Friday, October 17, 2008

What we mean when we say "women's health"

By Chloe Angyal

"Just again, the example of the eloquence of Senator Obama. He’s 'health' for the mother. You know, that’s been stretched by the pro-abortion movement in America to mean almost anything. That’s the extreme pro-abortion positions, quote, 'health.' "
- Senator John McCain at last night's Presidential Debate.

John McCain put women's "health" in inverted commas during the debate last night, as though it's a made-up phrase that represents some imaginary or laughable idea. Or alternatively, an idea that doesn't matter very much and can be easily dismissed by a candidate who, say, had no idea that health insurance plans cover Viagra but not birth control. McCain labelled people who support the right to terminate a pregnancy when that pregnancy endangers the health of the mother "extreme" and "pro-abortion."

So just to make things perfectly clear, this is what pro-choice people mean when we say "women's health" - and when I say "pro-choice people," I'm including the UN, whose Population Fund defines reproductive health thus:

"Everyone has the right to enjoy reproductive health, which is a basis for having healthy children, intimate relationships and happy families. Reproductive health encompasses key areas of the UNFPA vision – that every child is wanted, every birth is safe, every young person is free of HIV and every girl and woman is treated with dignity and respect."

Healthy, wanted children? Safe births? Dignity and respect for women? Woah, slow down, that sounds a little too extreme for me! Happy families? Shit, I was really looking forward to having a miserable and dysfunctional family when I grow up.

And by the way (and I am so sick of having to say this): No one is "pro-abortion" (now there's a phrase we can rightly put in inverted commas!). No one calls their friends on a Saturday night and says, "Hey, you know what I really feel like doing tonight? Having an abortion!"

Even those of us who defend fiercely a woman's right to choose would never suggest that an abortion is something to be taken lightly. An abortion is a personal tragedy, and each of us hopes with all our hearts that we never find ourselves in the situation where we might need one. It's an awful choice to have to make, but a choice that should be available to women, especially those whose health (screw you and your inverted commas, McCain) is at risk.

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