AN ONTOLOGY OF CHOICE:
Yesterday, the NC House of Representatives sustained Governor Roy Cooper’s veto of an extreme anti-women’s health bill. This bill had no basis in medical science but pushed propaganda that spread misleading claims about pregnancy and abortion that were false, offensive and dangerous. I have so much admiration for the House Democratic Women’s’ Caucus, who supported each other over the past month of calendar hostage on the veto override vote. There was a term coined in 2013, called the Tillis Veto Override – where the GOP Majority Leadership of the House started a practice of calling veto votes at the spur of the moment on the calendar whenever they would see that the Minority Caucus did not have the number of sustaining members present. This was a dirty political trick if ever there was one. Senator Tillis was Speaker of the House and the practice began under his leadership. Speaker Moore had been holding out on the House vote since May 1st, when the NC Senate overrode the Governor’s veto. Representative Sydney Batch, within 48 hours of invasive treatment for cancer, dragged herself into the Chamber several weeks ago in order to be present for the potential vote. After much public outrage and complaints by House women on both sides of the aisle, the vote was calendared prior to the Memorial Day Weekend for June 5th. By a vote of 67-53; the 3/5ths threshold (70 votes) was not met and the Governor’s veto was sustained. As I sat in the House Chamber observing the debate – I felt compelled to SPEAK UP, SPEAK OUT and PUBLICALLY on my position on abortion.
At the outset – I reject the premise that one must be either Pro-Life or Pro-Choice; these terms are not mutually exclusive. As such, the taxonomy of CHOICE is inherently flawed. The first step in explaining my position on abortion is to correct the misnomer of the term “Pro-Life”. A more suitable replacement for the classification of “Pro-Life” is the term “Pro-Birth”. Many who associate themselves with the former couldn’t care less about the quality of life of an unborn child, nor the circumstances of which the child was conceived or must spend the rest of their lives navigating due to systems of oppression and discrimination that are compounded on that child as a result of their skin color or socioeconomic status. There is a big difference between being Pro-Life and Pro-Birth. Pro-Life should mean that one who identifies as such would care about the life of both the mother and the child, and at all stages.
Pro-Birthers are not concerned about the life of the child once born- they only care that the baby is born. “Pro-Birthers” support Alabama’s banning of abortion even in the cases of rape or incest. Pro-Birthers don’t have the same outrage when “big babies” are aborted – like a 12-year-old African American male with a toy gun on the playground, shot dead within 12 seconds of an encounter with law enforcement. Pro-birthers cannot find the same outrage they have towards abortion to protest the separation of born babies at the border, from their mothers, and their subsequent caging causing significant, life-long trauma, of which they may never recover. Pro-Birthers just want the baby to be born then abdicate any regard for the standard or state of life for that child once they are in the world. Pro-Birthers have no problem aborting demographics of babies to the school to prison pipeline, mass incarceration, prison industrial complex, hunger, lack of health care access, systemic racism, classism and the list goes on. Many Pro-Birthers surprisingly support taking the life of innocent people who have been wrongly convicted or just casualties of war.
The above distinctions warrant a revised taxonomy of Pro-Life CHOICE, and Pro-Life BIRTH. From this new reference point, I classify myself as Pro-Life CHOICE. I believe in a woman’s right to choose when she wants to start her family. I support women’s rights to choose what happens in their lives, to their bodies and when. If a woman is raped and a child is conceived, I would not dare be so sanctimoniously calloused to vote to legally require this woman to carry the conception to term and believe it a most asinine imposition that one could compel by law upon another. I affirm my right to make Pro-Life CHOICES for myself and will fight to the end for every other woman and man on the planet to do the same. While I am unequivocally Pro-Life CHOICE, I very much oppose abortion as a method of birth control. Because of this belief, I am a staunch supporter of women and men having access to reproductive healthcare and education – including abstinence, contraception and family planning.
My Personal Story of CHOICE
I had my youngest son at 24 weeks – very premature as a result of preeclampsia/ pregnancy induced hypertension. I was told at 16 weeks that if I continued my pregnancy- that I was risking my own death and leaving my sons and husband without me.
Before Elias’ delivery – I had to decide on priority of life. “If it comes down to it,” my care team asked, “Do you want us to save you or your unborn child?”
– My husband, at that point, did not get to make that decision. He was the father -but only I could make that decision.
– My 14 & 12-year-old sons cried when I chose their baby brother – not because they wanted their baby brother to die – but because they wanted their mother’s life to be saved.
Despite my infinite love for my children and family, I made the decision for doctors to save my baby- if they could not save us both. I based my decision on my Judeo-Christian belief system and my firm faith in God’s sovereignty and revelation of who God is. I don’t have to decide or determine which side is right in God’s eyes when it comes to the abortion debate. And for the life of me, I cannot figure out why dogmatic religious political reservists believe that they have the exclusive right to or even feel they have the place to do so.
I affirm that it is my responsibility to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves. And I believe that there should be a limit to when someone makes the decision to terminate the life of an unborn child. Elias could live and did survive birth at 22 weeks. Our wonderful medical care team, occupational and physical therapists, specialists, and local public-school educators provided care, treatment, training and teaching that empowered Elias with mobility, communication and life quality.
Out of respect for my faith tradition and the tradition of others, I do not believe it is my place or any other elected officials’ place to project my belief on others. No one, in elected position or otherwise, should employ faith to condemn, interfere or infringe on the religion of others. Members of Congress and State Legislators all over this country take an oath to follow the US Constitution. How then can we disregard the First Amendment – Freedom of Religion, or the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth in banning a woman’s opportunity to make Pro-Life CHOICES?
I believe it to be the ultimate hypocrisy to use religion or Judeo-Christian perspectives to condemn abortion. The existence of CHOICE is fundamental to our very conception of religion. Regardless of whether you ascribe to Calvinism, Existentialism, read Tertullian, Tillich, or the Doctrine of Free Will and Grace, God allows us to CHOOSE our Religion, CHOOSE a Relationship with the Universal, CHOOSE life or death. God is far wiser and does not need my opinion about abortion. God does not need my help shaming, humiliating or torturing any woman who must make a difficult decision about what happens to her body, her life or that of her unborn child. Abortion is a decision that should be between the mother, father and their ascription to a Higher Power. I neither feel compelled nor inclined to judge this decision made by others. As a public-school teacher, I would have students from time to time attempt to “tell me what I needed to do” or “take charge of the class”. I would gently respond, “Student X, your parents pay my salary with taxes from their hard-earned wages. I want them to get their money’s worth and I certainly don’t want you to do work that you are not going to get paid for. Please let me do my job – the state only pays one teacher for this class”. In that same spirit, I ask religious legalists to “please let God be the judge” and “let’s stop imposing our personal judgment in policymaking that affects others.” Somebody say Amen – or ouch!
Finally, I firmly oppose the perpetuation of second-class citizenship for women. The rise of abortion bans across the nation seems driven by an overwhelming undercurrent of men believing that they have the right to dictate to a woman what she can and cannot do to her body. Former police officer, Missouri State Representative Barry Hovis stated that “most rape is consensual” during the debate on an 8-week abortion ban. The Alabama legislature passed a bill to ban abortion at any stage subject to a 99-year felony sentence. The radical ratification of these proposals represents an extreme level of cave-man cognition, an exponential roll-back of women’s suffrage rights and a stare-decisis decimation of Roe vs. Wade.
With the rise of back door attempts at overturning Roe v. Wade across several state legislatures – I believe that it is imperative for Congress to enact federal protection of women’s rights to reproductive healthcare and access to abortion. It is patently clear that one branch of government, specifically the legislatures of Ohio, Alabama, Missouri and even my home state of North Carolina have factions pushing to overturn the longstanding precedent of Roe vs. Wade, despite the conservative leaning of the United States Supreme Court.
It is time for federal codification of Women’s Access to Reproductive Healthcare. I support Senator Warren’s proposal for advancing federal law to protect access. This federal law should prohibit states from or unnecessary authorizations for women to access treatment, or defund Planned Parenthood and Community Health Centers who provide access to care.
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s suggestion on revisiting the Hyde Amendment that restricts federal funding; Senator Corey Booker’s proposal that essentially codifies Roe vs Wade and establishes an Office of Reproductive Freedom; and Senator Kamala Harris’s pre-clearance proposal similar to DOJ approval requirements in Section V of the VRA are all provisions that I would want to see in a federal policy protecting reproductive healthcare access.
When it comes to equal access, protection, opportunity, and pay for women- in addition to inclusion, political representation, and equity – our nation has not lived out the “true meaning of its creed”. If all are indeed “created equal” and endowed by the Creator with the inalienable rights of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness, why then are women all over the country having to protest for the liberty to make Pro-Life CHOICES in the midst of oppressive systems that continue to devalue and obstruct our pursuit to live? The time is now – Women must affirm their right to make Pro-Life CHOICES about their wombs, must demand equal pay for their equal work, and must advocate for inclusive equity within the walls of Congress, Corporate and Commerce! As we approach the centennial celebration of our Right to Vote and eligibility to serve in elected office, we must fight even more to not turn back one tick of the hands of time!
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