Gloria Feldt, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, asks a disturbing question on the back cover of her book, The War on Choice. The question? HOW MUCH LONGER WILL A WOMAN HAVE A RIGHT TO HER OWN BODY? The book then goes on to document the chilling, if not terrifying, answer. Not much longer, if the Bush administration wins another four years and the religious right has its way.
This shocking and distressing book details the long and ongoing battle between right-wing religious extremists and those who believe in a woman’s constitutional right to choose and to keep the government out of her personal affairs. The battle spans the course of many Presidential administrations, including Reagan, who first placed a global gag rule and then a domestic gag rule on family planning clinics; to Clinton, who lifted all gags and allowed a woman to regain her constitutional rights; to Bush, Jr., who has re-instated the global gag rule and is on the verge of making it illegal right here at home for family planning clinics to even mention the word abortion. In fact, under pressure from religious right-wing extremists, the Bush administration may do away with all funding for basic family planning clinics, and may make it perfectly legal for retailers and pharmacists to deny a woman contraceptives on religious grounds.
Feldt lays out the frightening thirty-plus-year campaign to try and deny a woman her basic right to privacy and to control her reproductive system. Using plenty of research, solid documentation and well-sourced data, Feldt tells the story of a battle between those who wish to control women, and those who wish to be free to control themselves, and the results are not pretty. She discusses the right wing’s gradual encroachment on all aspects of sexuality, family planning, contraceptive availability, sex education and even what you can do with your mate in the privacy of your own bedroom. In fact, if the religious right is able to stop women from living their own lives, they will not stop there. Gays, lesbians, even heterosexuals will not be free from the right wing’s attempts to de-sexualize America.
From the elevation of “fetal rights” to the declination of women’s rights, Feldt chronicles the emergence of the Christian right that is determined to keep women’s bodies, and sexuality, under lock and key. In fact, Feldt claims in her book that the abortion battle is really not about protecting the sanctity of life and saving unborn fetuses at all. It is about sex. Female sex. The alleged “sin” of women’s sexuality. In fact, the right-wing attacks on contraceptive availability proves that abortion is not the issue. Christian right extremists don’t just want to control a woman’s pregnancy; they want to control her ability to prevent one in the first place.
The War on Choice covers the vast political ground the abortion debate has taken, from laws and bills fought over in Congress to the changing face of anti-abortion activists, many whom now favor violence as a way to further their cause (including killing those who administer abortions, even though Jesus himself implored his followers to not kill). She discusses the total lack of separation of church and state that threatens to turn America into a theocracy, the lack of reason and anti-science attitudes of religious extremists especially when dealing with the AIDS crisis, and the few and far between victories of those fighting to keep a woman’s right to choose hers and hers alone.
Ultimately, The War on Choice offers hope and spurs on positive activism, though Feldt makes no bones about the fact that this 2004 election is the most important election a majority of women will face in their lifetimes. Her chapter “Fighting Forward” offers many viable ways to make a difference, to stand up for choice, and to continue to pressure politicians to keep the government out of a woman’s uterus. The tools she suggests are not only powerful, but also empowering.
If you are against a woman’s right to choose, I strongly recommend you read this book anyway, because you just might learn something about the real people behind the battle, and you might come away with a better understanding of women who seek nothing but to control their own minds, bodies and spirits. Nothing is ever as black and white as it seems, once the fog of extremist belief can be lifted.
If you are for a woman’s right to choose, I implore you to buy ten copies of The War on Choice and give one to every young woman you know. Make them read it, then get them to register to vote. If they say they don’t have time, remind them that their bodies, indeed maybe even their lives, depend upon it.