Marching down Constitution Avenue to protest the Vietnam War and to support the Equal Rights Amendment was a rite of passage for me. In early 1970s Washington, D.C., if you weren't marching for something, you just weren't hip. I was one of the millions of young Americans swept up in the fervor of post-Kennedy America, Vietnam and Nixon-era radicalism, ready to do anything to get American politicians to understand my personal ethos of equality for all.
Women's rights were a big issue for me. In those days, I could look forward to making about 60 percent of the income of my male compatriots, regardless of equivalent education or job performance. Women at the top of any gamewhether political, corporate or academicwere rare. Hiring and promotional discrimination was technically illegal, but went largely unchallenged. "Women's work" was still largely defined as motherhood, or in the business world as support roles. "Woman is the n*gger of the world," Yoko Ono said in '69.
In the early '70s, the birth-control pill was hailed as a miracle for so many of us. Finally, we thought, we could follow our hearts and could stop playing silly sexual games. Finally, we had control over whether and when to have children. Finally, we could choose careers over motherhoodpermanently or temporarilywithout having to sacrifice intimacy and relationship. Finally, we could level the sexual playing field.
Abortion was illegal in the days before Roe v. Wade. I didn't personally know women who died from self-inflicted or back-alley abortions, but I certainly knew them second-hand. First-hand, I knew women who had to face the fact that their dreams, educations and careers were cut short because of unintentional pregnancies; they had to accept motherhood because they had no other choice. I held a friend as she wept in despair, then watched her stoically accept her fate because she didn't particularly like the only other options available to her: a dangerous, expensive, out-of-state, back-alley abortion that could have taken her life; or carrying the child to term and giving it up for adoption. As the daughter of a woman nominally fit to raise children, I swore I would never inflict that near-lethal disregard on any of my own children.
Roe v. Wade was a dramatic, life-changing victory for millions of American women. Buoyed by success in both medical and legal arenas, nothing could stop us. "I am woman; hear me roar" wasn't a cliché in '73; it was a rallying cry: "I am strong, I am invincible, I am woman." A dozen years later, "Sisters are Doin' it for Themselves," sung by Annie Lennox and Aretha Franklin, became another feminist anthem.
In 1983, I marched down Constitution Avenue again on the 10th anniversary of the passage of Roe v. Wade. Women had made some strides, but there was still a lot of work to do. I could feel the sagging spirit of the entire affair, buffeted not only by years of radical anti-choice rhetoric, but by the blows of the Nixon scandals, the disillusionment of the Carter presidency and the shock of Reagan "trickle down" conservativism. I had to tell my companion why we were there. She was just a few years younger than me, but she didn't really get it.
"Maybe," I thought then, "we took it all too far."
And then I began hearing something new: HIV and AIDS.
As devastating as this amoral, newly discovered disease was to many of my colleagues and friends, the Moral Majority, the new Christian right, received it with giddy recrimination. The heady days of the loud, "get it done, or get out" left were coming to a close. Nearly 25 years later, no social movement has yet to match the excitement, enthusiasm or progress made by the anti-war or feminist movements in my experience. Frankly, it feels like the entire country is so jaded, so defeated, that we can barely get out of bed.
Barack Obama has revived a modicum of that spirit, but when he talks about the wage gap between men and women, the press calls it pandering. American women make about 80 percent of equivalently educated men. How is this a situation about which we continue not to protest? Domestic violence against women is on the rise, while general violent crime has declined for years. And inch by inch, conservatives find ways to work around the law to get their agendas in place while most women are just trying to live their lives.
Today, women are faced with one of the most sweeping sets of anti-choice regulations yet: the Department of Health and Human Services 45 CFR Part 88, which intends to broaden the definition of health-care service "providers" with such vague language that anyone with even tangential links to doctors, pharmacists or institutions that support women's reproductive rights can refuse to do their jobs on "moral" grounds, or can sue for discrimination.
When one group of people forces another to live by their morality, you can hardly call it progress. To the contrary, it's called repression.
Reproductive choice has been a woman's right in this country for more than 30 years. Remember that a woman's right to vote has only been around for 88 years, and women had to fight for that, too. Those of us who want our voices heard can respond by sending an e-mail to [e-mail missing] by Sept. 26, or by snail mail (original and two copies) to Office of Public Health and Science, Department of Health and Human Services, Attention: Brenda Destro, Hubert H. Humphrey Building, 200 Independence Avenue, S.W., Room 728E, Washington, D.C., 20201.
When one group of people forces another to live by their morality, you can hardly call it progress. To the contrary, it’s called repression.
How is not repression then to force medical providers who would otherwise refuse to perform certain procedures on moral grounds to live by someone else's morality?