What’s at stake in the U.S. election: The Globe and Mail has asked a group of writers to offer their opinions. Scroll to the bottom for links to the full series.
Every year since I was born in 1982, I have watched and listened while people debated whether I had a right to make my own health care decisions.
As one of eight children, my mother and father took us to marches, where angry adults carried signs with images of aborted fetuses on them and speakers described women as murderers.
In high school, debating abortion was part of any lesson in rhetoric or government. I’d silently bite the inside of my mouth until I tasted blood while I heard classmate after classmate determine it was wrong for me to decide what happened to my body.
In college, after an assault where I’d gone to a Planned Parenthood for help, I was too afraid to hear people criticize and pick apart my trauma, so kept secret what happened to me.
And then, as an adult, as I was contemplating an IUD to help regulate hormonal fluctuations that my doctor thought were linked to my debilitating migraines, a family member screamed at me and called me a baby killer. “IUDs are basically abortions,” he said.
His wife later apologized on his behalf.
Now, as an adult, I listen as lawmakers annually stand up in state Capitol buildings, the House and the Senate, to clasp their collective pearls and argue that women need waiting periods and health care limits but not Planned Parenthood or birth control. If we get birth control, we should have to pay the full price. And speaking of paying full prices, we must cover the cost for cremation and burials of miscarriages as if the fault were ours.
During the eight years of president Barack Obama’s tenure, abortions in the United States went down, not because they were outlawed, but because people had more access to health care, birth control and the insurance gap was slowly closed.
In Iowa, where I live, the GOP-led state has dismantled funding for Planned Parenthood and replaced it with a reproductive health system that includes dentist offices, blood labs, a homeless shelter and a dermatologist as care providers. Not surprisingly, STI cases are increasing in the state, as are abortion rates. Iowa was also one of the states that attempted to stop abortions by declaring them not an essential medical service during the pandemic.
A lawsuit by Planned Parenthood and the ACLU sorted that out. But now Senate Republicans are cramming Amy Coney Barrett on to the Supreme Court, a justice who was a member of an anti-choice group while serving on the University of Notre Dame’s faculty. In 2006, she signed a newspaper ad calling for the end of Roe v. Wade that described the decision as “barbaric.” And she has criticized the Affordable Care Act and cases where the act has been held up in court. Dismantling the ACA would leave not just women without health care, but anyone with pre-existing conditions.
In the U.S., women have always teetered on the edge of full autonomy. It feels like hanging off a cliff, clinging to a rope, so close to the top, while people just continually debate whether you deserve to be safe.
The election in America, should Donald Trump be removed from office, cannot undo the years of the erosion of basic human rights and dignity and court packing, but it can provide stability. Joe Biden has indicated he would make Roe v. Wade into a law rather than Supreme Court precedent, a move that could end so much of the annual parade of sexist rhetoric and misogynistic laws and erosion of our human rights. That could end the debate on whose life matters more – a mother or a child’s – and move the conversation forward to an understanding of how pitting the two against each other, as if they were in opposition, is just an unscientific argument that only divides a human into parts.
During the pandemic, women in the U.S. have already been pushed out of the work force at unprecedented levels. This is a recession of women. A crisis not just for individual women, but for a nation that has benefited from their creative and professional contributions, far more so than whatever their uterus does or does not do. During the 2016 election, the Trump campaign vowed to push through child-care policies and parental leave options that promised to help women. Instead, we got Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, Justice Coney Barrett as well as a Senate that can’t even reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act because Senator Joni Ernst won’t cave on closing the boyfriend loophole, which would prevent violent partners from buying guns. Why? Because the NRA doesn’t like it.
For women in America, our grip on the rope is slipping.
Should Mr. Trump be re-elected, consider our rope cut.
Lyz Lenz’s most recent book is Belabored: A Vindication of the Rights of Pregnant Women.