Features & Columns

A Mormon Woman's Manifesto

It Is a Moral Imperative to Treat Women as if They Truly Mattered
Judy Dushku Judy Dushku

My granddaughter lived with us this spring. She is 22 and very independent. She got a job and took care of herself. She came because she needed "space" to move ahead with her life goals, she had explained.

We guaranteed her that. We talked about many things, but she generally set the parameters for what she wanted the subject of conversations to be. I feel close to her and admire her. But it was clearly a time when she needed to think about life, without the worries of high rent and college-related decisions pressing on her. She had a car and she made respectful decisions. We got along very well. She flourished over the months she was with us.

But one evening she burst into my home office in a rage. She had been to Planned Parenthood, which is where she had seen her primary care provider when she was living in her home state. Her father's health insurance covered her, so she had no reason to consult me on her way to her appointment.

She has had two surgeries for endometriosis since she was 18, but continues to be plagued by this recurring condition. She has had consultations with specialists and feels that her health care has been excellent through Planned Parenthood, but she knows there is no known cure for this, and thus she is committed to managing it the best she can and she responsibly does what she is advised by good medical doctors. I trust her.

That evening when she burst in, she explained that she had been awakened in the night with bleeding and the familiar pain from endometriosis and had made an appointment at the very reliable-feeling clinic she knew from home. She had gone to her morning appointment, then to work, and now came to me furious.

While at Planned Parenthood, both a nurse and another patient had been discussing the possible impact of the Blunt-Rubio Amendment which had been defeated in the Senate, but had caused women all over the country to come face to face with its implications. Had it passed, it would have allowed any employer, not just those affiliated with a religious institution, to deny contraceptive health coverage to its employees based on the employers religious or moral objections. But even as it failed, Mitt Romney had taken up major parts of it for his campaign platform.

Now these three women were discussing intelligently the very real impact of Mitt Romney's possible Presidency since he promised that he would insist that employers be protected in their right to claim a "moral objection" and exclude potentially millions of women from getting birth control under their insurance coverage.

He also pledged to destroy Planned Parenthood as a health care provider. These women were now faced with the very real possibility that not only might their reliable Planned Parenthood medical care be taken from them, but also that they might not be able to get the birth control pills they had been taking for some years.

In my granddaughter's case, these pills had been the best solution she had found to the constant pain caused by, and the regrowth of tissue that resulted in bleeding from, endometriosis. Since she had known that terrible pain for years before, and had been awakened in the night before making her appointment to see a doctor that day to discuss with her some alternatives, this news had caused her understandable distress.

But as she is a very controlled young woman, she got a new kind of birth control pill and some good advice, and she had gone to work. But while there, she had become, she said, a politically active woman. She was determined to defeat Mitt Romney for President.

Had I any idea, she demanded of me, what this man would do to women? Did I know about the all-male hearing that had been held in Congress in February on the Obama administration's mandate that insurance companies cover birth control with no co-pay under the Affordable Care Act? Did I know that his man—Mitt Romney—had suggested that to make insurance companies pay for birth control pills would be considered a terrible violation of the companies' religious liberty and that they could, therefore, refuse to pay for it?

Did I know that without this, the service that had been the most necessary to her health and well-being for four years would be taken from her, even though her father had paid insurance premiums for years and she had counted on them until she could have a steady income and her own insurance plan? Did I know that even a pharmacy clerk could decide not to sell her birth control pills if her doctor prescribed them if that clerk decided that it was a matter of conscience to refuse to sell these pills on moral grounds?

This granddaughter had become pregnant when she was 16 and had chosen not to have an abortion, but to carry the baby to term and put it up for adoption. She felt strongly that this choice was the best one for her, and she had come to love the adoptive parents of the child she bore and had given them.

She, therefore, was additionally furious today as she had heard that birth control pills were being called "abortive pills" by Romney campaigners. She, who had rejected an abortion on her own had taken a stand against an abortion for herself, and now was infuriated at this attack on her and others who had make similarly hard choices and now were having those choices denigrated.

She had called some close friends, many of whom had come to similar conclusions because of different circumstances, but all stemming from having to confront in very particular and personal ways the possible consequences of a Romney presidency for women. It would be a disaster.

She had done her homework that day and could list the consequences that she and about six other 22-year-olds had discussed over the eight hours that it took them to consolidate their decision to become activists against Romney's War on Women. She was thorough and intelligent. And, again, she was furious.

Her list is familiar to those of us who have followed this "war" on women's rights and have thought about the repercussions. I admit, however, that in that evening of her rage I felt weak before her resolve to join her women friends in other states and here in Massachusetts to make sure this insensitive and woman-ignoring man would never become President. She pointed out the following:

Romney wanted to eliminate Title X of the federal family planning program that has provided not only family planning advice, but also screenings for ovarian cancer and breast cancer. Our granddaughter's stepmother had died of such cancers two years before, so this was another very real threat. Title X also provided advice on high blood pressure control and other major health threats to women. What about women who don't have the advice and the support system that she has, my granddaughter asked? Where do they go for this?

Then there is the issue of providing the "morning after pill" for victims of rape. My granddaughter has two friends who have been raped and both have received emergency treatment at hospitals and follow-up to make sure they were sent home with advice and support.

If they had been treated as though they did not deserve treatment and that they were somehow responsible for what had happened to them, how would that have worked out for them, she asked.

She knew that in 2005, then-governor Romney had vetoed a bill in Massachusetts that required hospitals to provide emergency contraception to rape victims. He had insisted that this was preventing an abortion, which was medically incorrect, she correctly vented that night. This pill was to prevent an unwanted pregnancy. Getting pregnant because of a rape only increases the terror of the rape. That is why the bill would have kept women from being sent home after being raped without the fear of a possible pregnancy. The Massachusetts bill had been passed over Romney's veto.

And she added, I have a question: "I read today that Romney's position on this is not even the position of your church. Grandmama, you are a Mormon that spends lots of time at your church and you know lots of Mormons. Is that true? Do Mormons have a better position on this than Romney? I don't want to offend you, but please tell me about how much of what Romney says about women comes from his own head and what comes from your religion."

Her research, along with many conversations with other equally concerned people, had indicated that Romney's positions on these health care decisions for women had to do with his faith. If they do reflect Mormon Church policy, does he have to stick to them or be a bad Mormon? When he vetoed the Massachusetts bill on emergency treatment for rape victims, was this because he is a Mormon, or because he just doesn't get it? Or does he not care?

I wanted to be honest. There are no accurate polls on how the majority of people in my church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, feel about Mitt Romney's stated policies. Even if most Mormons support his candidacy generally, I can only pass on from multiple blogs and personal conversations where Mormons write or talk about and discuss these issues, what Mormons believe about whether or not they are with Romney on these issues regarding women's health.

I assured her that Mormons as a whole did not have these same narrow opinions. Privately and in open dialogue, I know Mormons to oppose the positions Romney has taken on women's health care that make up what is broadly understood as "The war on women."

Mitt Romney selectively puts forward ideas that he says reflect his faith, but other Mormons disagree with his interpretations of our beliefs. I said that certainly I was one with her—not Mitt. She was relieved that we were not at odds. This was her cause.

She then went on to discuss the various "personhood amendments" that have been passed in some states and supported by Mitt Romney, and have nearly passed in others with Romney vowing to get them passed if he becomes president. The idea, she said, that a fertilized egg has the same rights as I have—as my full-grown and responsible friends have—is so insulting to me and to us. She was incredulous.

Then she moved to the issue of job security for women. She had recently been in the job market and had triumphed over its challenges, but only because of great steadiness of purpose and diligence. She is aware of the advantages that men have over women— "all women are"— she pointed out. And they make less money than men do. And, did I know that Romney had not taken a strong stand on the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which makes it easier for women to file pay discrimination lawsuits. The Roberts Supreme Court had removed that right to enforce equal pay protection for women in its 2007 in the Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co ruling, and Romney had not taken a stand against that. Where did that leave women?

She went on to quote chapter and verse of the Ryan Budget, pointing to the ways that it will harm every working person, but women more than men. It could throw so many off Medicaid and take away Medicare for others, a greater percentage of them, women. How could any decent person support this, if they care about women?

On top of that, so many teachers and other positions in the public sector are held by women. With this sector shrinking, women will lose more possible good fulltime jobs than men will. Rich women who don't have to work may like this, but not women who need to work and need some job security. Having worked at hourly jobs with women who are trying to support a kid or two, she said defiantly, I consider this a platform that no one should in good conscience support. That is what I call the "moral objection."

My granddaughter is a voter and a woman, and she is fierce. She had not been what she called an activist before; but she is now. She is a realist and knows that many voters are being disenfranchised by measures in many states, and she fears that women who work part time and have children will have the hardest time getting to polls, but she is determined and she is confident that others of her age and background are going to come out and vote.

She has become more aware of many things and spends time doing research on issues that affect her. She rejects the idea that she speaks only for single woman, as some polls suggest. She says she has worked and gone to school with many married women who feel as she does that this is a political issue that is also a moral issue. Women matter and deserve to be treated as if they do.