Donald Trump has just given states the power to completely defund Planned Parenthood. Not just related to abortion services (which weren’t federally funded in the first place), but also family planning, STI, pre-natal, and gynecological services.
Planned Parenthood has been under attack since the moment of inception, decades before it offered abortion services. The current administration’s actions are simply a result of a decades-long siege against ALL female reproductive rights – not just abortion. That’s why all the cries of “only 3% of services are abortion related” miss the point entirely. As revealed by the campaigns of Hobby Lobby and Christian nonprofits to refuse to provide birth control through employer-funded health insurance, the religious right views birth control on par with abortion, as it gives women control of their own bodies and reproduction. Even with abortion services cut from Planned Parenthood, the Christian right would still rally to to destroy Planned Parenthood. In fact, they are already doing that, considering that Trump’s move also targets Planned Parenthood affiliates that don’t provide abortion at ANY of its branches.
Controlling women’s reproduction while upholding the cult of virginity is the foundation of the patriarchy. There would not be patriarchy if men didn’t want to control women’s bodies for the provision of reproductive resources and labor. Yet, I seem to recall a recent march which received extreme backlash for its intense focus on female reproductive rights. The fact that many women centered the march on their reproductive rights provoked accusations, from trans individuals and liberal feminists alike, of transphobia and bad feminism. It was followed by more accusations that women who chose to focus on reproductive rights were ignoring issues such as equal pay and maternity leave.
What trans and liberal feminist critics of the march fail to grasp is that once women lose their reproductive rights, everything else becomes a moot point. If women are unable to control their own reproduction, they will be less able to participate competitively in the workforce, and there will be less of a demand for equal pay and maternity leave. In the conservative ideology that has fought to defund Planned Parenthood, the fight against women’s reproductive rights is not separate from the fight against equal pay and maternity leave – the patriarchy wields these issues together, not separately, to control women’s bodies and autonomy. Thus, if you have a large women’s march that focuses only or mainly on equal pay, maternity leave, and of course trans issues, while pushing reproductive rights to the background, you have sabotaged your own movement. Similarly, if you consider trans women to be acceptable leaders of the feminist movement, and follow their demands of women to stop talking about contraception and their bodies because it makes trans women uncomfortable (to summarize the feelings trans activist Julia Serano, among others), then you might as well just concede the fight for female reproductive rights.
It isn’t just the rise of trans feminism and trans women as feminist leaders that is causing feminism to lose the battle of reproductive rights, however. Over the last few years, liberals have framed the fight for rights to contraception in terms of “health.” As Hobby Lobby took their case to the courts, women explained how desperately they needed hormonal birth control for conditions such endometriosis, ovarian cysts, debilitating periods, etc. This was no doubt to equivocate birth control with Viagra as a health need. What this argument fails to take into account is that sex IS considered a “health need” for men within patriarchal, conservative ideology – but not for women. When men (and women) say that Viagra fixes a health issue, they literally mean the health issue of men not being able to have sex. For women, however, the cult of virginity still holds, and the inability to not have sex because of fear of pregnancy is not a health concern. Hobby Lobby and Friends know all about endometriosis and ovarian cysts, they JUST DON’T CARE because everyone knows many women, if not most, take birth control so they have the freedom to have non-reproductive sex. This is not a freedom patriarchy has EVER been willing to concede to women, because to allow women the freedom of non-reproductive sex completely undermines men’s power over women.
By focusing on birth control as a “health need” divorced from non-reproductive sex, liberals uphold the ideology that female birth control should NOT be about sex, and that the priority is, and should be, about other physical ailments that do not interfere with women as good, chaste virgins. This argument does not address the root cause of why the Christian right hates birth control, and I believe we have lost valuable time and wasted much effort giving this argument any more than a passing mention. If you looked at comments and listened closely to narratives, you hardly ever heard women admitting hey, I am on birth control because I like having sex with men and do not have a desire to become pregnant. The unspoken message from liberals was clear: we are not necessarily using birth control for sex, but for health issues completely unrelated, so we deserve it as much as men deserve Viagra – even though Viagra is overwhelmingly applied to sexual dysfunction in men. I don’t know of any more clear example of a double standard, and liberals played into that double-standard by focusing on secondary uses of hormonal birth control.
Birth control as a “health need” is an argument made on patriarchy’s terms, which is why it was bound to fail. “My body, my choice” was replaced by endometriosis and ovarian cysts (from which I suffered and thus do understand the sentiment. But I also have regular non-reproductive sex with a certain male in my life…). Liberals failed to grasp that patriarchal conservative ideology will ALWAYS prioritize virginity and control of female reproduction over women’s health. Perhaps because liberals and feminists are so blasé about sex that they failed to realize just how much virginity is still prized by a very outspoken, and now incredible empowered, segment of the US population.
I believe if we had a healthy mainstream feminist movement, the powerful and effective slogan “my body, my choice” would once again come into vogue and the main focus of birth control would not have been physical ailments. The movement would have reinforced women’s right to control their bodies and sexuality, which I believe would have included more women and thus been a more powerful offense because not everyone has endometriosis or ovarian cysts – but most do have sex. Successful movements need powerful rallying points, and “cure my ovarian cysts and my sister’s endometriosis” just doesn’t cut it. “My body, my choice” is also an offense which was successful in the second wave feminism that is so derided by liberal feminism – a tried and true path towards empowerment.
But the truth is we don’t have a healthy mainstream movement – we have instead liberal feminism, in which personal empowerment and trans rights are somehow supposed to solve all women’s problems. We have a movement that tells other women “there is a time and place to focus female reproductive rights”…and apparently that’s not at a WOMAN’S march (that’s actually something I read!). A healthy, robust feminist movement would have kindly turned towards trans activists after the march and said, “By telling women to tone down their reproductive discourse, you are erasing their reproductive rights.” Literally. Trans activists love to accuse feminists of “erasing their right to exist” but fail to realize how focusing the movement on male-bodied individuals (and trans activism is largely controlled by trans women and their “right” to claim feminism as their own) actually IS erasing women’s rights. There is no other way to describe the impacts of defunding Planned Parenthood. Without reproductive freedom women begin to lose autonomy in all aspects of their lives.
I think it is telling that the main people at the march who held up reproductive signs were middle-aged or older women – although it may have been different at other marches (I was simply too lazy to make a sign, as I hate crafts, and took whatever I could. Never again.). It was younger women, and many male supporters, who had more diffuse signs, particularly regarding trans rights. And it was mainly younger women, often in their 20s, who lashed out at other women afterwards for focusing so much on reproductive rights.
Women in their mid-thirties and older remember fighting against conservative ideology and the cult of virginity for reproductive freedom. I include my age group (mid 30s) because I recall, during my college years, the vitriol from the conservative right against selling Plan B over-the-counter and providing the HPV vaccine to girls. Younger women thus may not recall or relate to any public fight over virginity and the womb. So perhaps the idea of losing not just abortion rights but also access to birth control and health services such as the HPV vaccine seems abstract. Which is unfortunate, because without Planned Parenthood, only those with insurance, regular access to doctors, and robust finances will be able to access women’s health services – all the more possible considering the potential gutting of the Affordable Care Act. In this scenario, women of color, women between the ages of 24-35 (a not so arbitrary number based on who is likely to have good insurance), and lower-income women have the most to lose.
I believe I was the last generation of college graduates to benefit from an ACTUAL women’s studies program that provided myself and other feminists with a strong, centralized feminist movement that had a coherent ideology focusing strongly on reproductive rights. Will the defunding of Planned Parenthood finally realign feminism to the issues that truly matter to women’s freedom and autonomy? I hope so, but given the stranglehold Republicans have on government at all levels, and the continued no-platforming of dissenting feminists by trans activists, it may be too late.