Warning: This piece includes spoilers for the most recent season of Downton Abbey.
For the women of Downton Abbey, this season has brought some struggles when it comes to reproductive rights.
In the most direct family planning plotline, savvy Lady Mary (who is reading Marie Stopes’ book, Married Love) asks her trusted maid Anna to discreetly pick up birth control on her behalf. When Anna asks for it, a judgmental pharmacist admonishes her that despite being married she could practice abstinence rather than use a modern method of contraception.
And in another episode, the Dowager Countess tells Lady Mary that women should not acknowledge they are attracted to someone until their mothers tell them they are.
Yes, this show takes place in the 1920s. But more than 80 years later, some of these attitudes are still being directed at women everywhere.
Despite the positive benefits family planning and reproductive health access can have for women (increased economic opportunities, better health for their families, and more years of education, to name just a few), there are many political leaders that seem to want to go back in time.
Here in the United States, the Republican majority in Congress is pursuing legislation that threatens a woman’s ability to make her own health decisions. Within the first few weeks of the 114th session of Congress, Republicans introduced six anti-choice bills. And state legislatures in this country haveadopted 231 new abortion restrictions since the 2010, making it difficult for women in places like Texas, South Dakota, and Mississippi to get safe abortion and affordable family planning and reproductive health services.
There are also 225 million women and girls in developing countries who need access to contraception. Despite this staggering demand, Republican politicians continue to propose cutting U.S. international family planning assistance, zeroing out funds for UNFPA, and imposing harmful policy riders such as the reinstatement of the Global Gag Rule.
The conversations Anna and Lady Mary are having may feel far away from 2015, but for women in the United States and abroad it’s getting too close to reality. A lot has happened since the 1920s: women have been entrusted to own property, run major companies, be elected to national office, and fight in wars. Hasn’t the time come to entrust a woman with the responsibility to take care of her own reproductive health? Despite the objections of the Dowager Countess of Grantham and her present-day counterparts, reproductive choices belong to a woman alone.