Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Reproductive freedom is about more than sex

Abortion rights supporters demonstrate outside the Capitol in Austin, Texas, where Gov. Rick Perry signed the abortion restriction bill, House Bill 2, Thursday, July 18, 2013. (Jay Janner/Austin American-Statesman/MCT)
Abortion rights supporters demonstrate outside the Capitol in Austin, Texas, where Gov. Rick Perry signed the abortion restriction bill, House Bill 2, Thursday, July 18, 2013. (Jay Janner/Austin American-Statesman/MCT)

Comedian Groucho Marx once said, “All people are born alike, except Democrats and Republicans.” And this is becoming increasingly evident, as it appears that prominent conservative Republicans are living in an alternate universe as far as basic concepts about women’s health and reproductive rights go.

To these pundits and politicians, and as appropriate to their level of understanding about womenfolk, females may as well be Martians.

Recently, moderate conservatives have been literally begging the most outspoken members of the Republican Party to stop making ill-informed, offensive comments about rape, abortion, contraception and other topics pertaining to women, of which there have been a plethora in recent years. Author Kate Obenshain implored her male colleagues at the Conservative Political Action Conference in March to “please think before you make pithy, obnoxious comments,” and to give women the floor on issues like contraception.

Mike Huckabee is the latest politician to jump on the bandwagon. In January, in a roundabout way, he accused women seeking insurance coverage of birth control of being unable to “control their libido” without the help of “Uncle Sugar,” who is apparently the perverted brother of Uncle Sam.

But even if conservative pundits were to stop faking expertise in areas which they clearly do not understand, there would still be serious legislative debate on reproductive rights in this country. Though they’re based in the same flawed logic, this debate and its resulting laws pose a bigger practical problem for women than the palpable ignorance displayed in comments like Huckabee’s.

Abortion legislation that went into effect in Texas on Oct. 31 (and was challenged in court by Planned Parenthood in January) requires all doctors performing the procedure to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital, mandates various forms of counseling necessitating repeat trips to clinics, bans abortions via medication and prohibits them after 20 weeks of pregnancy, among other provisions.

These restrictions have already caused approximately a third of clinics to close in Texas; when a separate provision of the law goes into effect in Oct. 2014, that number will be reduced to six, with a seventh under construction by Planned Parenthood.

That’s seven abortion clinics for a state comprising 268,820 square miles and a population of 26.4 million. Obviously, these laws severely limit access to reproductive services for women in that vast state: It is estimated that they will deter 22,000 Texan women from getting abortions in 2014.

Planned Parenthood argued unsuccessfully in court that the admitting privileges condition was not based in medical necessity: Abortions are among the safest medical procedures (women are 14 times more likely to die in childbirth than during an abortion), with complications occurring with the same frequency as with wisdom tooth removal. Indeed, it appears that the passage of these laws was simply an underhanded motion to force clinics to close.

It’s not just Texas: Ohio has some of the strictest abortion laws in the nation and the Missouri state legislature will debate 32 new anti-abortion laws in 2014. In March, it passed a bill forcing patients to watch a video created by the state’s Health Department before undergoing the procedure, tripling the waiting period to 72 hours and mandating that providers be inspected four times a year rather than just once.

The same people who rail against an overbearing government, who fight against gun control and in support of “religious freedom” laws, want to take the most basic of rights – bodily autonomy – from women, under the guise of health and safety.

They’re the same people who won’t raise the minimum wage or take action on income inequality because they don’t think that it’s any of the government’s business.

The morality of American women, apparently, is. If we want to talk about cherry-picking issues, here is the paradigm case.

Conservative backlash against reproductive freedoms do not stem from any real conscientious objections or concerns, but from an inability to accept a reality in which women have sexual agency.

More than 99 percent of women 15-44 who are sexually active have used birth control, but cheap shots are being taken at that as well, from a different but similarly unintelligible position.

The birth control debate has recently been framed in terms of religious objections to provisions of the Affordable Care Act requiring employers to provide health insurance, including birth control, to employees as part of their earned compensation package.

In a game of news cycle catch-phrases, the Right’s “war on women” was pitted against the Left’s “war on religion” at the Supreme Court on March 25, when it heard arguments in the case of Hobby Lobby, a craft store run by devout Christians, which argued that the ACA’s birth control provision violates their religious beliefs.

Several momentous questions are at play in this case. One is whether corporations can be said to have religious views. Another is what kind of slippery slope a finding for Hobby Lobby would lead us down. The point I want to drive home, however, is that reproductive rights are not an issue of sin or sex, as religious objectors and pro-life advocates would have you believe, but of physical autonomy.

Abortion, contraception and other reproductive rights have narratives extending beyond the offensively simplistic picture of women wanting to have sex without having babies. That’s why the myriad attempts to verbally shame women into obedience, or to limit their rights in more tangible ways, have failed again and again.

It is not about the ability to have sex without consequences. It’s about the right to control one’s body, and thus, one’s destiny – one of the most basic, inalienable rights of (wo)mankind, legally sanctioned or not.

No matter what laws are passed, women who do not want to be pregnant will find ways not to be, whether it’s in a hygienic clinic or the stereotypical “back alley.” What our leaders need to learn is that when it comes between their beliefs and my bodily autonomy, my body wins every time.

Governmental approval just means that fewer women will die fighting that battle.

Maybe someday, American lawmakers from all parties – who purport to care so deeply for women’s health – will see that and legislate for that, rather than for outdated, oppressive beliefs that have no place in the political sphere.

Hannah Sparks is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected].

Updated 05/27/2014: A previous version of this column referred to “‘Uncle Sugar,’ who is apparently the perverted brother known as Uncle Sam” and has been changed to read “who is apparently the perverted brother of Uncle Sam.” Also, “More than 99 percent of women 15 and 44 who sexually active have used birth control” has been edited to “More than 99 percent of women 15-44 who are sexually active have used birth control.”

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  • C

    CurtApr 7, 2014 at 6:42 pm

    I tend libertarian so I am against most government intrusion on personal freedoms and in truth support many of the underlying premise the author puts forth but… Her distortions of the Hobby Lobby case (making it sound like it was about all birth control and not just forms that occur after fertilization) as well as the distorted assessment of Huckaby’s quote (he was obviously making the point that women don’t need the government to keep from getting pregnant..ineloquent but certainly not in the spirit represented by the author) make any argument she is trying to make, moot. Being patently disingenuous does not help a case on personal freedom, it hurts it…just be honest, the truth is enough in this case…

  • M

    MasterofmydomainApr 7, 2014 at 5:03 pm

    The politicizing of this issue has always dismayed me. I have always identified with the pro-choice movement for the reasons always articulated. Having become a father a few years ago made me realize that these philosophical/political issues are, for the most part, debates made by the uninformed. While I recognize and support a woman’s right, faced with the ACTUAL choice, the choice is far harder to make than one can ever imagine. I certainly understand the perspective of terminating a pregnancy the result of rape, incest or even perhaps in the face of certain severe trauma/handicap to the child. But having witnessed a sonogram at an early stage and having witnessed 3 births of my own children, let me just posit that the choice is far harder to make than those who so flippantly assert the right to make it. Ironically, it’s the far right “bible belters” who are far more generous with time, resources and charity to those children who are born and left behind. The fallacy of the left in this country is that it supports policies that seem enlightened but that the personal contribution to those policies is non-existent. I learned that in my UMASS days…protest for the sake of it. It’s ironic that the left’s answer to everything is more government and more giving away of everyone else’s money but that the participation rates in the trenches on the actual issues such as abortion is abysmal. Ironically, the far right (which I do not agree with philosophically/politically) actually supports with their own money and time the very social causes on which they oppose the government’s involvement. In the put-up or shut-up department, the country’s liberal left are empty gasbags with good ideas and no means other than higher taxes to implement them. When it’s your money being shoveled down the drain someday, you’ll see.


    Recovering UMASS liberal