The Political Is Personal

A litter of anti-woman bills have dropped into the Georgia General Assembly, birthed, nurtured and dressed up by men, some of whom feel the need to explain that they really do know what they are talking about because they have experience. With farm animals.

A bill that would force a woman to carry a doomed fetus to term if the defect is discovered after 20 weeks passed without amendment. A bill that would allow a “religious exemption” to birth control coverage for church-affiliated employers passed the senate. (Last I checked, the principle of religious freedom is based on the notion of individual conscience. Institutions do not have consciences; individuals do. This bill places the nonexistent conscience of an institution in power over the real conscience of a woman). State employees can no longer use their health benefits to pay for abortions, regardless of the reason. No exceptions for rape or incest, and if you discover that a wanted child can’t live, too bad for you. Your tragedy is not enough; you have to pay.

Who benefits from these bills? Insurance companies, mostly, which now don’t have to pay out for relatively expensive procedures and medication. This raft of anti-woman legislation nation-wide has the distinct odor of corporate rule combined with demagoguery, always a winning combination. What compelling public interest does the state have for such intrusions on personal medical decisions? None. Who will be harmed? Women.

There’s an old feminist slogan: “The personal is political.” It means that experiences of oppression aren’t singular and unique to the individual; they are part of a pattern, and that if you speak up about the experiences you can see the pattern. A corollary to this principle is that policy decisions made in the abstract and in cold blood have real consequences for real individuals, whom the decision-makers most likely will never have to confront.

So here is where I get personal. I do not usually tell personal stories when writing as part of Occupy Atlanta’s Media team, but this time it’s called for.

When I was twenty-six years old, I was married and had a full-time job. I got pregnant, and two weeks later my employer fired me. Because the company had fewer than fifteen employees, Federal discrimination law did not apply, and since Georgia is an “at-will” state, I had no recourse. When you are pregnant, no one will hire you; I was told to my face that I was a good candidate but they assumed that I would quit once my child was born. As a result, I went on Medicaid, WIC and food stamps in order for us to survive. (I had a college degree. I did not need any “personal development” as provided for by SB 312; however, some state-level anti-discrimination laws might have actually been useful.)

I developed eclampsia, also known as toxemia. My doctor induced labor. After my son was born, I had a seizure. When I woke up three days later, my son was still in NICU and I had spots in my vision. My blood pressure had skyrocketed so high that blood vessels in my retina burst.

My doctor tried to reassure me by saying that even though women who have had it before are at higher risk, eclampsia is much less common after the first pregnancy. “You have a 75% chance of having a normal pregnancy the next time around.”

Even groggy and drugged, post-seizure-and-coma, I can do math. “So, what you’re saying is that I have a one in four chance of another near-death experience? No, thank you.” I held my new son close and promised never to leave him alone again.

My story isn’t unusual. Here is a truth that goes consistently unacknowledged in the perennial, intrusive, and callous debates about women’s private lives: Pregnancy can kill you. Giving birth can kill you. It’s a risky process, a hundred different ways. It’s not safe, can’t be made safe, will never be one hundred percent safe. In order to bring new life into the world, you have to look death in the eye.

That is what women do, without fanfare, all over the world every day; it’s why there is still a human race around to make stupid laws. No one should be forced to take that risk unwilling, or punished for the myriad ways it can go wrong because some people in a room somewhere are squeamish and deluded about the fact that not every pregnancy succeeds. It’s not your right, whoever you are. Not a politician’s right, not an employer’s right, not an insurance company’s right. Get your laws, and your cost analysis, off my uterus and out of my bedroom.

Women will die because of these laws, who would not have died otherwise. That is a fact. You can pretty it up however you want, but that’s the thought you need to take home with you and I hope it keeps you up at night.

Women will also march. We will be circling the Georgia State Capitol on Monday starting at 11:30 am, a whole bunch of us, along with the men who understand that risk, responsibility, and freedom of conscience must all go together. I will be there.

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