It all started with a set of new federal guidelines, and a particularly unfortunate title choice in a Washington Post news article. Under the title of “Forever Pregnant,” the article begins:

New federal guidelines ask all females capable of conceiving a baby to treat themselves — and to be treated by the health care system — as pre-pregnant, regardless of whether they plan to get pregnant anytime soon.

Among other things, this means all women between first menstrual period and menopause should take folic acid supplements, refrain from smoking, maintain a healthy weight and keep chronic conditions such as asthma and diabetes under control.

While most of these recommendations are well known to women who are pregnant or seeking to get pregnant, experts say it’s important that women follow this advice throughout their reproductive lives, because about half of pregnancies are unplanned and so much damage can be done to a fetus between conception and the time the pregnancy is confirmed.

This article was posted on Tuesday, May 16th, 2006, and within the day people were ranting about the horrible government telling women how to care for their bodies. Here are a few examples of the choicer comments generated this week in response to the WaPo article. I’ll go ahead and [expurgate] the swearing in these posts:

The future is coming, and it is really, really ugly. It won’t be long before they put this [expurgate] into law or something. Got a uterus? You are nothing more than a potential baby incubator. (MySpace)

Sometimes I just MUST take refuge in sarcastic cynicism

Great news for all you women between the ages of 11 and 55 or so – Congratulations! You are no longer a lonely individual, you are now pre-pregnant. It is now your duty, as a walking incubator, to prepare yourself for pregnancy through “pre-conception care” whether or not you intend to ever have a child. If you think this is ridiculous your doctor will make a note on your file that you are troublesome and non-compliant. So take your pre-natal vitamins, avoid anything that could possibly be dangerous to a fetus until you are about 60, and stay in shape so you can pop out those healthy babies who are so much more important that you! And BTW, your name is now “Of (insert husband or father’s name here, whichever is most appropriate)”. Incubators don’t need names, freedom, or any of that pro-death terrorist crap.

/sarcasm

What else can I say, really?

How much more obvious can the patriarchy’s utter disregard for women become? (WordPress)

Oh man, this article just gets under my skin like no other.

Washington Post: Guidelines – Treat Nearly All Women as Prepregnant

I am not just a baby factory. I am an individual capable of deciding what I do to MY body. It’s MY body, not whatever possible life I could hold’s body. [expurgate] off.

*lights up a cigarette* (LiveJournal)

But the first comment on the above LiveJournal post really caught my eye:

[expurgate] THIS [expurgate] PISSES ME OFF. Especially THIS sentence:

“Women should also make sure all vaccinations are up-to-date and avoid contact with lead-based paints and cat feces, Biermann said.”

For [expurgate], the only way you can hurt a fetus with cat [expurgate] is to EAT THE CAT [expurgate] (and only THEN if it’s infected!). Changing a litter box, picking up cat [expurgate] with your BARE HANDS, using it as a [expurgating] CRAYON, any of that will not harm a fetus! Burns me up when I hear women say they have to get rid of their cats because they’re pregnant. I’d rather get rid of the baby, myself.

If that is truly the attitude she harbors toward cats and babies, I sincerely hope she never breeds.

As to the problem of cat [expurgate], the poster is referring to the problem of toxoplasmosis — although she appears to be embarrassingly unaware of the facts. As the Wiki article puts it, “The cyst form of the parasite is extremely hardy, capable of surviving exposure to cooling down to subzero temperatures and chemical disinfectants such as bleach, and can survive in the environment for over a year. It is, however, susceptible to high temperatures, and is killed by cooking.” So picking up cat [expurgate] and using it as a [expurgate] crayon, as our dainty friend put it, won’t harm the baby if you are careful to make sure that all oocysts are completely removed from your hands before you touch any food or your mouth. Remember, bleach isn’t guaranteed to kill the parasites, so be sure to autoclave your hands for a while after doing some cat [expurgate] art. (Oh, and don’t forget to apply for that NEA grant.)

I really don’t understand the intense vitriol in response to what is essentially a set of health care suggestions, unless these people are having some sort of knee-jerk reaction to the idea that these suggestions were made public during the Bush administration. Judging by the comments these ranters have made about the federal guidelines, they could be labeled as either “liberal” or “super-uber-liberal with a cherry on top.” But why are they so upset by the government giving them health guidelines, when these same people would most likely cheer to see a universal health care plan implemented by the government? And rest assured that with government-funded universal health care, the government would get to determine exactly what we should or shouldn’t do with our bodies. After all, the entity footing the bill gets to call the shots. If liberals don’t even like the suggestion of government entities being so intimately involved with their bodies and their life choices, maybe they should rethink their support of universal health care. Yeah, like that’ll happen.

I think Florida Cracker has the best, most level-headed take on the issue I’ve read this week:

Some of the reactions I’ve read on the Internet are amazing. When the CDC developed a school lesson plan which asks students the pros and cons of imparting to the public the simple message “If all women who could get pregnant consume 400 micrograms of folic acid every day, 50%-70% of neural tube defects could be prevented,” they hadn’t counted on the fools of the blogosphere. They had assumed the cons would be things like “Changing eating habits is hard,” or “It costs a lot of money to teach people to change habits;” not “The Religious Right is trying to make me a baby factory.”

Yep, it’s the Religious Right forcing all the women of the U.S. to be baby factories by telling them they should take a multi-vitamin. Oh, the trauma! The horrors! Quick, go watch The Handmaid’s Tale and then lash out some more against the Religious Right. They just want you to MAKE BABIES!

Sheesh.

No one is forcing women to take folic acid or have babies. These are merely guidelines to keep women — and, yes, any theoretical children — as healthy as possible. You can take ‘em or leave ‘em. If you are not sexually active, you don’t have to worry about taking folic acid to prevent birth defects. But if you ignore the guidelines and have a child with spina bifida because your diet was poor in folic acid, or your child is born with fetal alcohol syndrome because you couldn’t give up that third cocktail every night, then you can’t say you weren’t warned.

Likewise, if you have unprotected sex with multiple partners in the age of AIDS, you can reasonably expect to contract HIV after a while. At least that’s what we’ve been told over and over again in numerous public service announcements on TV and radio, in the newspapers, and at school. The latest set of PSAs about AIDS are titled Apathy Is Lethal, and they focus on the terrible toll exacted by the spread of AIDS. I’m sure the same people who rail against the federal guidelines regarding pre-pregnancy health care have no problem with making sure everyone in our society, from chaste virgins to little grade-schoolers, know all the statistics and health suggestions about condom use, intravenous drugs, HIV and AIDS. It doesn’t matter whether you’re making life choices to reduce or eliminate your exposure to HIV disease vectors; society’s needs are deemed more important than an individual’s desire not to be barraged with unwanted messages about AIDS.

But heaven forbid anyone suggest that a woman take folic acid, because “I am an individual capable of deciding what I do to MY body.”

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