Live from the Lilith Blog 1 of 2

February 21, 2012 by

Abortion in Israel, Contraception in the U.S.

Updated May 1, 2012.

It has been over 50 years since American women have had birth control pills to help manage fertility and family planning, yet it seems that the battle for women’s body autonomy is still not over. Just when we think that the future looks bright, that there are medical advances and widespread educational programs for consciousness-raising, some movement from the ultra-conservative Right emerges and reminds us that when it comes to women’s bodies, pockets of American society remain in the Dark Ages.

The latest trend is to make not only abortion illegal but even preventive measures of contraception.

There are people out there who would like to equate the use of contraception with abortion, and of course equate both of these with murder. This is not just the Catholic Church talking, either, but also various Christian denominations leading the call. The Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison, president of the Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod, was quoted in the New York Times last week, telling a House committee on the subject:  “We object to the use of drugs and procedures used to take the lives of unborn children,” referring not to abortion but to contraception. The idea that a bunch of Christian preachers are testifying in Congress about the future of women’s ability to use contraception is no less than frightening.

I may have inadvertently stepped into this with the article that my colleague, L Ariella Zeller, and I wrote about abortion in Israel in Lilith’s winter issue. We mistakenly conflated RU 486 and the abortion pill. Monica Whitcher, President of CHOICE: Campus Health Organization for Information, Contraception, and Education at Vassar College, corrected us in an email to Lilith’s editors, “RU486 is an abortion pill and terminates an established pregnancy. The morning after pill, by contrast, PREVENTS pregnancy, by either preventing the sperm from entering the egg, or by preventing a fertilized egg from implanting into the uterus.”  I do apologize for the mistake and for unintentionally adding fuel to this fire.

I must admit that when Ariella and I wrote this article, I don’t think I was fully aware of how bad the social discourse on women’s fertility had gotten in the United States. Focused as we were on trends in Israel (where we both live), we were looking at the way attitudes and cultures inform public policy here. Certainly a married, fertile woman who wants an abortion for a healthy fetus is discouraged and frowned upon in Israel; a woman we interviewed who was told– officially–by the doctor on the panel that she had psychological problems because she did not want to be a mother is a case in point. But in the end she was fine, obtained a legal abortion, nobody stopped her, and she has recovered. There is no sense of real “threat” in Israel. On the contrary, when all is said and done, very few people in Israel are really paying attention to this issue–for better and for worse. But in the States, the threats to women’s future are much more intense, and more tangible.

That religious leaders with such abhorrent views appear to have so much power to affect legislation about women speaks to very dark trends in America. That these forces enter what should be safe spaces for women – such as the board of Komen—Race for the Cure, an organization presumably dedicated to women’s health – indicates a virus that retrograde thinking about women’s bodies is spreading around America.