Archive | October, 2011

Abortion, Disability, and Coercion

31 Oct
I recently read an article on the DailyMail website which has me infuriated.
Six years ago, a woman in the UK learned she was pregnant and the fetus had Down syndrome. While the woman and her husband were confused and nervous about coping with a child with special needs (on top of caring for their other six children), they never considered having an abortion. They wanted to continue the pregnancy and give birth.

And yet the woman had an abortion.

According to the article (and we have to take the Daily Mail with a grain of salt), she and her husband were bullied by their doctors and nurses. When they went in to discuss how “to be prepared for the fact we might have a disabled child,” the nurse only counseled her on a termination. The nurse continuously pushed abortion even after the couple told her they wanted to continue the pregnancy. Eventually, with a nurse and a consultant bombarding her to terminate, the woman was in a state of shock, and began the abortion.

This is infuriating. This is disgusting. This is anti-choice.

There are actually two problems going on here. First, there is discrimination against people with special needs. As a pro-choice advocate, I support a woman’s right to choose. Without taking away that support, I also question why so many people are afraid to have a child with special needs.  In recent studies, researchers have found that 79% of the responding parents “felt their outlook on life was more positive” because of having a child with Down syndrome. In fact, “only 4% said they felt sad about their life.” While more challenging at times, life with a child with special needs is not the horror story many people imagine.

The difference between the viewpoints of families with children who have Down syndrome, and the women who are considering termination because of Down syndrome is huge. It leads me to question if the pregnant women are fully informed about their decisions, or if they’re just basing their ideas on popular cultural views (I am not trying to imply that women are choosing termination lightly or ignorantly–just that people in positions of power are not giving them the full picture, and they have no way of knowing this).

The way to fix this is clear: stop discriminating against people with special needs. Instead, value those with special needs within our society. Do not just try to make them fit in, but let them excel, stand out and be leaders. In this way, we
can make having a special needs child less terrifying than it seems to be today.

If the above seems like a daunting task, we can always start smaller. Host educational seminars for OB/GYNs about how to support a family that’s going to have a special needs child. Form resource networks between doctors and Down syndrome support groups, so an pregnant woman has someone she can talk to about what to expect. These are simple steps to ensuring that women are fully informed, so they can decide the absolute best choice for their family.

The second issue at hand is the violation of this woman’s right to choose. Forcing or coercing a woman into abortion Is. Not. Pro. Choice. This is an anti-choice behavior. Any pro-choice person who sees someone trying to coerce a woman into a specific decision should immediately speak up against this action. Every pro-choice person should be just as quick to stand up for a woman’s right to continue to term as (s)he is for a woman’s right to terminate.

Anti-choicers are quick to pick up an article like this and claim it proves abortion is absolute evil. Yet it is clear that our world is not that black and white. What the article proves is wrong is coercive practices. For some women, abortion is the wrong choice, while for other women birth is the wrong choice. Neither event- abortion nor birth- is bad in and of itself. But both can be bad when forced upon the woman. This is why antipchoicers are wrong when they call us “pro-abortion” and mean that we only want women to abort. I most certainly do not want every woman to abort. I want every woman to make whichever choice is best for themselves and their families, and to have the support and access to complete that choice.


The Answer to “What if I Hadn’t Been Born?”

25 Oct

Over at Slate, Rachael Larimore has written a somewhat convoluted piece, partially in response to Amanda Marcotte’s earlier article in which she explores the trend of touring “I was almost aborted” speakers. Larimore argues that pro-choicers are actually afraid of the “What if I hadn’t been born?” question because it challenges our supposed perception that “…some ‘unwanted’ children actually grow up in loving homes and become responsible, even successful, adults.”

Perhaps it is too much to ask that this belief can be dispelled by pro-choicers simply saying, no, we know that some “unwanted” children do okay. We also know that many women who decide to proceed with an unplanned pregnancy end up being fantastic parents. We also know that some adopted kids have great lives and contribute a lot to society. We even wish for these things, and try to facilitate the frequency of these events by supporting many things that help make them possible: accessible, funded daycare and childcare; the de-stigmatization of single motherhood; financial and emotional support for new parents; and on and on. Pro-choicers have a wide range of concerns outside of abortion (that’s why we call ourselves “pro-choice” and not “pro-legal-abortion”) – we would like to see pregnant people have access to all the information and resources they need regardless of their chosen pregnancy outcome.

Larimore thinks that we are scared to answer the question: “What if I hadn’t been born?”, but personally I don’t think it’s that difficult. Putting aside the fact that, had that one thing changed, an infinite number of alternate worlds is created, the answer is quite simply: “then you wouldn’t be here.” There’s a lot more to it of course: maybe things would have been a little easier for your mother; maybe she would have had another child later on, that she could have loved and cared for more; maybe things would have been worse for her, and having you saved her from going down a difficult road. Maybe someone more competent would have your job; maybe your partner would have fallen in love with an unstable person who killed them in a jealous rage, changing a lot of other lives; maybe everything would be exactly the same; maybe maybe maybe.

The reason pro-choicers often deflect this question as meaningless is because it is. There is no way for us to know what would happen if a different choice was made. The question itself is a shameless emotional baiting tactic that anti-choicers use in two ways: 1. asking it about themselves to make you feel like a jerk if you don’t care about them not being born, or 2. asking it about you to make you feel like you’re so lucky to be alive – as if you would even know or care if you had been aborted. “What if your mother aborted you?” the anti-choice protesters would hurl the question over the fence at us, back in my clinic escort days. “Then I wouldn’t be born,” we would answer back. What if the moon were made of blue cheese?

Everyone makes decisions in their lives without knowing how things might have been if they had taken a different path. That is part of being human. You can tell a pregnant woman what could happen until you’re blue in the face, but at the end of the day she can only choose one of two options – continue the pregnancy, or terminate it – and then she lives with the outcome of that choice. The pro-choice movement is not interested in the game of telling women what *could* happen. All we want is for her to be free to weigh those possibilities and make that decision herself.

White Privilege and Reproductive Rights Conversations

24 Oct

So, here’s the deal: I’m a white, (newly) 27 year old woman. And despite my degree in African-American Literature, I had never really encountered this concept of “white privilege” until recently. The African-American narrative is spoken and written by non-whites, and also, generally written more about experiences with oppression. Which is to say that we didn’t analyze this literature using the term “white privilege,” though we certainly discussed how fucked up the system is/was, but white privilege (and correct me if I’m wrong) specifically designates whites who don’t know that they, by existing in their culture, perpetuate racism, and in fact, benefit from racism. I would submit that anyone who participated in slavery and creating or enforcing jim crow laws, etc., knew they were oppressors (though they justified it in a number of ways, like using the bible and “medicine” to prove “white superiority”). White privilege isn’t about being racist oneself, necessarily, but rather, being unaware that racism and a culture of racism informs everyday, basic decisions which skews the system in favor of whites. This is where I feel blatant racism and white privilege diverge.

This whole idea of “white privilege,” which I was vaguely aware of, but not well-informed about, really came into my universe in the media surrounding SlutWalkNYC, which I was unable to attend due to a wedding. I’m assuming that most of you reading the blog are familiar with the pictures and the sign that inspired the conversation, but the gist, for those of you who are not aware, is that a white chick thought that it was totally appropriate to make and carry a sign that said “Women are the n***** of the world – Yoko Ono.” Many, many photos were taken of this woman and her sign (which was passed around a lot, for some reason) before SlutWalk organizers requested that she take it down. And thus, the discussion of the racism contained within our movement was struck up, centering on the concept of white privilege.

I’m prefacing my post not as an expert on racism in repro-rights, nor as an expert on the framework for this conversation, but rather as someone who is opening her eyes to this facet of the movement. Imma be honest: as a white chick, I don’t experience racism in my reproductive choices. I experience sexism, paternalism, bat-shit-crazy-religiousity, and in-your-face-anti-choice-conservatism, but not racism. It’s a totally new idea to me, that simply by participating in our society, I’m perpetuating racism. And I am at a loss.

I’ve been reading up on this idea so that I could be somewhat informed about it, and I ran across the concept (which some have “debunked”) of “white guilt,” in which, whites, upon being confronted with this societal reality (particularly when the idea is presented to them by a non-white), seek acceptance and forgiveness from the non-whites around them, and either a) use the same acceptance/forgiveness to cop-out on creating change or b) become so mired in their guilt that they do not seek to make changes, but rather to make “amends” for their participation in racism. And the “solution” to white guilt/white privilege seems to be simple acknowledgement and awareness.

I’m going to make the argument that being aware of white privilege is in no way a solution. So yes, now I am aware that this privilege exists for me. So what? What can I do to actively participate in shifting power to non-whites? Because ultimately, I’m a white chick, and there isn’t anything I can do about being white. I am not a minority and I do not have minority experiences. I speak a vernacular that has been instilled in our predominantly Indo-European-cultured society since America was colonized. I don’t have another language to work with, and “awareness” doesn’t help to teach me. I keep reading the argument that women of color bear the burden of educating whites about their privilege, and that because they have to constantly re-educate whites, that they are being held down by this. Maybe you all will think that I’m dumb or ignorant, but since I grew up with my privilege as my norm, I struggled to see how my experience was privileged. I think this is a human condition, not unique to whites. And we all bear the burden of educating others about oppression and privilege. Are we not all (females, woman-identified, trans men, trans women, etc) struggling for the right to control our bodies, bearing the burden of educating others about our struggles, movements, choices, etc.?

The other thing I’m learning from this SlutWalkNYC experience is that conversations (or “committees,” as I satirically refer to these types of conversations) don’t, in and of themselves, create change. There needs to be action. So what actions are we taking? What actions can effectively be taken? I don’t really know what these things look like.

The closest I’ve come to finding concrete advice is this blog post. An excerpt from the author, Aura Blogando, does a better job summarizing than I ever could:

“As Trymaine Lee has reported, black, poor and transgender women are being disproportionately and systematically branded as criminal “sex offenders” on an online database for engaging in ‘survival sex’ in New Orleans. Under the cover of an obscure, slave-era legal term called “crimes against nature,” police officers target those who engage in oral or anal sex-for-money. Those targeted for a second time are charged as felons (vaginal sex-for-money, meanwhile, is considered misdemeanor prostitution). 40 percent of those who appear on the sexual predator database are there because they were accused of committing a ‘crime against nature;’ more than 80 percent of those are black women.”

The above excerpt offers an example of something specific to combat; some way that I can help shift the power of privilege. And this is, frankly, eye-opening to me. I have been in my world of privilege, blindly doing the best I could. It seems shameful that I didn’t know about this before, but I am not going to apologize for existing as the person that I am, or my experiences thus far. And I realize that this post probably sounds, at best, completely naive, and at worst, completely ignorant, but I only have the power to change my future experiences.

So, in summary, I am asking not for forgiveness for my complete ignorance of this concept before the age of 27, nor of my undeniable benefit from said privilege. Instead, I am asking for those more experienced with this than me to teach me and to help me participate in change.

New FX Drama ‘American Horror Story’ Is Anti-Abortion Propaganda At Its Worst

20 Oct

Trigger warning: descriptions of violence against women, graphic content.

Every TV season there’s a show that looks to have so much potential that the buzz starts to gather around it before the show even airs. This season, that show is FX ‘s new late night horror-drama, “American Horror Story.” The pilot had promise, with scream-inducing, jump-out-of-your-seats scary moments. And I have to admit, I was hooked. Just a few days later, I watched the first episode and was indeed horrified, but not for the reasons you might think.

This isn’t a show about scary monsters, although there are monsters that jump out from dark corners. This isn’t a show about murdered couples in a scary, vintage home, although there’s plenty of murder and gore. It’s an abortion horror story, a drama on a popular network aimed at young adult viewers that blames the years and years of horror occurring in a scary house on a 1920’s drug-addicted doctor who performed late term, unsafe abortions in his basement.

Here’s how this abomination of a television show goes: man, wife, and daughter move from the East coast to a haunted California house to flee their troubled marriage. The wife suffered a still birth and afterward, her husband cheated on her with his college student. Typical, I know. It gets better, though: the wife sleeps with a masked ghost thinking its her husband – see, women are so slutty! get it!- and in episode two, reveals that she is expecting. Meanwhile, the husband is suffering from hallucinations and an alluring house maid -damn the sexy women always trying to seduce well-meaning men!- and then in a random fit, he goes back to the East coast to deal with a “problem.”

What’s the problem? His mistress is pregnant and she needs support as she has chosen to have an abortion. I guess young women that choose to abort can’t make the choice without a man there by their side, holding their hand through the process. Of course, the support of a partner is cool, but the show presents the young mistress as a needy, mentally unhinged basket case that couldn’t go through with the abortion, but I ‘ll get to that part later. While the young mistress wails and begs the man to rekindle their romance, he stoically resists her advances (pesky seductress!) and takes her to the abortion clinic. The clinic is a dark, dingy, very unsanitary looking place; a nurse wheels around a decrepit female patient with blood all over her and the man tries to support his sobbing woman mistress.

Back in LA, wife and daughter are assaulted by some visitors that want to reenact a murder that purportedly happened in that house thirty or so years ago. Although the wife and daughter survive, they are so traumatized that wife decides to sell the house. And that brings us to tonight’s episode, the most heinously anti-choice propaganda I have ever seen. Period. When I say that, I include the anti-abortion signs protestors hold up at anti-choice rallies and in front of abortion clinics.

Last night, the true horror of the house is revealed; the reason for the haunting becomes apparent. Back in the 1920’s, an East coast socialite became enraged when her doctor husband didn’t bring home enough money, so the devious-she-devil (we’ve seen this before, evil woman , it’s all her fault!) informs the doctor husband that she’s found a woman in a “bad situation,” that has sixty dollars and is willing to pay for the problem to be “taken care of.” Because apparently, abortion doctors are greedy, evil monsters that prey on young girls in desperate situations.

Cut to the next scene where the door bell rings and a young, blond, almost angelic looking woman enters. She’s crying, softly, as the she-devil-wife leads her into the bathroom where she helps her dress in a white gown. There, the wife forces the young girl to drink a substance that makes the girl act completely drugged and incoherent, but not before the wife collects the girl’s money. Apparently, young women don’t make the choice to abort willingly, they’re totally drugged and forced to go through with the procedure. The wife then leads the girl into the basement where the doctor performs the abortion. An announcer cuts in saying, “the souls of 12 babies are said to haunt the house to this day.” Because that’s how many women were “lured” into that evil doctor’s basement. Suddenly, the opening credits clips make sense because they’re images of dead fetus parts kept in jars in the dingy basement. Message: not only are doctors that perform abortions evil, money-grubbing, exploitative human beings, they’re totally fucking crazy.

And folks, this isn’t all, remember when the man’s mistress had an abortion in an earlier episode? Oh, she didn’t, instead she’s going to keep the “baby” and make him pay for it. Yep, that’s right, in one swoop of the screen writer’s pen, the woman goes from lunatic abortion-needing mistress, to vindictive mistress that wants to ruin a man’s life. As the show goes on, the young woman becomes more and more incoherent, until finally, a creepy neighbor attacks the mistress with a shovel and kills her. The husband then feels that his problem is solved and buries the girl in the backyard and builds a gazebo on top of the spot where her body is buried. It’s like the poor woman and her fetus were really just a “problem” that needed disposing of.

To top it all off, the last scene of tonight’s episode is of the man and his wife happily drinking iced tea in the gazebo. Sick.

How messed up is this? Violence against women, check. Reification of she-devil, seductress stereotypes, check. Abortion shaming, huge. fucking. check. There’s a way to may a show scary and it doesn’t have to include “babies haunting a mansion for almost 100 years.” Because if that isn’t straight out of the radical anti-choice playbook, I don’t know what is. And I’m still astounded the plot of this show was green lighted. I get that this is cable, that the rules aren’t as stringent, that FX is probably trying to “push the boundaries,” but the only boundary FX is pushing is the one between really bad and really disturbing.

A Lesson in Pro-Choice Statistics

17 Oct

A recent poll revealed that the majority of Americans (78% to be exact) believe that abortion should be legal. Before you get all giddy, like I did when I first heard about the poll results, that 78% statistic needs to be broken down based upon when Americans believe abortion should be legal. According to the CNN poll:

25% – abortion should be legal under any circumstances
12% – abortion should be legal in most circumstances
41% – abortion should be legal in a few circumstances
21% – abortion should be illegal in all circumstances

Even when you look at the numbers broken out like this, it’s reassuring to see that only 21% of Americans believe that abortion should be completely illegal. True, I wish that there were more of us in the “legal under any circumstance” camp – but we need to take a deep breath and try to remember that the antis do not have us outnumbered.

Part of the challenge for the pro-choice community is that many pro-choice people don’t speak up about their beliefs. And who can blame them? It’s difficult to voice your opinion when people on the anti-choice side of the debate yell, hold up grizzly posters, and spew utter nonsense. It isn’t a conversation that’s even worth engaging, because at the end of the day, no one is going to change their opinion about anything.

I’m not that surprised about the 78% statistic, though. When I was a clinic escort, I frequently had women swear to me that they were “pro-life” as they entered the clinic – but they just couldn’t continue their pregnancy. I always assured them that it didn’t matter what they believed, they were welcome at the clinic. If you take time to unravel the 78% statistic, I would be willing to bet that many of the people who spoke the CNN pollsters were some of these same women – they’re part of that 41% group who believes that abortion should be legal when it comes to their own uterus.

There’s bound to be some mathematical mumbo jumbo that I’m missing – it’s been a few years since I took a stats class. But even with a margin of error, or whatever you call it, there’s something very straightforward about the numbers – the people who shout the loudest are not the ones who are on the right side of public opinion.

Abortion Stigma in the Classroom

14 Oct

“Everyone knows that abortion isn’t just a trivial thing. It really affects people. I don’t know if any of you have seen one, but abortion makes it more difficult for you to have a baby afterwards and often involves complications.”

Spoken by an anti-choice clinic harasser? A comment on an anti-abortion blog? No. These were the words of a medical student visiting my graduate level reproductive health class. And not just any reproductive health class, but a required class at a top notch public health program.

The professors, two doctors, only corrected him on one aspect (“actually, having an abortion does not impact a woman’s fertility”) and left the rest of his misinformation for students to take to task. Several others (myself included) interjected that actually, we’ve worked in abortion clinics, thank you very much, and have seen abortions, and did you know that for some women, getting an abortion is much less traumatizing than giving birth, and there are women in this room who’ve had abortions, how dare you stigmatize them, and on and on.

This medical student was shadowing one of the professors to get a taste of the public health world while in medical school. This is fantastic, but clearly not enough to balance out the lack of accurate information about abortion in medical schools. This student felt totally comfortable mansplaining abortion to us as if his misinformation were God-given medical truth. This is what his med school professors are teaching him, and it’s going unchallenged.

This is not the first time my professors have screwed up and perpetuated abortion stigma in the classroom. In a discussion about later abortion, one professor stated that many doctors “aren’t comfortable providing abortions after the first trimester. We’re talking about removing arms and legs here.”

To make this statement in front of public health students, many of whom aren’t experts in abortion care and certainly aren’t doctors, is irresponsible, inaccurate, and frankly, infuriating. Let’s go point by point.

There is undoubtedly a lack of abortion providers in the US, particularly clinicians who perform abortions after the first trimester. But my professor created a false dichotomy. In the world of abortion care, there are not two categories of abortion: first trimester and everything else. Abortions happen in the first and second trimesters on a routine basis. Abortions in the second trimester are only referred to as “later abortions” once the pregnancy is beyond 17-20 weeks or so, and even this is up for debate within the medical, public health, and reproductive rights communities.

For my professor to make the statement that abortions after the first trimester are “late abortions” is factually inaccurate and also misleading. Just like there is no broad agreement on when fetal viability begins, there is no broadly agreed upon definition of what constitutes a later abortion (for more on this, see ANSIRH’s note on why they use “later abortion” instead of “later-term abortion”).

Now on to the thornier question. Are doctors not providing abortions after the first trimester because they think this procedure is “icky”? My professor says yes, but I can’t find any research to back her up. What we know is this:

“Approximately 60 percent of abortion-providing facilities offer abortion services after 14 weeks, and only 33 percent of the facilities offer abortions at 20 weeks. Only 24 percent of the facilities offer abortions at 21 weeks and beyond. Five states lack a provider performing abortions after 12 weeks for non-maternal or fetal indications, ten states lack a provider performing abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy and 22 do not have a provider offering abortions after 20 weeks.” (thanks, Susan Yanow!)

Yes, after 14 weeks, abortions become more difficult to obtain. Why is this? Many reasons, including: lack of training in abortion techniques, restrictive legislation banning abortion at a certain point in pregnancy, the increasing threat of anti-abortion violence towards providers of later abortions, and more. That doctors may be uncomfortable performing these procedures is just one in a constellation of factors that make abortion after the first trimester more difficult to obtain.

Instead of using stigmatizing language, my professor could’ve actually described what happens during a later abortion. She could have explained why some providers may not be able to perform these procedures instead of revealing her own judgemental views on later abortion. She could have completely corrected the medical student who provided the class with misleading, false information in the guise of scientific fact.

I expect better from professors, from medical students, from my peers and from anyone who respects science, medicine, and evidenced-based information. Don’t wait for someone else to call out these inaccuracies when you hear them. It’s up to us to make sure that people in positions of power don’t perpetuate abortion stigma.

From Fetal Pain to Fetal Voice: Where Will it End?

13 Oct

Jennie McCormack recently tried to seek a temporary restraining order against Idaho’s state law that bans abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy. As she is not currently pregnant, the judge ruled that McCormack lacks legal standing on this issue. However, to put this into perspective, Jennie’s lawsuit is the very first court case challenging any of the later abortion bans that have been enacted in the past few years.

Idaho, as well as Alabama, Indiana, Oklahoma, and Kansas, and Nebraska, all enacted post-20 week abortion bans.  This arbitrary 20 week deadline is based upon frequently disputed research that claims that a fetus starts to feel pain at or after 20 weeks of gestation.  There is no legitimate scientific information that supports this; In fact, far more evidence suggests that a fetus actually can’t distinguish between touch and pain until around 35-37 weeks.

Here’s the thing about these “fetal pain” laws: as with most anti-choice legislation, the hidden agenda is paramount.  One restriction always leads to another.  It is a never-ending cycle of misinformation and bogus science aimed at restricting women’s access to abortion. Slowly but surely anti-choice activists are chipping away at our rights, and we are letting them get away with it. Will our birth control be next? Will a miscarriage be considered a “wrongful” termination of pregnancy? Anti-choicers are not concerned with pain or safety or women; they only care about getting their political agenda across.

More women must find their voices and stand up against anti-choice restrictions.  Especially because fetuses are about to have their voices “heard” in Washington. Yes, really.  Today, October 13, we can all head down to the U.S. Capitol Congressional Auditorium and listen to the “voice of the unborn.”  Can this get any creepier? People will literally be watching and listening to ultrasounds, performed purely to make a political statement.

Voices From the Womb (yes, this is a real event) states, “all 535 members will be personally invited to witness live ultrasounds on women who are in their first, second and third trimester of pregnancy. Members of the House of Representatives and the Senate will have the opportunity, for the first time, in the United States Capitol to “hear” from the pre-born children of America.” Notice, the women carrying the “pre-born of America” do not get to say anything at all.  This is the kick-off of what will be a national tour coming to a state near you.   After all, it is about to be an election year.

The laundry list of provisions and restrictions is endless. Fetal pain laws, mandatory waiting periods, parental consent, medically inaccurate anti-abortion counseling sessions, forced ultrasounds…over and over again we put the “rights” of fetuses above the rights of the women who are carrying them.  And now, we are literally giving fetuses a “voice” in Washington. Where will it end? When will a woman’s voice finally matter more than the unborn fetus she carries?