In the news this week, a lawmaker said something foolish. Shocking, right?
Many of you have probably heard by now, Idaho State Representative Vito Barbieri (R), thought that the way to a woman’s vagina was through her stomach. This isn’t a metaphor, he actually thought that.
This interesting understanding of the female anatomy came to light while Dr. Julie Madison was testifying against Barbieri’s proposed legislation to make it harder for women to get abortions.
Barbieri: Can this same [gynecological examination] then be done in a pregnancy? Swallowing a camera and helping the doctor determine what the situation is with the —
Madison: Mr. Chairman and Representative, uh, it cannot be done in pregnancy simply because when you swallow a pill, it would not end up in the vagina.
Oh yes, it is incredibly fascinating. It is completely and utterly fascinating that despite having no logical idea of how a female body functions, this man — who sits on the board of a crisis pregnancy center, by the way — is trying to write laws in order to control the female body.
Lawmakers should not be able legislate a human body when they have no understanding of the human body.
Sadly, Barbieri is far from the first politician to illustrate his complete lack of biological knowledge, or in many cases complete ignorance of the actual medical procedure or pharmaceutical they were attempting to ban.
For example, abortions.
In 2012, Todd Akin (R-MO) asserted that rape survivors don’t need access to legal abortion services because victims of “legitimate rape” can’t get pregnant because the female body “has ways of shutting that whole thing down” and Richard Mourdock (R-IN), stated that women who are impregnated through rape should not have access to legal abortions because their rape pregnancies are “a gift from God.”
In 2013, Ron Mendive (R-ID) compared abortions to prostitution, while Chuck Gatschenberger (R-MO) compared getting an abortion to buying a car. Joe Fischer (R-KY) tried to legally make abortions a form of domestic violence, and John Koster (R-WA) casually noted that he is opposed to legal abortion in cases of “the rape thing” because providing full reproductive rights to women who have become pregnant from rape would only serve to “put more violence on a woman’s body.”
As it happens in the real world, the biology of pregnancy is exactly the same for both consensual and non-consensual sex. The female body is not able to distinguish sperm that results from a sexual assault. Some women who become pregnant from rape want to carry the pregnancy to term, but others can’t imagine continuing their pregnancy — due to the emotional implications of the paternity (the fact that in many states a rapist can sue for parental rights and custody is horrifying), because of their individual financial situation, because they’re already parenting, because it’s dangerous for their body to attempt to support a fetus, or simply because they don’t want to be pregnant.
These are the same circumstances facing the women who end other types of unintended pregnancies, so ranking women’s experiences against each other to decide who “deserves” to have access to abortion — as if women who have not been raped don’t have a good enough reason to need reproductive health care — is a ridiculous policy, as is promoting the misconception that abortions are violent procedures that cause excruciating pain and trauma to the woman.
Logically, since these lawmakers are so set on blocking access to abortion, they should support access to birth control and contraceptives, right? What better way to prevent a need for abortion than to offer ways to prevent pregnancy in the first place?
Nope, because that would be logical and these are politicians we’re talking about.
It is common knowledge among Republican lawmakers and anyone who listens to Rush Limbaugh that birth control pills are directly correlated to how much sex a woman is having — that is, the women who have sex more frequently need to take pills more frequently. As Limbaugh said on his radio show in reference to Sandra Fluke, the Georgetown law student who testified in favor of Obamacare’s birth control coverage, “She’s having so much sex, she can’t afford her birth control.”
Except that’s not at all true. Women who rely on oral contraceptives need to take a pill once a day, regardless of their sexual activity. Furthermore, it completely ignores the fact that over half of the women who use birth control need it for medical reasons unrelated to sex, such as treatment for endometriosis or ovarian cysts, or even to help control acne. According to the Guttmacher Institue, 58% of women on the pill are using it at least partly for medical reasons, and about 1.5 million American women need it solely for medical reasons.
Then there are emergency contraceptives, which are particularly controversial among conservatives. In her bid for a Senate seat, Linda McMahon (R-CT) tried to woo voters with her promise of passing laws that would allow Catholic hospitals to deny emergency contraception from rape victims, as — ironically — a matter of “separation of church and state” based almost certainly on the belief that emergency contraceptives like Plan B are an abortion-inducing drug.
Again, this is scientifically inaccurate. There’s a pretty big difference between preventing fertilization (contraception) and ending a pregnancy (abortion). A pill like Plan B is the former, functioning like any other contraceptive by preventing ovulation. The ovulation process can take up to 48 hours, and sperm is able to stay alive for several days in the female body, so fertilization doesn’t occur immediately after intercourse, which is why it’s possibly to prevent pregnancy afterwards with emergency contraception.
Congratulations, you effectively now know more about reproductive health than many of the people trying to make laws about it.
Congress is supposed to represent us as a nation, yet in a country that is 51% female, we have a current Congress that is 80% male. Given those numbers, it doesn’t seem coincidental that in the first half of 2013 and the first half of 2014, a combined 1,168 bills were introduced to propose legislation to regulate women’s bodies. Zero bills were introduced to regulate men’s bodies in the same time frame. After all, what would restricting men’s reproductive health care even look like?
In 2012, six female Democratic lawmakers wondered the same thing, and actually proposed some legislation meant to highlight the injustice of such intense regulation of women’s reproductive rights.
The bills sought to prohibit vasectomies:
Thousands of children are deprived of birth in this state every year because of the lack of state regulation over vasectomies.
Force men to see a sex therapist before getting a prescription for erectile dysfunction:
The physician shall ensure that the sessions include information on non-pharmaceutical treatments for erectile dysfunction, including sexual counseling and resources for patients to pursue celibacy as a viable lifestyle choice.
And limit where men can ejaculate:
Any action in which a man ejaculates or otherwise deposits semen anywhere but in a woman’s vagina shall be interpreted and construed as an action against an unborn child.
It all seems outrageous. How oppressive and barbaric would it be to restrict access to things that are simply part of normal reproductive health?
Rather than realizing they’re being ridiculous or simply backing off, lawmakers seem to just be trying harder to justify their sexist stances. Pennsylvania Senate candidate Tom Smith (R) explained his position on denying rape survivors access to abortions by saying he could “personally relate to the situation” because his daughter had a child out of wedlock. Yes, he suggested that an unmarried woman who has a child that resulted from consensual sex and a woman who has a child that was conceived from rape both have a “similar effect” on the fathers of the women.
Because, you know, in the debate about a woman’s reproductive choices, the effect it has on the men in her life is really what’s important.
You may have noticed that every single politician mentioned here hails from the Republican party. It’s no coincidence that all of the proposed legislation came from the right as well. Republicans have actually held training sessions to help teach lawmakers how to better talk to women, but the issue seems to extend beyond a lack of PR savvy. Politicians need to go back to health class, and I think they shouldn’t be allowed to vote on any legislation limiting reproductive rights until they can accurately and effectively explain how the reproduction system works.
Leave any questions or comments below, and see you next week!