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What Elders Know About Sexual Politics

category_bug_politics.gif Wow. After the sexual politics of last week, is there anything more to say about contraception, abortion, women's right to choose, perceptions of religious liberty and coerced female penetration - not to mention the widespread male anxiety about female sexuality that all this has made apparent?

Yes, indeed. I think we elders need to remind others what is at stake.

Although some (definitely not all) fundamentalist women go along, it is mostly men taking part in this argument about control of women's vaginas.

Not to overdo since it has been published in about ten million places by now, let's start with the photo of all those men and no women testifying at a Congressional hearing about insurance coverage of birth control last week:

Congressional Birth Control Panel

At the risk of overdoing it twice in one day, let's also take one more look at the statement on the subject of contraception from one of presidential candidate Rick Santorum's largest contributors:

After this video went viral (in about six seconds), Santorum tried to disavow his connection to Foster Friess but that's an embarrassingly disingenuous move from a man whose super-PAC accepted $331,000 from Mr. Friess in 2011 and who has famously said elsewhere, "I think [contraception is] harmful to women; I think it's harmful to society.”

Women of all political and religious stripes responded swiftly and loudly against the troglodytes who would move the nation into Handmaid's Tale territory. But it's about a lot more than just who pays for birth control.

With the many local attacks on women's health throughout the nation, it is going to be a battle just to maintain what we've already won and thought had long been settled.

Now, you might think that a blog by, for and about elders - which includes, of course, post-menopausal women - would not have a dog in this fight. If so, you would be monumentally wrong.

We elders are the first generation to benefit from reliable birth control and legal abortion. Now, decades later, we are the only ones alive who can testify to what life was like before: a zillion unwanted babies, lethal backstreet abortions and not much chance for college or careers beyond motherhood. (Remember the jokes about MRS degrees?)

If we do not prevail over right wing fundamentalists who would keep women barefoot and pregnant (I had thought that phrase was buried forever), we will be the last generation to control our own reproduction.

All the sexual antagonism last week comes on the heels of a frightening number of state initiatives to limit women's health access. Just a few:

• Already on Kansas, there are only three abortion providers. Now, recent proposed legislation would, among other restrictions, require women seeking an abortion to undergo a sonogram and also require doctors to tell women of a long discredited link between abortion and breast cancer.

Most unbelievably, the bill would exempt doctors from malpractice suits, according to Alternet, if they

”...withhold information from patients that might lead those patients to seek an abortion. In other words, a physician could choose not to tell a woman something important about her own health if the doctor thought the woman might seek an abortion because of that information.”

• The Virginia legislature has passed the now infamous vagina bill that will require women seeking an abortion in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy to undergo a transvaginal ultrasound procedure - that is, coerced and medically unnecessary vaginal penetration.

• Oklahoma appears to be on the verge of passing a personhood bill. According to Reuters [emphasis added],

”The Republican-controlled state Senate voted 34-8 to pass the 'Personhood Act' which defines the word person under state law to include unborn children from the moment of conception.

“The measure now goes to the state House where pro-life Republicans outnumber Democrats by more than a 2-1 margin.”

• And in Iowa, proposed legislation outlaws abortion entirely:

”The bill, House File 2298, introduced by Rep. Kim Pearson, R-Pleasant Hill, is an outright ban on abortion, and includes criminal penalties of up to life in prison for those who perform abortions.”

(An Alternet story by Sarah Seltzer and Lauren Kelley is a good overview of the most outrageous local initiatives to limit women's reproductive rights.)

This all looks to me like a coordinated attack on women by, mostly, men but also the women who blindly follow them, and their success is not impossible. Don't forget that the defeat of the Equal Rights Amendment was due largely to a woman, Phyllis Schafly, and her Eagle Forum.

My sense is, however, that women are not going to allow anyone to undermine the reproductive rights we have. As has been pointed out in relation to the Catholic bishops' objection to President Barack Obama's quite reasonable compromise on insurance coverage for contraception, 98 percent of Roman Catholic women in the U.S. have used birth control at one time or another along with 99 percent of women overall.

However, as the inroads against abortion in individual states indicate, we cannot be complacent nor think other women will handle this for us. We must all speak up and speak out again and again until this is over.

Oh, and one more thing: unless you want these attacks to continue through at least 2016, pray, light candles or whatever it is you do to summon the gods that Rick Santorum is the Republican nominee; I don't believe anyone this sanctimonious can be elected:

"The whole sexual libertine idea; many in the Christian faith have said, well, that’s OK, contraception is OK. It’s not OK, because it’s a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be."

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Ellen Younkins: Happy Valentine's Day


Just tell me when to show up and where, and I'll go to any head-count demonstration organized around this issue. This threat to women's' health and well-being blew up so quickly, many heads are still spinning. Once women realize what they and their daughters and granddaughters may lose, I'm betting the grandmothers of this country will be hopping mad. He who threatens half the population of this country better be prepared for the consequences.

Right on, Ronni. Right on the nail's head, right on all the way. Thank you. Will be using your post, once again, to spread the RIGHT news.

Totally agree with your post, and well remember the life my mother had due to lack of effective birth control.

I just wish some women would not be complicit with the men who want to get rid of our reproductive rights.

That summarizes things beautifully, Ronni.

A lot of men are upset by this movement against women's reproductive and health rights as well.

Joel Pett's 2/17/12 editorial cartoon shows that a lot of men "get it."

You can find that 'toon here

Lone voice here-
This is not a reproductive issue, it is a religious issue. If you do not wish to follow the religion, you leave it. If you don't want to work for a company that does not provide what you want- go someplace else.
On the abortion issues:
Kansas has so few abortion providers because our population is small and the abortionists make more money in large cities. Don't worry, several providers fly in to provide services several days a week- the same thing happens with our general practitioners.
Of course, we do have large numbers of ads in our papers for adoption. It seems Kansas is a baby mill for many large cities with families who cannot have children of their own.
Last, if it is not a child, then why should having a ultrasound bother you? Is a transvaginal sonogram much different than insertion for a pap smear- not really. It is less invasive than an abortion. I want extensive tests before I have major surgery....
I have no problem with birth control. I think abortion is abused and overused. Although forced abortion on pregnant cats would sure help the overpopulation ( wasn't that the original idea for getting rid of the African American population?)

Stroll through the old areas of grave yards and see the number of women who died in their teens and twenties. My Dad's family's plot contains two women who died of childbirth in the 30's. I also heard Rick Santorum say the sampling amniotic fluid was immoral. I guess the blood transfusion to my unborn baby in an effort to save her from RH disease was also immoral. Women cannot let this man be elected.

It's a cultural war pure and simple, and we either put our own voices into the fight or we let down all the women and men before us who fought for these rights. It's hard to believe what has happened. A person keeps thinking that lack of logic can't get worse and then it does.

The thing is this attack really against women who want to make their own choices, it's going on around the world in all fundamentalist faith controlled nations. The Christians see themselves as different. History proves they aren't when they get power and it happens bit by bit when women can't stop the first infringements, that bunch add on more.

To me it's hard to believe we are in this place again. You always think cultural wars are won but I guess maybe they never are. Each generation must stay alert and be willing to stand up for their own freedoms-- or lose them.

@ Mary. Why didn't you have a shot for the Rh factor? I did. Did you not know it was a second pregnancy? Doctors can be so incompetent!
And Please do not imply that my grandmother died because she should have abort or wanted to abort my father. Or that several of my great grandmothers died for the same reason. Rude to the point of silly. Have you heard of modern medicine? Evidentially not when it comes to Rh ( unless you are over 60- then I understand). And BTW the test to find out if your child was in conflict was not an amino. The cure was- and there is never an objection to that.
There are reasons for abortion- but your points are unconvincing.
Then I think, "a baby will ruin my life" is also an unconvincing arguement.

The term "Luddite" comes to mind. That the likes of Rick Santorum is granted an iota of credibility demonstrates how batsh*t crazy the GOP has become. 98% of Catholic women support birth control and I'm one of them. Walk into any Catholic school and ask students how many siblings they have and the majority will say "One". Our generation of Catholics read the Pope's encyclical decades ago and ignored it and did what was best for us.

We all need to take a stand with our daughters to fight those who would deny us our choices. I'll bet if they tried to deny men the right to have a vasectomy, it would be a non-starter.

Although I could be wrong, I do not recall seeing your name in the comments before today so you may be unaware that at this blog, personal attacks - in deed or tone - are now allowed.

There are a thousand ways to make your point and have your opinion heard without getting nasty.

Further, no one is allowed to give medical advice or information or question another commenters personal medical information because you don't know the circumstances and I don't know if you are competent to do so.

Therefore, since you have twice within a few minutes gotten way too antagonistic for this blog, you are now permanently banned and blocked from posting.

What a mess this is. We never can think we have this taken care of. I never want to go back to the 1950s version of reproductive medicine. No man will ever again have the right to legislate away my own control over my body. Thank you so much for posting this.

It would be nice if those elderly bishops would concentrate on male issues such as altar boy relationships and stay out of women's health and rights issues.

Does nothing really change? In 1969, an all-male committee of the New York legislature held a hearing on abortion reform and invited 15 "expert" witnesses to testify--14 men and a nun. Women in the audience stood up and protested and of course were removed from the room.

This led to the first feminist speak-out in New York City, where women gathered and many of them stood up in front of the crowd and described their own illegal abortions. That took real courage at a time when many pregnant women were forced to leave their jobs as soon as they began to "show," providing hard-to-ignore evidence that they'd had sex.

Attitudes have changed soooo much, it's hard to believe this is happening again.

Flora Davis

My mother told the story of when she was a working class young married woman in the 1940s. Mom's friend came to visit her. She sat in mom's big rocking chair with a toddler tucked on either side, and holding her infant in her arms. She told my mom she was pregnant again, with bitter tears flowing, and begged Mom to help her abort herself. Mom said doctors would not give women contraceptives.

My mom had six children, every one wanted and loved, but she supported women's right to contraception and legal abortion with every breath of her being.

There's a blast from the past --- Phyllis Schlafly's Eagle Forum. This took me back about 30 years or more, to when a group of women interested in discussing the book "Our Bodies Ourselves" were meeting in our local Rockford, Illinois, Quaker meeting house. A woman no one knew attended a couple of times. She turned out to have been an infiltrator from Eagles Forum (Eagle Forum was founded in Illinois). I hope she learned a few things before she quit coming.

In my opinion, people who dismiss the threats to women's rights to control their own reproduction are shortsighted. Just think back to times when women were nvoluntarily sterilized as part of the eugenics movement, or just back to our mothers' generation when reliable options were not available. I am the oldest of six chldren, and I have heard my mother comment several times when I was growing up, when the controversy was going on in the news about Sherri Finkbine, who already had four children, had gone to Sweden for an abortion after learning that a prescription she had been given during her fifth pregnancy for pain contained thalidomide, which causes severe birth defects. I think my mother must have been wistful that she did not have that option, as she several times said things like "you don't miss what you never had," and we all knew that at least two of her pregnancies were unwanted, occurring at a very economically difficult time for our family. Women need to be free of this bondage so they can make what they believe to be the right decisions for themselves, whatever those may be.

I agree with Mage. I,too,do not want to go back to the 50's or 60's with regard to birth control. I thought we had that all settled years ago.

Abortion has very peacefully been the law of the land since January 22,1973. Why are they getting all hysterical about it now,39 years later?

President Clinton said it best," Abortion should be safe,legal and RARE."

Someone once said that if priests could marry and have children, abortion would be a Sacrament.

Could our vote for President in November get any more IMPORTANT?

When I listen to Santorum and folks like Friess I am incredulous over such ignorant, short-sighted and dogmatic thinking. What year is this? My first husband was oldest of 12, my second oldest of 9. The first married a catholic (she wasn't) and she told me that after 4 children she wanted to stop. The second is a devoted catholic and, I think, felt it her duty to have so many children. Both shared the sentiment, in their own way, that birth control was not theirs to control. Today, none of the 21 children follow Catholic principals and none have more than 2 children. See what happens when women have a choice?

Janette's gone, but I want to settle something. A transvaginal ultrasound is far more invasive and difficult than a speculum/pap even if you actually want the ultrasound (to look for ovarian cysts, for example). The speculum procedure is quick. The transvaginal takes a while and the largish instrument has to poke around in there to get all the pictures. If you are forced to have an instrument inserted into you as a condition for LEGALLY PROTECTED abortion, it is object rape.

You often hear, "Birth control is cheap, and available everywhere." They mean condoms.

Successful condom use requires a fully cooperative and participating husband. This is why women must have access to birth control methods that the woman can control (this means clinics and prescriptions). With condoms, the person being careless is not the one who gets pregnant.

I spent some time looking around, but failed to find the citation I hoped to share here -- but I pay attention to this stuff and trust my memory.

Since the Republican primary turned into a war on women's reproductive autonomy, with an assist from Catholic bishops, support for Obama has risen notably even among those over 65 among whom he is usually weak. The report of the poll suggested that, as we get up in years, women make a larger fraction of the voting age cohort -- AND WE DON"T LIKE THIS THROWBACK TO OUR YOUTH.

Hope it is okay to shout ...

I'm glad you banned Janette. It helped my blood pressure.

I am one of the oldest commenters here; therefore I can attest to what life was like for women before contraception and abortion. I have related before the personal story of a friend (in High School) who tried to abort with a coat hanger and if her sister hadn't found her, would have bled to death. Many other girls weren't so lucky.

"What life was like before birth control ...."

Awful! It ought to be crushingly obvious, but clearly is not, that being forced to be pregnant, over and over, is a life-altering nightmare.

My first husband came from a family of 11, none of whom repeated this pattern in their own families of 3 (at most). As children they had been desperately poor, and none of them *ever* forgot the experience of struggling for even the simplest things. It marked them for life.

We must NOT let control of contraception fail.

After giving birth to two sons, my mother desperately wanted to abort her third pregnancy. Of course abortions were illegal back then so she tried doing whatever was recommended by her woman friends but nothing worked. I’ m here. She was trapped in an abusive marriage and had no place to turn. It’s hard to imagine her pain and suffering.

However, back then was back then…I can’t believe what’s going on here today! What year is this???

I'm delighted to see the fire storm your article has caused in my fellow readers. Hope this spreads to other women, old and young.

I'm 75, and will fight to protect my daughter's and granddaughter's rights to defend and protect their own bodies.

I too have had a "back alley" abortion and nearly died from it. A dear friend also nearly died from a DIY coathanger attempt!

That recent assemblage of men to try and decide our fates looks more like a picture out of the Spanish Inquisition !!
Let's stop this insanity.

I never thought we'd have to fight this battle again! I haven't heard Sherri Finkbines' name in a long while. I was working the OB/GYN floor where she would have had that abortion. There were days staff almost came to blows, even though a therapeutic abortion was legal at the time.

So what's next in the Presidential Campaign of 1412? Santorum says diversity is destroying America, so do we repeal Civil Rights entirely and enslave the poor, the other-than-western-european, let anyone past working age or too disabled to work starve?

All the GOP candidates spoke at the White-power CPAC conference. The CPAC keynote address said giving the vote to women and "ethnic minorities" has destroyed America.

The GOP candidates appear to have the same values as the Afghani Taliban. It seems a little ironic that the USA wants to "liberate" Afghanistan from the tyranny of the Taliban and impose its values on its own citizens! Aiiiii....

All of the above & then some. And yet, I'm not for abortion at least for me, but I am for the right of any woman to make her own decision especially when it's already the law!!! And I love Kay's remark on vasectomies. I wonder how the church feels about them. And yes I am a Catholic, but oh so disillusioned. Dee

Janette was wrong on two other counts. This is not a religious issue. In this country, no one religion has a right to dictate to those who follow a different religion. Secondly, Santorum wasn't just talking about restricting or outlawing birth control measures for those receiving federal benefits. He said NO woman should use contraceptives, which goes way beyond any argument over abortions. I say, if you don't believe in it, don't use it but you have no right to tell others what to do. Isn't that the same position the right wing uses in its harangues against Obama and anything he proposes, be it consumer protection, gun control,health care, whatever?

"Jobs are not in my uterus!" Melissa Harris-Perry announced on new MSNB show Saturday. Thanks for your extended post...did likewise.

"Compulsory motherhood" and "forced birth" = cultural issues. As these men fear losing elections, they raise voices about the control of women so we might not notice that economy is improving.

You're probably right, Naomi, and far be it from me to say there might be a conspiracy here, but I've read that most recent hires are women in service industries, which includes hospitality, health care, back office, shipping, etc. Hmmmm. If they keep women barefoot and pregnant, men won't have so much trouble finding work (as long as they're willing to change bedpans and change sheets).

Just wanted to be a male presence on this issue and show my support for women's health issues that are under attack by those men who seem to think they understand better this issue than women themselves.

I've never understood the animosity of men towards women on this issue, even from the religious perspective. I was raised a catholic and have never been convinced that under some circumstances a biblical God would hold such contempt for a woman who refused to have a child from rape, incest or that threatened the life of the mother.

I think it is archaic paternalistic dogma that needed to disappear along with the Inquisition

I am a bit of a lone voice here (now that Janette's gone).

I think a woman's control over her body and her responsibility begin when she makes the decision to have sex. If she's not willing or able to face up to the consequences, she should forgo the pleasure until such time that she can face up to it all. I'm assuming, of course that she has a choice in the matter.

That said, I do believe that there are many valid reasons for having an abortion and I don't believe it should be criminalized, whatever the reason might be.

I have no objection to requiring counseling prior to having an abortion so that all options are placed in front of her before a woman decides. But the Virginia ultrasound law, especially, and other laws that dictate medical procedures have gone way beyond what is acceptable.

This desire to turn back time and make women "barefoot, pregnant and subservient" is utterly beyond all rational thought. It's madness.

I comfort myself with this hope: what's happening now is the dying gasp of a hateful, system...religious and political...that will do ANYTHING to hang onto power.

Nowadays people are much more informed and less apt to accept the BS. When I was young (I'm 87) we didn't question things nearly as much. Just accepted the status quo.

Amazing, isn't it. My mother had one abortion, after she was married and already had two children. Not everyone can use the Pill, and backups like Plan B and abortions if necessary are important. And making birth control hard to get would make the situation impossible for many women. I'll never forget the relief I felt after moving back to the U.S. from Switzerland in the 80's. They had not yet legalized abortion, and the fear of pregnancy was always with me. Now I didn't have to worry any more.
I really don't think this attack on women's autonomy is going to fly. Look at Italy, seat of the Catholic Church, which, with Japan, has the lowest birthrate in the world. Abortion is legal there in spite of those moldy mossbacks in the Catholic Church.
The problem is really about fascism, if you ask me. This is not far-fetched as it sounds. Hatred of women and the desire to control female bodies is part of the fascist mentality. It isn't about religion at all. That's just an excuse.

In pre-legal-abortion times, I got pregnant when I was 16. I was extremely lucky that I found an actual medical doctor who performed abortions in his office at night. Of course I never knew his name, but I bless that man every day of my life. I have friends who had abortions with coat hangers. My mother already had several children when she got pregnant with me. I was unwanted. A devout Catholic, she could not do anything but give birth to me; then she went kinda crazy, and tried to kill me several times: when I was 3, 7 and 15. In between, she made it clear she did not like me, did not want me, and that I was a worthless pain in the butt.
These whacko religious nuts are trying to take us back to the Dark Ages; and WE AIN'T GOING!!

I simply can't believe we're fighting the '50s battle again! The entire phenomenon of Santorum & Co. is absolutely discouraging, to say nothing of disgusting and dismaying, especially to women who lived through the "good old days". I get that he's a dedicated Catholic, but most of the country isn't on his primitive wavelength! What on Earth are Republicans thinking when they rail against, of all things, birth control? Aspirin between the knees doesn't work--really it doesn't!--besides being totally absurd. One certain way never to need an abortion is to practice effective birth control!

This is in every way a war against women by men who apparently desire a return to the Dark Ages and who see an opportunity to redefine women as "property". If Santorum somehow manages to get elected, that's what the country will have chosen to return to. In 2012 it is simply not to be believed! If ever rational citizens of all persuasions are going to question the wisdom of being governed by religious zealots (the true American Taliban), this must be that time.

Strongly embedded in my memory is the recollection of a high school classmate who became pregnant. A group of us visited her to provide encouragement for whatever she might choose for her future. I vividly recall her describing how she had her younger brother repeatedly hit her in the stomach with a sledge hammer in an effort to cause an abortion. She knew of no other choices available to her and we didn't know of any either.

This was the dark ages for women. Looks like we always have to be on guard to protect our rights just as we must to protect freedom as a nation.

When I heard about Virginia's law, I thought surely that must be rape and would be illegal.

I, too, have thought in recent years that the U.S. has been growing our own version of the Taliban. Does seem like a fascist mentality as Hattie suggests.

Let me add how valuable it is to have older Americans speaking out on this issue--it fights against the stereotype of the right that only wild poor teenagers want birth control.

Thank you!

Helpful to me in dealing with my anger about what is happening in several states and on the campaign trail, is the quote from Marianne Williamson reminding us that when we show up small it doesn't serve the world. I knew how to "show up" fully when I, and so many others of our generation, marched for the ERA, etc.in the 70s. How to show up in fullness is less clear to me now. But it helps to read all the other posts like this one. Thanks Ronni. I like to imagine a massive inter-generational rising up of women and men to proclaim that caring for women's health is a national mandate. We can respect the exemptions for churches and other religious institutions whose primary function is religious worship, but not hospitals and universities that serve, mostly with federal grants, the society at large. Thanks so much.

Have you noticed that the people who want government out of religion are the same ones who want religion in government? Their own brand, of course!

When I tried calling them I've been ranting a lot lately about Washington's war on women. And also about Oklahoma's personhood bill. (That's my old home state, and the state where my dad helped found his Planned Parenthood chapter.) I'll not stand by and let my generation's work for women's reproductive health be undone by the current crop of GOP zealots. That's assuming, of course, that I don't blow a gasket first.

I've been keeping a diary since I was 9, now I'm 28. I've started reading back on it, picked it up from age 17, currently I'm into my 20th year in the diary. And it's all about BOYS, and me thinking I liked this one, then that one then that one. But I can see now that what I really wanted and needed was some casual sexual activity (those boys were all too lame to go out with). But society really put me off the idea of being a slut - I didn't want anyone else to think I was getting around, but mostly, I didn't want to think of myself as a slut. Indeed it took years of sexual activity for me to finally let a guy give me an orgasm - meanwhile I had had sex with several partners without coming close to orgasm. (thank you condoms)
It took me years to reconcile the fact that I am allowed and have a right to ENJOY SEX. Sex can just be sex! People who say we shouldn't use contraception because it's a waste of sperm and god wouldn't want it are as bad as kooks who say we shouldn't fly in planes; if god wanted us to fly, he would have given us wings.
GOD GAVE US CONTRACEPTION (I'm talking to god fearing politicians here). Women can enjoy sex as much (or perhaps more) than any man, and it shouldn't come at the cost of a pregnancy!
I currently enjoy a wonderful sex life with my boyfriend, thank you Implanon! And also I'm never having kids. In this world? Pffft. Couldn't do that to another human being.

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