Dinnshenchas: Places, names, and things in California
Ecological systems and change in the California Landscape.
The goddess will not be funded.
Tonight at about 12 midnight, Eastern Standard time, the government will likely shut down because of women’s wombs. Yep. Legislators who object to provisions within the Affordable Care Act of 2010 that cover contraceptives, are threatening to stop all government services. It’s like time-traveling back to the heady year of 2010 when the Act was signed into law except then the Act came close to failing because of abortion. For many of us who have had abortions and fought for women’s reproductive integrity, this was a hard, hard sideshow to watch: the politicians scrambled over themselves to see who could disavow abortion more passionately, something they’d never, ever support. This procedure, one that millions of women use, is still so stigmatized that the merest suspicion that the ACA might be used somehow to fund it almost sent the first meaningful health care act of our lives back into legislative limbo.
Really, the whole terrible episode showed that when it comes to abortion, Republicans and Democrats are very capable of working across the aisle. I’m thinking here of Bart Stupak, the Blue dog Democrat, who co-authored the Stupak-Pitt amendment, a redundant amendment that forbade federal funding from being used to cover abortion. Bart, Bart, I yelled at the unhearing computer screen. Did you not know? The Hyde amendment already forbids federal funding for abortions. You don’t need to trouble yourself. But he did. He wanted to trouble himself: he needed to show just how outré the commonplace procedure was. It was an embittering lesson.
This was the message I heard as an abortion-having witch: Did you have an abortion? Well, consider yourself part of the problem. NOT the solution.
I don’t want to get into the legislative history too much. I want to make the point that as of this writing, abortion and birth control, two very common and wholly legal procedures, are not accepted and are apparently capable of shutting the government down. Yet, one third of all women have had abortions. Many women I know have had abortions. I have. Most women I know use birth control. These are the measures we take to govern our reproductive lives. Under the best circumstances, they enhance our health. They ensure we stay integrated: that we are a whole healthy system.
Most of us are familiar with the Irish myth, called “The Debility of the Ulsterman.” If not, here are the basics: Macha, the great goddess, lived with a husband named Crunnchu. While in assembly, he bragged about his wife’s ability to run as fast as any horse. She was fetched and forced to run a race while heavily pregnant. “Will you not wait until I am delivered?” she asked. The king said no. “Shame upon you who have shown no respect for me,” she replied. “Because of this you will suffer the pain of women in childbirth.” She ran the race and won. Immediately she sank to the ground in great pain and delivered twins. The men of Ulster who laughed at her plea were doomed to suffer the pangs of childbirth at times when their strength was needed the most.
There is so much to this myth that fascinates me. The image of the penalized, anguished female body is on full display in this myth, along with some nasty misogyny. (The men of Ulster laughed when they heard her plea.) Macha, I think, was pleading for her health, certainly. But she was also pleading for something else: integrity. I might be able to run, she may have said. But I am pregnant. This was Her wholeness. Macha’s legs were prized; the men wanted them and the speed they could summon on display. Her pregnancy was edited out of their comprehension of her state. Her body was perceived like a cubist painting; disjoint and unconnected, legs separate from womb, both separated in the welter of the men’s utter incomprehension and brutality, from her mind and heart.
Macha’s ordeal proves that the war on women is not new: what does it mean that even a goddess like she, a great Queen, one of the three who commands our devotion, could not get the respect she needed to safeguard her health while she inhabited a human body and consented to take on the role of the child bearer? She was reduced to bits: a pair of legs. A womb.
A woman’s body – our bodies-shouldn’t come to the health insurance exchanges like that- this bit seen as insurable, this other bit not. Our sovereignty depends on our wholeness.
To any woman reading this (if you have gotten this far in my angry lament) I’ll tell you what: It doesn’t matter if you never have and never would have an abortion.
As of this writing, you are not seen as whole. That will always be a problem. It can never be part of any solution.
N.B. These beautiful illustrations are the work of Louis Le Brocquy, Irish artist and illustrator. They appear in Thomas Kinsella's translation of "The Tain".
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