Politics (other)

I am not an incubator

Listening to the right talk about laws for “fetal rights” and “personhood” makes it sound like a fetus is an independent creature simply living inside of us for a short while because it has no way out until labor. The reality though, is that women are not simply keeping a fetus warm while it inevitably grows into a human. Clearly, otherwise many more women would have c-sections at 24 weeks so they don’t have to be pregnant for 40. Even if a woman goes into premature labor, which is defined as before 37 weeks, doctors try and do everything they can to keep the baby inside for as long as is possible and safe, because it needs our bodies to grow.

From the moment the embryo implants into the uterus, we are quite literally growing every single cell. There’s a reason why embryos only live so long on their own either in labs for in vitro or in a uterus before implantation. It literally needs us to grow, and it’s exhausting. The energy drain that pregnant women feel, especially in the first trimester, is evidence of this. The embryo or fetus is essentially a parasite, one that we want to nourish and will eventually become super cute and take over our hearts, but in the meantime, it’s taking over our bodies. Everything we eat and drink affects it, which is why so many things are legitimately off limits for pregnant women, like many drugs that are otherwise safe for non-pregnant people. The trajectory of an embryo becoming a fully formed baby is not guaranteed. As I discussed before, there are many things that can happen to interrupt or distort its growth (and sometimes nothing specific happens at all), and the result can be miscarriage or stillbirth. We are not simply vessels waiting for a human to inevitably come out. It’s not a landlord-tenant relationship. It is literally part of our bodies.

The battle between the rights of a fetus versus the rights of the mother to her own body are ridiculous.They are one and the same because WE are one and the same. There would be no fetus without the mother. My fetus is a part of me and my body. If I want him to grow into a healthy baby boy, there are certain things I know I should do, like eat healthy and take care of myself. Myself. Me. Same goes for when breastfeeding, helping baby grow with a different part of my body. If we want to say we care about potential children, we logically cannot disregard or go against what’s best for the mother as well.

Scary scenarios

After Donald Trump’s hilariously disastrous performance in the second presidential debate last Sunday, one comment started circulating that I found particularly thought provoking. The tweet read, “Trump won’t drop out. Hey, Republicans, how does it feel to be forced to carry something to term?” At first I actually laughed out loud at the irony, particularly since Mike Pence is being dragged along on this ticket and he has an abysmal, frightening record against women’s rights. But it did get me thinking about what it means to be forced to carry a pregnancy to term against your will, something conservatives actually want to enforce.

If an alien species came to Earth and started implanting its embryos into male and female human abdomens, telling us it needed to leech away our nutrients until it grew into full form, and then would burst open and potentially kill us in the process (think of the movie Alien), we’d automatically be outraged and say what torturous, inhumane, totalitarian behavior that is. We’d say these aliens have no right to control us like that and make decisions for our bodily autonomy. The analogy is clearly ridiculous, but that’s the point. If it were anything else sucking the life out of us, it’d be torture and no one would expect you to respect the rights of the creature over your own. Yet when it’s our own species, it’s somehow acceptable to tell us what we can and can’t do with our bodies. What could come at the end of the pregnancy is more important than what is happening to a pregnant woman’s body now.

Even though I’ve called my future child a parasite and leech, I am incredibly excited to be pregnant and to become a parent. I love this creature inside of me so much already, and I can’t imagine how that love will blossom once he’s born in 8 weeks (approximately). At the same time though, I also cannot fathom what it would feel like to go through this pregnancy NOT wanting the child that would result. Those opposed to abortion, particularly men who cannot understand what pregnancy is like, typically say “it’s only 9 months” as if that’s no big deal. It’s not like it’s 9 months of paying off a debt, or 9 months of having to take a medication every day. This is 24/7. Once you live every single second of every single day for 40 whole weeks feeling sick, exhausted, nauseous, achey, having back pain, not being offered a seat on a crowded bus or train despite said physical discomforts, constantly feeling the urge to pee, not being able to sleep, and who knows what other symptoms many women feel, only when you’ve lived that will you understand that 9 months is no small feat.

I’ve been incredibly lucky that my pregnancy has been relatively complication and symptom free compared to many other women. But even so, if I knew that at the end of this 8 week countdown, the result would be a baby that I could not take care of, a baby that would ruin my future, my finances, my relationships, my career, my body, etc, I can only imagine how horrifying these last 7 months would have been. I’m already overwhelmed with all the things I need to prepare for and all the changes that will come, and that’s me WANTING to be a parent. Adoption is an easy out, some say, forgetting how hard the pregnancy actually is, and how hard it can be to part with this child you’ve grown inside of you, no matter how much you know in your head that it’s the right decision.

Luckily, I also became pregnant by my husband in a loving, consensual manner. Had I been raped, I cannot fathom the thought of knowing that these extreme bodily changes were the result of someone violating me. To feel every kick and movement inside of me as a reminder that I was raped, that at one point someone else was inside me against my will, would be incredibly re-traumatizing. Especially considering this baby moves at least 100 times a day. 100 times a day remembering why I’m in this state, who did this to me, and why I have to have my life and body completely altered as a result. Or perhaps you’re still with the abusive partner, and knowing that you’ll have a child together means you know he’ll have more power over you, more control over the family. Even if you break up or divorce, that connection will forever be there even if you have sole custody.

Trying to imagine that this is something that the right wing wants to force on women (to say nothing of the pains of actual labor and birth), is disgusting to me. Some women may be able to turn a tragedy or mistake into a beautiful situation, but that’s their choice, a choice that cannot be forced on anyone. To say that they want to force such extreme physical and emotional actions on a woman because they care about “life” is just absurd, especially when they simultaneously are opposed to universal healthcare for children, welfare for families with children, gun control, and many other life saving programs. It’s a sadistic pleasure in watching women suffer who’ve done something wrong, who’ve acted out of line, who’ve had the audacity to have bodily autonomy and do something like have sex outside of marriage (also ignoring how many married women opt for abortions). This is the true desire to force a woman to carry a pregnancy to term: to control.

Final thoughts

This was all I had to say on the topic at the moment, but I’m sure more will come to me as pregnancy and motherhood progress. We shall see. I’d like to see some light at the end of this tunnel, for all states to have equal protections for pregnant women and equal access to reproductive rights. Only time will tell, and until then, I’ll continue to fight and speak out wherever I can.

Riots. Flash mobs. Vioelnt protests. Beatings of innocent bystanders.

WTF is wrong with people? And I don’t mean it in a “Double you tee eff, mate?” kind of way. I mean it in a “What the FUCK is going on in this country?” kind of way.

None of this news of violent youth and civil unrest is new lately, and city after city in the US is making headlines now since the spark of the UK violence. Maybe the US attacks would have happened anyways. Or maybe the angsty youth got their inspiration from their British brethren. You’ll have to ask them. And while you’re at it, ask them why they’re doing the things that they’re doing. Ask them why they’re beating up innocent people at state fairs in Milwaukee. Ask them why they’re starting riots in Philadelphia for which they need to be treated like children and have curfews. Ask them why they’re flash robbing a 7-11 in Maryland. Please ask them, because I have absolutely no idea.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about protesting injustice and standing up for what you believe in, rising up against the man and civil disobedience. But let’s put the emphasis on the word “civil.” If I have a problem with the way something’s run, if I’m in a class that’s being put down and kept down, if I see social injustice and I want to do something about it, stealing a Big Gulp is the last way I’d go about doing it. (In fact, one of the ways I recently voiced my discontent was by writing and article to the local paper, and it got more productive attention than any flash mob could have.) Look at all the successful peaceful protestors in history, like Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The entire Civil Rights movement in the United States was based on standing up to injustice in a peaceful, and ultimately successful, manner.

Some equally outraged people tell me, “Yea these riots are stupid, but they’re just dumb teenagers, of course they want to incite violence.” Of course? As in, that’s supposed to be obvious? Personally, I can’t even fathom that desire. Maybe that’s one of my shortcomings, but I honestly have never felt the need or want to destroy something in my community. I have never felt the desire to physically hurt someone, to cause damage to personal property, or to steal something.

Ok, that’s not entirely true. When I was 3 I stole a pack of stickers. My mom made me return them.

But these kids aren’t 3. These kids have hit puberty, they know right from wrong, they know how adults should act. Sure they have a whole swarm of hormones flowing around that they don’t know what to do with, but why the inclination towards destruction? It’s counter intuitive to our entire evolution. You should want to preserve your community, both the physical surroundings and the people within it, to ensure survival. So I repeat: What the fuck are they thinking?

When I read stories about wrongful deaths at the hands of trigger happy police officers, I feel enraged. But when peaceful protests turn awry and then there’s talk about banning cell service and social networking sites, a whole new level of ire surfaces. Do these people not know what cause and effect is? Do they not know what their actions entail? In San Francisco and other cities they’re cutting cell phone service in certain areas so people can’t get texts about where the flash mob should meet. There’s talk in every city of censoring social media websites so that people can’t communicate via Twitter or Facebook. If there’s anything I hate more than violence, it’s censorship.

As the brilliant Ben Franklin once said, “Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”

When I lived in Tunisia during Ben Ali’s rule, I learned that the reason why half the Internet was blocked by the government was for our protection, to keep the extremists out and to protect the citizens from violence, obscenity, and radical ideas. Look how well that turned out for them. Living in that restrictive society has made me value my freedoms so much more, and why anyone would ever do something to compromise that is beyond me.

The next step to uncontrollable violence is always censorship. Both the police and the people participating in the flash mobs realize that the citizens outnumber the police force. So when a good ‘ol crack down doesn’t do the trick, instead of actually reflecting on the underlying issues behind the unrest (such as lack of jobs, racism, rising food costs, disappointment in leadership, etc), those in power will choose to point the fingers at our essential 1st Amendment rights.  Why? Well that I at least know the answer to: because it’s easier than pointing the finger at themselves. When UK Prime Minister Cameron blamed his country’s riots on the “moral collapse” and lack of personal responsibility and accountability of its citizens, I felt like the same could be said of the government and those in charge.

We know what happens when the people can’t control themselves; the government controls us instead. Is that what we really want? Since these dumbass kids obviously don’t understand the immediate consequences of their reckless actions, I’d be hard pressed to think they understand the devastating long term effects they’re creating. For a generation who grew up with a mouse or smart phone permanently attached to their hands, I’d hope that they will soon come to appreciate how rare that freedom is, and how quickly it can be taken away if they don’t stop their collective temper tantrum.

Kids, you’re not being cool, you’re not starting a movement of reform, you’re not making a good name for yourself, and you’re certainly not above the law. For the love of everything good in the world, grow up already.

Newsflash: Election day is tomorrow, Tuesday, November 3. New Jersey and Virginia are going to elect a new governor, and Maine is voting on the hot-button issue of same-sex marriage, just to name a few important ballot issues. I ask my friends and co-workers here in the states if they’re voting tomorrow. Most just say, What? When’s that? What are we voting for? Either that, or a definitive, “No, I’m not voting, I hate politics, I never vote.” Never vote? One of the times we actually have a say as to how our government is run and you DON’T VOTE!? Let me tell you a story about living in a totalitarian government where some people don’t have the luxuries we do.

When I first arrived in Tunisia in the Spring of 2008, the other students and I didn’t know much about the small country. One of the first questions we asked our director was, “What type of government does Tunisia have?” His response, as was the response of most of our teachers or other official figures, was an over-emphatic, “Tunisia’s the greatest democracy ever! We’ve been a democracy since 1956 when we gained independence from France. We have 13 political parties, but everyone loves the president!” As evident by the 94.5% vote he got in 2004, and similar figures in other elections. Obviously everyone must vote for him! (Or their voting system is super corrupt, but no one would ever admit that while in the middle of a corrupt, Big Brother-esque government, sort of a Catch 22.) Also omitted was the fact that President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali amended the Tunisian Constitution multiple times so that he could run for more terms than originally allotted.

Ben Ali

Just one of many billboards of Tunisian President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali you will see traveling the roads of Tunisia.

In the most recent election a few weeks ago, Ben Ali won by 89.9% of the vote, and the U.S. is officially “concerned” by the results (minute 13). Who wouldn’t be concerned with a win that big? Also disconcerning is the fact that I felt like I was living in Orwell’s 1984 while over there. People were afraid to talk about the government, period, especially in a negative manner, and if they were bold enough to educate the American they would whisper about it, look at the sky warily, turn their cell phones off, etc. What was even more 1984-esque was huge billboards and banners in the middle of Tunis and on the sides of the roads, or just basically everywhere.

I asked my Tunisian friends if they voted, and most said no, there was no point. For one, there is no one particular opposition candidate. And even IF the government allowed an opposition candidate to heavily campaign, and IF there was a large voter turn-out and IF the opposition candidate actually did win, there are no independent voting organizations to tally the votes, so Ben Ali would most likely still officially win. Iran, anyone?

When people tell me they don’t vote, that they know they have the right to vote and they make a conscious effort not to go to the polls, that just ticks me off. Heck, in Jersey it’s super easy to vote by mail, absentee, just because you don’t feel like leaving the house. Or you can go to the county clerk’s office the day before the election. It’s so easy!

People in the US take their rights for granted, especially the most fundamental ones like freedom of expression, as I’ve mentioned before regarding the press. I’m not expecting everyone to be super politically involved, or even be kept extremely up-to-date with every single political issue that affects us as Americans and New Jersians. But read a few Star Ledger articles covering the election; they break it down for readers very easily. Be at least slightly informed and go out to the polls.

Maybe I’m asking a lot for people to actually care about their country, about how it’s run. Maybe it’s too much for me to ask people to not be lazy, ungrateful Americans. I’m not even asking people to like who they vote for, as both Christie and Corzine admittedly have their faults (although one more than the other, in my opinion). But even so, I’m asking people now, get up and go vote! Exercise your rights while you still have them.

I started tweeting. I’m still not really sure how Twitter works or who I’m supposed to “follow,” but I’ve tweeted. One of the only productive things to have come from it so far is that I found this article about a federal court decision that makes pharmacists carry and distribute Plan B, the morning after pill, even if they are morally opposed to it.

Personally, I think this is great. Growing up in NJ and going to school in MA, I feel like I’ve been spoiled as far as having liberal rights on the books to protect people. (Fun fact: Even in the ultra conservative, white suburban town where I grew up in NJ, a transsexual teacher got to keep her job at the public school after the transition to female, despite parent protests, because NJ has laws protecting all gender identities. Go Jerz!)

As anyone from my college would know (and just anyone who knows me in general), I am a huge proponent of the First Amendment. Especially living in Tunisia where the people do not have freedom of expression, I’ve truly learned to appreciate my rights. I even wrote about it a few weeks ago. Part of the First Amendment is the right to freedom of religion, and while not a religious person myself, I will fight for this right as well. One of the main objections to forcing pharmacists to dispense Plan B is that it violates their right to practice their religion freely, because they morally object to the medication since they think it is equivalent to an abortion.

While I certainly disagree that taking Plan B is in any way comparable to the emotional stress of having an abortion, I also disagree that these pharmacists are being denied their First Amendment rights. Freedom of religion means that they are allowed to have their faith and practice it. They’re allowed to have churches, synagogues, mosques, or whatever other type of building they want in order to practice their faith as a religious community, as well as in the privacy of their own home. Heck, they’re even allowed to try to convert people on the streets and preach on soap boxes so long as they’re not breaking solicitation laws.

Let’s say my religion requires me to pray in the middle of the day, when I happen to be at work. My boss is required by the Constitution to allow me to take 5 minutes to say that prayer. However, my boss does have the right to tell me, “Please go into the break room to pray, and not shout your prayer in the middle of the store or office and disrupt the customers and other workers.” If, however, my religion required me to pray for 5 hours in the middle of the day, my boss would not be required to pay me for that time. I would not take a job where I needed to work during those 5 hours, but would instead find a way to make an income that was more accommodating to my lifestyle.

That being said, I would also not work at an abortion clinic if I was morally opposed to abortion. Nor would I work at a research lab that did stem cell research if I were opposed to that. Certain jobs require certain tasks that not everyone will agree to. If a pharmacist is morally opposed to dispensing certain drugs, then they should not be a pharmacist. If they have medical reasons for opposing a drug, such as a possible interaction with other medications, then that’s a different story. However, freedom of religion does not mean freedom to force that religion upon someone else, which is exactly what these pharmacists are doing when they refuse women Plan B, or even birth control. Just as I had the freedom to print what I wanted in my school newspaper, I did not have the right to force people to read or to agree with what was printed.

Freedom of expression is extremely important in any civilized society, as people cannot truly be free without the right to express themselves. (I’m not saying that countries that don’t have such freedoms are necessarily uncivilized, but no government is perfect.) While pharmacists have the right to personally not take Plan B or birth control, they do NOT have the right to choose whether a woman should become pregnant or not; only she has that right.