Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Roe vs. Wade turns 35

So I'm trying to avoid controversy ( seriously, I am!), but today is the 35th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade, one of the most significant Supreme Court decisions affecting women in the U.S., and I just can't let it slide without a comment.

Now, before I begin, I must remind you that I am a teacher and lover of children. I have also, on several recent occasions, hovered breathlessly over a cheap piece of plastic soaked in my own urine, praying that a positive sign appeared. I am still awaiting that little cross that, to me, to paraphrase Juno, is "holy."

But Roe vs. Wade is not about babies. It's about women given the opportunity to decide for ourselves, without the pressure of politics getting in the way. For me, this is a deeply personal and significant case, and I feel so strongly about this subject that I cannot vote for a candidate who will overturn it. Here's why:

In 2004, I was diagnosed with scleroderma, an autoimmune disease that involves the soft tissue of the body. Most commonly, scleroderma affects women of childbearing age, though anyone can be affected by it. Scleroderma is unusual because it strikes each person differently, and in my case, it caused the deterioration of collagen on the right side of my face and the gums of my teeth. Though my diagnosis is among the most rare (I'm the type of patient doctors show off to their colleagues), I am incredibly blessed to avoid any significant pain or damage to my internal organs. The further progression of my scleroderma was also stopped by a drug called methotrexate.

Now, methotrexate is used to treat all kinds of illnesses, from the harshest cancer to rheumatoid arthritis. It is also used, rather commonly, to end ectopic pregnancies. Because of this fact, and the great risk of birth defects caused by the drug, women of childbearing age must be on some form of oral contraceptive if they wish to take it. After coming off methotrexate, women are also advised to wait six cycles before trying to conceive. In my case, I was married and on the pill, so it wasn't much of a problem. I was attending grad school at the time, and wasn't in a hurry to have children yet. It also seemed sensible to me to become as healthy as possible before having children, so I began the medication without a second thought.

This decision was mine alone to make. No pressure was placed upon me as the doctor explained that methotrexate would, over the course of several years, permanently stop the progression of the disease. It seemed like a no-brainer. Sure, I was discouraged by the fact that I'd have to put off childbearing for a little while longer, but it definitely seemed worth it. And it was. My body responded quickly to the medication and I was able to stop taking it after only a year and a half, instead of the anticipated three year waiting period. It's been about two years since then, and I'm still doing exceptionally well. Which brings me back to Roe.

If this decision is overturned, or more likely, legislation is passed that makes abortion harder and harder to come by, what will stop politicians from outlawing contraception next, as a way to tighten the noose? Birth control allowed me to control my disease without unwanted side effects; it also allowed me to go to graduate school. And for lots of other women across the country, it offers peace of mind on a daily basis. I won't go into the religious and socioeconomic issues of the debate, but for me, the answer is clear. I have the right to control all aspects of my heath, and I will not support legislation or a candidate that wants to take this right away.