Politicization: A New Era for Women’s Bodies

Today marks the third official Women’s Health Wednesday of the House of Representatives. Created by Pro-Choice Caucus Co-Chair Diana DeGette, a Democratic representative from Colorado, Women’s Health Wednesdays, which will last the rest of this year, provide a regular time slot for representatives to speak to the House in defense of women’s health issues. From information on mammograms and birth control, to personal anecdotes of cancer and abortions, all is fair game in what DeGette hopes will be “an opportunity for members of Congress to take a stand against the unceasing attacks on women’s health care.”[1]

While Women’s Health Wednesdays are unquestionably worthwhile in today’s political climate, it is critical to step back to reflect for a moment on the fact that we’ve reached a point in our history where we need this kind of institution. It’s easy to forget, through a present-day lens, that women’s bodies weren’t always subject to political scrutiny.

Women’s bodies, in the course of American history, have been subject to myriad forms of external control. The history of women’s health is replete with examples of medicalization, or attempts by doctors to govern women’s affairs based on the laws of science. At the turn of the 20th century, such “laws” dictated that a woman was incapable of attending school because the mental energy required for studying would decrease the physical energy available to her reproductive organs.[2] Such rules paved the way so that, by the 1950s, childbirth had shifted from a home-centered, female-controlled experience to a hospital-based, physician-attended, drug-dominated procedure.[3]

Our history has also subjugated women’s bodies through commercialization, as consumerist tactics capitalized on female biology to define the meaning of womanhood in America. Birth control manufacturers and advertisers in the 1930s “trumpeted” consumption as a “characteristically female freedom,” and instructed women to exercise that freedom through the purchase of new, commercially made contraceptive devices.[4] In the 1960s, feminine hygiene product brochures taught young girls that they needed to wear up-to-date, store-bought sanitary napkins in order to “look and feel confident.”[5]

Our bodies have been medicalized, they’ve been commercialized, and they’re now being increasingly politicized as well. It would be wrong to say this politicization is completely new; women’s bodies have been a topic of major Supreme Court cases as early as 1965. But never before has this politicization been so extensive as it is today; never before has the onslaught of attacks on women’s health been so extreme and so persistent in the halls of Congress.

We sincerely applaud the men and women who are speaking up during Women’s Health Wednesdays to counter the negative effects of this politicization, as they inject personal anecdotes and informative speeches back into the political battleground. In a time when women’s bodies (and lives) are being so drawn into the realms of politics, it is more critical than ever that support outspoken, pro-choice legislators who will stand in strong defense of women’s freedoms.

[2] George Wythe Cook, “Puberty in the Girl,” American Journal of Obstetrics and Diseases of Women and Children 46 (1902): 805.

[4] Andrea Tone, “Contraceptive Consumers: Gender and the Political Economy of Birth Control in the 1930s,” in Women and Health in America, Ed. Judith Walzer Leavitt: 308.

[5] Very Personally Yours, Kimberly-Clark Corp (1961): 13.


Building a Voice through Social Media

As tensions have continued to rise in the Congressional debates on birth control coverage, public attention has increasingly turned to a certain question: What’s wrong with this picture?

Source: PPFA Facebook Page, 2/16/2012

Between Congress’ recent attempt to bar a female law student from speaking on behalf of women’s health and its increasingly outrageous proposals to limit women’s rights to choose, the American public is becoming rapidly appalled by what our nation’s leaders have to say about reproductive health and rights.[1] We are realizing that in matters affecting half of our nation’s population, we cannot entrust the discussion to a handful of voices from an old boy club. We are finding increasingly innovative ways to add our own voices to these critical conversations.

Today’s young voters are often said to comprise a generation of political apathy. Responses to political activity through social media are often (albeit incorrectly) judged as quick, emotional reactions rather than reasoned, thoughtful participation. However, in the wake of this birth control debacle and the larger conversations surrounding women’s health in America, youth voter activism through social media has mounted a clear and compelling challenge to this assumption.

Take, for example, the timeline of this month’s Susan G. Komen and Planned Parenthood dispute. On Tuesday, January 31, Planned Parenthood announced thatthe Komen Foundation planned to withdraw future grant support of their organization. By that Friday, Komen representatives stumbled through an apology, a reversal of the decision, and a public embarrassment wrought almost entirely by the torrent of Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr activity against the organization.[2]

While young voters may not be involved in traditional ways in political conversations, in an era when we take in most of our information through the dynamic, real-time conversations we engage in through the Internet, we are clearly showing our power through a new kind of participation in the democratic political process. We recognize how little sense it makes to confine discussion on reproductive choice to a group of Congressional voices and, we are capitalizing on the most effective, most immediate medium to make our voices heard.

Women’s Health: Not a Moral Issue

Tomorrow, the Senate is set to vote on the atrocious Blunt Amendment, proposed by Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri. If passed into law, this amendment will reverse President Obama’s positive steps toward providing near-universal birth control access, as it will allow any employer to deny birth control coverage based on his or her personal moral objections.[1] But further, and even more threatening, the Blunt Amendment will empower employers to deny their employees coverage for any medical procedure they choose: abortion, in vitro fertilization, and organ transplants, just to name a few. The degree to which this amendment would allow employers to hinder the healthcare rights of their employees is immeasurable and unquestionably horrifying.

We’ve become so accustomed to hearing buzzwords about “morality” in the context of women’s health discussions, but it’s critical that we step back and ask ourselves these questions: what moral is at stake here? What are we really even debating? As articulated by Martha Plimpton, an actress and guest blogger for Slate, “It’s long past time we started focusing on the solutions that actually keep women healthy, instead of using basic aspects of women’s health as a tool of cultural, moral, and political control.”[2]

Historically, the ideas that a man has a right to reign over his wife’s body, that birth control destroys women’s sexual propriety, and that females are intellectually inferior have drawn legitimacy from the antiquated social contexts in which they existed. But today, in the 21st century, implying that women are intellectually inferior by questioning their rights to make their own reproductive decisions is horrendously offensive. Claiming that a female, given birth control, is unable to restrain her sexual behavior is grossly outdated. The moral questions that used to give clout to the notion of women’s health as a “moral issue” no longer bear weight. The facts are that family planning saves lives and improves the quality of our societies and that the medical procedures women choose are scientifically sound and effective.

When we consider what “women’s health” should mean, it should encompass the pursuit of all possible ways to ensure that women can maximize their health status. It’s a question of safety, of security, and of livelihood—morality, and the judgments of what that means to one person versus another—should not be part of the picture.



Blog For Choice Day 2012

This weekend marked the 39th anniversary of the monumental Roe v. Wade decision, which liberalized abortion access nationwide and established many of the principles that lie at the center of today’s most heated debates. To commemorate this occasion, pro-choice individuals and organizations around the nation participated in “Blog for Choice Day” on January 22nd, sharing their answers to the question, “What will you do to elect pro-choice candidates?” We at NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina would like to applaud the hundreds of bloggers who spoke up to support a woman’s right to choose and would like to add our voice to this conversation.

This past October, we released a report exposing the alarming prevalence and impact of Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPCs). CPCs are clinics run by anti-choice organizations that often provide incorrect or misleading information and falsely advertise as medical facilities despite their lack of medically licensed personnel. Women who enter these clinics seeking abortions and unbiased information are subjected to such a degree of anti-choice pressure that those who decide not to have the abortions cannot be said to have truly exercised “choice.” We identified 122 CPCs in the state of North Carolina alone and were moved to action by the apparent lack of awareness about these centers.

We are currently in the process of recruiting campus representatives to serve the pro-choice movement on college campuses across the state, with the intention that these representatives will raise awareness about CPCs and spread the results of our investigation. The work and deception of CPCs provide a clear illustration of the extent to which women’s freedom is degraded when their choice is restricted, and we believe that educating young voters about this issue will garner a stronger understanding of the need to protect female choice. It is our hope that, in the course of this CPC consciousness-raising, campus representatives will introduce the NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina cause to young voters and to stimulate stronger pro-choice movements in the university setting.

Since our report was released, NARAL Pro-Choice Minnesota undertaken and published its own investigation of the status and prevalence of CPCs. We hope, in the face of the 2012 elections, that folks across the state and country will join our efforts to generate awareness of CPCs as both a means to end this injustice and a platform to promote a greater understanding of the pro-choice position.

Tomorrow is Election Day

Tomorrow is election day in North Carolina!

We all saw what happened when the anti-choice and anti-LGBT majority was voted into the General Assembly last November.  Let’s not have that happen in our cities and counties this year.

The North Carolina State Board of Elections has a great user-friendly website for all your election day and voting related questions.  If you need to double check your polling location, go here.  If you would like to see a sample ballot for your county, go here and just select the county you are registered in or look up your county Board of Elections for more information.

If you are not registered to vote please register as soon as possible.  Primaries are in May and there will be plenty to vote on then too.  You must be registered at least 25 days before the election to be eligible to vote.