By now the red flags should be flying on the horizons of women everywhere who thought the battle for fair treatment was pretty much won. In case the potential of the trouble looming has not registered in their busy lives, let me remind them of the way it once was.
This nation had been around for nearly 150 years before women were granted the right to vote. When my mother was 21, she voted for the first time the year universal suffrage for women went into effect. But she would not have been allowed to get a loan or open a business without her husband’s consent, would not have been admitted to most of the medical and law schools of the country, and could even have been beaten by her husband with no legal recourse, among a long list of the injustices leveled at women in those not so long ago days.
She was not given pain medication when her first child, my brother, was born because her doctor believed, as the bible says, that women shall bring forth their children in pain. She died in 1977 at the age of 77 so we’re not harking back to just after the dinosaurs disappeared although a good case could be made that it qualified as an aspect of the dark ages. About that time I was told that if I wanted to have my tubes tied as a method of birth control, it would be up to the five men on the board of the hospital to decide whether I should be allowed such a procedure. I didn’t even know these men and had visions of such a conference, an invasion of privacy in the first degree. How intrusive, how chauvinistic, how degrading.
I find it incredible, unfair, backward and ugly that we are once again fighting about contraception. It is not a battle over freedom of religion—it is an attempt to impose a particular religious belief on women’s lives.
When a congressional committee met to discuss whether contraception should be included in the new mandatory health insurance coverage, it was a stag affair, as if only men qualified to discuss what women could do with their bodies. How quaint. How insulting. How frightening. When a courageous young woman, a law student at Georgetown University, testified at an informal subsequent hearing gathered by more enlightened representatives, it triggered a spectac larly vulgar three days of Rush Limbaugh calling the young woman “a slut, and a prostitute” and suggesting she be required to video her sexual life. For what? His voyeuristic pleasure?
How demeaning. How disgusting.
Meanwhile, that venerable institution, Planned Parenthood, has been under attack, its opponents implying that the major business of the organization is to provide abortion. Actually 3% of its budget goes to abortion services. The rest is for routine medical care of women, primarily poor women, who otherwise have no access to prenatal care, cancer screening, birth control, and other routine medical services. I would suggest that the philosophy behind such services is that even if you are poor, you have a right to a decent medical life.
Here in North Dakota some 40,000 citizens have no health insurance. Indeed some of them may be young people who figure they are never getting sick, getting pregnant, or getting hit by a truck. But the majority simply cannot afford private health insurance. Going to the emergency room may be the solution to a medical emergency, but it is not an adequate health care plan.
The opposition to the Affordable Care Act is sadly not based on its merits as much as it is seen as a weapon in the upcoming presidential election campaign. The health of the people be dammed is the underlying philosophy.
So a web of misinformation, outright lies, and ignorance is spread upon the land with out even a faint hint of what might improve the nation’s overall good health.
This latest brouhaha over contraception is actually not just a women’s issue. It has a major effect on the lives of men, too. A recent Time Magazine feature predicts that in another generation, women will earn more money than men, and the role of men in the family will be acceptably different as a result.
That’s only unacceptable if you think the ancient roles of men and women were all that beneficial, that they made the best use of the talents and interests of both sexes, that the world was better off when women were trapped into continual pregnancy and forced into a way of life that stifled some of their best talents.
Let’s not turn back that particular clock.
(Betty Mills has been a newspaper columnist in Bismarck for 26 years.)