This campaign season has, like many before, demonstrated
that sexual and reproductive health issues have become a political football. To make matters worse, this particular game of
football is one in which anti-choicers and anyone hostile to sexual freedom is on
the offense, and pro-choicers play defense.
So anti-choicers set the terms of the debate.
There’s an unfortunate public perception that people hostile to measures to
improve the public’s sexual health are "values voters" — as if the rest of us
don’t have values. Pro-choicers end up sounding weak because we continue to lean on pragmatic arguments
instead of appealing to higher values.
George Will called out the mainstream media for the incorrect assumption that only those coming from a religious, socially
conservative point of view are
The phrase "values voters" diminishes our
understanding of politics. It is arrogant on the part of social
conservatives and insulting to everyone else because it implies that only
social conservatives vote to advance their values and everyone else votes to…well, what are they supposedly doing with their
ballots? Will clarified that even when he disagrees with liberals,
he knows that they are voting their values.
We get to hear a lot about people who value the patriarchal family,
zygote life, and think that society can’t function without a heavy dose of
sexual repression. But instead of
letting them have the upper hand by acting like they’re the only ones with
values that need respecting, how about candidates from all parties and pundits
in general accepting that pro-choicers are coming from a principled place with
Just a few examples of values that should be considered
values in our nation’s discourse:
and discovery. Those of us who support scientific research that results in better
contraceptive tools, disease prevention and treatment, as well as sex education,
will point to the bottom line practical effects of all this research and
education. From defending the HPV
vaccine to condom distribution to sex education, we point to numbers: lower STD rates, decreased rates of teenage pregnancy,
less suffering. How about a discussion of the value of
knowledge in and of itself? I suspect
most of us would be hostile to switching over to a values system that prized
received wisdom over the scientific method and ignorance over knowledge, even
if we couldn’t gather together irrefutable evidence of bottom line pragmatic
In my world, it would never be right to lie to teenagers
about condom effectiveness, even if you could prove that it delayed their first
sexual intercourse (it doesn’t). This is because
I value honesty and knowledge. The love of knowledge and scientific curiosity
comes from a place of strong values, and pro-choicers should allude to those
Liberty. Anti-choicers think they have a right to invoke this value while
we pro-choicers smack our mouths and talk of "choice" and "privacy." Few liberties come into play in a daily way
more than the liberties fought for by the pro-choice movement–the liberty to
control your own child-bearing. Anti-choice attempts to lay traps for women
to get them secured in marriages with babies before they’ve even had the time
to think about what they really want are an all-out assault on basic liberties,
and we shouldn’t be afraid to say that.
Thomas Jefferson thought the right to pursue happiness was so important
that it had to be invoked especially, even though it’s implied by the word
"liberty" before it in the Declaration.
Want to argue for reproductive rights from a position of strength? You could do worse than argue that the right
to pursue happiness belongs to women as well as men.
Health. We, as a
nation, value health. We take our
vitamins, we get our exercise, we get immunized, and we know what the word
"antioxidant" means. We should be able
to extend this support for preventative health into the sexual and
reproductive health arena. But when it
comes to sexual health care, suddenly a lot of people apparently want to switch from
maximizing health outcomes to barely keeping people alive. So you see anti-choicers supporting the
distribution of drugs that keep people alive if they have HIV, but who refuse
to distribute condoms that would help many people avoid ever needing those
drugs at all. The same attitude
underpins support for abortion bans that make exceptions for women that will be
crippled or killed by childbirth.
We should be unashamed to aggressively promote contraception
access, sex education, and safe abortion as minimum requirements for a healthy
populace, which is easy to do with the full support of most medical groups.
You’ll always hit resistance from people who resist public health initiatives, but on the whole, public health
measures presented from this values position, that we have a collective
responsibility for collective health, do very well. The religious right geared up to take out the
HPV vaccine, but since it was aggressively marketed as a way to prevent cancer,
sexual paranoias didn’t get much of a foothold.
That success should tell you a lot about how the public health is a
shared value for Americans. Even Roe v.
Wade probably wouldn’t have been as strong and likely a decision as it was if
Justice Blackmun didn’t root his arguments in the needs of physicians to be free to
work with female patients to keep those patients in not just minimal health —
but in good health.