by Janet Frishberg
Age twelve: In the afternoons when I’m bleeding, I double over as I stagger home up the hill. Holding onto a telephone pole on the way to the white-walled apartment where my mom and I live, where I can sit on the toilet and cry, trying to imagine myself out of my body, writhing on the carpeted floor, wanting to find a place of comfort. Where I sit at the computer console, my feet up on its grey side, crying and playing computer games to distract me from the pain. The quiet apartment, alone, knowing I can scream as loud as I want. Everyone is at work. The doctors I tell about it say, “That’s part of being a woman.” And, “Sometimes menstruation is painful. You’ll get used to it.”
Age fifteen: I finally go to the right doctor, the one who is beautiful, with golden hair and flawless skin and coral lips. She puts her blue-gloved fingers inside me and presses down. I flinch. She’s an expert and she says she can feel the growths. She puts the cold slippery ultrasound on my lower stomach and tells me we don’t need to do exploratory surgery, she’s almost certain that I have endometriosis. She gives me a fact sheet and explains it to me. Endometriosis means that the cells that make up the lining of the uterus grow other places in the body, leading to pain every month when those cells are triggered to shed. Normally, they’d be able to exit the body as blood (that’s what a period is), but since they’re in other places, like the intestinal area, they basically cause internal bleeding, and that’s the pain I’d been having. Other things she mentions: infertility, increased risk of certain cancers, no known cause. The best thing to do, she says, is to go on birth control, and this might get rid of the symptoms.
She puts me on birth control and I gain fifteen pounds in a month, breaking one hundred pounds finally and growing hips and boobs. I’m thrilled when I look at my new breasts pushed up and filling out bras and shirts. I’m uncomfortable in my new lower body, which suddenly has fat on it. When my birth-controlled faux periods are still painful, she tells me to just take the pills continuously and never stop, simulating pregnancy. She gives me a white printed page of information. I read that doing this, the nonstop birth control, will increase my chances of certain cancers and decrease my chances of others. It seems very distant, this idea of impending cancer.
I set an alarm on my phone and every day when it tells me to, I dry-swallow the pills.
Regardless of what I’ve always thought was my long wait to have sex for the first time, I’m one of those slutty sluts, those prostitutes, that Rush Limbaugh indicted this spring. I went on birth control four years before I started having sex with men I wasn't married to, or even planning on marrying. Until the War on Women launched, I had no idea that I was still a slut simply because of how long I’d been on “contraceptive pills.”
For me, birth control wasn’t about sex, at least not at first.
Ask an Abortion Provider
by Dolores P.
2nd question: What’s it like?
Abortion training in this country is basically done by “apprenticeship.” If you’re an MD/DO, you’re supposed to learn in residency, but as we saw that doesn’t happen so often, so there are organizations like Medical Students for Choice to connect people to training or fellowships like the Ryan that you can take on your own time. As a nurse practitioner (or a PA, or a midwife), what we’re allowed to do depends on where and when we’re practicing. We can provide medication abortion (mifepristone and misoprostol) in more than fifteen states but surgical abortion in far fewer, even though the actual procedure is exactly the same as other ones (like completing a failed miscarriage) that are solidly within our scope of practice almost everywhere. This is basically because the world is a vampire, sent to jail.* The actual hands-on training is straightforward, because first-trimester surgical abortion is a very technically simple procedure. Completing one hundred to three hundred procedures is considered achieving competency, and the reason it takes that many procedures is because complications (like infection) happen so infrequently that it takes that many to see even a single one.When I started I knew intellectually that half the country wished I hadn’t gone to work that day, and a smaller percentage probably wished I hadn’t even woken up, but pro-life was never part of my life until I actually took on the job. The idea of “sin” had eroded out of my parents’ Catholicism so that the only part they passed on was the punishment style (“I want to let you know that if you have sex you can get a yeast infection in your eyes and you would deserve it”). I am lucky to be training in a liberal Northeastern state: the biggest impact of “antis” on my training is that I have to bring my lunch every day because it’s not really a good idea to go outside more than you have to. The protesters only figured out that I was a clinician-in-training and not a nightmarishly fertile young woman by my third or fourth visit. When they called me “babykiller,” I was like “No way, I’m still working on ultrasound technique!” A couple weeks later I finally got my shit together to look directly at them and I saw that they were (A) a scraggly group of five or so and (B) all old white dudes, historically the least likely demographic to spiritually or morally lead me. Relief!
I had spent most of my life thinking that “following politics” was like being the sports fan who makes sure to watch every game her team plays and always wears the jersey on game day. Yeah, I want us to win too, duh, but you know, does it really matter if I’m sitting there? I’ll check it out if they get to the playoffs or whatever. But now that the news is me, I understand the value of a stupid tie with team colors. I saw that South Dakota bill and I cried. I wanted to call up my friends and say, “Hello! So, at least a couple people in South Dakota want to make it so that it kind of wouldn’t be illegal to kill an abortion provider. Like, me, your friend who does abortions. I’m an abortion provider and I’m your friend. So it would become legal for someone to kill me, your abortion-providing friend. So please, please, please help me do something about this.”Up until recently I’d come out of any closet I found myself in—queer, non-monogamous, I fucking love Tool still, whatever—not that I live to hear the drink-choking sound, but because, to me, coming out was just one of the ways I could pay back the privileges that had been arbitrarily bestowed upon me (educated! white-appearing! “normal!”). But training as an abortion provider is the first thing in my life that I hold back on spilling about. At the core of it, there’s a huge gap between saying “I had one” and saying “I do them.” I don’t want to alienate people. And nothing else I’ve ever done or been has felt like a direct invitation to a motivated someone out there to kill me and get away with it.
The Great Leap Backward
by Camille Hayes
America’s white male power structure has a major hangover. Six decades ago, drunk on democracy and obviously not thinking straight, it started giving away to other groups the rights and privileges it had previously spent most of its time trying to hoard for itself. The ruling class had dabbled in such political largesse before, enfranchising African American men in the late nineteenth century and all women in the early twentieth. But it wasn’t until the mid-century civil rights movement kicked off a free-for-all of rights-granting and equality-having, that the powers that be loosened their ties, bellied up to the freedom bar and got seriously hammered. Employment rights? Why not! Desegregation? Don’t mind if I do. Girls playing sports? Sure thing, sounds fun! They gave and gave and gave, perhaps never stopping to fully think through the implications of a democratic system in which everyone participates equally: namely, that their absolute cultural dominance would eventually become impossible to maintain. Now, like a drunk waking up after an epic bender, they’re surveying the damage they did the night before and trying their best to put things back in their proper places. Those human rights they gave you, last night when everyone was getting buzzed over appetizers? They’ve thought about it, and they’d like to have them back.
Welcome to the era of regressive politics.
It’s a challenging time in America, not to mention a highly disconcerting one for left-leaning bigmouths like me. I think of myself as a liberal, but what I often mean by that is “progressive” in the old-school, New Deal, let’s-all-build-a-giant-dam sense of the word. I believe that one of the things government is best at, and ought to do more of, is leading the kind of social reform that opens up the rights of citizenship to an ever-expanding number of people. I realize this is radical in an era in which the very word government is used as shorthand for ineptitude. Naïf that I am, I believe so strongly in government as a progressive social agent that it led me to my current profession, as an advocate in the anti–domestic violence movement. On the face of it, domestic violence laws don’t have much in common with the progressive movement’s signature accomplishments, like labor reform. But what both policy areas share is the commitment to defending people’s right to live free from oppression. Progressives say that no one, whether that person is a stranger, your boss, or your spouse, should be able to harm you or otherwise push you around, and that the government should help protect you from that. What I saw in the domestic violence field was a chance to fight for human rights not in the workplace or the public sphere but in people’s own homes.
Since most domestic violence laws are progressive at heart, they’re under particular threat at our current regressive impasse. That’s because the goal of regressive politics is to curtail, and even reverse, the great expansion of human rights that began in America’s Progressive Era, which spanned the late nineteenth to the early twentieth centuries. The impulse to regress is not new; for as long as there have been human rights movements, there have been corresponding backlashes in which opposing forces try to take back some recently granted rights from the group in question. The feminist backlash has been one of the most visible and easy to track over the years. Reproductive-rights advocates have, for example, come to expect the state-by-state chipping away at abortion access to be the normal course of that particular policy fight. But by any standard, 2012 was a banner year for antiwoman regression tactics, with state legislatures from Wisconsin to Arizona passing new and unprecedentedly invasive abortion restrictions. Catholic leaders, emboldened by this new antiwoman vibe and apparently just annoyed with Obama, used a provision in the Affordable Care Act as an excuse to start a discussion about the ethics of birth control, of all ridiculous things. And in what was arguably the most shameful and nakedly political maneuver in a year that was chock full of them, congressional Republicans tried to undermine a law that exists solely to help victims of rape and domestic abuse: the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). The partisan attack on VAWA, and the attempted rollback of victim rights that it entailed, exemplifies the worst features of a politics of regression. The story of how VAWA went from a bipartisan darling to the bane of the GOP in just a few months starkly illuminates the regressive agenda, the ultimate goal of which is the diminution of civil rights and legal protections. A progressive bill like VAWA—which exists to increase victims’ rights—couldn’t make it through this regressive policy era unscathed. In 2012, the challenge finally came.
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