We are the ninety-nine percent—of women who need to use birth control.
In August, the US Department of Health and Human Services accepted the Institute of Medicine’s (IOM) recommendation that birth control, from traditional oral contraceptives to the morning after pill and intra-uterine devices (IUDS, be covered under the Affordable Care Act as preventative healthcare.
At the time, feminist reproductive health advocates in the United States rejoiced—it had been a long few months of mostly rich, withered white men holding hearings on H.R. 3 (legislation that would defund private insurance companies that covered abortion in their plans), seriously considering federally defunding Planned Parenthood—and then proceeding to defund them at the state level, and the stress and stigma of having one of our most personal and fundamental choices in the control of an out of touch and unsympathetic state.
Despite the unlikely victory, the mandate was still far from perfect. For one, it privileged insured women over uninsured women—these nineteen million women are all low-income, and disproportionately black and Latina. Reproductive choice, as it would seem, was still reserved for the employed, mostly white women of means—a demographic that is quickly becoming passé as a tidal wave of economic crisis takes more and more victims.
In addition, the original mandate included an optional exemption for organizations that morally oppose contraception. This would mean that the multi-billion dollar Catholic healthcare industry (servicing one out of five of every hospital beds in the United States in addition to all religiously-affiliated health clinics in colleges and communities) would theoretically have the power to refuse birth control access.
Now, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops have taken it upon themselves to make sure that this is not a choice only for healthcare provided by religiously-affiliated organizations that oppose contraception, but also for healthcare sponsored by individual employers that happen to object to contraception coverage for their own personal moral and religious reasons. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is not a fringe organization of priests—it is a powerful, political lobby that is actively meeting with President Barack Obama to legislate their religious beliefs—despite the inconvenient reality that the vast majority of Catholic women actively use birth control.
So, yesterday at noon, I headed downtown to an emergency rally organized by NARAL New York, passing out flyers urging passersby to call the White House, and demand President Obama not to cave to the bishops’ demands.
I arrived and only fifteen other people were there.
There is a slough of excuses—it’s getting cold. It was organized only two days ago. It was at lunchtime. Only those of us who are students, freelancers, self-employed, unemployed, and underemployed can manage to carve time in our days to come to a lunchtime rally…
But wait a moment—isn’t there an almost comically geographically proximate movement that is rallying just these very people?
In any other political moment of my life, I would have understood the low turnout—with this particular set of circumstances, it is to be expected. However, we are not in an ordinary political time—we are in the age of #occupy, and this particular rally was only one quarter of a mile away from Liberty Plaza—the once cradle of the revolution—itself.
I know that the two movements are not only two different causes, but also two very different modes of activism. While one movement has built itself into an international phenomenon through a range of occupations, massive rallies, sit-ins, and other forms of creative protest—often facing police brutality, and revealing a myriad of structures that reflect corporate corruption in the United States, the other tirelessly organizes to elect pro-choice politicians, protect access to reproductive healthcare, and spread the message to do both. One is trying to build a new world on the shattered remains of a broken system, the other is trying to replace a broken system with something that is structurally similar, but ideologically radically different.
Still, reproductive justice and economic justice are intrinsically intertwined together. Politically, reproductive choice is quickly becoming a privilege rather than a right—though the numbers are not as stark as the bottom ninety-nine percent versus the top one percent, the privatization of healthcare is quickly eradicating the middle class of birth control users. If this persists, women who become pregnant will have no choice but to become mothers, pushing them further into poverty. How are women who can’t control their reproductive futures going begin to be able to control their economic futures?
I am familiar with both causes. I have reported, been inspired, and taken to the streets for both of them. I have acknowledged that they are different—but in this time of solidarity, where we can feel our unprecedented people power forcing social change, isn’t it more necessary to acknowledge the overlap between both movements, lending energy to one another in times of need?