The Fem Spot

Bargaining with abortion

Posted in Politics by femspotter on March 20, 2010

March 20, 2010

In its 11th-hour, the health care bill is still in need of support from approximately 12 holdout Representatives, even after Dennis Kucinich’s recent high profile flip from “no” to “yes.” That has House Democratic leaders scrambling, reports The New York Times.

It was not immediately clear if the bill could win approval without some concessions to Democrats seeking tighter abortion restrictions.

In similar late-hour wrangling in November, Representative Bart Stupak, Democrat of Michigan, succeeded in winning approval of tight limits on insurance coverage of abortions in the House health care bill.

Mr. Stupak has said he would oppose the current measure without similar limits. Other Democratic opponents of abortion have said they are satisfied with the language in the Senate bill that bans the use of federal money to pay for coverage of the procedure, and they have pledged support for the package, expected to come to a decisive vote in the House on Sunday.

Mr. Stupak introduced a resolution on Friday that would add tougher abortion restrictions to the bill after it is approved but before it is sent to the president — a technique typically used to make minor or technical changes with the consent of both chambers, an unlikely prospect.

‘We don’t want another vote on abortion,’ said Representative Diana DeGette, Democrat of Colorado and a champion of abortion rights, as she left a meeting Friday evening in the office of Speaker Nancy Pelosi. ‘We are not going to vote for a bill that restricts women’s right to choose beyond current law.’

I find that as a liberal and a feminist – not a Liberal Feminist, per se, I am torn: I want to see this hopeful yet insufficient stab at health care “reform” succeed, but I am not willing to sacrifice the already meager rights that women exercise in exchange for similarly meager reform. As the article points out, federal money will not be used to cover abortion procedures under this bill. What more – or less – do these opposing Democrats want? Do they want to overturn Roe v. Wade, the historic “do with your body what you will” compromise that we all should be able to live with?

Up until now, I have avoided writing about health care reform because it seemed unlikely and because it didn’t strictly relate to my feminism. It is my belief that had this country elected Hillary Clinton to our highest office, she would have successfully banged the shit out of health care reform by now: no white glove summits coddling Republican misers and certainly no talk of making abortion the pigeon for her bill. But President Barack Obama has her safely out of sight and mind, tucked away in Moscow discussing diplomacy with Israel, where she can’t reach out and smack Stupak upside the head. Clinton is, after all, one of the most poised supporters of reproductive health rights working in the United States government today. So, were she installed in the Presidency, I probably would not have weighed in either.

But as a liberal – and one a stone’s throw away from embracing socialism, I have been ruminating about health care without specific regard to feminist issues like abortion or breast cancer, etc. I have thought about the Unconstitutional and unfair nature of our capitalist, for-profit health care industry and how it reflects our capitalist legal system wherein the rich get bigger and better services than the poor. And in these two systems, there’s money to be made at every turn.

Traditional moms and dads don’t want their sons to grow up to be doctors or lawyers, or their daughters to marry said doctors and lawyers, for the greater good; they want them to grow up to become doctors and lawyers because, in this country, that’s where there’s honorable money to be made – and by “honorable” I refer to money for service rather than money for little to no contribution to American Constitutional ideals. These moms and dads love to brag about Johnny Jr. and his impressive degrees from Harvard and Yale…oh, and by the way he saved a life today. It makes sense in America that if you educate yourself and work hard, you make money. That’s capitalism: the American dream. Of course, now mom and dad can also brag that Johnny Jr. is a pharmaceutical sales representative or insurance executive, because there’s “McMansion” money to be made there too.

The problem with capitalism is that it is not self-corrective. The American dream, once attainable by a strong middle class, has become perverted to the point where it is no longer readily attainable. Less and less, people are able to earn enough money to own their own homes and support their families without government intervention. Seen an ad for a multimillion-dollar home lately? The $20 million mansion has become the new American dream. Who needs it? Nobody. But there’s nothing in our capitalist system that corrects or reverses this economic flow, which pushes all the money in one direction: up. Capitalists believe that people charitably give their wealth proportionally, stimulating the economy from the bottom up, and that the system will work because of human compassion. Socialists know that people do not naturally want to share with each other; that’s why they build in sharing through centralized health care, etc. If you’re in the top 1% of the American population, you can afford great doctors to treat you when you’re sick and great lawyers to defend you when you’re accused of crimes. There are none to few “wealthy” people on death row. And I’d be willing to bet that there are no wealthy women contacting women’s welfare groups for abortion funding either.

When did our Constitutional rights to “general welfare” and “liberty,” i.e. health care and justice, get eroded away to the point where only the wealthy are entitled to them?

Health care reform measures are now in play to correct this Constitutional “welfare” discrepancy, but they have many conservatives crying “Socialism.” Gasp! “We can’t be socialists here. This is the United States of America, land of the pursuit of happiness.” Of course, that pursuit is short-lived when you can’t get chemo treatment or when you spend the first 18 years of your life as an unwanted child schlepping around in our child welfare system.

Health care becomes a feminist issue when abortion and mammograms – to name a couple of women’s services – become bargaining chips toward the long overdue, liberal end: medical coverage for all Americans. In November, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommended that women in their 40s should no longer get annual mammograms to screen for breast cancer, despite the rising rates of breast cancer in the U.S.: the current statistics are that 1. just under one in eight American women (12%) will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime and 2. that the 39 million mammograms that occur each year in the U.S. cost the health care system $5 billion. Are those one in eight female lives enough justification for money that the war in Iraq surpasses in expense on a monthly basis? Mammography is highly controversial, with some arguing its benefits and others its harms. But it is a controversial issue that belongs mainly to women – who rally and march at countless fund-raising events for breast cancer research each year – and should not be evaluated strictly on a cost basis, which the task force said was not a consideration. Somebody calculated and reported the cost, however. Hmmm… Whatever you do, don’t think about the elephant in the room. The proposed health care bill will extend coverage to 32 million people at a cost of $940 billion over 10 years. At $50 billion (5.3% of the $940 billion), mammography might be poised to take a hit for the good of the many.

And if Stupak gets his way, reproductive rights will also take a hit. In 2009, Stupak introduced a successful amendment to the House bill, which restricts women who receive government-subsidized health insurance from choosing health plans that cover abortions – according to the National Abortion Federation, roughly two thirds of health insurance providers offer some kind of coverage for abortion procedures. In other words, he threw the bill into a morality crucible. No longer was the issue about women’s health, the issue became about restricting women’s choices on the basis of the opposition to abortion’s morality. This amendment reduced the bill to a coin on a string: We’ll give you money for health care if you don’t actually try and obtain the health care you need. Might this influence health insurance providers to stop covering abortions so women will elect their coverage with government subsidies? Stupak wants this clause put back in the bill owing to what he calls his strong Catholic faith.

The only reason I’m listening to Stupak is because he has a very big microphone in front of him, put there by the voters of Michigan. At the end of the day, I don’t believe that Stupak or any man should get a say in whether or not abortion is legal or afforded by tax dollars. It’s not their issue; it’s ours, women – whether we’re for or against legal abortion! We should discuss and legislate. Male legislators should shut the fuck up about it because they’ll never have need or want for abortion! (Similarly, I am completely silent about penile enhancement procedures and vasectomies.)

I can understand not wanting your tax dollars to go to something you’re morally opposed to; but hey, sack up – my tax dollars support the “war on terror” and I’m morally opposed to that! Bottom line: Stupak, this is not up to you and your penis. Abortion is an issue for womb-bearers only, unless said womb-bearers are in loving, committed relationships with men and seek male approval on an individual basis.

You want to bring Catholicism into this? That’s Unconstitutional, according to Thomas Jefferson’s interpretation of the First Amendment, but I’ll go along. According to The New York Times, “a group of nuns has once again exposed the long-running rift between liberal and conservative theology in the Catholic Church.” Progressive Catholics, including a group of nuns, have said that they would support the Senate bill while the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has said that it would oppose it. Nuns win in my book, not because I agree with their stance, but because…they’re women! Though it’s doubtful that these nuns will ever take advantage of abortions, they believe that the bill does not make abortion more widely available than it already is. (Shucks!) Regarding the 59,000 nuns who maintain their anti-abortion stance yet support the bill, Stupak told Fox, “With all due respect to the nuns, when I deal or am working on right-to-life issues, we don’t call on the nuns.” Instead, he turns “to leading bishops, Focus on the Family, and The National Right to Life Committee.” That’s right, you misogynist, self-important windbag: ignore the women and their views…on this women’s issue!

Interested in hearing Stupak duke it out with Kentucky Democrat John Yarmuth – who notes that, under Stupak’s amendment, women would have “to plan for an unplanned event” – on “Hardball?”

Blah, blah, blah… Rachel Maddow and (female) guest are much more articulate, not to mention relevant.

This bill doesn’t satisfy me on liberal or feminist planes, but it’s a step in the right direction politically. When it comes to abortion, however, the bombast coming from male politicians needs to cease. Men, this is not your decision to make. You do not get to control what we do with our bodies for the sake of our health and the sake of our happiness. It is yes! Unconstitutional for you to think you can strip away our rights to life and pursuing happiness at the hands of abortion…or mammography or any other women’s health service you deem inconsequential. You can decide you’re the experts and tell us which brand of tampons to wear, but don’t expect us to listen. And if you take away legal abortions, women will go back to bleeding to death for our rights. Stupak, you want to threaten Nancy Pelosi with your 40 plus dissenting votes? We threaten you with dead pregnant women and their similarly dead unborn.

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Hillary Clinton supporters: stupid, or just plain emotional?

Posted in Feminist Theory, Personal Essays, Pop Culture by femspotter on September 4, 2008

September 4, 2008

The question has been asked on television news, commentary programs, talk radio and at the office water cooler. Does John McCain really think women in this country are stupid enough to vote for him just because his running mate is a woman?

When I first heard the news that McCain’s choice was made and freshman Governor of Alaska Sarah Palin was on his ticket, I experienced a burst of excitement. Gloria Steinem had said that men of all races will make history before women, and in this case the history was to be made by Democratic nominee Barack Obama, a black man. He’ll be the first black man to become president. Sorry ladies, you’ll have to wait your turn.

I’m not usually the kind of person who follows authority blindly, but it was the Gloria Steinem who had said it. Men will achieve historic milestones in each category before women. I felt a stab of injustice. I fumed and cried for the 80- and 90-year-old women out there who were hoping to see Hillary Clinton assume the presidency, meaning that herstory had been made when this country elected a woman to our highest executive office.

Sarah Palin. Who is that? I didn’t know her from Eve, but suddenly her name sounded really powerful. Maybe she would prove Steinem wrong and pass an historical landmark before a black man had become either president or vice president. Sarah Palin. How bad could she be?

Obama never told us why he didn’t consider Clinton as his running mate. I had thought her the most logical choice. She came in a close second in the primary. She’d been a gracious loser, throwing her support behind Obama. She has some diehard fans. Shouldn’t these qualities make her the runner up for the job, a heartbeat away from the big button? Hey! I demand to know why she wasn’t even considered!

But it’s not my choice. It’s up to the man who won the primary race. And apparently he doesn’t care if roughly 20 percent of Clinton’s voters have pledged to give their votes to McCain.

And now with this Palin upset… People are asking: Are liberal women stupid enough to vote for McCain/Palin just because Palin is a woman?

It’s the wrong question. The correct question is: Are liberal women angry enough to vote Republican?

I’m not stupid and neither are the ladies from the Rutgers University Women’s Studies department who were quoted in last weekend’s New York Times as saying they would write in Clinton’s name when the time comes. It’s not a rational, intellectual reaction that makes us think of betraying party loyalty, it’s an emotional one.

Several weeks ago, I blogged about crying at work. I got a nasty response from somebody out there in the blogosphere telling me that I must be totally insane to cry over a hurtful, misdirected email – somebody emailed me something negative about me instead of sending it to the appropriate (?) person. I should have posted the comment under the essay…but I had an emotional reaction to it and, just like when I cried at work, I acted hastily. I deleted the comment.

My emotions aren’t wrong or bad, but they often make life a bit difficult. Emotional people are the ones who give you the finger if you cut them off in traffic. Emotional people get scared at scary movies and huddle up to the person in the seat next to them. Emotional people take in stray animals. We donate blood. We’re always available to give you a hug. We’re not terrible people…we’re emotional.

Once I saw a woman weeping on a bench in the New York City subway system. I recognized her as a fellow emoter immediately. I thought that perhaps she’d just lost her 12 year-old Labrador Retriever. Maybe, she’d dropped all of her money irrevocably onto the subway tracks. Could it be that her tears were the result of too small underwear wedging into her ass crack? There was just no way to tell.

I wanted to go over to her and lay a hand on her shoulder. I wanted to tell her that everything was going to be okay. But because she was crying – for whatever reason – I couldn’t do it. Once emotional, always emotional. If she’s a crier, won’t she be a screamer too? This was New York City. If I offered her sympathy, would I be rewarded with a smack?

Emotion can get a bit unruly, but it’s also fleeting. My knee-jerk reaction to Palin’s nomination was enthusiasm. But I’m all for abortion rights, gay marriage and green initiatives. Palin is completely against abortion under any circumstances. She’s absolutely certain that the only viable “marriage” equation consists of one man and one woman. And she thinks global warming is the process by which flight attendants heat meals on an airplane.

I may have considered voting for McCain during the emotional haze that followed the Palin announcement. But when I do think about those issues, among others, I know that I will not vote Republican. That’s not to say that my Obama vote is etched in stone, however. Remember, I’m emotional. If Obama says or does anything disrespectful to Clinton or to female Democrats in the days just before the election, he’s risking another emotional outburst from us scorned women.

We’re not stupid. We’re just emotional. And emotion isn’t bad or wrong, it’s just impulsive.

The right thing would have been to offer assistance to the crying woman in the subway. I should have braved it. The wrong thing would have been to avoid even considering such a gesture.

That girl runs like a boy

Posted in Feminist Theory, Politics by femspotter on May 16, 2008

May 16, 2008

There’s much in the news these days about presidential politics, specifically about a race between a black man and a white woman. The media has exhausted television air time with discussions of race, less so of sex and gender.

It’s fitting to start my feminist blog  in a time when it appears as though the woman’s movement is hibernating – at least, I hope it’s asleep and not dead. The post-feminists are having their day, I guess.

So let’s not talk politics then. Let’s talk about horseracing.

“Whoa!” “Wait a minute,” you say. “Horseracing IS political.”

True, true. I do not dispute. Whenever there is at stake a modicum of power, money or sex, politics come into play. Somebody is in charge, making the rules, and others who are not want the power to change those rules.

Even the person who bids $2 on a horse to place third falls victim to the political machinations that go on behind the scenes.

The horses themselves have been politically manipulated, victims of unscrupulous breeders who forget the laws of physics that would foresee the collapse of 1200 pounds on four skinny legs. The trainers race them too young, some say. Other critics of thoroughbred racing question the appropriateness of dirt track surfaces. (Apparently, synthetic tracks are softer.)

Whatever the cause, on May 3 at the Kentucky Derby, three-year-old filly Eight Belles fell to the ground having fractured both of her front ankles at the conclusion of the race. She was euthanized on the track.

Note the pronoun: “she.” All the while, her creators and sponsors schemed to use the horse for profit, another factor presented itself: she was a girl in a boy’s world.

Analysts say it’s rare to see a girl run in the boy races. Their femininity (i.e. “passivity” or “physical weakness” or whatever else is the en vogue gender debasement) often makes them unsuitable for tough racing.

But after listening to all of the political commentary on the (horse)race, it’s refreshing to hear what an average Joe thinks of this brave girl: “She was one of the best fillies around,” said James Clemons, 58, a machine operator, according to Joe Drape and his May 4 article in The New York Times. “She showed she could run with the boys.”

The machinist choked up. The idea was just too tragic to believe: 1200 pounds of beautiful horse, lying by the trackside, dead…never to run again.

“She went out in glory,” said her trainer Larry Jones of her second place victory, according to the same article. “She went out a champion to us.”

Take a lesson from the life of a lowly female racehorse: she could run with the boys and she could beat ‘em.

Now we turn from politics in sports back to the Democratic politics of the moment. It’s almost time to have a vote in the final five remaining states – or 10 percent – between frontrunner Barack Obama and prematurely eulogized Hillary Clinton. The finish line is close but the race is not over.

Still, political analysts question the validity of Clinton’s campaign. If she can’t win, then why is she running?

Though the glimmer of hope for a win is fading, it has not expired, and the political racehorse keeps running. With a recent slaughter in West Virginia and an overall close number both in votes and delegates, Clinton will finish a champion – like Eight Belles – whether she is the Democratic nominee or not. It’s old-fashioned to keep a promise to fight when the odds are against you. And afterall, Obama is winning on a political platform of “change.”

Her campaign has fallen and picked itself up many times. Even while struggling to raise funds and win undecided voters, she can still pull a win in a state where, like everywhere else, people do watch television. With critics dismissing Clinton and calling her chances slim to none, voters still came out and cast their ballots for the person they think should be President.

Obama, on the other hand, looks worn and tired. His rallies have lost a bit of their fanatical spark. Will he be strong enough to carry the Democratic Party over the White House threshold in November?

He will if he can muster the stamina that Clinton has shown. He will if he can tough it out with, dare I say “feminine,” strength and tenacity.

The question to be answered has thus become: can Barack Obama run like a girl?

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