Jesus isn't a dick
Fourteen-year-old Tuesday Cain's sign has caused outrage in the US but the real scandal is the Texas law scrapping abortion provision. Ralph Jones talks to her
It is difficult to imagine meeting as eloquent or as self-assured a 14-year-old. Read this, an article by Tuesday Cain, and picture your teenage self having a comparably firm grasp on the urgent need to separate church and state. Tuesday, in case you were unaware, is the Texan girl who made a sign proclaiming "Jesus isn’t a DICK, so keep him OUT of MY VAGINA", in response to the vociferous attacks on abortion provision in the Lone Star State.
Depending on your politics, Tuesday is either a whore who should keep her child's nose out of grown-up issues, or a surprisingly sharp mind who is speaking loudly in a fight over their bodies that women must not lose. I, for the avoidance of any doubt, stand in the latter camp. I spoke to Tuesday and her father Billy about the storm that has erupted in their home state and indeed their back yard.
The Cain phenomenon is a very touching one. Billy, whom Tuesday describes as needing to be her “publicist” after her sign went viral, wrote recently and movingly in the Guardian that he whole-heartedly supports his daughter's choice to brandish her sign. He says quite rightly that “The invasion of a woman's private decisions with her doctor is the beginning of a very slippery slope” – a slope down which anti-abortion campaigners will be gleefully aiming to slide even further in the coming years. Despite Senator Wendy Davis' heroic efforts, the Texas Senate this month passed House Bill 2 (HB2), a piece of legislation that will all but force the state's abortion clinics out of existence, enforcing as it does a ban on terminations after 20 weeks even in cases of incest and rape and demanding that clinics spend hundreds of thousands of dollars turning themselves into ambulatory surgical centres. Billy sees the bill’s “unconstitutionality” being challenged and there being “additional lawsuits to stop its implementation” but there is no mistaking the downbeat mood of those espousing pro-choice arguments.
The clinics in question are also responsible “for giving out contraceptives, tests for diseases like breast and cervical cancer, blood tests, pregnancy check-ups, etc.”, Tuesday explains to me. “These are clinics that HB2 is going to close. [Women] will turn to back-alley abortions and end up hurting and killing themselves because they aren’t doctors and they don’t know what they’re doing”. Her father adds that “it is a certainty that women are losing access to critical services as well as losing their choices for reproductive freedom … I am sure the removal of abortion as an option is not far behind”.
Texas, along with many of its Bible Belt neighbours, has voted Republican in ten of the last eleven presidential elections. Its current Governor, Rick Perry – a man who opposes abortion even if the mother has been raped, but supports anti-sodomy laws, the Boy Scouts' ban on homosexuality, the teaching of intelligent design alongside evolution, and the death penalty – said that July 18 was “a very happy, celebratory day” for “those who support life”: a statement as saccharine as it is demonstrably false. The lives of women urgently in need of assistance will not be supported but jeopardised. Texas has the highest rate of uninsured women in the US; as put by Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund, HB2 “makes a terrible situation for women's health even worse”.
Given the extent to which women’s welfare is being overlooked, it is difficult to determine whether the signatories of HB2 are wilfully malicious or just plain stupid. In politics it is by and large safer to assume the former. The outcome of the bill will very likely be that fewer women are able to obtain safe and convenient abortions; many will therefore be at greater risk of dying or facing mental and physical complications as the result of either seeking an abortion in an unsafe environment or being forced to host an unwanted child. It has been widely publicised that approximately 37 of the 42 abortion clinics existing in Texas will be forced to shut down as a result of the state’s draconian legislation. Tuesday thinks that “most women” will not “travel elsewhere to seek abortions” as it will be lower-income areas – those with the highest rates of not only abortion but “rape, incest, violence, and disease” – that will be most severely hit. All of the evidence supports this contention. The Texas Observer notes in a heart-wrenching piece that “abortion is increasingly an option only for the rich” – factored into the decision must be substantial travel as well as medical costs.
At the heart of the issue lies a gruesome deficiency in empathy: by and large, politicians – especially if 80% of them are men – are simply incapable of imagining what it would be like to be forced to carry to term a being that lives off and incapacitates you for three-quarters of a year. “Women must have control over their bodies, because they don’t always have control over becoming pregnant”, says Billy. As has been wryly observed to the extent that it is almost a cliché, were men physically capable of having children, abortion provision would be clean, cheap, and available 24/7. “During this discussion I have been told many times that women that have sex outside of marriage are whores or sluts”, he tells me. As a thought experiment, imagine men having to live with the same social stigma. Then having a foetus grow inside them. Then being told that it will cost them about $1,000 to get it out. Then being told that on second thoughts they can’t. (As Tuesday puts it, “Men have the right to do whatever they want with their bodies, so why can’t women?” As is the case on many issues over which adults expend significant energy, young minds often appreciate the truth most acutely.)
It is a twisted logic long acknowledged that politicians tackling abortion in a bid to save and protect life manage with enviable efficiency to achieve the exact opposite of what they set out to do. Women who cannot or do not want to bear a child will not simply shrug their shoulders and give in to the new law but will instead seek whatever means necessary to obtain an abortion. As is the case in Ireland, those who can afford it will have little option but to seek medical help abroad. The persistent failure to acknowledge this salient and demonstrable fact has always been one of the most tragic features of the entire debate.
Abortion, like so many issues, needn’t be about religion. And yet the arguments are fiercest in the countries with the highest levels of religiosity, 'pro-lifers' being most fanatical when they are evangelical Christians. Houston, Texas lays claim to the largest church in the United States (hosting over 43,000 people each week) and near-on 90% of the state's inhabitants identify as Christian. Jesus, according to Tuesday’s sign, may not be a dick, but a great many of those speaking on his behalf seem comfortable behaving like one.
Both she and Billy advocate a separation of church and state. “Religion seems to have the biggest voice in the anti-choice issue”, Billy tells me. “Because this really is about anti-choice. It’s not about pro-life”. Those most aggressively contacting the pair have been devout Christians doing so in the name of religion, calling Tuesday a slut even for using the word "dick". But, as Tuesday says, “I have been told that God loves all of his children equally. I don't think that He would ever send a person to Hell for having an abortion, even if it were a sin”.
In speaking out so defiantly and so publicly against Texas’ ludicrous attitude toward women’s healthcare, Tuesday has demonstrated that one needn’t be an adult to understand the horrific nature of the situation. She says, “Women will die painful and sickening deaths because of HB2, but it passed anyways”. If enough of her contemporaries are anything like as intelligent as she, the future of women's reproductive autonomy may be in much safer hands than at present.