Friday, February 25, 2011


Recently, I had the privilege of hearing a beautiful version of the 23rd Psalm, as arranged by Bobby McFerrin and sung by a talented choir. If you haven't heard it, you're in for a treat.

Don't worry - this post is not about religion. It's actually about religion, politics, AND abortion. I thought I'd do it all at once.

Anyway, back to Bobby McFerrin and his amazing song.

An interesting aspect of his version is that "The Lord" is referred to as "she" throughout the song. Now, we all know that G-d is neither male nor female, but in most religious writings, G-d is referred to as "him." The default to the masculine pronoun is probably due to the fact that most scribes throughout history have been men, and therefore they were more comfortable in assigning maleness to a deity. However, this song, this transcendent song, got me thinking about our new crop of elected officials, and how, even though they are elected to represent all individuals within their jurisdictions, their default seems to be "him." They look at the world through a lens of maleness, and even though they are sons and husbands of women and possibly fathers of daughters, they are crafting laws that are very, very "anti-her." compiled a list of some of the most egregious legislation against women bubbling up locally and nationally.

This list shows the sharpening stick that the Republicans, heady with their midterm victories, are pointing at women. It includes such gems as redefining rape (and thank you, home state of Georgia, for wanting to call victims of rape "accusers." How empathetic!) to draconian cuts to Head Start to the proposal to eliminate all federal funding for Planned Parenthood. What about making it legal to kill a doctor who performs abortions? Yup, South Dakota thinks that might be a good idea. Or a bill  that allows hospitals to let a woman die rather than perform an abortion that could save her life. I admit the MoveOn list is written with sometimes inflammatory language. However, if you look at the supporting documents, and keep clicking through those to the genesis of the summaries, you'll see that that list is accurate.

And frankly, if Jon Stewart is noticing this onslaught against women, it must be real.

For the past few weeks, I've been reading articles and commentary (in addition to that by Jon Stewart) on the Republicans' blitz against women. Some people see a conspiracy - a "keep 'em down and dumb" type of thing to ensure a class of cheap workers and a last-ditch effort to protect the riches of a fading aristocracy. I don't buy into the conspiracy theory, but what I do buy into is ignorance and insularity - these mostly male Republicans seem to be talking only to each other and to those living in similar circumstances to their own.  It's easy to say that children don't need Head Start because their moms should be home taking care of them when your wife stays home with the kids and you think that should be the norm. It is easy to deny funding for Planned Parenthood because you, your family, and most people you know have private health insurance through their jobs (especially that wonderful coverage members of Congress get) and don't need access to sliding-scale priced gynecologic exams, cancer check ups, contraceptives, and vasectomies, or to free reproductive counseling and education.

My main conclusion from all my reading is this: diversity is important in our elected officials. And it is now more important than ever. Here are the stats from the current Congress compiled by the Center for American Women and Politics:
  • 17 (17%) of the 100 US Senators are women
  • 72 (16.6%) of the 435 Congressional Representatives are women
  • 24 (27%) of the 89 women serving in the Congress are women of color

Reviewing the astonishing proposals to cut health care and erode reproductive rights that have come out of this House of Representatives over the past few weeks, I have been struck repeatedly that these lawmakers are proposing legislation that affects the majority of individuals in the United States. After all, the US census estimated that in 2009, 50.7% - which rounds to 51% - of the US population was female. And considering that children's health and welfare programs are often lumped in with women's health, the percentage of those affected without equal representation is much higher. Of course, not all women have the same political views. But if 51% of our lawmakers were women, the conversation might be very different than what we're hearing now. After all, all of the 51% would be working women. Most would have a spouse or partner who worked outside of the home as well. And because they are women, they would still be carrying the majority of the burden for child-related tasks and elder care. Perhaps if we had more women in office, the US would not have been singled out by Human Rights Watch (along with Swaziland and Papua New Guinea) for the punishing effects of lack of paid maternity leave.

Diversity is important.

Without the little diversity that we currently have, we would not have heard the other side of the story about second-trimester abortions. Kudos to Jackie Speier, Democrat from California, who was moved to unexpectedly recount her story of a second-trimester abortion after listening to one of her colleagues across the aisle boorishly read, from a book, a description of the procedure. She put a face to a medical procedure that no one ever really wants, but that is needed as part of a full portfolio of medical care.

Without the current diversity, we would not have heard the story of Wisconsin Democrat Gwen Moore, who responded to Georgia Republican Paul Broun's "concern" for black babies as a reason to de-fund Planned Parenthood:
 "I know a lot about having black babies. I've had three of them. And I had my first the ripe old age of 18. An unplanned pregnancy."

As an aside, shame on Mr. Broun for resurrecting an old racist conspiracy theory here in the south. By implying that there is a conspiracy to eliminate the African American race by preventing  black babies from being born, individuals like Mr. Broun are knowingly stirring a racial pot. But really, if congressional reps like Mr. Broun cared about black babies, they might want to rethink their opposition to funding social services - like Head Start - that can help all children in the United States get off to a good beginning.

And diversity is important within the individual parties. As reported in the Washington Post, abortion-rights opponent Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.), spoke against the Pence amendment that would eliminate all federal funds for Planned Parenthood because he felt it would ultimately increase the number of abortions in the country.
"I don't have many friends in the Planned Parenthood community. They don't support me. I'm pro-life," Lynch said, adding that he supports the "good work" that the organization does in providing family planning advice."
Lynch, a Democrat, shows the value of intra-party diversity by opening a dialogue that indicates most tough issues are not as clear-cut as those who polarize the discussions would lead us to believe.

Throughout the years, I have, at various times, felt marginalized, patronized, and slighted for being a woman. But I have never been as worried as I am now for the health of women and children in the United States. It is undeniable that prevention services, whether contraception or early childhood education, help maximize an individual's potential and save money in the long run (it is estimated that Americans get back $9 for every $1 invested in Head Start). For Republicans to slice and dice the already fraying fabric of social programs under the guise of saving money is not only short sighted, it is false economy and they know it. So the call to action is this: For women and those who love women, get out there and vote. And advocate. And perhaps most importantly, run for office. What we are seeing is what happens when women are not equally represented, when the default is "him." And that is something that even Bobby McFerrin can't make  pretty.


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