I was in a bit of a state of shock when I arrived at work to find out someone had tried to burn my office down. A neighbor had called the fire department and everything was under control with no substantial damage done by the time I arrived. Why would someone do something like that?
It was l985 in the USA, at the beginning of President Ronald Reagan’s second term in office. I was a Director of Information and Education at a Planned Parenthood affiliate providing low cost voluntary family planning services to those least able to afford it, both women and men. Among other duties, I had been hired to specifically address how teen boys could be supported to take responsibility for their role in teen pregnancy as well as to foster healthy father-son relationships that included conversations about taking that responsibility. Though the bulk of Planned Parenthood and my mission was to educate people about their individual and private choices, I was well aware of the controversy over abortion services—and that is what had flames licking the siding below my office window.
When people feel powerless, they are at risk of being manipulated and can sometimes be driven to desperate measures to draw attention to what they feel is wrong, not just for them, but everyone. Ever since the l973 U.S. Supreme Court decision supporting women’s right to choose whether or not to end a pregnancy in consultation with their physician was put in place, there have been those who have attempted to reverse that decision, in any way they possibly can think of, at any cost to others.
Uniquely in the USA for many decades now this issue has been used by politicians to curry favor for themselves or denigrate others by playing on the strong emotions of a minority of voters. We are currently seeing the latest version of a strategy to divide and conquer with Planned Parenthood again being used as a convenient target for an angst that is continually inflamed both by people with strong personal convictions and beliefs and others that simply see abortion controversy as a political football to keep in the air for political gain and power. That is why you will see many seeking or in political office waver in their opinions or support for reproductive choice. They are attempting to see which way the political winds are blowing with particular constituencies before they take a clear stand.
Unfortunately, playing political games with the lives of women, men and families in need of high quality reproductive health care undermines both the health and freedom of hundreds of thousands who have have come to rely on Planned Parenthood for safe, reliable and effective means for making their own private choices about when and how many children they will have. It is always important to remember that for some, when they cross the threshold of a clinic it may be their first access to health screening for cancer and other services associated with primary health care that person might not otherwise receive.
I’d like to think this drama will stop repeating itself in my lifetime and political machinery will no longer benefit by the constant flame fanning of this divisive issue. I’ve no investment in changing people’s strong convictions about when life begins or their choices about their own pregnancy, the consequences of which are shared by both women and men.
I do know that when men in particular (along with women) feel they have the right to determine other individuals and families life choices, they are not merely hypocrites maintaining they are committed to individual freedom, they support those desperate ones who lit fire to my office. If not explicitly they implicitly condone acts of terror against their own country men and women. Now well into the 21st century anti-abortion violence has actually remained a consistent, if secondary, source of domestic terrorism and violence, manifesting itself most often in assaults and vandalism, with occasional arsons, bombings, drive-by shootings, and assassination attempts. Acts of terror don't arise in only one culture or religion nor from an aberrant gene. This violence, like other forms, is committed by those who have become emotionally isolated, lost touch with their own humanity or are manipulated into believing that denying others their right to liberty and the pursuit of their own happiness, is a threat to their way of life, when it clearly is not. They are acting out their own personal powerlessness.
On another plane of view, I can see how these continued threats to individual freedom serve a purpose as they bring more into the open both the shadow and light of power and powerlessness. They provide an opportunity for men of honor to declare themselves allies to not just women, but to themselves and their own core values, their authentic and true personal power.
During this political season and era, consider telling Planned Parenthood what a fine job they have done for you or anyone you’ve known lucky enough to cross the threshold of one of their many welcoming clinics. Support those political leaders who are true public servants that understand the critical importance of taking a stand for the health and wellbeing of all American families and the funding that makes that possible. And for those readers living elsewhere than the US, remember that the International Planned Parenthood Federation supports many programs on all continents, making a healthy difference for those women and men attempting to take charge of and make better lives for themselves and their families.