photo of President Obama and Sonia Sotomayor courtesy The Daily News
As you've likely already heard, two female members of Congress, Jackie Speier and Gwen Moore, were very brave during the floor debate Thursday night over the Pence Amendment, the attempt to defund Planned Parenthood. Speier revealed that she had an abortion in the 17th week of a wanted pregnancy, because of medical complications. "For you to stand on this floor and suggest that somehow this is a procedure that is either welcomed or done cavalierly or done without any thought, is preposterous," she said to a supporter of the amendment, Chris Smith of New Jersey.
Moore, meanwhile, shared the story of her own unplanned pregnancy at the age of 18. When she went into labor, she was too poor to call a taxi or ambulance to take her to the hospital. I want to quote at length from the rest of her remarks, because she offered such an incredibly powerful and true statement about this country's approach to poverty, women, and children. This should be required reading for every American who cares about health and education policy, and certainly for every Democratic elected official wondering how to speak coherently about reproductive rights:
I just want to tell you a little bit about what it’s like to not have Planned Parenthood. You have to add water to the formula to make it stretch. You have to give your kids Ramen noodles at the end of the month to fill up their little bellies so they won’t cry ... It subjects children to low educational attainment because of the ravages of poverty. You know, one of the biggest problems that school districts have in educating some of these poor black children who are unplanned is that they are mobile; they are constantly moving because they can’t pay the rent ... [P]ublic policy has treated poor children and women who have not had the benefit of Planned Parenthood with utter contempt. These same children, it has been very difficult to get them health insurance through CHIP.
These two women serve as reminders of why we need many more women and people of color serving in public office. To suggest so much is often derided as playing "identity politics," but really, it's just an acknowledgement that people with identities that differ from the status quo of political life--old, white, affluent, and male--have experiences that add something to the public debate and decision-making process. They've been single mothers. They've endured the tragedy of losing a wanted pregnancy. They've been poor.
In short, they've been chiseled by life.
I think President Obama said this most eloquently, when he nominated Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court.
...as Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes once said, "The life of the law has not been logic; it has been experience." Experience being tested by obstacles and barriers, by hardship and misfortune; experience insisting, persisting, and ultimately overcoming those barriers. It is experience that can give a person a common touch and a sense of compassion; an understanding of how the world works and how ordinary people live.