The author, Charles Bayer is a Minister

WOMEN HAVE AN ABSOLUTE RIGHT TO CONTROL THEIR OWN BODIES (5/23)
“No woman can call herself free until she can choose consciously whether she will or will not be a mother,” wrote Margaret Sanger in 1914.

In that year, Sanger launched a feminist publication called The Woman Rebel, which promoted a woman’s right to birth control. The monthly magazine landed her in trouble, as it was illegal to send information on contraception through the mail. The Comstock Act of 1873 prohibited the trade in and circulation of “obscene and immoral materials.” Championed by Anthony Comstock, a postal inspector, the Act included publications, devices, and medications related to contraception and abortion, in its definition of obscene materials. It also made it criminal to import anything related to these topics.

Facing prosecution, Sanger fled to England, returning a year later when the charges were dropped. Back home she began touring the nation, having coined the term, ”birth control.” In 1916 she opened her first clinic, which eventually morphed into “Planned Parenthood.”

Now 98 years later we might think that this brave woman safeguarded for all times a woman’s right to control her own body. Well, not so fast. Since the congressional election of 2010, over a thousand bills have been introduced in Congress and State Legislatures aimed at restricting what Sanger accomplished. HR1, introduced on the first day of the new Congress, sought to defund Planned Parenthood thus depriving women not only of birth control information but also eliminate their access to life-saving breast and cervical exams. An increase in deaths would be the obvious outcome. Abortion was not an issue, since for decades no federal funds have been available for the medical termination of pregnancies.

The latest flap against government subsidized health insurance, has focused on contraceptive information and devices, not abortion. The spectacle of a group of males—clad in either liturgical or judicial robes—attempting to dictate a woman’s choice regarding her own body—must go down as a national disgrace. To call these shenanigans “a war on women” may be over-put, but at best it is a lingering example of a male-dominated establishment which has not yet acknowledged the human rights of half the population.

While as in every other issue the religious establishment has been on both sides of this one, most main-line Christian denominations are clearly pro-choice and have produced unambiguous statements. Back in 1989 the Vestry of the Episcopal Church we often attend said, in part: “A pregnant woman has the right to choose to terminate a pregnancy or to bear a child. She has the right to have access to information and counsel. She has the right to privacy in making this decision without intrusion by the state.”

While this issue promises to loom large in this year’s political contest, it is not a matter to be tossed around by anyone seeking to score debating points. It is at heart a moral issue concerning a basic human right. We can expect a vigorous effort to gut Planned Parenthood by attempts to defund it and otherwise paint it as an enemy of moral values. Whatever else good people will struggle about, the preservation of the freedom of choice, not only regarding the termination of a pregnancy but also access to birth control, is a must commitment.

For those readers undecided about abortion, be aware that the most effective way to minimize the number of terminations is adequate birth control, particularly for the less advantaged Americans. So we are bound to stand with Planned Parenthood, not only deflecting the attacks which will surely be made against it, but supporting it with our resources, our voices and our political allegiances.

Charles Bayer