Bioethics, healthcare policy, and related issues.
“Choice” – the exercise of the fundamental value of autonomy as it affects the most distinctive, and most embattled, aspects of women’s lives – is always under siege by the right wing and its religious foot soldiers, as much so today as at almost any time. And today, “Blog For Choice Day, 2009″, the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision and nearly coincident with the the New Year and the Obama Inauguration as well, it is worth taking stock, and seeing just how encroached and relentless that battle has grown, and what hope of progress arises at this time of new beginnings.
The manifold horrors of the Bush years are finally behind us, and President Obama is already taking steps to end their ravages and wipe away the stains they have left upon the United States. In the area of reproductive autonomy, he has sent encouraging signals that he will repeal the odious “Gag Rule” and “Conscience Clauses” and oppose legislative attempts to further intrude upon women’s freedom. Hopefully the discriminatory Hyde Amendment will finally bite the dust as well. But that those are salient issues is only evidence of how much has been lost in a short time.
That we have to beat back absolute absurdities, such as that hospital personnel may refuse to treat patients in need out of personal prejudice alone, or that any yahoo with an ideological grudge, down to and including pharmacy clerks and cash register tellers, can withhold products and prescription medications on the same whim, means that the first promise of the unfolding Obama administration is simply to undo some of the trespasses of recent years, restoring what, under Clinton, nobody imagined could be lost. Actual progress will have to be a follow-on goal.
So it is not merely “choice” – reproductive autonomy in the area of birth control and abortion – that is under siege, but the entire range of choices women may make regarding their healthcare, sexual and reproductive lives, and liberty in general. Not only the right to abortion has been restricted, but, as part of their war on women’s sexual health, women’s rights to make factually informed choices about their own health and treatment options, to choose, purchase, and receive medicine and healthcare products prescribed or recommended for them, to choose how to balance their sexual and healthcare needs without interference, to choose their own goals and methods in family planning without prohibition on extremist religious grounds, to choose to use scientific medical advances without arbitrary religious restriction, and to make any number of other choices regarding their health and bodily autonomy, have systematically been assaulted, hamstrung, and denied by legions of religious-extremist obstructionists inside and outside the Bush administration. The first item on the “choice” agenda must now be restoring the basic set of choices that existed before the whackos got loose; only then can we begin to extend and refine the range and accessibility of those choices.
There is good reason to be hopeful, as, barely days into the Obama Presidency, a new sense of decency emanates from Washington and the most egregious crimes of the recent past are repudiated and undone. There is little reason to be ecstatic, however - and those who value women’s autonomy know too well that women are always the first to be thrown overboard for political expediency, and that women’s bodies and lives are of little weight in the traditional political balance. It would be foolhardy to expect President Obama to be too radical a departure from business as usual in that respect, though he has been generally good on choice, and on scientific, vs. religious, policymaking. Sadly, I expect that “Blog for Choice Day” will be an annual tradition that outlasts even this administration. But this is certainly the beginning of better things to come, and the victory has never been out of sight, however hatefully it has been contested. Good days ahead!
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