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Lead By Example? The Problem of women's Rights

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The nomination of ardent "pro life" supporter Sarah Palin to the McCain ticket has brought the issue of "pro life" versus "pro choice" to front and center. I am up to the gills and spitting mad at this point, but it is not about Sarah Palin's qualifications to be Vice President. It is about an issue that has morphed and been a political tool for forty years.

Let's start with the response to the news that the Palin's 17 year old daughter (Bristol) is five months pregnant and unmarried. This is not an uncommon situation. What makes me angry are comments such as "I am glad the Palin's are supporting their daughter through this."

Are they supporting Bristol? How do we know that? Did Bristol decide to go forward with the pregnancy and marry the presumptive father, or was it a decision made for her? Would the Palin's have "supported" their daughter if she had decided to ... not marry the father and raise the child on her own; not marry the father and give the child up for adoption; terminate the pregnancy? We don't know what freedom of choice Bristol Palin had, nor the real "supportiveness of her parents," and likely never will.

Underneath the situation of Bristol Palin (and even her mother Sarah) is the "pro life" ideology. Within that ideology is not just the "evils" of abortion, but the control of women's lives and bodies. For the ideologues and believers, it is not just abortion that is the issue. It is birth control and sex education. They are against both. The only birth control option is abstinence. As Bristol Palin's situation shows, that works better in ideological debates than in real teen's lives.

Lost in the so-called "abortion" argument is the reality of women having the RIGHT to control our own bodies. It has always been about this. Those rights include the right to determine if we have sex or not - and with whom; whether we use available birth control or not; whether we have access to credible and safe reproductive health services (including education) - or not; and whether we will bear a child to term - or not.

Under the onslaught of the so-called "pro life" movement, we have seen the erosion of each of those rights.

Sarah and Todd Palin, obviously have decided to not use birth control - or abstinence - within their marriage. Otherwise, it is highly unlikely that at 44 Sarah Palin would have decided to get pregnant with a fifth child. Even pro lifers know that this is a danger zone for reproduction. It is therefore not too surprising that Bristol (and her boy friend) did not use birth control either.

Then we come to Bristol's (supposed) "decision" to continue the pregnancy. Within the ideology of pro life, this is "bearing the consequences" of one's actions. It is the punishment for breaking the rules of abstinence. It is the punishment for the sin of a woman having sex outside of marriage. It is all the more a punishment for Bristol because her humiliation and restitution is taking place before the eyes of the world. The perfect public shaming and object lesson.

From an ideologue's pro life position, the situation of the Palin's is an integrity verification. I am sure that Sarah Palin's "stock" went way up with the release of the information Bristol's pregnancy and shotgun wedding.

Pro life is not about life, and pro choice is not simply pro abortion. The real battleground is the right of women to have control of our own sexual and reproductive lives. That decision is interwoven with a number of other life issues. It is this larger battleground that poses the "threat" that women might actually be acknowledged as full human beings with full human rights.

There is no "choice' when there are no options.

 

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Rowan Wolf is an activist and sociologist living in Oregon. She is the founder and principle author of Uncommon Thought Journal, and Editor in Chief of Cyrano's Journal Today.


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