Woman With Vagina Sorry She Ever Doubted You, Mississippi
by Kersten Wehde
Young women who work in administration roles in Planned Parenthood often hear that our generation just doesn’t get it. Well-meaning septuagenarian volunteers—frontline broads with hairdos like astronaut helmets and disarming names like Peggy and Betty—lament that we don’t know or care to know the horrors they saw when abortion was a back-alley business. The subtext is not subtle: You take for granted this right and your foremothers’ struggle to win it. You think this battle has fought itself? When will you wake up?
This rhetoric annoys me a little—I wasn’t there for slavery or the Holocaust, but I know they were huge bummers, and I’m surrounded by people who spend 50 hours a week fighting back. But to an extent, they’re right. We have no idea what it’s like to live in a time when dying in childbirth is the risk you take for getting all Chatterley. The idea of having no control over what occupies my uterus is so alien to me as to be beyond outrageous—it’s just nonsensical. “What if birth control were illegal?” “Yes, and what if our pets rise up against us?” I can’t fathom a 21st-century dystopia where any woman’s last resort is prayer, Scarlett O’Hara stair gymnastics, or something I bought with a craft store coupon.
A crap economy, threats of governmental shutdowns, hundreds of pieces of anti-choice legislation, abstinence education funding, geniuses like Jon Kyl … It’s been a rough year. And it wasn’t looking good in Mississippi, where the ballot effort to award “personhood” to every zygote from the moment of fertilization enjoyed a 30-point lead in the polls just 11 days ago.
Aside from banning safe and legal abortion, even in cases of rape and incest (let’s just claim the EICORAI acronym for that), Amendment 26 was written just arrogantly ambiguously enough to criminalize some FDA-approved birth control methods and the morning-after pill, as well as in vitro fertilization and our hopes of cloning those darling Fanning sisters. (Dakota! Call me!)
In spite of a scrappy No on 26 grassroots ripple that had the support of doctors, clergy, and the NAACP, personhood looked like a cakewalk in Mississippi. It had the backing of one-time choice advocate Mitt Romney and other high-ranking Republicans, many of them loud. Couple that with Dems’ infuriating refusal to enter the fray in any kind of meaningful way, opting not to go on record as having fought for what appeared a born loser, and the fact that the reddest of the red states is not exactly a bastion of health and education. No, not every Mississippian is a fat, prejudiced moron, just like every Californian isn’t a lithe, tolerant genius. But considering history, most of us just hoped it wouldn’t be a blowout.
And then the ripple went tidal, and Mississippi shocked everyone, and I shut my cynical, self-righteous Californian mouth. I am sorry that I doubted you, people of Mississippi.
Let this defeat—at 58-42, trouncing may be more appropriate—be a lesson to those who play politics with women’s health, even in the gimme states, and assume we won’t care or notice. And let this be a lesson to all of us.
Anyone who thinks this kind of insulting, radical idiocy is relegated to the Bible Belt should get real. Proponents happily admit that personhood is just the Roe pickax du jour, and bills will continue to crop up in other states—yes, even the Golden one—and on a national level. Our own Duncan Hunter’s “from the moment of fertilization” version, which has the thumbs-up from Michele Bachmann and about 40% of House Republicans, doesn’t require "the prosecution of any woman for the death of her unborn child," though it would allow it. Phew.
Is this sudden concern for freshly fertilized eggs confusing to anyone else? Even semantically, it troubles me. America has long defined womanhood and manhood as states to be earned or achieved through easily documented milestones, both physical and experiential. Your body bleeds and stiffens where it hadn’t; you shoot your first deer; you stand up for yourself; you turn 18; you either give away or lose your virginity, depending on which loaded phrasing you select; you open a checking account; you get a degree; you suffer loss; you nurse. I can’t define the moment when I shifted gears from girl to woman (neutral to drive, as it were); life is more Möbius strip than checklist. A biologist I respect summed it up for me a few years ago: “There’s more to being human than bearing a cell with the right collection of genes.”
Because I genuinely like my job, and because I sincerely believe in what my friends and I do every day, I can’t make this clear enough: I speak for myself. I don’t speak for Planned Parenthood and I didn’t write this on their dime or time. I speak for myself, and I speak for my uterus (which is itself very articulate, with an accent like Dame Helen Mirren and the rapier wit of Dorothy Parker).
My uterus and I have this to say: Regardless of your party, tax plan, experience or debate style, we will not stand for anyone—Mike Pence, Jim Holman, Herman Cain, President Obama, anyone—playing politics with our health. We won’t be surprised by Mississippi again.
It is no longer enough to run a great defense. Our allies must know it as well as our enemies: We are watching you. In terms of when we will wake up, that time is now, and they should be absolutely terrified to rouse this giant.