Back in September, when conservative lawmakers threatened a government shutdown unless Congress defunded Planned Parenthood, outrage surfaced on both sides of the issue. Anti-abortion activists supported the stern stance against the women’s health organization, claiming state dollars shouldn’t be used to support something that goes against their morals. Pro-abortion rights voices fired back saying that cutting funding would wind up hurting women looking for mammograms more than those looking for abortions—after all, they said, only three percent of the services it provides relate to that procedure.
As I watched so many reproductive rights supporters, mostly women, downplay their passion and the importance of abortion services offered by Planned Parenthood, I felt heartbroken and angry. It was yet another instance where women policed themselves to appear less threatening, less demanding, and more reasonable to those in power. Advocates who may have been personally connected to this contested issue were minimizing the cruciality of PP’s abortion services. They were putting a disclaimer in front of their reproductive rights, rights that they were born with. It was done for admittedly understandable reasons—they are soothing the insecurity and paranoia of those in power, assuring anti-abortion legislators that they aren’t asking for too much and that we, feminists fighting to keep Roe v. Wade alive, won’t be a bother.
Well, I want to be a bother. I want all of us to be a bother. I refuse to play into the role of docility and trepidation that is too often demanded of my gender. We should not defend PP by asserting the small role abortion plays in their services, as if that aspect of its offices is an afterthought or something we should rightfully be ashamed of. In a way, this undervalues not just the service, but also those who seek it out. Clients in need of an abortion deserve the same funding and respect as those looking for mammograms, vaccinations, STD screenings, and family planning counselors. All of these groups are searching for trustworthy health care that will positively impact their lives—none of them deserve to have those lifesaving services taken away.
It’s also becoming quite clear that our fear of fighting back and raising our voices proudly in protection of PP abortion services is not helping the cause. Texas recently defunded Planned Parenthood, cutting off Medicaid funds for it in the state. The state legislature chose to do this despite the pleas of many protesters, plenty of whom pointed out that this action would hurt low-income women searching for standard medical services. The same “three percent” statistic was quoted, used on signs, and touted as a defense. But the message being sent by these good intentions is a devastatingly polarizing one: You’re punishing mostly good people, and you’re not even hitting the target.
This is a message that unnecessarily divides women and only provides a foothold for legislators to rob the group as a whole of fundamental rights and equality. Understating the cruciality of abortion services being made legal, funded, and accessible is destructive. It only furthers the stigmatization of a vulnerable group that is being put in danger for trying to claim ownership of their own bodies.
I realize that it can be scary and isolating to voice your support for such a divisive issue. But I also feel that women seeking abortions are in urgent need of this support because members of our legal system are trying to encroach upon our rights and gradually strip away the hard-won victory Roe v. Wade was supposed to give us. Considering only 25 percent of sitting federal judges are women—even fewer are women of color—it is clear these decisions are not being made on our behalf but instead on the behalf of those furthering an unjust system used to expand patriarchal rules that have governed us for too long.
The World Health Organization reported in 2008 that an average of 47,000 women die each year from unsafe abortions—a death that is completely preventable if the procedure is legal and available to those in need. Most of these deaths occur in developing countries where women continue to live under repressive sexism. On the contrary, WHO claims that getting a legal abortion in the United States is basically as safe as getting an injection of penicillin. The contrast of these facts highlights just how important it is not just to fight for the service’s legality, but to also continue to defend its significance after legislation has passed.
I think we should quit trying to placate those who don’t respect us, because we all know the truth. It is time to be a bother. And we are going to ask for a lot—some might even call it too much. I am demanding absolute power and absolute autonomy over my body. I will not settle for anything less and I don’t care if my assertion scares you. It is a symptom of how unequal our society is that what I demand seems radical—I want complete and total control over who I am as a woman and what my body can do. I support the three percent. Do you?