Like conservatives, I too would like to see a grassroots moral resurgence in America. Beginning, naturally, with the acknowledgement that when it comes to reproductive freedom, the nation’s true moral majority lies with 51 percent of the population – the 150 some odd million Americans who own a uterus.

Jess Cox

It is easy to get swept away by the Roe v. Wade rumble. But as unlikely as it already is, the overturning of Roe v. Wade is not the climax to the culture wars many believe it to be.

Those who fear abortions will return to the back alleys need not worry – a majority of Americans continue to support the 1972 U.S. Supreme Court decision, and the procedure remains as popular as it is controversial – more than 35,000 abortions are performed in this country every year.

In truth, abortion is little more than a red herring in what has become a greater war on a woman’s right to make informed decisions about her body and her life.

While partisans squabble on about John Roberts’s nomination to the Supreme Court and the effect it may have on Roe v. Wade, few realize that the chipping away of important reproductive freedoms is already well under way.

In January, for example, the U.S. Department of Justice issued an official protocol for treating rape victims. But nowhere in the protocol does it ensure or even suggest that women be informed about the availability of emergency contraception, revictimizing women at a time when they most need to be empowered.

The summer brought with it a pharmaceutical rebellion of sorts, with individual pharmacists refusing to administer the morning-after pill because of their moral or religious beliefs. Incredibly, though an Illinois court recently ruled that prescriptions must be filled regardless of one’s ideological stance, other states’ courts, like Colorado, have found in favor of the individual pharmacist.

And last month, while college students vacationed, the Wisconsin state House of Representatives quietly passed a bill that would make it illegal for the University of Wisconsin to prescribe, dispense or advertise any form of birth control or emergency contraceptive. Dan LeMahieu (R), the state representative who introduced the bill, claimed that “dispensing birth control and emergency contraceptives leads to promiscuity.” While Wisconsin’s Democratic governor promised to veto the bill, the very fact that such a bill was even considered threatens to usurp the rights of women across the country.

Equally disturbing is the way in which the federal government has restricted access to information. Under the Bush administration, only those programs that teach “abstinence-only” sexual education receive federal funding. The policy is not only naA_ve, but also dangerous – study after study has found that students who complete abstinence-only sexual education are no less likely to engage in premarital sex than their peers and are actually less likely to use a condom when they do so. This may be because a few abstinence-only education programs have even been found lying to students about the importance and life-saving ability of condoms – claiming for instance, that condoms do not offer effective protection against pregnancy or the AIDS virus.

Embracing a woman’s right to reproductive choice is not political but pragmatic. If we know it is inevitable that youth will have sex (We do.), then it must be rational to encourage them to do it safely (It is.).

As the culture war rages on, just about everybody – from religious leaders, to right-wing zealots, to moderate poll-pleasers – has weighed in on a woman’s right to choose. And to be honest, I’m having trouble understanding why.

After all, many conservatives offer grand ideological reasoning to justify the chipping away of women’s rights. But they do not offer life-saving information to young girls about how to prevent sexually transmitted diseases for which there are no cures. The great majority are not willing to pay for child care or welfare or health insurance for the babies of babies.

Though it has been turned into somewhat of a bumper-sticker cliche, the mantra holds true: Keep your laws off my body. After all, even those conservatives who do have a uterus do not necessarily possess the morals that every other woman must live by.

A woman’s right to make informed decisions about her own body and her own life is unassailable. It is a very fundamental, very human and very personal right that must be protected from the whims of party lines, religious affiliation and politics. And it is a right whose protection is vital if we are to be able to say that America is truly free.

 

Gay can be reached at maracl@umich.edu.

 

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