Reproductive Rights Under Attack: Give Five Minutes Now, or They’ll Take Us Back 40 Years

All right, dearest fellow travelers, let’s get real political. There are now bills actually under consideration in these United States that explicitly call for women to die, and the worst part is we as a country aren’t even paying attention. “Stop exaggerating, Lisa,” you may be thinking, but check out HR 3, the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act,” the purpose of which is to codify the Hyde Amendment and make abortion access virtually impossible for poor women, or HR 358, the “Protect Life Act,” which intends to establish so-called “conscience clauses” in the case of abortions that would save the woman’s life. [By the way, if you are already convinced about this topic, skip to the end, where I list easy steps you can take to make your voice heard. As the blog post title says, you can afford those five minutes, because we can’t afford to go back 40 years.]

Click here for resources on how to fight this bill

You may have read about an earlier version of HR 3, which sought to redefine rape to mean only “forcible rape,” as opposed to statutory rape, rape of incapacitated or mentally handicapped people, incest, or date rape. So basically, the last forty years of feminists educating people about the many different and terrible ways men can force themselves upon women and other men without physically holding them down or threatening them with a weapon — those years of work were going to be swept aside and rapists, who already hold too much power over their victims, would now hold all of it. Thanks in large part to pressure from groups like the Feminist Majority, NOW, NARAL, and Planned Parenthood, as well as the Twitter campaign #DearJohn, spearheaded by Sady Doyle and aimed at telling House Speaker John Boehner just how reprehensible the bill is, the forcible rape clause has been removed.

But sliding in right behind it is HR 358, which explicitly states that if a woman goes to a hospital in a life-threatening situation, and she requires an abortion to save her life, she can be turned away in order to salve the doctor’s conscience. Yes, you read that right: If a doctor decides that he is “pro-life” and it is against his belief system to perform an abortion and therefore end the life of a fetus, he can refuse to perform that abortion, even if that means that the woman carrying that fetus dies. Life-threatening situations aren’t exactly known for allowing a lot of time to find a different hospital with doctors who will perform the operation, and if you’re in a small town with only one hospital, you are out of luck. You are literally DEAD because the government has legislated your death.

How is this not front-page news? How are only progressive bloggers (and let’s face it, almost all of them women, at that) and left-wing websites the ones reporting on this clause? American women, wake up! Your government wants you dead. One hundred and twenty-one congressmen have co-sponsored HR 358. One hundred and twenty-one people in positions of power have outright said that your life does not matter. The best part is that it’s not as if the fetus is going to survive anyway, in these situations. So rather than save one life and unfortunately lose another, these people are encouraging doctors to step back and watch both woman and fetus (mother and child) die.

I know that abortion is an uncomfortable topic. Many women tell me they could never have one, and that’s okay. You have that choice. But it takes more than just telling other women they can have an abortion if they need to in order to truly be pro-choice; we need to support women in all of their reproductive choices, not just look embarrassed and turn the other way and say “oh Roe will take care of that.” Because the truth is that Roe is being chipped away into nothingness, and in its place we have ever more stringent laws put in place by lobbyists and legislators who take advantage of the fact that abortion is an uncomfortable topic.

If I want to have a baby, let me have a baby. If I don’t want to have a baby, don’t make me have a baby. Don’t hem and haw and hedge about which conditions are acceptable and which ones aren’t, or which women should have easier access to what they do with their own bodies. Don’t tell me it’s more complicated than that. It isn’t. I will do what I like with my body, and you will do what you like with yours. Too bad that you don’t like that I have multiple sex partners, but your religious beliefs about what that means for the state of my soul have nothing to do with me, and to force those beliefs on me in the form of law goes against American principles of liberty and independence, not to mention basic morals and decency. I may not like what you do with your body, and you may not like what I do with mine, but that is irrelevant. You’d think small government advocates, of all people, would be able to understand that.

A special note for my male readers: I get that abortion is a topic that makes you especially uncomfortable. It’s much easier to talk about revolutions and the politics of war and unions, since those are all things you can be a part of, whereas pregnancy is not something you are ever going to personally experience. If you’re a progressive man, chances are you’re pro-choice in the same general way that you’re pro-gay rights and pro-environment, but you don’t much go beyond that. Maybe you feel like you have nothing to add, since you aren’t a woman. Don’t take that easy cop-out! It is vital that we have male allies who take it as a matter of course that all women have legal, safe access to this medical procedure. Not to mention legal, safe access to the contraceptives that can prevent such procedures in the first place — as half of the equation that causes unplanned pregnancies, you’d better be campaigning for easier access to birth control (ahemover-the-counterECahem). Don’t kid yourself that women can be part of your labor movement, your environmental movement, your revolutionary movement if they don’t have access to reproductive health services. They can’t be there for you if you won’t be there for them. It’s in your own interest, if that’s the final push you need to get fully involved in this issue.

And if you’re not a man who is generally involved in political issues, well then, there’s this old chestnut: What if it were your sister/daughter/friend/wife/mother? Statistically, you know someone who has had an abortion. Statistically, you know someone who has been raped. Act according to how that makes you feel, according to how you want those women in your life to be treated.

I have followed the Egyptian revolution closely these past few weeks, and I have cheered for the Egyptian people as they have brought about democracy with perseverance, eloquence, and a unified will. Don’t think for a moment I don’t think their fight is important. But let’s bring our attention into a wider focus. Our domestic situation is dire, and we need our own perseverance, eloquence, and unified will to reveal the “culture of life” for what it is — a death sentence for American women.

I know we are all busy and have a lot to do in any given day, but this will take literally five minutes of your life, and as I said in the title of this post, they are forcing us back to days that are, frankly, unimaginable to me and most people of my generation. Give Five Minutes Now, or They’ll Take Us Back 40 Years.

Okay, so a thousand-word tirade has convinced you and you’re fired up. Now what? You know I wouldn’t leave you hangin’, baby. Here are some very simple steps you can take:

1) Write to your representatives. Everybody! If your rep is a co-sponsor of either of these bills, definitely write to them and voice your vehement disagreement. They need to know that a loud part of their constituency does not support their actions. If your rep is a strong pro-choicer, write to them and ask them to be loud in their opposition to the bill, rather than staying quiet on it. We need loud champions in the House and the Senate both. If your rep is somewhere in-between, write to them to urge them to vote against this and all anti-choice legislation.

2) Sign a few petitions opposing the bills. Twitter away about this with the #DearJohn hashtag to raise awareness; don’t let it all slip away under cover of the health care bill, the economic wrangling, or international events.

3) Get out there and march, old-school style! Walk for Choice 2011 is going on in cities all across the country (and even overseas in some places). On Saturday, February 26th, have a hearty brunch, then meet up for a noon walk to bring visibility to this issue in your hometown.

4) Write to your newspaper. Sure, this is about as old-fashioned as it gets, but the fact is that a lot of people still read the newspaper rather than the Internet to get their news, and a lot of voters read that Letters to the Editor section. Get their attention! Something like this: “The current attack on women’s lives in the US Congress is reprehensible and un-American. Rep. Christopher Smith’s (R-NJ) proposed legislation, HR 3, would make permanent a law that prevents women from using Medicare to obtain abortions except in cases of rape, incest, or when their own lives are in danger. This bill clearly affects poor and uninsured women the most, and its passage into law would put an even greater burden on them when they are at their most vulnerable. The bill’s addendum, HR 358, goes even farther in devaluing women. It allows doctors to refuse to treat a dying woman if doing so would mean performing an abortion. We cannot allow the government to legislate the deaths of thousands of American women every year. Both bills are an attack on the American values of liberty, independence, and a dignified life. Our legislators must reject this legislation and introduce stronger protections for women’s health and their lives.”

5) Donate money to organizations that work full-time to ensure women, men, and children have safe access to reproductive health services no matter their income level. Title X organizations like Planned Parenthood are also under attack right now under a different bill, so they can especially use your precious dollars right now.

Here is a fantastic, comprehensive list of resources (scroll down a bit), including ways to donate money, scripts for talking to your congressperson, and how to sign various petitions.


Fighting to survive: HR3, HR358 and the war on womens’ health by Sady Doyle (on how co-sponsors of these bills are literally killing their base, which seems a foolish move)

Denounce Republicans? When there are Democrats co-sponsoring HR 3? by Shannon Drury (drawing attention to the hypocrisy of the DCCC in this situation)

Meet the HR3 Ten: Heath Shuler by Sarah Jaffe (introducing us to the Blue Dog Democrats who co-sponsor these bills)

The House GOP’s Plan to Redefine Rape by Nick Baumann (one of the original articles on the issue)

Abortion does not harm mental health, study says by Alicia Chang (so there goes that argument — spoiler: this is not the first study that has proven this, and not a single study has proven the opposite)

Chipping Away at Roe… and the Definition of Rape by Melissa McEwan (on how this gives rapists a road map on how to avoid conviction)

I used to be a pro-life Republican by Andrea Grimes (on how realizing that abortion could affect her personally changed her views radically)

What Would Shirley Do? by Linda Greenhouse (on Shirley Chisholm’s work to debunk the myth that abortion is “racial genocide”)

Nancy Pelosi brings it: “We have to make this issue too hot to handle.” by Maya (blog handle) (kudos to House Minority Leader Pelosi and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand for starting and acknowledging that this is a serious fight that needs serious fighters)

Anti-Abortion Bills Surging Through Capitol Hill–and States, Too by Miriam Zoila Perez (keep an eye on your state’s legislature, too — denying women their right to choose isn’t just for Nebraska anymore)

The Anti-Choice Suffering Agenda by Thomas Macaulay Millar (if personal anecdotes don’t do it for you, this simple, logical breakdown of how all these laws are clearly about punishing women and not about saving babies will)

House Republican Spending Cuts Target Programs for Children and Pregnant Women by Pat Garofalo (once you are forced to have that baby, don’t expect any support to raise the child)

On Labor by Ta-Nehisi Coates (a heartbreaking story about just how real maternal death is and how fundamentally unfair it is to require women to undertake that risk if they don’t want to)

And finally, a bit of fun:

Felicity Huffman and William H. Macy sing a ditty from the perspective of a good, conservative woman — who still wants the government out of her underwear. Highly enjoyable!


If you’ve read this far, I hope you’re convinced that your action is needed on this issue. I encourage you to leave a comment saying what action you’ve taken, so that we can build a visible record of involved citizens. It’s so easy to say, “Well, other people are working on that,” but I think if we say it right here, we can see just how vital our own voice is in the struggle for human rights, and how simple it is to raise that voice.

Thanks for reading.

23 thoughts on “Reproductive Rights Under Attack: Give Five Minutes Now, or They’ll Take Us Back 40 Years

  1. Dudes, I live in the UK but I’ve sent a letter from my “home address” ie dad’s house and I’ve gone viral with the social media. We have our own insidious conservatism that we are combating over here, but thank you Team for reminding me that I still have to fight for my home and native lands.

  2. As of 2/8/11, the word “forcible” has not been removed from the bill. Christopher Smith, the author of the bill, guaranteed that it would be, but it hasn’t been. The bill went to the House Judiciary Committee in its original form. (Just an FYI and another reason to keep fighting).

  3. Also, just to blow up your feed, if you go to the site, you can read the bill in its entirety (it’s only 8 pages) and see that the word is still in there. Additionally, H.R. 3 also has a “consciousness clause” which keeps any medical staff from having to participate in an abortion, regardless of the risk to the mother, AND they don’t have to refer a woman seeking abortion services elsewhere. Which will be particularly detrimental to women in small towns.

  4. You’re probably going to yell at me for saying this and please let me be clear I am no way discouraging you or anyone else from taking the actions you prescribe, it is absolutely a good thing to be engaged and to demonstrate your passion about the issue…However I think the chances that these horrendous bills will ever become law are approximately zero. They will almost certainly die in the Senate. Nelson MIGHT vote for it, no other Senate Democrat will. Snowe and Collins won’t vote for it, I don’t think Kirk or Brown will either. Frankly I’m not even sure this will pass the Republican controlled HOUSE. These bills are props, red meat for the evangelical base.

    Now before you yell at me, please re-read my first sentence, I think advocating and making your voice heard is absolutely the right thing to do, and I’m not saying anyone should be complacent, the day may indeed come when the Right captures more of our government than it already has and there may indeed be reason for us to fear this kind of Handmaid’s Tale nightmare, I’m just saying I don’t think there’s any chance of this actually coming to pass right now. I have no substantive disagreement with you and I totally agree we have a role to play as citizens to guard against tyranny and all that good stuff. I’m basically just confidently predicting these bills are toast. If I’m wrong I will be thoroughly chastened. And also terrified.

    • The thing is, even if these particular bills don’t pass, there are already bills being passed/that have been passed that are nearly as bad. They’re chipping away at the whole structure, so of course this is getting more press but dozens of awful provisions are becoming law all the time. And there’s nothing saying they won’t introduce this legislation again and again, because although they may be playing a media game with its introduction, they also mean it.

      So these bills may be toast now, but in two years, maybe not. Best to start the fight now and cut ’em down before they grow to unstoppable monsters.

  5. And also let me be clear I think the laws as they exist now, are pretty bad, particularly for poor women, I just don’t see this particular madness happening.

  6. I don’t disagree with you, Rory, that these bills don’t have that great of a chance at passing. However, I don’t necessarily believe that’s the issue. Not speaking up, not telling our congressman and women that we do not support these bills appears as apathy. It says to them that we’re okay with what they are proposing and that the American people are willing to stay silent on such serious issues. If we don’t speak up now, when do we? How do we know when there’s truly a chance at them passing and how do we tell our congresspeople to stop trying to take over our rights?

  7. Yes Meg, I did state that I think speaking up is indeed a good thing. I was just commenting, perhaps irrelevantly, that I believe they won’t succeed at the present time. I also said something like them might go through down the line and that it is a legitimate fear.

    • The really frustrating thing, then, is the Sisyphean struggle to keep paltry women’s rights in place. I would *much* rather talk about job creation, the country’s aging infrastructure, high speed trains, or, you know, advancing our already threadbare social services for men and women. But instead many of us are putting all of our energy into keeping the bare minimum of reproductive rights available. It’s a boulder that never quite reaches the top.

  8. Pingback: The Good, The Bad, and The Silly « Stowaway

Dearest Fellow Travelers, tell me what you're thinking!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s