“Because until she bleeds,”

Terry Tempest Williams frequently writes at the intersection of feminism and environmentalism.  For those unfamiliar with Williams, she comes from a Mormon background and the landscape of the western U.S. and has lost most of the women in her family to environmental contamination (more specifically to cancer likely caused by nuclear testing).  Her writing draws on each of these parts of her lived experience.  Tempest also recently purchased 1,750 acres to protect it from oil and gas development.

I recently revisited Williams’ essay in her wonderful book When Women Were Birds: Fifty-four Variations on Voice about birth control and choice.  The essay is a more condensed version of her earlier essay in The Progressive entitled “The Moment I Became a Feminist.”  Williams’ writes:

My body is my compass, and it does not lie…

No woman terminates a pregnancy easily.  No one who has ever felt life insider her can negate that power.  It is never a decision made lightly, without love or pain or a prayer toward forgiveness.

Because what every woman knows each month when she bleeds is, I am not pregnant.  Because what every woman understands each time she makes love is, Life could be in the making now.  Which is why when a woman allows a man to enter her, it is not just a physical act, but an act of surrendering to the possibility that her life may no longer be hers alone.  Because until she bleeds, she will check her womb every day for the stirrings of life.  Because until she bleeds, she wonders if her life will be one or two or three.  Because until she bleeds, she imagines every possibility from pleasure to pain to birth to death and how she will do what she needs to do, and until she bleeds, she will worry endlessly, until she bleeds…

If a man knew what a woman never forgets, he would love her differently.

There is nothing abstract about giving birth.  There is nothing more sobering than for a woman to place her hands on her belly and wonder what is the right thing to do.  it is always about love.  It is never done lightly.  And there is nothing more demeaning to women than to have a man, especially a man we don’t know, define the laws that will govern our milk and blood.

If a man knew what a woman never forgets, he would love her differently.

Ohio’s Governor Kasich signed into law a bill on February 21, 2016 that will prevent state funding from going to Planned Parenthood, causing the organization to lose approximately $1.3 million in state funding.  There are 28 Planned Parenthood locations in Ohio, 3 of which provide abortion services.  These 28 locations serve women’s health needs at low or no costs, and they do so respectfully and compassionately.

I do not know that  Governor Kasich knows the weight of what he did.  I do not know that he realizes what it is to be a woman in search of affordable, accessible reproductive health care.  I do not know that he understands the intimacy involved in conversations about reproductive health, about how difficult it is to find compassionate care.

I do know that these individuals that do not understand an individual’s right to bodily autonomy are in the minority.  I do know that majority of Americans believe in keeping abortion legal, and majority of Americans #StandWithPlannedParenthood.  I also know these people attempting to legislate their religious doctrine do not represent all “people of faith.”  Organizations like the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (Ohio has a chapter, as do many other states) are speaking out about their commitment to compassionate and comprehensive women’s health care precisely because of their moral, ethical, and religious beliefs.

If a man knew what a woman never forgets, he would love her differently.

We must make sure they know; we must make sure they never forget; we must demand they love us differently.

Federal Funding and Fetuses: Our pregnancies, our babies, and their future

In the past 5 years, the number of children born with birth defects on the Hawaiian island of Kaua’i has risen to 10 times the national rate.  The island is also where a handful of companies develop over 90% of the U.S.’s genetically modified corn. Of all the Hawaiian islands, Kaua’i is home to the largest percentage of indigenous Hawaiians.  Talk about the intersection of environmental and reproductive justice.   This article details the predicament and is well worth the read.

Kaua’i attempted to give residents some measure of protection from the extreme pesticide exposure on the island’s west side by issuing Ordinance 960,  requiring public disclosure of spraying times, locations, and chemicals present, as well as buffer zones around places like hospitals, schools, and day care centers.  You’d think this would be a no-brainer, common sense, something everyone would want in order to protect our children and our elderly.  However, after a challenge by Syngenta, Pioneer, Agrigenetics, and BASF Plant Science, a federal district court ruled the law invalid due to state preemption issues.   The case is currently on appeal thanks to persistent advocates Ka Makani Ho’opono, Surfrider Foundation, Center for Food Safety, Pesticide Action Network North America, and their Earthjustice attorneys.

Meanwhile, on the mainland, the U.S. Congress leads a special investigation into Planned Parenthood because the organization provides a legal service.

The investigation of Planned Parenthood is a sham.  It’s about people believing women shouldn’t be allowed to make their own decisions when it comes to their reproductive health.  I know this for many reasons, but here’s the reason I want to focus on right now: carrying a healthy pregnancy to term in many locations across America is a constant battle because legal environmental harms threaten that pregnancy almost constantly.

Where’s our special investigative committee looking into the folks causing the environmental contamination that terminates all those deeply wanted pregnancies?  Look up all the chemicals known to cause miscarriages and birth defects, look up where they are made, look up what they’re manufactured for, look at how shockingly prevalent they are in our lived environments– acutely so in some locations.  And look at who makes them.  Where’s our special investigative committee looking into them?

There is no special committee investigating whether Syngenta, Pioneer, and other agribusinesses are killing fetuses and causing babies to be born with life-threatening defects despite physicians in acutely affected areas suspecting a causal connection.  Syngenta and most of the agribusinesses of its stature get significant federal assistance in the form of loans, grants, tax breaks, and other subsidies.  Yet when agribusiness destroys fetuses and causes babies to be born with their organs on the outside, there is no congressional committee investigating whether the U.S. should take away these companies’ federal funding.

Those killing babies and fetuses while receiving federal subsidies aren’t limited to the agricultural sector.  This great reporting by Rolling Stone details how a midwife in Vernal, Utah is sounding the alarm warning that fracking is causing stillbirths, miscarriages, and birth defects in her community.  This issue isn’t only affecting those living near gas wells in Utah.  As the article details, we’re seeing this issue in communities affected by fracking everywhere.  The environmental effects of fracking kill fetuses, or have detrimental effects on their health to the degree that babies are born with a host of defects, or born without life at all.

I repeat: these corporations are highly subsidized by the federal government.

Evidently the federal government doesn’t care about the fetuses these particular federally-funded organizations kill.  It doesn’t care about the pregnancies they terminate. Or at least it doesn’t care enough to create a special investigative committee to look into the operations of federally subsidized oil and gas companies and agribusinesses.  The protestors with their right-to-life signs do not gather around the fracking wells, or outside the offices of the oil and gas companies that own them.

We are how we spend are time.  The U.S. Congress is spending its time investigating an organization that provides people with health care that, despite activists’ hardest attempts to get its employees to do otherwise, has consistently followed the law.  If the U.S. Congress cares so much about fetuses, I am ready to see it interested in protecting all the fetuses lost and threatened due to careless, irresponsible corporate action.  That is a legal starting place for protecting fetuses.  They could even pass some constitutional laws to protect all those fetuses currently harmed or destroyed by toxic chemicals from one industry or another.

The right to privacy protects a person’s decision to terminate a pregnancy.  When a physician at a Planned Parenthood clinic performs an abortion, that physician is respecting a private decision made by the pregnant person.

When a company’s irresponsible conducting of business operations causes a pregnant person to be exposed to toxic chemicals that harm the growing fetus, the company violates that person’s body and removes that person’s right of choice.  The company violates the pregnant person’s privacy and the health and safety of the fetus and the pregnancy.

The attack on Planned Parenthood is a sham.  If America cared about babies, the priority would be on giving them a healthy environment to grow up in, on ensuring that healthy environment is going to be here when our generation is long gone.  If America cared about babies, it would start holding polluters accountable.

And as for us- what can we do?  Tell our congresspeople we will not tolerate this.  Picket the people causing these harms.  MAKE THIS ISSUE PUBLIC.  Tell everyone your pregnancy, your sister’s pregnancy, your friend’s pregnancy, our babies should not have to put up with this crap.  There is serious work to be done here.  A chemical known to cause birth defects and miscarriages should not be coursing through our veins, should not be in our water, should not be in our food, should not be in our placentas and breasts, should not be in our babies’ umbilical cords.

Tell them this will be fixed, demand that it is fixed, demand the people causing the problem be held accountable, do not demand the products requiring these chemicals, find alternatives, demand alternatives.

This is urgent.  Our babies are growing up and we are letting the chemical industry continue to invade our bodies and this world.  This is urgent.  Our babies must have better.  We must do better.