22 February 2011
Roe v the GOP (2 February 2011)
We live in a country where abortion is legal. There are many Americans who wish this were not so, and they are certainly a vocal minority, but they are a minority still. In fact, the most recent Gallup data I could find suggests that only 20% of Americans (Republican, Democrat or Independent) believe that abortion should be illegal under any circumstance. Interestingly, just as much in the minority (21%) are those Americans who believe that abortion should be permitted without regulation of any kind. What the majority of Americans agree on, regardless of personal beliefs or creeds, is that there are some circumstances under which abortion should be permitted, even if grudgingly.
This is not an essay about my thoughts on a woman’s right to choose. Do I wish there were no abortions? Absolutely. Do I work in a job where it is my job to support young women and children during a difficult time and help them negotiate the medical system so that whatever decision they want to make they have access to the health resources they need? Again, yes. It isn’t relevant what my opinions on the topic are. They are my opinions. I keep them at home. And my job is my job and when I am at work I do my job. No questions asked.
Now, however, the GOP has just introduced legislation that would make it infinitely more difficult for me to do my job and to make sure that my patients have access to the medical care they have a legal right to and so I do feel I need to say something on the matter.
I work in an Emergency Room and while many days I walk happily between rooms filled with toddlers who have ear infections or school-aged children who are wheezing, I occasionally am called on to see a young woman who has been raped. This is sad but not entirely surprising since somewhere between 15 and 25 percent of American women are raped at some point in their lifetimes. I have to admit I vomited a little bit when I looked up that statistic. Do you have more than four friends? Then that means you probably have a friend who was raped. I know that I do. Maybe you used to have sleepovers at her house and do each other’s hair. You laughed together. Then, one day, a man put his penis in her vagina even though she told him not to.
What do you think that did to her? What might it have done to you? Are you not able to answer because you’re disgusted by the fact that I used the word penis? Well, I’m disgusted too. I also used the word vagina, because when a young girl comes to the Emergency Room after being raped, her vagina is what I spend an awful lot of time looking at, and swabbing, and scraping, and describing in her rape kit. All in all, it’s a rather disgusting business. This is probably why eighty percentof Americans support the right of a woman to terminate a pregnancy if it is the result of a rape. Maybe the other twenty percent are the ones who are doing the raping.
Nevertheless, current law recognizes this overwhelming public support. Abortions can be obtained and covered even by federally funded health insurance (and private insurance that receives some federal funds) in cases of rape. Thelegislation before Congress right now would narrow the definition of rape so that it excludes women who are raped after being drugged into unconsciousness, women who are raped under threat of force if no force (aside from the actual penetration of her body) is actually performed, women who are mentally handicapped such that they lack the capacity to consent, and children who are not “forcibly” violated.
Whatever your views on abortion, the implication that there are some instances of rape that are not absolutely heinous in nature is abhorrent. There are other articles in the bill, such as the denial of tax deductions to any individual subscribing to a health insurance plan (like the one my work provides) that would pay for an abortion even if she never used it, that I also take complete objection to. Actually, on further reflection, I find the whole bill reprehensible. The only admirable thing about this legislation is how insidiously it seeks to make unavailable a procedure the GOP has long tried, but not succeeded in, making illegal. So, well done, this is very clever wheedling. But don’t come any closer because I really just might spit in your face.
Returning now to the issue of rape, which apparently may either be “forcible” or not. Let me introduce you to a patient of mine, whom I’ll call Mandy. When I meet her, at age twelve, her neighbor has been raping her for just under a year. Maybe he never hit her. Maybe he never bruised her arms or legs as he pulled down her underwear. Maybe he just whispered softly, “I’ll kill you if you make any noise.” Does it matter? At nineteen he likely is twice her weight so it’s not surprising if she was too terrified to ever speak.
And she is pregnant.
It is my job to have her pee in a cup and then it is my job to walk back into the room and tell her this, to take a life that has been shattered into a million pieces and stomp on it until it is ground to tiny sand-like shards of glass. It is legal in this country to obtain an abortion. But she is poor and has only federally funded health care. She does not have a thousand dollars to take with her to Planned Parenthood. So a procedure that should be her right will be denied to her (if the Smith Bill is passed) because she cannot afford it. And she, at age twelve and weighing in at just under a hundred pounds, would be expected by Chris Smith and his colleagues to embrace being a mother before she is finished seventh grade.
Does it matter, standing in the room with Mandy and her mother as they hold each other and weep, what I think about abortion? It does not. And it shouldn’t matter what Chris Smith thinks either.
If you have read this far and are angry with instead of at me, consider signing this petition to Congress to let them know that rape is violent in all its incarnations and that violence against women and children is unacceptable in any form.
Below, Emmaline gets political