When women’s rights are under attack, we don’t spend our evenings eating dinner with family or studying for school or watching TV or any of the innumerable things we’d rather be doing with our time. We fight back.
Six hours. That’s how long I sat in a stuffy county council chamber a few Tuesdays ago, waiting to speak for two minutes. Others stayed until the council meeting finally wrapped up at 2am. When women’s rights are under attack, we don’t spend our evenings eating dinner with family or studying for school or watching TV or any of the innumerable things we’d rather be doing with our time. We fight back.
On July 16, 2018, the chair of the Anne Arundel County Council in Maryland introduced Resolution 30-18. This resolution, according to the text of the document, “recognizes and declares the humanity of preborn children and urges all citizens of [the county] to encourage the humane treatment of all human beings including preborn children.” If approved, the resolution reads, it would also require the county board of health to “submit a report annually on the available data regarding intentional terminations of pregnancies” and “available research on the emotional, physical, and psychological impacts of these terminations on the mother.”
The source of the resolution is as important to understand as its text. It was put forward by Michael Peroutka, a former member of the white supremacist group the League of the South and a major funder for Roy Moore’s chief justice campaign in 2012. His local organization “Institute on the Constitution” promotes “the view that government must hew strictly to Biblical principles.” Peroutka was elected as chair of the Anne Arundel County Council in 2014, and his Resolution 30-18 is yet another instance of a backwards-thinking politician wanting to take us backwards along with him.
I’m no fool. I understand what defining a fetus as a “preborn child” aims to do. The resolution is a thinly-veiled step toward treating women who have abortions as criminals, and suspecting women who miscarry of foul play. It claims to care about the “emotional, physical, and psychological” well-being of women who have abortions, while ignoring evidence that the vast majority of women do not regret the procedure. It is the latest attempt by a local government emboldened by the Trump administration to ensure that women do not have control over our own reproductive health.
So we showed up in droves. I was number #18 and my partner #19 in the line for testimonies, a line so long that the chamber lobby could barely contain us all. It was a strange mix of women and men fed up with government overreach into women’s bodies – several of them local candidates – and pro-life evangelicals who had spent the last hour praying and waving signs across the street. After we found seats in the chamber and watched the crowd file in behind us, we were told that the chamber was full to capacity. Only those scheduled to give testimonies would be permitted back in if they had to use the restroom.
The council made their way through about 15 other agenda items before getting to Resolution 30-18. It was dead last on the list, my partner and I both guessed, because the council chair was hoping that we would all leave. Instead, we sat through bills on everything from massage parlors to mini pigs. When Chairman Peroutka finally introduced his resolution around 11pm, he stalled even further by reading a list of highly embellished, violent descriptions of abortions. The chairman also completely ignored the facts that late term abortions are selected if there is a danger to the mother’s health, the child’s health, or both, and that most abortions are performed within the first trimester.
Around 11:30pm, I looked the council chair in the eye and told him that his earlier comments were nothing more than pro-life propaganda. My testimony follows:
Resolution 30-18 would require the Department of Health to collect deeply invasive information on women’s private health matters. I don’t have to guess why the county isn’t collecting similar data on the impacts of hysterectomies, pap smears, and mammograms because everyone knows that these procedures enable women to live better quality lives. Abortion is another procedure that improves women’s quality of life. Ninety-five percent of women who have had abortions do not regret their decision, according to a 2015 study by the UC San Francisco School of Medicine.
This resolution isn’t about the “emotional well-being” of women or about “protecting the unborn.” It’s another step toward preventing women from making decisions about our own bodies and enjoying the same economic independence that men enjoy. As a 31 year old woman who would not have been able to put career and education first without reproductive freedom, I am disgusted that this resolution is on the table in 2018.
My partner’s testimony was far simpler. “If you don’t have a uterus,” he said to the seven male members of the council, “do not legislate them.”
As we walked out of the council meeting, the adrenaline still pumping in our veins, my partner told me that the pro-lifers behind our seats gasped at my mention of “reproductive freedom.” “She’s had an abortion!” one of them hissed. When I initially wrote out my testimony, I wasn’t even thinking that my words could be construed this way. I’ve never had an abortion and was referring to the reproductive freedom I acquired by being on birth control since I was 18, and the additional financial freedom I gained once birth control became free under the Affordable Care Act.
The next morning, I woke to the news that the resolution was defeated 4-3. A few days later, I shared the good news with a friend who took that moment to tell me that yes, she once had an abortion, and no, she never regretted her decision. And something occurred to me. The reason I hadn’t parsed out the different connotations of “reproductive freedom” was because I don’t see them. I only see women who need safe, comprehensive, and affordable health care. Sometimes it’s a medicinal regimen and sometimes it’s a surgical procedure, but it’s always our choice to make.
Chairman Peroutka referred to the women and men fighting for choice at the hearing as “pro-abortion,” but along with many of his other statements, I don’t think this is accurate. At the end of the day, I’m pro women having ownership of their own bodies. I’m pro trust the medical professionals who would rather perform safe and legal abortions than tend to women hemorrhaging from coat hangers. I’m pro having the number of children you want, when you want them, and it not being anyone else’s business.
Chelsea Cristene is an international student adviser, English professor, and graduate student based in Washington, DC. She has been published by the Good Men Project, Salon, xoJane, The Establishment, and MamaMia, and has appeared on HuffPost Live. Find her on Twitter.