The morning that the U.S. Supreme Court did not strike down "Obamacare" as so many believed it would do was yet another of those crazy busy days in the Jackson Free Press offices. This summer, we have 18 interns in our summer training program, and they are everywhere, lifting the already high energy of this joint even more. They are focused on solutions and making the world a better place, and seem to think that partisan political rhetoric is rather wasted. (See this column for an example.)
When President Obama made a statement a couple hours after the decision, I turned it up really loud on the TV in my office and yelled out that anyone could crowd in to listen. Suddenly, there were about 10 staffers and mostly interns in my office listening to him. We all remained for a bit longer to hear Mitt Romney's statement.
I'd already been seeing the #repeal tweets by Republicans all morning, but I was naïve enough to think that the presumptive presidential nominee for the GOP wouldn't make a nakedly political statement in response to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on a law that, while you may disagree with how it's done, is at its core about saving American lives.
Romney didn't mince words, quickly declaring that on his first day of office, "I will act to repeal Obamacare." From there, it got worse with him repeating the perjorative "Obamacare" 18 times.
It was empty rhetoric, and it was all politics. Meantime, people are dying and living low-quality lives because they can't afford health care for themselves and their children. Is this the right message to send to a nation that is getting sicker and sicker of divisive rhetoric? It sure doesn't help convince young voters that our political climate is anything but toxic.
Fast forward a couple days, and we broke the news that Judge Dan Jordan had slapped an injunction on the folks trying to close the state's only abortion clinic (see 'Rhetoric May Save Clinic'). He pointed out in his order (posted at www.jfp.ms/documents) that a big problem with the anti-abortion folks' case was that they didn't hide the fact that their primary mission was to eliminate abortion—like it or not, a constitutional right—in the state of Mississippi. That is, politicians weren't even smart enough to focus their remarks on women's health—giving pro-abortion rights advocates ammunition to say that the motive was eliminating a constitutional right. And that's not good.
The morning after that decision, a JFP team walked over to the clinic to see what was up. There was a young woman there, Ashley Sigrest, who told a compelling story about why she's now against abortion: She's a rape victim who had an abortion and now regrets it.
I personally am in favor of abortion rights, but I respect people who do not believe in it, such as Ashley, and I want to find some sort of middle ground that allows us all to work together to lower the incidence of abortion as much as possible, while still allowing women to choose whether or not to have a child and when. And, boy, do I believe every child has the right to be wanted.
But even as Ashley was telling her story to our reporter Jacob Fuller, other anti-abortion protesters, include the omnipresent Beverly and Roy McMillan, were vying for the spotlight. At one point, Jacob said, Beverly McMillan even interrupted his interview with Sigrest to say that the president of Pro-Life Mississippi (her) was available to give a statement.
And while our team was on the scene, Roy McMillan kept giving them angry messages to give to me because I had dared criticize his wife's stance against all hormonal birth control, including the pill and the morning-after pill, recently in an editorial. In it, I questioned how she expected to lower the rates of abortion if she didn't even want women to have access to birth control and pondered at the end (snarkily, granted) whether she also preferred women barefoot as well.
Her husband's answer that day? To yell out that "shoes are optional!"—and to tell my reporter to tell me that my "boyfriend" and I should get married. He was presumably talking about my life and business partner Todd Stauffer, among various other grumblings. (Todd's response later: "Roy McMillan needs to be introduced to the All-American concept of minding his own damn business.")
But way too many opponents of abortion seem to have no interest in minding their own business. Not only do they want to declare that abortion (and, apparently, the pill) is murder, they also want to tell us when and with whom we can have sex or even marry (or not). In the case of the McMillans, they want to put the onus on the woman to make all the smart (and abstinent) choices, while giving her very few. They want to show up every day outside a clinic where a woman is making a very difficult decision for herself and her family, and harangue her into submission and shame.
Meantime, there is so much different, and more effective, work to be done to lower the rates of abortion. Young women need to be told it's OK to say no, and at any point before intercourse occurs. Young men need to be told that no means no, and there are no excuses for trying to force a young woman to have sex. Young women need to learn to be independent and to have a strong voice when it comes to taking care of themselves and expressing what they want and do not want (including having sex). Young people need to be taught to find fulfillment in a wide variety of ways rather than resorting to cheap sex.
We also need to challenge a culture that rushes young people into marriage too soon and encourages children to have children. Let's be honest: No small number of "teen" pregnancies in this state involve married teens. We need to mentor young people and model the kind of behavior that shows that love is a whole lot deeper and more lasting than saying yes just to buy a bit of affection.
And, for the love of all things that make a lick of sense, we have to get over our antiquated notions in this state that young people aren't going to come up with having sex if we don't suggest it in sex-education classes. This is backward thinking, and it is keeping good information away from our young people that would, in itself, lower the incidence of abortion in our state.
Put another way: If your motive is actually reducing abortion and increasing the birth of wanted children, then stop the silly rhetoric and nosing into other adults' lives, and start doing the kinds of things that might actually reduce abortion.
Young people are watching. Let's make it count.
Follow Donna Ladd on Twitter @donnerkay and email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.