Not planning on getting pregnant? The Center for Disease Control (CDC) doesn’t care. As far as they are concerned, if you are one of the 62 million women in the U.S. of childbearing age, you are pre-pregnant. A vessel. You are a future fetal incubator.
And, according to the CDC, the medical establishment, government, media and cultural crusaders should join in enforcing this state of pregnancy preparedness on you.
In April, the CDC issued a new report detailing measures to be taken to intervene in the life, health care, and behaviors of all women, “from menarche [first occurrence of menstruation] to menopause, who are capable of having children, even if they do not intend to conceive.”
The report bemoans a situation in which half of all pregnancies are unplanned and focuses in on the potential harm caused to fetuses by their female incubators between the time of an unexpected conception and the recognition of pregnancy. Never mind making it easier for women to decide for themselves whether or not to become pregnant. Never mind ensuring that women have the ability to terminate unwanted pregnancies. Not once, in its entire 43 pages, does the CDC’s report even mention birth control or elective abortion.
Instead, the CDC report is framed in, and takes even further, the logic that has galvanized the anti-abortion movement for years. Now, not only is the developing life of a fetus, a potential human being, considered more valuable and important than the life of the woman whose body the fetus is part of-the potential life of a non-existent fetus takes precedence over the life of the woman.
But what is a fetus? It is a nothing more than a potential human being. And the only way it can grow into a human, a separate social being, is by being a subordinate part of a woman’s body and her biological processes for months.
The fact that there is so much confusion over the truth that a fully formed woman’s life-and her will-is more valuable than this subordinate part of her own biology is a very sobering sign of the times. And of where things are headed if there is not a huge outpouring of rage, furious resistance, and indignant, uncompromising insistence that “Women are NOT Incubators!”
The CDC report calls for a radical shift in medical care so that at every point of interaction, women’s doctors are to stage “interventions” to make sure they are healthy and prepared to give birth. Want to take your newborn in for a check-up or your eight-year-old in for a high fever? Expect an “intervention” into your eating habits, weight, and behavioral risk factors.
Got diabetes or epilepsy and looking for the care that is best for you? Wrong approach, says the CDC: “Separating childbearing from the management of chronic health problems and infectious diseases places women, their future pregnancies, and their future children at unnecessary risk.”
Further, the report notes that attitudes and behaviors about child-bearing and child-bearing preparedness are “influenced by childhood experiences and prevailing social norms among adults.” And it calls for a cultural and media crusade aimed at changing “public attitudes” and about “the importance of preconception health behaviors,” including the risks of tobacco use, alcohol, obesity, and diet.
Get prepared for religious fanatics migrating from the doors of abortion clinics they are closing to instead harassing women who enter bars, smoke cigarettes, or eat at McDonald’s. Get ready for the prosecution of women who engage in these activities for crimes against their future fetuses. Get ready for women to be totally surrounded and surveilled by their own doctors and people in “education, housing, and urban planning.” And get ready for calls to weed out and even sterilize women who are deemed by the state or other agencies to be unfit to bear children.
Sound too extreme? Wake up and look around!
Already there is a movement of theocratic lawyers, backing up a movement of fundamentalist pharmacists who refuse to fill women’s prescriptions for birth control. Already a second state, Louisiana, has joined South Dakota in banning abortion throughout the state, and Senator Tom Coburn and others have called for executing abortion providers. Already laws passed to “protect” fetuses have been used against people who, lacking safe and destigmatized access to legal abortions, self-induced or helped a woman induce her own voluntary abortion, landing them in jail!
Consider that Rev. Thomas J. Euteneuer, the leader of Human Life International based in Virginia, has called the repressive anti-abortion laws in El Salvador “an inspiration.” As the New York Times Magazine described the situation in El Salvador, “In the event that the woman’s illegal abortion went badly and the doctors have to perform a hysterectomy, then the uterus is sent to the Forensic Institute, where the government’s doctors analyze it and retain custody of her uterus as evidence against her.”
And think what it means that the born-again Commander-in-Chief, George W. Bush, has met and lent political support to the “Snowflakes.” This is a fundamentalist movement that has begun to find women to be incubators and bring to term every single frozen embryo that would normally be discarded from fertility clinics. Then, in a very sick and sinister fashion, they take these human babies and parade them around-including in photo ops with the Prez-to crusade against stem cell research and any woman who would chose not to be such an incubator.
As for the CDC’s pretense of concern for the high infant mortality rates among uninsured, poor and oppressed women, it is stark: for instance, the mortality rates for infants born to Black women in Brooklyn are comparable to the rates many Third World countries. But, when you get right down to it, this report has potentially genocidal implications.
It talks of intensive interventions into the lives of women who are at high risk, singling out race and economics as determining factors. But the “interventions” are not aimed at solving the conditions that cause women to be poor, to lack health care, or to be trapped in abusive relationships. Rather, the report blueprints a way to exploit these women’s poor conditions to further intrude into, and even criminalize women for, their intimate affairs and every aspect of their lives.
Let’s not forget this country’s long and shameful history of removing children from Native Americans who were deemed unfit to raise them. Or its history of forced sterilization of Black and Puerto Rican women without health care, who came to hospitals to give birth.*
This is a report that concentrates a viciously immoral stance towards half of humanity. It needs to be answered: by scientists and doctors taking on its recommended strategies, by social scientists and historians bringing to light what has happened before in places like Nazi Germany when all women were classified as breeders, and most of all by millions of outraged women and men who refuse to march forward into a real-life Handmaid’s Tale.
*Reports of this practice continued up until the 1970s. See Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction and the Meaning of Liberty, by Dorothy Roberts, or Judith A.M. Scully, “Maternal mortality, Population Control, and the War in Women’s Wombs: A bioethical analysis of quinacrine sterilizations”, in 19 Wisconsin International Law Journal 103.