Picture it: America, 2016. At home, in her jammies and snuggled into her bed, is a 43-year-old woman who is absolutely worn out by this election cycle. But I believe that being an informed voter is a civic responsibility, and so I turn on the third presidential debate.
A woman in a cream-colored pantsuit, surely an homage to suffragette white, is one of the two people standing behind the lecterns. The other is a man in his trademark dark suit, red tie. It’s what Fidel Castro would have chosen to wear everyday, if only Cuba had a Men’s Wearhouse. I snicker at my own quip. But debate moderator Chris Wallace is taking this seriously, and so I realize I should too. The question is about abortion. And the woman, Hillary Clinton, says this:
The government has no business in the decisions that women make with their families in accordance with their faith, with medical advice. And I will stand up for that right.
Suddenly, I was engaged. Why, I wondered, does this moment feel so powerful? Of course abortion would be a debate topic. Abortion is a major wedge issue in this country. For huge swaths of the electorate, this is the issue that determines who they will vote for, regardless of what else the candidate stands for. Presidential candidates have debated abortion ever since I started watching presidential debates, back when I was in high school.
Remember when Senator John McCain said this in 2008, in response to then-Senator Barack Obama?
He’s for 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 position, quote, ‘health.’
And when then-Vice President George Bush said this, during the 1988 debate with Governor Michael Dukakis?
I’ve seen abortions sometimes used as a birth control device, for heaven’s sakes. See the millions of these killings accumulate… I’m for the sanctity of life, and once that illegality is established, then we can come to grips with the penalty side, and of course there’s got to be some penalties to enforce the law, whatever they may be.
One man debating with another man about a medical procedure that only women experience. But now here we are in 2016. There’s a woman at the podium. And this happens:
Donald Trump, the Republican nominee:
If you go with what Hillary is saying, in the ninth month you can take baby and rip the baby out of the womb of the mother just prior to the birth of the baby. Now, you can say that that is okay and Hillary can say that that is okay, but it’s not okay with me.
I could feel my uterus contract. Are babies who have reached full term being ripped from wombs on a regular basis? What a hyperbolic and extreme visual, obviously meant to fire up the pro-life base and make pro-choice advocates seem barbaric. I am no expert but I highly, highly doubt this happens. Secretary Clinton backs me up:
That is not what happens in these cases. And using that kind of scare rhetoric is just terribly unfortunate. You should meet with some of the women I’ve met with. Women I’ve known over the course of my life. This is one of the worst possible choices that any woman and her family has to make. And I do not believe the government should be making it.
Secretary Clinton has a slight edge in her voice, that gruffness that comes out when she is passionate about something. I like it. It’s the tone that people say makes her sound “harsh” or “angry.” (Ladies, as I understand it, should never be either of those things.) I am sitting in my bed, watching TV, and applauding. I’m feeling proud. And emboldened. And strengthened.
I’ve watched nearly all the presidential debates that have occurred during my adult life and never, never have I responded like this. In the past, I have nodded in satisfied agreement at a solid answer I agreed with. I’ve growled in anger at responses that I did not. But I have never felt empowered.
Why this? Why now?
Because, a woman. Finally, it’s a woman who is standing up for women, who is speaking on behalf of women, who understands what it is like to be a woman, and is using that context to inform her decisions.
I’ll be honest – I was not always pro-choice. Before I had kids, I was a closet pro-lifer. I never would have admitted this to anyone, because I had friends who were strongly pro-choice, and had friends who did make the choice to terminate a pregnancy. I didn’t want them to feel judged by my belief that life begins at conception. Plus, it felt at odds with the feminist I believed myself to be.
Then, I got pregnant. I was not one of those glowing, happy pregnant women. I had horrible morning sickness. I couldn’t eat solid foods for the first three months (thank you, Wendy’s Frostees, for seeing me through). I was exhausted. Everything ached. I was unhappy. I cried, a lot. Pregnancy affected every aspect of my life – my physical health as well as my mental state, my energy level, my work performance. I had a solid support system – family, a wonderful husband, financial stability, and still I was scared to death. It was all unexpectedly hard.
It was then that I realized – no outsider, no government, should force a woman to go through this if she knows she cannot endure it. And, every woman should be trusted to make that choice for herself. To say that any woman does not understand the gravity of the decision, and pregnancy’s impact on her own health and well-being, is the ultimate sexual degradation.
I now strongly support a woman’s right to choose. I gag whenever I hear men talking about what they think women should be doing with their bodies. Or, talking about what they can do to women’s bodies.
So I can’t help but be inspired by a woman who has become a voice for women, who can speak to the issues that affect half of the electorate. When Secretary Clinton says she will fight for equal pay, for parental leave, I believe her because I know she understands not just the how, but the why. She gets that these issues are imperative to create a more fair and balanced society.
In just a couple of weeks, there’s a good chance that a highly capable and qualified woman will be bringing her expertise and life experience into the Oval Office. I strongly believe that women, and our country, will be the better for it.