Don't Break Out the Champagne Just Yet
Below the Belt: A Biweekly Column by NOW President Kim Gandy
August 21, 2008
This wouldn't be an election year without the issue of reproductive justice and abortion rights making an appearance on the proverbial table. Sadly, the ongoing debate over what women may or may not do with their bodies rages on. I stubbornly believe that one day women and girls will no longer be treated and looked upon as public property. In the meantime, both good and bad news is emerging on the reproductive justice front.
First, some good news, because we can always use that. Last week the American Psychological Association (APA) released a study confirming what we have known for two decades (since their last comprehensive study in 1989) -- that "among adult women who have an unplanned pregnancy, the relative risk of mental health problems is not greater if they have a single elective first-trimester abortion or deliver the pregnancy."
The APA Task Force on Mental Health and Abortion evaluated all relevant studies published since their 1989 report. Many of the studies had to be eliminated due to serious problems in their methodology. The remaining studies provided no evidence to support the claim that abortion causes negative psychological responses or mental disorders in women.
Where does such a claim come from in the first place? Well, from the completely biased, unscientific "pro-life" folks, of course. Always on the lookout for any angle they can use to limit women's access to family planning, responsible health care and full reproductive rights, anti-abortion forces have added this new theme to their repertoire. That's right, the people who scream "baby killer" outside of women's clinics suddenly profess a long-hidden concern for women's emotional well-being. They're worried, you see, about the trauma women supposedly go through after abortion. But are they concerned about the emotional, physical and economic trauma of an unplanned, unwanted or forced pregnancy or birth? Not so much.
In fact the APA found no indication that a woman who has an abortion suffers any greater mental distress than a woman who makes another choice regarding an unplanned pregnancy.
Don't worry, though - reproductive rights opponents won't let that stop them. Facts rarely derail them from their mission to assert full control over women's bodies. Just look at their "The Pill Kills" campaign. Not content with attacking abortion, the radical right is also after birth control. With the wide use of and overwhelming public support for contraception in the U.S., particularly the birth control pill, this effort seems preposterous to most of us.
That's why they're trying so hard to convince people, science be damned, that the pill actually causes abortions. The literature they've put out for their "The Pill Kills" initiative is simply unbelievable. Take this example from The American Life League's talking points: "[T]he pill and other contraceptives can stop a tiny child's implantation in his/her mother's womb because the pill irritates the lining of the uterus so that the tiny baby boy or baby girl cannot attach to the lining of the uterus and the newly formed human person is aborted and dies. This is called a chemical abortion."
Or this: "The birth control pill does not reduce the number of abortions. The only difference is that you are killing the baby earlier. . . . What birth control has done for our society is turn little babies into disposable objects."
And how's this for scary? "If there is a chance that human beings are going to be murdered, I am going to do everything in my power to help prevent that from happening. If you knew there was a chance that someone might poison your neighbor, don't you think you would try to notify your neighbor and do as much as you could to help save a life?"
And if you suspect, like many sensible people might, that only a few fringe zealots have their sights set on birth control, think again. A proposed federal regulation, a draft of which was recently leaked from the Department of Health and Human Services, would effectively redefine abortion to include commonly used contraceptive methods, and would discourage doctors and health care clinics from providing birth control products to women who need them, out of fear of losing federal family planning funds. Gee, imagine that some clinics might try to use family planning funds for . . . family planning.
HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt wrote in his blog that this wasn't his intent - but he only addressed this brewing controversy after women's rights advocates complained loudly. What will the final regulation look like? It's hard to say, but with the Bush administration on its way out, it wouldn't be paranoid to assume that they'll do the greatest possible damage before the door slams.
Speaking of a change in the White House . . . with the Democratic National Convention taking place next week, I'm happy to end this particular subject on an "up" note. The 2008 Democratic Party Platform is a giant leap forward from the previous platform (and perhaps any previous platform) on a whole array of issues. Karen Kornbluh, designated by Senator Barack Obama to draft the platform, made sure that women's rights issues were fully covered, and our policy priorities appear throughout - included in sections on health care, the economy, work and family, small businesses and more. A new section on "Opportunity for Women" makes its debut, including language specifically denouncing sexism:
We believe that standing up for our country means standing up against sexism and all intolerance. Demeaning portrayals of women cheapen our debates, dampen the dreams of our daughters, and deny us the contributions of too many. Responsibility lies with us all.
Support for the Equal Rights Amendment has been put back into the Democratic platform, as well as a call for the U.S. to ratify the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and a promise to address the scourge that is human trafficking. The platform denounces both the misnamed Defense of Marriage Act and the "Don't Ask Don't Tell" policy that has resulted in tens of thousands of LGBT soldiers being kicked out of the military.
The new platform expresses support for people with disabilities, affirmative action, hate crimes legislation, ending violence against women, expanding the Family and Medical Leave Act, guaranteeing paid sick days, and promoting women's rights around the world.
And the platform stands firm on reproductive justice and abortion rights:
The Democratic Party strongly and unequivocally supports Roe v. Wade and a woman's right to choose a safe and legal abortion, regardless of ability to pay, and we oppose any and all efforts to weaken or undermine that right.
The Democratic Party also strongly supports access to comprehensive affordable family planning services and age-appropriate sex education which empower people to make informed choices and live healthy lives. We also recognize that such health care and education help reduce the number of unintended pregnancies and thereby also reduce the need for abortions.
The Democratic Party also strongly supports a woman's decision to have a child by ensuring access to and availability of programs for pre- and post-natal health care, parenting skills, income support, and caring adoption programs.
The document also includes a promise to "repeal the global gag rule and reinstate funding to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). . . . expand access to health care and nutrition for women and reduce the burden of maternal mortality."
And in the section on health care, the platform makes this bold assertion: "We oppose the current Administration's consistent attempts to undermine a woman's ability to make her own life choices and obtain reproductive health care, including birth control. We will end health insurance discrimination against contraception and provide compassionate care to rape victims. We will never put ideology above women's health."
That final sentence makes me optimistic about my trip to Denver next week. We've been mired in this tug of war over women's reproductive autonomy for decades, and it's high time we got some real support. I am eager to see where these promises lead us.
But I'm not ready to break out the champagne just yet. A pro-woman platform means very little if the party and its leaders do not translate those words into action. The presumptive Democratic nominee, Sen. Barack Obama, should tout these strong positions widely and frequently throughout the general election campaign -- making it clear that he will follow through if elected to the White House. That's what women want, and what we want to hear.
November is just around the corner, and there's still a lot of work to do.
Kim Gandy is chair of the NOW PAC and president of NOW.
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