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Legitimate Rape or Legitimate Ignorance?

Thursday, September 6th, 2012

In February, there was a hearing chaired by Daryl Issa for the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Hearing on the Contraceptive Coverage Rule.  Unfortunately, the panel was entirely male.  Talk about oversight!  This prompted many female members of congress to walk out of the hearing in protest, much to the confusion of the chair.  When asked about the walkout, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand said, “If our republican colleagues want to continue to take this issue head on, we will stand here as long as necessary.”  In August, women received a fresh reminder of the Republican male’s perspective on rape when Representative Tod Akin proclaimed, “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

Women around the world are wondering what constitutes the difference between rape and legitimate rape.  John C. Wilke, who is not an obstetrician, but a general practitioner of almost 90 years old, and who is the former President of the National Right to Life Committee is the only doctor who supports Akin’s remarks regarding whether or not the reproductive system of a woman shuts down during rape.  With such credentials, it goes without saying that he may have a bias and outdated view of rape and the female body, and experts disagree with his supposedly medical explanation for his belief.  In fact, one in 15 raped women become pregnant, no matter what definition of rape you choose.  Are Akin and Wilke suggesting that those rapes were not legitimate?  I doubt it seemed that way to the women when it was happening.

The most disconcerting part of all of this is that representative Akin has the power to influence laws in our country.  In this day and age, we hope that men have at least the decency and empathy to listen to the voices of women in our country, and, heaven forbid, include us in panels and decision-making regarding our own reproductive rights.  Hopefully, there are a lot of women and understanding men out there willing to make their vote count in order to make a positive change for all of us.  I wonder, is it pure prejudice keeping men like Akin in the dark when it comes to women’s health issues and reproductive rights, or is it legitimate ignorance?


– Yvonne S. Thornton, M. D., M. P. H.

When Did My Uterus Become Politicians’ Business?

Tuesday, May 1st, 2012

As a working mother, I have made many decisions over the years regarding my health and the health of my family.  Those decisions were always made after careful consideration that included years of education, the beliefs of my family, and my own personal needs.  Not once during those processes did I ever consult with or even consider that politicians should also be debating those decisions.  It is shocking how much interest the government is suddenly taking in women’s reproductive health.  What should be personal choices made by American women, have now become the focus of debates for men who are looking for political gains and who frankly don’t have the biological parts necessary to even consider these topics.

Because Rick Santorum felt the need to prove his belief in traditional family values, he mentioned that women who are the victims of rape, should, “make the best of a bad situation,” in regard to their unwanted pregnancies.  While this may have helped him get a few more conservatives on his side, it did nothing to stop the suffering of women who, if he had his way, would continue to live out their traumatic experience by carrying and delivering the children of their attackers.  Trying to prevent unintended pregnancies altogether is even too much for Committee Republicans to keep their hands off of these days.  They would like to eliminate $12 billion of healthcare funding that would otherwise go to preventive services.  This would reduce access not only to birth control, but also cancer screenings and other types of care and services, especially those used by low-income women.  Republican Candidate Mitt Romney would like to create tax cuts that would benefit millionaires, hoping to spur job growth, but those cuts would come at a cost to programs that help women.  Obama seems just as puzzled by this as many American women, saying, “These are folks who claim to believe in freedom from government interference and meddling. But it doesn’t seem to bother them when it comes to a woman’s health.” The absence of women in power has become very obvious because of these issues.  Hopefully, they will inspire more women to vote and maybe even to run for office.

No matter what her position, every woman has the right to make her own decisions regarding her health, including her reproductive health.  Pressure from politicians, employers, and religious organizations should have no influence on her decision.  It is up to each individual woman to decide what beliefs to follow.  That’s why it is so great to be American in the first place.  We have certain freedoms that allow us to live our lives the way we choose.  While talking points like women’s reproductive health can mean big business for bureaucrats, they’re interfering with the personal freedoms of women and decisions that are, frankly, none of their business.

— Yvonne S. Thornton, M. D., M. P. H.