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If you had to choose one thing you couldn’t live without, what would it be?
I’d be willing to bet most jump to an object or person: pets, family members, partners, homes or cars.
I’d also be willing to bet that reproductive rights wouldn’t be an immediate thought, or even something that ranks high on the list. “We’ll always have those rights,” you might say. “We’re guaranteed them as humans.”
No, and no.
In truth, reproductive rights are always in danger of being axed. In many states in the U.S and around the world, reproductive rights are limited and defined by the government, sometimes so severely that they barely exist at all. International law guarantees women the right to "the highest attainable standard of health", yet in so many places, the right to choose dangles by a thread.
I’m not saying that tomorrow we will wake up sans reproductive rights and the right to choose. I’m not saying it will happen next week, next month, or next year. But at some point, if we do not start fighting to keep these rights, we may find ourselves without them.
WHERE DOES IT START?
It all starts with you.
I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve taken the right to choose for granted. As a citizen of the state of Vermont, I have enjoyed my rights more than almost anyone else in United States. Ranked 8th in the nation, the Vermont legislature fully backs women’s reproductive rights, and the Vermont constitution provides more protection for women’s reproductive rights than the Federal Constitution. It is required by law that abortion services be made available to any woman seeking them, and the state will often provide a sliding scale cost for abortions, pills and exams for those with documented low income. In short, I’ve always thought I have nothing to be concerned about. As a college student and someone who is currently sexually active, I never have worried about my access to birth control or reproductive health care. My partner and I take ever measure we can to stay safe, but should an accident occur (and they do) I felt secure in saying I could get the help I needed.
Many women in the surrounding states are not nearly so lucky. As a student at a small state college, it’s pretty difficult to meet anyone from outside the state of Vermont, but I am fortunate enough to be friends with a transfer student from South Dakota. Ironically, South Dakota is on the opposite end of the reproductive health spectrum: 98% of S.D counties have no abortion providers whatsoever, and in October of this year, the state was put to a vote to ban abortions all together: the vote was split equally, with 44% in favor and 44% against. “It’s incredible,” she explained to me, “the narrow-mindedness of people. Because they don’t want the right, they don’t think anyone else should want or need it either.” We chatted about reproductive rights over lunch one day. As I explained to her Vermont’s stance on a woman’s right to choose, she laughed and said, “maybe I should move here. Obviously someone did something right.”
And that’s what got me thinking, how long will I have these rights?
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
Nothing is ever guaranteed. But there are certainly things you can do to help the cause, and it all starts with:
INFORMING YOURSELF: nothing can happen unless you understand the issue. Read up on your state or country’s policies on abortion, birth control access and reproductive rights. What’s the current situation right now? Look for new legislation, laws, federal backing, etc.
TELL A FRIEND: seriously, the more involved, the stronger the cause. Talk to your girlfriends, boyfriends, moms, dad, relatives, siblings, teachers and community members and encourage them to support unlimited access to birth control, abortion services and reproductive health care in your area.
JOIN A GROUP: it can be intimidating and overwhelming taking on an entire cause by yourself, so join a group fighting for the same thing. Check out http://myfreewillpower.com/, a petition started to protect the future of pro-choice America by NARAL, a pro-choice American foundation. Check out their website, http://www.prochoiceamerica.org/, for a look at how your state ranks up against the nation in its entirety.
And hey, if you can’t join one, why not start one? Get a support group going in your school. Hold an “Information Day”, and invite guest speakers and community members to talk on the subject. Have students sign a petition and send it to your governor or head of state. Hold a bake sale or other fundraiser for the cause and send the profits to a group like NARAL.
KEEP UPDATED: watch the news and headlines for changes in policies, and keep tabs on specifics that interest you. See if your work is making a difference.
STAY POSITIVE: even if things look like they’re going downhill, things can always change. Don’t get discouraged; put your emotions to good use and continue to fight for what you believe in.
If you do nothing else, check out this video, put together by the founders of free.will.power:
A lot of power rests in our hands. What are YOU going to do with it?