Reproductive Health Matters

Not that I was really, seriously considering voting for McCain before, but I’m definitely not voting for him now. Cristina Page has written a damning article on McCain’s positions about sexuality and reproductive health, and I think that anyone with functioning genitalia should go read it. I noticed this article featured on Feministing, but I felt a deep and compelling need to expand on my views, rather than just commenting briefly, because this sort of thing drives me absolutely batty: reproductive health is a really important election issue, and I am tired to seeing it ignored.

Basically, I think that a candidate’s stance on sexuality and reproductive health is crucial, because it tells me whether the candidate will lead with the head, or the heart. A politician who leads with the head makes and promotes sensible policy, even on issues that politician may be morally opposed to. A politician who leads with the heart, on the other hand, refuses to be sensible about moral issues outside of his or her control. Banning abortion doesn’t mean it won’t happen anymore. It just means that it will be harder and more dangerous to get. Promoting abstinence-only education doesn’t mean all Americans will stay virgins until marriage; it just means that people won’t understand the risks of STDs and pregnancy. Trying to run sex toy purveyors out of town doesn’t make people less kinky; it just means that there will be a run on back massagers at the drug store. You can’t legislate morality, and to assume that such a thing is possible is not only insane, but foolish.

I don’t think that candidates need to be all sexually liberated, with progressive ideas on sexuality, but I do think that they need to have a tolerant attitude about sexuality and alternative lifestyles, because whether they like it or not, people are going to engage in a wide variety of sexual activities. An oft-misattributed quote says “I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it,” and I believe that politicians would do well to keep this in mind. America’s supposed to be all about diversity and the land of the free, right? And I think that intolerance is not a good trait to have in someone who will be making major decisions which will have an impact on the health and lives of millions of Americans. Candidates who oppose funding for contraceptives and women’s health programs, for example, have a direct impact on my life, and on the lives of a lot of you, dear readers.

And the fact that a woman has sex before she gets married doesn’t mean that she should be deprived of healthcare. A teen’s decision to be sexually active doesn’t mean that he or she should be exposed to sexually transmitted diseases. A man’s choice to love another man shouldn’t deprive him of the rights of marriage, to be able to make health decisions for his partner in the event of incapacitation, to adopt children. You don’t have to be into these things to give the people who engage in them some basic respect, as fellow human beings. I, for example, am not really a fan of scat play, but I wouldn’t necessarily vote for a ban on it, or refuse to offer medical treatment (if I was a doctor) to someone with a scat play-related infection because of my personal dislike for this activity, because I accept the fact that people are incredibly diverse, and as long as all parties are consenting and of sound mind, what people do in their private lives is not my affair.

Making judgments on the basis of morality is a very tricky endeavor, and I’m not certain that I am qualified to do it. I don’t think that anyone else is, either, and because morality is so personalized and individual, I certainly wouldn’t want to see legislation based in moral values.

A candidate who supports abstinence-only education is not a candidate who is thinking with clear eyes about the health of all Americans. A candidate who wants to revoke sexual education funding in Africa because condoms are given out in addition to advice about abstinence is a heartless, cold individual. A candidate who thinks that teenaged girls who made a mistake should be forced to have children is insane. This is a selfish, short-sighted view which is also costly.

It’s fine to promote abstinence until marriage, but I think you need to accept that this doesn’t work for everyone. And once you’re married, surely you should have access to family planning tools and to a responsible doctor who cares about your health, right? It’s fine to be personally opposed to homosexuality, but you must realize that gay couples are propping up the economy in many communities, while actively contributing to the places they live in with generous donations of time, skills, and funds. I could up with countless other illustrations of why morality-based legislation bothers me, but I’ll stop. Suffice it to say that I don’t think this sort of legislation looks at the big picture.

The issue of reproductive freedoms is part of a larger framework. Personally, I think that the sex lives of the candidates are private, and of no interest to me. If such and such a candidate is into BDSM, good for him or her. If another frequents brothels, whatever. I don’t care. And I would appreciate the same respect from the candidates; I strongly dislike the idea of the government meddling in my bedroom, and you should too. If it’s ok to legislate who people love, and when, and how, when will we move on to legislating what people are allowed to eat? What kinds of professions they have? How they raise their children?

By judging some practices as morally acceptable and others as reprehensible, the candidates are crossing a bit of a dangerous line. Under the absurd morality of much of the religious right, most Americans are people of questionable morality, and I’m not a big fan of that idea. By making judgment calls like this, politicians are splitting Americans into two classes, right and wrong, and things are rarely that black and white. I’m fine with voting for a candidate who thinks that certain personal activities are in poor taste, or even reprehensible; everyone has a right to his or her own opinions. But I don’t want to vote for a candidate who is going to impose his or her views about right and wrong onto my own life, and onto the lives of others, with far-reaching legislation which could potentially have a severe impact on people’s lives. Today, sexuality, tomorrow, who knows?

How can you be opposed to funding sexual education which includes discussions about contraception and abortion when you agitate to cut welfare, the program that pays for knocked-up teens who are victims of poor sex ed programs? How can you demand that a fetus has basic rights when you deny those rights to the child as soon as it is born? How dare a politician impose personal values and morals onto the American people?

Don’t fool yourself. The issue of sexuality and reproductive health is far more wide-reaching than it appears, and you should oppose candidates with unclear stances on the issue, let alone candidates who actively support insane morality-based legislation about sexual education programs, health funding, and so forth. Because if they want to legislate your sex life, there are probably other aspects of your existence that they want to control as well.