Hundreds of people came out in the freezing rain to pack the Majestic Theatre last Sunday night for Planned Parenthood's celebration of the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade.
The program, which Planned Parenthood invited me to emcee, featured riveting personal stories by five women and one man. To hear these stories was to travel the whole road we've been on these last 40 years - starting in the 1970s, when it was illegal in Wisconsin for an unmarried woman to get birth control, through the relief and triumph of women receiving respectful, compassionate care, to the present moment, when all of the gains we've made are up in the air again.
The fact that abortion and even birth control are under assault is preposterous, given how far our culture has moved on these issues. There is overwhelming public support for upholding Roe, and for women's unfettered access to basic reproductive health care. In fact, as I pointed out on Sunday night, we just held a national referendum on this issue.
Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan and Todd Akin lost. So did the crusty, conservative worldview: that telling women to hold an aspirin between our legs is a funny and piquant response to the demand for birth control; that a law student who dares suggest that university health care include contraceptives deserves to be shamed by a powerful man with a national microphone as a "slut"; that rape victims are lying about being assaulted if they get pregnant, because only a woman willing to have sex can conceive.
After their defeat in November, the Republicans went into a huddle to try to figure out how to improve their reputation with women, starting by keeping their mouths shut. Yet, especially in Wisconsin, they are still pushing the same bad policies. There is a raft of new bills that will make itharder, more dangerous, more emotionally trying and more painful to get an abortion as well as other types of routine reproductive health care.
Our legislature already cut off all state funding for Planned Parenthood last session. None of that money went for abortions, by the way - that was already illegal. Instead, Wisconsin women lost $800,000 for birth control and cervical and breast cancer screenings.
On the 40th anniversary of Roe, Gov. Scott Walker issued a proclamation declaring Jan. 22 "Protect Life Day." He borrowed language straight from the Wisconsin Right to Life website about how Roe ushered in "a human rights abuse unprecedented in American history." Wisconsin Right to Life director Barbara Lyons was delighted.
Right after Walker was elected, when the anti-choice groups in our state were getting really excited about defunding Planned Parenthood, I asked Lyons about preventing unintended pregnancies. Don't anti-abortion activists have a strong interest in that? She told me: "There is no proof that making birth control more accessible reduces the abortion rate." In fact, she added, "the jury is out" on whether birth control reduces unintended pregnancies.
The science here is a lot simpler than climate change, people. The jury is in on whether using birth control helps you not get pregnant. And yet state Republicans are hoping to introduce a personhood amendment in this session that could make many common forms of birth control illegal. Our own Paul Ryan just introduced a personhood amendment in Congress.
This is their vision. And that's why they need to hear from us.
A whole generation of women have grown up believing that they ought to be able to have full, happy sex lives, good health care, rewarding work, and children, too, when they want them and can care for them. We are not about to return to the world of the double standard, early, forced marriages, and sex lives full of darkness, fear and shame. But we are going to have to fight like hell to keep our leaders and their anti-choice base from dragging us back there.
Here are some things you can do to make sure all women can count on excellent, respectful, compassionate health care.
Keep the public pressure on elected officials. If the 2012 election shows anything, it's that voters are sick and tired of Republicans using women's health to score points with their out-of-it base.
Choose Planned Parenthood as your health-care provider. Many forms of insurance allow you to go to Planned Parenthood. Do it. Women's health care clinics should be for everyone, not just for those who have no other option. Especially as Planned Parenthood loses state funding, more women choosing to go there will help keep these clinics going.
Share your story. You can join the brave women and man who read their stories at the Majestic on Sunday night. Planned Parenthood is collecting personal testimony from people all over America on its website.
Most of all, it's time to come out of the closet and stand up, in public, for reproductive rights. Of course birth control and abortion and cancer screens should be private. We shouldn't have to march and speak out and confront creepy people with ugly signs to get routine medical care. But we do have to. Those out-of-it people who haven't got the memo that women expect it to be a regular, non-negotiable, no-big-deal part of our lives are still directing policy. We have no choice but to push back.
And by doing that - by standing up together for our vision of a better world - we can force our country to leave the pre-Roe Stone Age of women's health behind, once and for all.
Ruth Conniff is the political editor of The Progressive.