I grew up in a home where children were not to speak unless spoken to, feelings were not discussed and life was a ticker tape of “don’t” because que pensaran los vecinos?
Given this background, I was ill-prepared for my first menstruation. It came on the Fourth of July when I was 10. I shyly asked my mother for help, and she gave me a pad without instructions or comment. I thought this was an irksome interruption to the holiday, but had heard of periods and was relieved that mine was now over and done with. Imagine my surprise when, in August, it returned.
Later that month, I came home from school to “The Period Book” on my bed. There was no talk, just the book. That night, I stayed up reading it with a flashlight under my covers and I remember the rage I felt at the realization that this thing was called “menstruation” and it was going to happen every month. For decades!
But I also remember the exhilaration I felt poring over the pages to learn more about my body. It felt like I was Sonic the Hedgehog and every new word — estrogen, areola, cervix — was a row of gold rings. From the fiefdom of my parent’s home, this was the first time I felt power. I became keenly aware that knowledge was currency in the economy of self-determination.
Last week, Florida lawmakers filed a dystopian bill that would ban abortions after six weeks and threatens to steal that currency from us. House Bill 7 has its first hearing Thursday, Healthcare Regulation subcommittee.
Such bills demean the personhood of women, non-binary and transgender people to make our own decisions about our bodies, lives and futures. This bill is particularly heinous not only because politicians should not have a place in our personal medical decisions, but because it appropriates $25 million more in funding fake anti-abortion clinics.
The makers of those “Pregnant? Scared?” billboards call themselves “crisis pregnancy centers” and, according to a Tampa Bay Times investigation, have staff posing as medical personnel without much, if any, training or licensing. They dole out medically inaccurate and potentially harmful advice that includes everything from lying that abortion causes breast cancer to falsely dating pregnancies to force people to carry a pregnancy to term. Their staff wear scrubs or white coats and collect medical history. However, since they don’t provide legitimate medical care, they aren’t subject to privacy laws and can use that information in any way, including intimidating people out of abortions.
I haven’t felt outrage like this since I found out I would be bleeding for days at a time almost 500 times in my life. It is ethically bankrupt to promote yourself as a source of knowledge and choices when you are actively persuading people who come to your clinic against abortion. People deserve the benefit of comprehensive sexual and reproductive health knowledge from real healthcare providers.
As a public health nurse, I have made my life’s work empowering and educating others about their bodies because I discovered what that power feels like at an early age and I am called to share it. Fake clinics prey on people’s desperate search for knowledge by presenting falsehoods as facts for their own ideological benefit. Worse, the additional funding for these centers would be managed by the Florida Department of Health. The health department should be a source of high-quality, unbiased health resources but, instead, is being used as a pawn for political propaganda.
Everyone deserves the dignity of learning about our bodies free from judgment, coercion or harm. Floridians deserve that in particular from our health department, but it is clear that clarion call will be ignored under the oppressive and anti-science reign of Gov. DeSantis and the state’s surgeon general, Dr. Joseph Ladapo.
It is because they thwart that call that we must yell louder. We must yell about our government’s inaction against Black maternal mortality. We must shout about the injustices against trans communities, such as the recently filed anti-trans bathroom bill. We must cry out in support of Medicaid expansion. We must scream against this abortion ban. We must reclaim our power, our voices, our right to knowledge from those resolved to take it away.
Monica Skoko Rodriguez is a nurse, public health expert, and reproductive health advocate. She sits on the boards of the National Women’s Health Network, Ruth’s List Miami, and Women’s Emergency Network.