Personal Voices: Politics As Usual
It was with a curious sadness that I watched President Bush sign the "partial-birth abortion ban" bill into law. Upon completing his signature, he stood smiling with a backdrop of about 10 men in suits applauding. Not one, I'm guessing, was under the age of 50 and not one, I'm willing to bet, has experienced the crushing blow of poverty.
This was politics as usual, no? Yet I felt a wounded anger that disconcerted even me. Why should I care so much, I thought, that these lawmakers who triumphantly applaud (as if they've won) are all older, privileged men? Why should I care? And I tamped down the deflated feeling I get so often these days, the one reminding me that I am not represented adequately and that my liberties are at risk.
I have studied the theoretical components of this American system to the level of a master's degree, and I must admit that I more often focus on its flaws than its positives. However, I witnessed a component of the American system in the past day that I'd only theoretically considered previously. It's the amazing three branches of government! And it's the concept that says that if two lose sight of democracy, the third might protect us from losing our rights. And the third branch (the quieter one, which doesn't rely as heavily on elections) came to my ailing freedom's aid today.
As I write, at least three federal judges have granted requests to block enforcement of the ban, citing that its broad language could halt legal and safe procedures before the viability of a fetus and what's more, that there was no clause for a woman's health. There was no clause for a woman's health!
"Partial birth abortion" is not a medical term, it is a political one. And the (mostly) men who created this law knew darn well that there was no clause for a woman's health. These were my leaders telling me that their opinions (based on a religious foundation) mattered more than my health because there was no clause for a woman's health.
In my democratic world, in which I have a voice and a vote, this was hard to comprehend. Not only was I not represented in the creation of that law, but it was created in direct, negligent opposition to me because there was no clause for a woman's health.
The most powerful narrative that can be used to blatantly override a woman's health and rights is the narrative that surrounds religion. However, part of the glory of our constitution and the democracy it affords us is freedom of (as well as from) religion. Our framers were very explicit in this desire to keep a concept as powerful as religion from impacting political decisions.
Thus, and I speak directly to the politicians here, do not, when you make a law that obviously hinders a person's freedom based on your religious (and by proxy, moral) beliefs, celebrate your victory prematurely, because 1) taking my freedom is serious business; and 2) there is a third branch of government to protect me (un-represented me!) when the others lose sight of their purpose.
I assume there will always be, in my lifetime, a debate over abortion. I don't plan to convince anyone that abortion is moral, or at times necessary, because I know that I am entitled to have my opinion, but I don't get to force it on anyone else. And I wouldn't want it any other way because I am a proud democratic American. Should I get to make the laws one day, abortion opponents will always retain their democratic rights; never would I create a bill that would neglect their health. Now if only my "representation" would stop trying to take this basic right from me.
Vania J. Brightman is a university administrator by day, and a social studies teacher-in-training by night.