What’s a Woman to Do?

Ideas and Issues
Norma Swenson and Betsy Cole at an exhibit booth for Our Bodies, Ourselves
Norma Swenson and Betsy Cole at an exhibit booth for Our Bodies, Ourselves

New Orleans   The ascent of Trump may be proving that the personal is not the political, but it also seems to be establishing to a frightening degree that the political is very, very personal.

I read a lengthy and poignant story in Harper’s in the wake of the election. It was centered in Rapid City, South Dakota, a city I know reasonably well and have visited often over a lifetime. A young nurse in her mid-twenties with one child found herself pregnant by a man passing through her life with what turned out to be no interest in raising a child or building a permanent relationship with her. She had just submitted her application to go back to school to become a nurse practitioner. Despite the fact that Roe v. Wade establishing a legal right to abortion still exists for the time being at least, various road blocks had been thrown in the way of actually receiving one by the hard red legislature in South Dakota. A retiring ob-gyn had effectively close down the last clinic anywhere near Rapid City with the last one in this small population state now located in Sioux Falls, a vast expanse away in this western state about 350 miles distant. Required 72-hour waits and other delays though meant that if she were able to schedule a procedure with the clinic the cost would be over $1000 out of pocket, not counting gas, lodging and incidentals, like lost work time. Frequently, the state laws and limited capacity led to the clinic counseling people to instead try to go to Fargo, North Dakota where the next nearest clinic was available with only slightly less restrictive laws. When a legislator was asked to comment on these difficulties, he seems to have shrugged and said essentially, too bad about that, go to Wyoming, Colorado, North Dakota or someplace other than South Dakota. Having seen reality and laws make a mockery out of anything like “freedom of choice,” the story ended with her having the baby and trying to make the best of it as a single-mother of two children, fortunately still employed, and facing the future.

The Times quoted four young women in a southern state planning to go and get IUDs before the end of the year for fear that coming changes in the Affordable Care Act might make it impossible for them to obtain birth control.

As the political overwhelms the personal for women all over the country, it’s impossible to be prematurely nostalgic, because even though women are oppressed and restrained everywhere, a woman’s lot in the South and the West has never been easy or equal either. I overheard two women of different generations talking between themselves in the patio of one of our New Orleans social enterprise coffeehouses. They were discussing cervical biopsies in very forthright terms. The procedure involves cutting a piece of flesh for testing. One asked the other if she had had anesthesia. Her friend probably shook her head, “no,” because then I heard her clearly say it was the most painful experience she had ever had. The first said that the women’s bible, “Our Bodies, Ourselves” dating to my generation, said that you should have anesthesia for the procedure. The second woman simply stated, yes, probably if you are in Boston. The denouement was almost sadder, when the older woman said she had called a nurse to complain at the doctor’s after it was all over, and the nurse had simply stated that women had never complained in the past.

Trump says he will appoint another Supreme Court judge pretty darned quick and he’ll make sure that that justice is ready to suit up to overturn Roe v. Wade. In state after state Republican legislatures are already killing the freedom of choice for women with a thousand cuts as they use the political knives to eviscerate a woman’s personal integrity over her body and her ability to protect it. Where there’s really no regard for women and their pain, these will just be more cuts in a tradition of them. And, tragically, there won’t be anesthesia, just pain.


Thanks to a loyal reader for suggesting this song by the recently deceased Mose Allison. 


Mose Allison performs Everybody Cryin’ Mercy on Later… with Jools Holland, BBC Two (20 May 2005)