Health organizations and a smattering of opinionators were a couple weeks behind me in seeing the necessary reaction — and a potential silver lining — to the Zika outbreak in the Americas. Unless you have been living under a fairly large rock, you know this is a mosquito-borne, flu-ish sort of affliction — sometimes silent and symptom-free — which appears to be behind a rash of microcephaly in Brazil. Pregnant women get it, maybe don’t even know they’ve got it, and some months later produce an infant that will essentially be nothing much more than a deformed piece of breathing meat for the rest of its life, which will probably be short.
Brazil’s reaction to the spectre of this level of sickening waste and expense was interesting. They told women not to get pregnant for two years. Other governments in the region followed suit. It took until the last couple days for anyone to say loudly: How the hell do you just tell women not to get pregnant in an area where there is little or no birth control available, some countries punish abortion with a 50 year jail sentence, and in some countries — like El Salvador – rape is rampant?
The silver lining part is that the United Nations finally said something louder than a peep about making contraception and abortion available to women in Latin American nations. Whatever it takes, okay? Apparently, up to this point, the suffering of women who have no choice about getting pregnant, and the sheer stupidity of unchecked population growth, were not enough to get the UN to make a sustained noise. A piece in Newsweek reminds us that abortion was always bad wrong illegal bad girls get them bad bad bad in the United States until we had a blast of German measles that produced another rash of deaf children. Hey, women enduring pregnancies they didn’t choose were invisible; who cared about them? But oh dear, defective children, terrible, terrible. Suddenly abortion was on the table. Or at least on a table other than the kitchen table. So maybe, just maybe, governments will get the picture in the countries affected by Zika. After all, if you see women as factories, you don’t want product quality going down, right?
But anyway. Whatever it takes.
The one thing that still makes me spit is the sheer weirdness of of remarks by a spokesperson for the Pan American Health Organization, as a coda to her promotion of contraceptive access:
Her organization would never tell a woman not to get pregnant—”It’s a woman’s right” to choose when to have a baby, she says.
Okay, what the fcking fck? There’s a disease spreading “explosively,” it causes the birth of defective children, and you’re going to make a mealy-mouthed statement that we can’t tell women to refrain from having any until the thing is under control? Is the idea that reproduction = Good Thing Joyous Thing Wonderful Gift From God so deeply entrenched that no one wants to say NO, DON’T?
We tell people not to drink and drive. We tell them not to smoke. We tell them not to have unprotected sex. We quarantined people with suspected Ebola. But someone who speaks for a health organization isn’t willing to say “don’t reproduce in the middle of an epidemic of birth defects?” Is no one willing to point out that a loud NO, which prevents a crushing burden of problems and misery, always, always, always trumps a namby-pamby, delusionally optimistic Yes?
I see this over and over. Organizations that exist because women need the means not to have children feel they have to beef up their cred by making speeches about defending the right to have them (in a world drowning in people). Legislators always know they can come across as great humanists by getting their britches in a twist over some long-past incident of mandated sterilization, even if it clearly involved people who demonstrably had no business reproducing. Even the great-grandmother of all champions of contraception is called Planned Parenthood.
There’s some hope that governments will see sense, at last, in freeing women to use what science and medicine have made available. Come on, governments and doctors and NGOs: act like people who know better, and stop talking about the right to strike a match until the gas leak has been checked and all the fumes are out of the house.
Maybe by the time that happens, whole nations of women will have realized that there is something more to life than self-replication. And will refuse to go back. I can hope.