying dead fetuses or from endangering their own lives and/or health. However, check out this bit:

No such condition [permitting an abortion] shall be deemed to exist if it is based on a diagnosis or claim of a mental or emotional condition of the pregnant woman or that the pregnant woman will purposefully engage in conduct which she intends to result in her death or in substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function

Mental health is not considered a part of “real” health under Georgia law, apparently.

Then there’s this:

In any case described in subparagraph (A) or (B) of paragraph (1) of this subsection, the physician shall terminate the pregnancy in the manner which, in reasonable medical judgment, provides the best opportunity for the unborn child to survive unless, in reasonable medical judgment, termination of the pregnancy in that manner would pose a greater risk either of the death of the pregnant woman or of the substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function of the pregnant woman than would another available method. No such greater risk shall be deemed to exist if it is based on a diagnosis or claim of a mental or emotional condition of the pregnant woman or that the pregnant woman will purposefully engage in conduct which she intends to result in her death or in substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function. If the [“product of the abortion” is struck here and replaced with “child”] is capable of [the phrase “meaningful or” is struck here] sustained life, medical aid then available must be rendered.

The bill does not go into who would then pay for the continued medical needs of the fetus, which at this point obviously could not survive outside a medical facility…nor who would take the child in if he or she somehow managed to live through this ordeal. Note the striking of the word “meaningful” in the text. We all know how hard it is for premature babies–this would be so much worse. Who can imagine what physical and mental damage the child might suffer? And then to not even have parents who want him/her? To become a ward of the state? Do you really think such a life would be “meaningful”? No wonder the word was stricken.

A huge issue with this sort of legislation is that it completely ignores the impact on the rest of society and the rest of life after the event it’s trying to prevent. “Save the babies” sounds like a wonderful cause…until you start to wonder, save them for what, exactly?

Please note, I am, in general, opposed to abortion. I think that life is a wonderful and amazing thing. Longtime readers know how I’ve struggled with my infertility, how I’ve always wanted to have children. The idea of abortion for convenience’s sake makes me sick. But that’s what contraception is for, so you don’t get into that situation in the first place. And of the very few people I have heard of who’ve actually had an abortion, none of them have said the choice was “easy” or “convenient”.

I believe there are times when a woman can and should get an abortion, and that should be between her, her partner, and her physician. I think places like Planned Parenthood, which help educate women on birth control, health, and reproductive issues, are important not because they push an “abortion agenda” (they don’t) but because they help women to take ownership of their own lives, to make choices that are good for them, their families, and their communities. And because that assistance is optional.

The issue with HB 954, the real truth behind the “pro-choice”/”pro-life” debate, is not abortion at all. It’s about the government making choices for private citizens. I don’t want the government telling me I can’t get birth control or an abortion any more than I want them telling me I can’t have weight loss surgery or a heart transplant. It’s none of their business. And once they start dipping their toes into that water, it’s not long until they’re all-in. Have you heard about the banning of religious garments in European schools, how everyone thought it was a great idea until suddenly people couldn’t wear cross necklaces anymore? Not so great when it affects you. And men, this sort of legislation will get around to something that affects you eventually. [Edit: Come to think of it, Florida’s Stand Your Ground law affects everyone in that state, doesn’t it?]

HB 954 has not yet been signed into law by Gov. Deal. There are a couple of petitions against it on, but I don’t know how effective those actually are. If you feel as I do, I’d recommend writing or calling Deal yourself.