It’s been a tough week for women. The Supreme Court unanimously struck down the buffer zone around clinics providing abortions, making it easier for protesters to harass those entering the clinic. Then, the men of the Court voted in favor of private companies withholding health care from women if they don’t agree with it—even though the company in question, Hobby Lobby, invests in and profits from Pfizer, which manufactures contraceptives. It has been a strange month for a social justice advocate such as myself. I’ve rejoiced as states, one by one, recognize my brothers and sisters in same-sex marriages and in private moments I realize that as a straight woman, with outstanding health complications, this is also a time of great strife that has lead to two steps backward without any steps forward.
I would like to ask those who oppose contraceptives, and abortion, what a gal like myself is supposed to do.
I was born with a rare genetic syndrome that, like most syndromes, affects many seemingly unrelated health matters. I’ve had knee surgeries for displaced patellas; I was not expected to walk and only achieved this, at age 3, after almost daily physical therapy; many people with my condition experience glaucoma, colon cancer, scoliosis, repeated dislocating joints, major depression, and kidney failure; and women with my disorder who become pregnant are very likely to develop preeclampsia.
My father did not know that his constellation of symptoms had a name, and unwittingly passed it to me. I can still remember his tears as he wiped my tears through painful post-surgery rehab before I had even entered kindergarten. Over the years I’ve kept myself updated on the latest, albeit scant, research on my disorder. I manage my own array of symptoms and do things to ward off those I have been lucky enough to avoid so far. And in those years I also decided that I found it unethical to knowingly pass my disorder down to a biological child of my own. As a child who had a sick father who died young, I am also unwilling to risk my health to carry a child.
This was not an easy conviction for my husband and I to come to. I still imagine what our children might look like, running my fingers through my husband’s hair which is even curlier than mine. Would our child have a beautiful, crazy nest on their perfect head? But then I remember the guilt my father felt as I fought the challenges of this syndrome. I read about pregnancy complications and I wish for a long, healthy life. In this matter I’ve come to a place of acceptance.
I want to ask those who would wish to deny my access to contraception, and also to abortion, what people like me are expected to do. Given the rhetoric from those engaging in these battles, I assume that there is a certain stereotype of women who have too many partners, too much sex, who are, in essence, too obvious in their female-ness. Whatever stereotype has been conjured, I am confident that not many of those people actually exist. Most of us women are just women who, when you have unprotected sex with us, can become pregnant. And if that pregnancy may result in my compromised health or death and suffering of my child, I am struggling to find the morality in denying me preventative measures. Some of those fighting to deny access to contraception and abortion also believe sterilization to be a sin. This leaves me celibate, I suppose. That seems to be the only answer they have for me.
Or, could it be, that they have no answer for me? That this entire movement lacks nuance, lacks personal accounts, and that those “sidewalk counselors” who are now allowed to walk right up to the door of women’s health clinics, do a whole lot of shouting and not very much listening?
I attended a family wedding several weeks ago. Now that both my parents are gone, the touching mother-of-the-bride and father-of-the-bride moments take on a new gravity for me. At this wedding, the father of the bride recalled in his toast the day his daughter was born. He said he looked at her for the first time and thought, “Now I know how much my mom and dad loved me.” And my breath caught and my throat closed up and my eyes went to water because I’ll never know. And because I can’t know, my husband, to whom I wish I could give everything in this world, won’t know either. Yet I am the very woman affected when employers can begin denying access to contraception. If they can begin choosing what healthcare to cover, what other services will I lose? I am the woman who may have to be escorted through a throng of bloody fetus posters, wishing desperately that I was instead walking into a department store to start a baby registry. I am the nuance.
But my story is not told. Stereotypes and tropes are trotted out and manipulated and placed upon women. So, I am the opposition, too. I will volunteer my time escorting other nuanced, beautiful women through ugly crowds who have no answers for us. I will continue my career as a social justice advocate in service of those whose stories are ignored. My life depends on it.
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