The War on Choice
by Gloria Feldt (Bantam Books; 352 pages, $12)
George W. Bush talks a good line about wanting to promote a "culture of life." It"s his favorite bit of stock rhetoric next to his "evildoers and thugs" and "terrorists hate freedom" speeches. He recites the "life" speech at each annual anniversary of Roe v. Wade, and whenever he addresses fundamentalist Christian organizations. He might be a misogynist, but he's no dummy. He knows who votes and who doesn't.
Sadly, on the "doesn't" side are millions of passive pro-choice Americans. Women who are currently of childbearing age weren't around for the old days, when abortion was illegal and birth control unavailable. For them, these rights have long been taken for granted. But the desperate truth is that our reproductive freedom is being voraciously gutted under the most anti-choice White House and state legislatures in American history.
At least one outspoken woman knows the score. Long before she was President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Gloria Feldt was a teenage mother in rural Texas, pregnant and married ("in that order") by age 15. By age 20, she was struggling to raise three small children on very little money. Today, Feldt is a mother, grandmother and great-grandmother, and she is passionate and political about the preservation of reproductive choice.
During the same time frame, George W. Bush, Feldt's contemporary, was reveling in his life as the wealthy son of a blueblood knocking back beers, dodging Vietnam, getting free passes into Ivy League universities on his legacy status, bankrupting oil companies and ruining baseball teams.
Several decades later, Feldt and Bush are adversaries in a sociopolitical battle that somehow eclipses mainstream America. The War on Choice is Feldt's manifesto and record of this battle.
In Bush's America, as Feldt paints it, everyone is heterosexual. Sex is only for the procreation purposes of married couples. The rights of zygotes and embryos negate those of the women hosting them. Ultimately, the president punishes women for having sex; and he'd rather those women die than allow them to terminate their pregnancies.
This is war.
The sad fact is that most women even those having abortions aren't paying attention. For them, abortion is not a political issue. And they can't count on the mainstream media to tell them what's really going on.
Reading The War on Choice is like being beaten over the head with a sledgehammer but in a blunt wake-up-call kind of way. Through meticulous research and detail, Feldt documents the relentless bombardment of anti-choice tactics by Stupid White Men. In particular, she writes about how the Bush-Ashcroft-Scalia junta is mowing down the right to choose. As leaders of the religious right, their policies are dictated by their belief that sex is "inherently dirty and wrong," Feldt writes.
This repressed view of human sexuality makes for increasingly scary policy making. "Choice" used to be about abortion. Not anymore. The Bush administration, fundamentalist-dominated state legislatures, state Supreme Courts and even the four extremely anti-choice members of the U.S. Supreme Court are abusing their authority not only to ban abortion, but to block access to birth control, emergency contraception and sex education.
Some $700 million of taxpayer money has been shoveled into "abstinence only" programs over the past seven years. Feldt dishes up some disturbing facts and statistics as to the success of such programs, which have infested the public-school system. A mind-numbing 58 percent of schools teach "abstinence only." Remember, "only" is the key word. Teenagers are being taught to "just say no" to sex, although, as Feldt quotes former U.S. Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders, "The vows of abstinence break a lot more easily than latex condoms." That didn't stop Bush from appointing Joe McIlhaney to the advisory committee for the Center for Disease Control.
McIlhaney is the author of anti-sex tracts that discourage condom use. The paradoxical idiocy of being anti-sex and anti-condom and adviser to the CDC is typical of Bush's invidious policies and appointments.
As Feldt posits page after page of hard-core, irrefutable facts, the subtextual question threaded throughout her book is, "Where's the outrage?" It's because of widespread apathy and ignorance that anti-choice zealots have been able to dramatically further their agenda. The anti-choice sect is obsessed. They think about abortion every day how evil it is, how evil the women are who have them, how abortion must be stopped at any cost. They organize, they scheme, they vote. Sometimes, they even kill.
Bush knows that most Americans are in favor of reproductive freedom. He also knows that most of us are more likely to sit around watching The Bachelor, eating Cheez Doodles and picking our underwear out of our butts than to participate in the political process. Feldt want us to know that, if you stand around long enough, inactive and staring obliviously at nothing, it's easy for someone like John Ashcroft to pull your reproductive rights out from under you.
The confluence of misogyny and religious fanaticism festering in our government continues to erode basic human rights. For women (and men, too), the most fundamental of those rights is being able to choose if and when you will have children. As Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger once said, "No woman can call herself free who does not own and control her own body."
Feldt's book was published in May, so there's no mention of Bush's victory in the deceptively titled "Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act." The congressionally approved proposal was so replete with gross misrepresentations that even the most pro-choice of politicos were fooled into voting for it. Even when the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (an organization of 44,000 physicians) spoke out against the ban as being a danger to women's health and lives, our congressmen didn't listen. They bought into the anti-choice PR campaign of lies and shock value. The ban has since been overturned on appeal by U.S. District Court Judge Phyllis Hamilton.
There will be a lot more of this to come if pro-choice citizens don"t start fighting back. The War on Choice is an ideal starting point to understand the deliberate dismantling of reproductive rights.
This is the most important, most comprehensive book ever written about the fight for reproductive freedom. With Bush up for re-election in a matter of months, it's also the most crucially timed. Vote like your life depends on it, Feldt's telling us because it does.
The war is not over.
(Read the interview with Sally Blackmun, who wrote the introduction to The War on Choice.)