On Nov. 8, Mississippi residents will vote on a proposed constitutional amendment that would categorize a fertilized human egg as a legal person. If passed, this measure would prohibit not only abortion, but common birth control methods such as the IUD. While a similar measure was twice defeated in Colorado, in 2008 and 2010, by wide margins, other states - including Florida and Ohio - are considering comparable initiatives.
These attacks are dangerous, but they are nothing new, part of a
century-long war on women. While we all know it generally takes two to
tango when it comes to sex, One hundred years ago this month, my
grandmother began her career as an advocate. A recent arrival in New
York herself, Margaret Sanger worked as a nurse in the lower East Side,
where immigrants lived crowded in fetid tenements and the infant mortality rate was of Third World proportions.
My grandmother was particularly struck by the daily drudgery of
mothers. She immediately saw the connection between the dire living
conditions and the fact that many births were unwanted, recalling one 72
year-old woman who said "she would gladly have another baby if nature
were willing, but her daughters and sons, who had endured poverty and
neglect. . .preferred risking imprisonment and death rather than bearing
children and have them go through what they lived through."
My grandmother soon learned that women were routinely denied access
to contraception and information about how to prevent pregnancies. It
was the attitude at the time that women - and women alone - were
responsible for the consequences of marital relations. The draconian
Comstock Laws made it illegal to distribute contraceptives or provide
educational materials about sexual health or reproduction, as this information was then considered "lascivious."
My grandmother soon discovered that Comstock carried implications far
more serious than censorship when she tried to save the life of one of
her patients following a botched back-alley abortion. She swore "no more" and founded the birth control movement in America, subsequently opening the first of her clinics in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn.
Her clinic was open less than two weeks before being closed by the
police as a "public nuisance." She went to jail for 30 days, but kept
fighting, eventually founding the International Planned Parenthood
Today, IPPF has more service points worldwide than McDonald's does franchises, providing millions with contraception and reproductive health
care each year. In the U.S., Planned Parenthood partners with city,
state and federal health agencies to bring healthcare to those who
cannot afford it.
But then again, many modern-day Comstocks are seeking to characterize
sex as a public threat, trying to pass legislation that will once more
burden the poorest of mothers. The proposed amendment in Mississippi -
as well as other anti-woman initiatives brewing in other states -
compromises decades of hard- won gains in public health, all for the
sake of outdated and dangerous ideology. There is, in fact, nothing
ideal about denying women the health services and education they need
and want: We know from experience that women will risk their lives to
avoid unwanted pregnancies.
My grandmother's cause began a century ago this month in the slums of
lower Manhattan; her fight continues today. And like Margaret Sanger,
we will not retreat until reproductive rights and health become a reality for all.
Source: Alexander Sanger, New York Daily News, 27 October 2011