In her essay “The Alienable Rights of Women,” Roxane Gay writes: “I struggle to accept that my body is a legislative matter. The truth of this makes it difficult for me to breathe. I don’t feel like I have inalienable rights. I don’t feel free.”
Friday, when the House voted to defund Planned Parenthood, Gay’s words hit me like a punch in the gut. In 2015, are women really not free?
After the news of the vote broke, I turned to social media, perhaps naively, hoping it might help me make sense of things. Instead, I heard crickets. Every day, my newsfeed is littered with outrage over everything from Taylor Swift’s belly button to deflated footballs. But when it comes to the reproductive rights of women, apparently it’s just another day on the internet. Overwhelmed by the apathy, I looked to Twitter. Again, my optimism was squashed. #PlannedParenthood is not trending. But Saturday was #TalkLikeAPirateDay, in case you were wondering.
And so I’m stuck here questioning, where is the outrage now? I am choking on words writing this, aware that to some, I come off as an angry feminist. Am I angry? One hundred percent yes. I’m screaming, spitting angry. And yes, of course I believe in equal rights for women. Even more, I believe in safe, affordable, and accessible women’s health care. And due to recent events, I’m now a scared feminist. Do I think the Senate will pass this ridiculous attempt to hurl women (and America) back in history 50 years? No. I can’t think that or I might not ever get out of bed again. But I’m scared that in 2015 this subject is getting any mindshare at all. Enough mindshare to bring it to a vote but not enough to warrant a Facebook post.
I think the fact that we’re all not screaming at the top of our lungs is alarming. Does our online apathy explain how Planned Parenthood even got on the chopping block to begin with? Do we really not care, at least not that much, about women’s rights – about women’s health?
I’m certainly not the only person who stands with Planned Parenthood. 73% of Americans surveyed in August said they are in favor of federal funding for women’s health exams. And 54% said they backed federal dollars going to Planned Parenthood specifically for those services. And through a sea of brunch pics, I have spotted a few pissed off peers online since Friday’s vote, thank goodness. But I’ve noticed some of those speaking up feel they have to explain why they need Planned Parenthood. They’re listing cancer screening, pap smears, breast exams. Don’t worry though – not abortion.
You may have seen this statistic thrown around: abortion only accounts for about 3% of Planned Parenthood services. That statistic has been scrutinized because while Planned Parenthood performs a lot of other vital services to millions of American women and men, some argue since the organization receives more than 10% of their revenue from abortion services, abortion is deeply tied to what they do. (Important to note, typically, federal funding doesn’t pay for those services, save for in the case of Medicaid with rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother.) But isn’t all this beside the point? I don’t know why we have to separate Planned Parenthood services from each other – label them “good services” (cancer screening, STI prevention) and “bad services” (abortion). We won the right to our bodies in 1973 with Roe vs. Wade, so whether you visited Planned Parenthood for a routine pap or an abortion shouldn’t be open to public forum and debate. Frankly, I’m tired of talking about it.
And maybe that’s the problem. Maybe we’re all tired of talking about it. Maybe it’s not apathy, maybe it’s exhaustion. Maybe so many of us have been battling for basic women’s reproductive and health care rights for so long, through each election, through each ill-informed candidate, that we’ve simply gone hoarse from all the talking?
But I have to believe we’re not done fighting yet, that we’re not done speaking up. Certainly, the denial of women’s rights incites more anger than some deflated footballs?