Mamas on Bedrest: Are we going to go into this election lying down?

September 3rd, 2010

My husband and I were watching the news last night and were at once amused and discouraged by the Senator Brewer debate gaff. Here is a woman who publicly stumbled while presenting her own political platform, blatantly ignored cries to retract incorrect statements regarding illegal immigrants being responsible for be-headings in the Arizona desert and yet she still leads in the campaign polls.

Equally unsettling was the clip shown of the debate between Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Republican Challenger Carly Fiorina. Having lived in the Bay Area for all of the 1990’s, having friends who have lost their jobs in Silicon Valley and some specifically at Hewlett Packard under Fiorina, I can clearly see the faults of both candidates. But these two political battles illuminate, as do the contests nationwide approaching in November, this is not a time to be complacent. There is a lot at stake.

I hesitated to write this blog post because I felt that it veered too far off topics pertinent to mamas on bed rest. But the more I thought about it the more I realized that I was doing exactly what I hope other people won’t do this November-walk away from issues that are important to me, throwing up my hands in exasperation and then decrying in outrage the sorry state of affairs that things have become.  It has become patently clear to me that if we women don’t sit up and take notice and hold our lawmakers and representatives accountable for upholding our rights to safe, effective reproductive health care, we will return to the restrictive reproductive lifestyles that were the norm in the days of our grandmothers at the turn of and through the mid portion of the 20th century.

Now this may sound cynical or leftist. But let’s just look at what is happening. In 1960 the first oral contraceptives went on the market and almost concurrently, the feminist movement kicked into high gear. For the first time ever, women had some control over when they would become pregnant and bear children. Yes, condoms and diaphragms have been available for centuries in various forms, but the pill was a more effective form of birth control and as such, gave women unprecedented control over their sexuality; when or if they would marry and when or if they would have children.

When Roe v. Wade passed in 1973, women gained even more freedom to direct their reproductive lives. Not only did they have more effective birth control, but if that birth control failed or was not used, for whatever reason, they now had access to safe, legal pregnancy termination. Women were no longer bound by unintentional pregnancy to a life forever altered. Like their male counterparts, they could walk away as if the event had never happened, free to pursue careers, callings or whatever personal aspirations they may have.  I don’t mean to sound cynical or callous. The decision whether or not to have an abortion is always a HUGE decision for women.  Of women that I know who have had terminations, they never made that decision lightly.  But the truth of the matter is that men (not all but many) have walked away from women that they impregnated without so much as a parting glance because they were pursuing careers, didn’t want children, didn’t want serious relationships, etc… and women were left holding the bag so to speak, branded “naughty little girls” for “giving up the Pu” in the first place.

These benchmarks along the continuum marking attainment of women’s reproductive rights have created an environment of possibility for women that never existed in all of history and women have taken advantage of these opportunities. Women have gone from having only teaching, nursing, secretarial and service work as career choices to  being able to pursue any career discipline they chose. Women now are 46.8% of the US workforce according to the US Department of Labor. Women are expected to be 46.9% of the workforce by 2018 and that number is expected to continue to climb.

But these numbers are based on our current laws. If many of the conservative laws proposed are passed, access to and coverage of birth control will be markedly reduced if not eliminated entirely. Abortions, while still legal, will be so difficult to obtain that they will no longer be an option for the average woman. Women who take too much time off due to child care issues or pregnancy bed rest or delivery complications will lose their jobs-spiraling them into economic insecurity. Women who become pregnant unintentionally will either have to have the baby-whether they can financially afford the child or not (another example of economic insecurity), give the baby up for adoption-and still risk job loss if require more than the allotted 12 weeks of unpaid leave allowed by the Family Medical Leave Act (provided they work for employers who are legally bound to provide the FMLA benefit!) or risk having an unsafe, covert termination. Women will be slowly pushed back into economic dependence and to subservient roles that sparked the cry for women’s rights in the 20’th century in the first place. Is this really what we women want? Are we going to simply give up our reproductive rights, while idly standing by and decrying that there is nothing that we can do? Are we going to let all the work that women before us did, often suffering personal torture and injury in the process because we aren’t paying attention or are “too busy” to get involved?

There is much at stake right now. It’s easy to look at our economy and lack of jobs and say, “Obama promised change and look at what we got? We should have kept what we had!” But keep this in mind, under Obama and the democrats we still have the right to have abortions. Even though conservatives are creating hurdles, we still  have the right to have abortions and even though providers are increasingly scarce, some do still exist. While many conservatives are trying to remove contraception from insurance policies and repeal “Obamacare”, current health care laws do allow for coverage of contraception and voluntary sterilization-benefits we could lose under conservative representation. The very lifestyle that we all enjoy that includes reproductive freedom and the right to work at whatever craft/career we choose could begin to fade as early as November 5, 2010 and vanish shortly thereafter. You may be reading this thinking, ” I don’t have time to think about that, I am about to lose my job, I have a baby on the way and my benefits are running out.” I hear you and I understand. But don’t get so focused on your current situation that you can’t look down the road a bit.  What you are experiencing now may only be the beginning. I am asking you to look up, sit up, speak up and hold our legislators accountable for upholding our rights. If we don’t speak now, we’ll have no right to complain later when our rights are gone. It’s much easier to hold onto what we’ve got than to try to get back what we’ve lost.

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