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Why the Pro-Choice Movement Needs to Talk About Children

12:46 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Sarah Erdreich’s book Generation Roe

I was recently reminded of the old pro-choice slogan, “Every Child a Wanted Child.” Along with my personal favorite slogan, “Pro-Child, Pro-Family, Pro-Choice,” this decades-old mantra succinctly sums up a powerful pro-choice argument: that supporting reproductive rights is also supporting families, children, and choice.

Yet in large part, the mainstream pro-choice movement seems to have moved away from this focus on the family in favor of concentrating on the arenas of courtrooms and state houses. While the urgency of fighting increasingly severe challenges to abortion care is hard to understate, this shift in attention, messaging, and resources means that the anti-choice movement has been able to make the idea of family, specifically unborn children, central to its emotional power and success. As a result, the pro-choice movement has been left open to charges that it is anti-child and anti-family.

In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. Look at the name of the best-known pro-choice organization—Planned Parenthood. In these words is embedded the very idea of healthy families and children: the idea that people can and should plan their families. Being deliberate and thoughtful about when to have children ensures that every parent is as prepared as possible for the responsibility of raising a child. This is a message that any compassionate person would respond to.

Talking about family planning also places abortion care firmly on a larger continuum, along with contraception, access to good prenatal care, and the right of any woman to have a child. This also allows abortion to be correctly discussed as one part of the larger issue of reproductive rights and justice, rather than as an exotic medical procedure deserving of judgment and stigma.

The majority of women who have abortions are mothers. Millions of women and men have been able to plan their families through access to contraception. There are hundreds of thousands of women like myself, whose own experiences with pregnancy and parenting have made them more pro-choice than they were before they had children.

Our stories and experiences stand as a visceral rebuttal to the anti-choice movement’s desired narrative, which is that every pregnancy should be continued and no one should have a choice after a certain, arbitrary point in gestation.

How to change the national discussion is a big question with many valid answers. For my part, I’d like to see organizations and individual activists alike engage with the idea of respecting the desire of many people to have children while at the same time fiercely advocating for reproductive rights. More tangibly, I would love to see even one of the mainstream pro-choice groups launch a campaign of collecting and highlighting the stories of pro-choice parents—mothers and fathers—that directly affirm the idea of being both pro-choice and pro-family.

Until then, it’s once again on us in the grassroots and online community to be the innovators. And no, I don’t mean that I’m going to start scouring Etsy for tasteful abortion-themed toddler clothing. As I learned through dozens of interviews for my book on the future of the pro-choice movement, one of the most effective ways to increase support for reproductive rights is by doing so one conversation at a time. Emphasizing the pro-family roots and goals of abortion activism is an excellent way to keep these conversations open. If the conversation isn’t so much about abortion per se, but rather abortion’s role in protecting the rights of each family, it can avoid the feeling of discussing a “third rail” and perhaps illustrate that ever-elusive common ground. I’ve lost track of how many times even my most conservative friends have told me that they’re having X number of children, no more. And the next time they do, they’ll be sure to get a gentle, friendly reminder that they can thank the countless pro-choice Americans who are defending their right to make those plans. Read the rest of this entry →

Disability, Prenatal Testing and the Case for a Moral, Compassionate Abortion

11:18 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Vyckie Garrison for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

by Sierra @No Longer Quivering

Note: If the headline didn’t already clue you in, this is controversial subject matter. If you come away from this article thinking that I advocate genocide of a disabled population or the coercion of women pregnant with disabled fetuses into abortion, that I hate disabled people or think that Down syndrome people don’t deserve to live, you have failed to understand my point. Please walk away from the computer, breathe deeply, and start again from the beginning.

I believe that it is possible and desirable to respect disabled people while still working to eliminate genetic disorders so that children who might have had Down syndrome or cystic fibrosis (or any other disease) have a chance to be born without them. I believe that abortion of a disabled fetus can be a compassionate choice made for morally sound reasons, and does not at all conflict with the respect due to disabled people. I am firmly pro-choice, and I believe strongly that the wellbeing of all born persons in a family is paramount before considering the needs of a fetus. My position is that fetuses are incapable of being self-aware and therefore cannot experience suffering the way born persons do. The prevention of suffering is central to my moral beliefs.

If you’re already angry, please stop reading and go get yourself a nice cappuccino. Have a beautiful day. And then, if you still really want to read this, take frequent breaks to punch a pillow with a "hello, my name is Sierra" badge stuck to it.

Her.meneutics, the "for women" arm of Christianity Today, recently ran an article by Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra on prenatal testing:

What You Need to Know About the Hidden Benefits (and Costs) of New Prenatal Tests

Apparently, science can do something awesome: tell you the genome of your fetus within the second trimester:

Using a blood sample from the mother and saliva from the father, scientists at the University of Washington mapped out the entire genome of a child while he was in the womb. The discovery, which was published June 6 in Science Translational Medicine, makes it possible to spot disorders from sickle cell disease to cystic fibrosis to Down syndrome in the second trimester of pregnancy.

Best of all, at least for those of us who shiver at the thought of an amniocentesis, is that it’s noninvasive.

About 10 percent of the free-floating in a mother’s blood belongs to her baby, and by comparing her blood with her own and the father’s DNA, scientists can pinpoint which DNA belongs to the baby. From there, they can sequence the child’s entire DNA code. Or at least, they can get pretty close. Their accuracy rate was about 98 percent in the infant boy they tested.

Zylstra says that, "at first blush," this information looks "incredible." Yes, it does. Because it is. This kind of technology gives us more control over our own reproduction, which means that we’re better able to make ethical decisions about our parenting. As Zylstra points out, parents who are expecting a special needs child can prepare in advance for what that means.

But there’s a catch, says Zylstra:

You can be emotionally prepared for his birth. You could choose a C-section if that was warranted, or line up services for him, or join a support group.Or abort him.That’s the rub, said Gene Rudd, president of the Christian Medical and Dental Associations.

It’s hard to imagine this test wouldn’t be the instigation of selective abortions, since many women with prenatal diagnoses of Down syndrome currently abort, he said. "It’s search and destroy that we do that now with Downs," he said. "And to what benefit do we do that? If we look at the statistics or surveys that come from families that have raised a Downs individual, 97 percent said it was rewarding."

It’s a life worth living, and many see that, says Amy Julia Becker, who has written extensively about her daughter with Down syndrome. Heart conditions and respiratory troubles often suffered by those with Down syndrome can be treated, life expectancy has risen from 25 to 60, and by all accounts, raising a son or daughter with Down syndrome can be a wonderful gift. The numbers are tricky, but Becker says that about 70 percent of babies prenatally diagnosed with Down syndrome are aborted.

"Ultimately, the problem is that we have a society that says it’s okay to kill unborn babies," Rudd told me. "If that weren’t permissible, this information wouldn’t be misused." Prenatal testing in a country with legal abortion lets parents decide if that child is "good enough" to live, he said. But as imperfect, capricious, sinful beings, how do we figure we’re smart enough, or good enough, to judge anybody else’s shot at life?

"Who are we to say that cystic fibrosis is such an overwhelmingly terrible disease that they shouldn’t be allowed to live?" Rudd said. "Do we say that about a one-year-old who is diagnosed? What’s different about a younger child?"

There are a lot of pieces to this pie, so I’m going to address them problem-by-problem. Ready? Here we go. This article:

  1. Fetishizes disability.
  2. Dehumanizes children.
  3. Downplays economic concerns and long-term viability.
  4. Minimizes the suffering of children and caregivers.
  5. Is logically inconsistent.
  6. Conflates fetuses with born children, and therefore
  7. Devalues labor, delivery and motherhood.
Before we go any farther, here is my main point:
 
Having an abortion to prevent a child from being born with Down syndrome or another disability can be a positive moral choice. Okay, now let’s go on (assuming you’re not already plotting my demise).
 
1. Fetishizing disability
 
The disability rights movement is hugely important and I support it. It’s especially vital for individuals with mental illnesses, who are often judged as "not really disabled" because there’s nothing visibly wrong with them. Disabled people have a long history of being medically abused, used as test subjects without consent, being abandoned or forced to live in squalor, and being generally reviled, disrespected and treated like freaks. We need a movement to rectify that and prevent it from ever happening again. I’m glad we have one.
 
Now. Here’s where I depart from Zylstra and other activists.
 

Respecting the rights of disabled people does not mean honoring or celebrating disability itself. Apart from the perspective and political activism that many disabled people have found via their experiences as a discriminated-against class, I’d wager most people who are disabled would rather not be. Just like poor people value their wisdom but would really rather not be poor. I’ve been a poor kid. I’m still pretty poor. I’ve learned a hell of a lot about empathy from being poor. But would I choose to be poor? No. Would I want others to be poor kids? No. Would I jump at the chance to end poverty once and for all? Yes! I want people to listen to what I’ve learned, but I don’t want them all to have to learn it the hard way, like I did. I would wager that at least some disabled people feel the same.

When you argue that children with Down syndrome are "special gifts" or that raising them is a "rewarding experience" for parents, you are appropriating their difficulties and fetishizing their difference. That is the opposite of respecting a disabled person. I get that who we are is shaped by experience and that many disabled people consider disability to be integral to their personalities — just as I see poverty as a formative experience for me — but I doubt they would have chosen to be disabled in the first place. Would they have voluntarily given up able bodies for the wisdom earned from being disabled? Would they refuse treatment, if it were available? Would they choose to suffer disabilities just so that their parents could have the "reward" and "special gift" of raising them?

Amy Julia Becker of Thin Places writes:

I hate the thought that there will be fewer people with Down syndrome in the world as a result of advances in prenatal testing. As I’ve written before, it impoverishes us all when we selectively abort babies based upon particular characteristics (gender, for instance, in China and India… disabilities here in America).

I understand this argument. I do. I get how parents of Downs children learn from their experiences and love their children fiercely and imagine how empty and cold the world would be without children like theirs. But this line of reasoning makes me profoundly uncomfortable. By all means, love your child! By all means, share your hard-earned wisdom! But to wish for Down syndrome to never go away? to never be cured? Why would you wish that?

I can’t help but think that it’s not about the children’s quality of life (wouldn’t you choose a life for your child that didn’t include Downs, if you could?) but about the parents’ inability to distinguish between their love for their kids and the condition from which their kids suffer. By all means, celebrate your child and his or her wonderful uniqueness! (I say this without irony.) But don’t reduce your child to the mere fact of having Downs, as though having Downs makes them a kind of endangered species and that Down syndrome must continue forever because kids like yours would never exist again without it. Your child would be special, you would have that bond, with or without Downs.

Wanting to eradicate a condition that causes suffering or dependence in a population is not the same as wanting that population to die. Imagine for a moment that we’re not talking about abortion. If it were possible to "cure" Down syndrome prenatally, preserving the same fetus, would you deny your child the treatment because you’d hate to see fewer Down syndrome children in the world?

Which brings me to #2.

2. Dehumanizing children

Focusing on the "rewards" to parents of raising a special needs child means privileging parents’ personal growth over the best interests of their potential child.  If parents choose to bring into this world a child that cannot be reasonably expected to care for himself as an adult, they are gambling with their child’s future. Who will care for him or her when the parents are gone? Do they have the resources to provide for their child’s medical needs? Do they have other children who would be neglected because of their parents’ intense focus on caring for the special needs child?

Now, I understand that many, many Downs people are able to function in the world without immediate care, but others can’t. I think it’s awfully brazen and selfish not to consider one’s potential child’s quality of life for the entire duration of that child’s life before deciding what to do. I think it’s necessary to ask tough questions of yourself, to honestly answer the question of whether or not you can provide that child with everything he or she will need for life.

Special needs children aren’t high-maintenance pets that exist to teach you lessons about fortitude and compassion. They are people. And it’s because a special needs fetus will become a person at birth that abortion should be on the table. Responsible, moral reproductive choices involve doing the hard math and yes, making decisions to either give your child the best possible long, independent life or to terminate the pregnancy early if you know you can’t.

Clinging to a soundbyte belief system that makes your decisions for you ("Abortion is murder!") or abdicating responsibility ("God will provide as long as I don’t get an abortion!") means shirking your fundamental duty as a parent: to make decisions with your child’s best interests at heart until your child can do so herself. That responsibility may lead you to give birth to and raise a disabled child — and more power to you! — as long as you’re doing it with your eyes open and taking every possible precaution to make sure you can deliver on the promise of care you are making your newborn child. But it may also mean having an abortion.

It intrigues me that religious people, the ones who are the first to point out the flaws and fallen nature of the world, are the last to acknowledge the result: that horrible things happen, and those situations require hard decisions. Birth defects and excruciating diseases happen. To refuse to act to minimize suffering (indeed, to prevent it) is at best selfish and at worst abusive. To pretend that there is always a perfect answer to a problem in this imperfect world is to effectively close your eyes and live in your own imagination.

3. Classism

Not every family can afford the medical care of a special needs child. Not every family can afford the time spent caring for a special needs child, especially if they already have multiple children. To demand that families that know they lack these resources nonetheless give up everything to bring a child into a world where it will be neglected, inadequately treated by doctors, and in all likelihood end up in foster care or, as an adult, homeless, is cruelly insane. To focus on mere "life" to the exclusion of the quality thereof is not just stupid, it’s evil. It is deliberately inflicting suffering on others to soothe your own conscience.

And in case you’re wondering, the cost of a lifetime of care for a Down syndrome child has been recently estimated at 2.9 million dollars.

(Though, given that the estimate was made in the context of a lawsuit, it’s probably a little on the high side.)

4. Minimizing the Needs of Others

Parents and caregivers are people, too. They do not forfeit their own needs when they have children; indeed, doing so is actually harmful to children. Recall the many times I’ve said that having a stay-at-home mother made me feel hopeless and guilty about becoming a woman. I was put in the impossible position of either following in her footsteps, thereby ensuring that every female in our line would do nothing but sacrifice for her children and never get to have her own dreams, or not following in her footsteps and feeling guilty that I was (a) rejecting her by rejecting her lifestyle and (b) doing my own potential children some kind of injustice, even though I didn’t want my children facing the quandary I was! I wished my mother had more of a life outside of raising me, because then I would be freer to have a life, too.

If parents choose to welcome a special needs child into their family, they must consider how it will affect not only that child, but also themselves and their other children. They must make room for breaks and self-care to preserve their own health, mental and physical. In my own church, there was a woman with two children who got pregnant and found out her child had a fatal defect. She decided against having an abortion, believing that God would honor her and heal her child (or at least provide for it). The child lived 13 years in unspeakable pain, without cognition, undergoing surgery after surgery until she died — and by this time the family had exhausted its resources, the other two children had been practically abandoned. The mother had worked herself to the bone, endured a failed promise from God, and had to mourn the child all over again at the end of it all. That child was not a "blessing." It was not a "rewarding" experience — though the mother might tell you so out of sheer love and the need to justify her situation. The child’s birth destroyed her family, and she was never even aware enough of her own existence to realize she was loved. How is that the hand of God?

5. Logical Inconsistency

First, we get the argument that raising a special needs child is a blessing:

[Says Rudd:] "If we look at the statistics or surveys that come from families that have raised a Downs individual, 97 percent said it was rewarding."

That is abhorrent abuse of statistics. First, your entire sample (people who have chosen not to abort) is already biased toward the belief that what they’re doing is rewarding. Where are the surveys for women who chose to abort Downs fetuses? You’re comparing this 97 percent to an empty page. They might say that their abortion was a blessing, but you can’t print that, can you? Not on a Christian blog.

Second, the parenting discourse in Western culture is so punitive that parents of "typical" children aren’t even free to express that they dislike the drudgery of parenting without being accused of being sociopaths and hating their kids. That’s why such statements as "I hate being a mom" show up anonymously on Secret Confessions and have been called the Greatest American Taboo. How much more pressure is there on parents of special needs kids never to admit that they wish they weren’t?

Then, we get this:

"Who are we to say that cystic fibrosis is such an overwhelmingly terrible disease that they shouldn’t be allowed to live?" Rudd said. "Do we say that about a one-year-old who is diagnosed? What’s different about a younger child?"

Little is different about a younger child. Everything is different about a fetus. A fetus does not have cognition. A fetus lives inside a woman’s body. A fetus has never drawn a breath. A fetus has not lived a life to miss. Those are significant differences.

Also, when did we go from talking about the relative independence of some Downs individuals to the horrible suffering inflicted by cystic fibrosis? Read this description and see if you think it’s an apt comparison: 

Cystic fibrosis is a disease passed down through families that causes thick, sticky mucus to build up in the lungs, digestive tract, and other areas of the body. It is one of the most common chronic lung diseases in children and young adults. It is a life-threatening disorder. Lung disease eventually worsens to the point where the person is disabled. Today, the average life span for people with CF who live to adulthood is approximately 37 years, a dramatic increase over the last three decades. Death is usually caused by lung complications.

Would you utter a sentence like this?: I hate the thought that there will be fewer people with cystic fibrosis in the world as a result of advances in prenatal testing. Would you tell parents how "rewarding" it is to raise a child with cystic fibrosis? Who are we to say that the disease is overwhelmingly terrible? Rudd asks. Well, here’s who we are: Caring parents. Compassionate, educated doctors. People who don’t want to inflict unnecessary suffering by bringing a not-yet-conscious fetus into the world to experience a waking nightmare and die, choking or suffocating, at half the normal life expectancy. That’s who.

There’s also the little problem that the article jumps back and forth between arguing about the intrinsic worth of life and the rewards of being a caregiver. These two competing perspectives make the argument hard to follow.

6 + 7. Erasing Motherhood

It’s a common trope of the pro-life movement that "a moment before birth" a fetus is a baby, and therefore abortion is the same as infanticide. This is not only scientifically inaccurate, it’s misogynistic. It erases the woman, her wellbeing, and her labor from the entire equation. Childbirth is momentous. It matters. It is not just a legal flagpole where personhood is arbitrarily assigned. It is the moment at which a child begins to occupy the world as an independent being.

It is also a moment made possible by the bodily work (pain, sweat, blood and tears) of a woman. If we grew children in plastic incubators with green fluid and Classical music playing gently in the background, then the "moment before birth" comparison might be apt. But it isn’t, because children live in their own bodies, and fetuses live in their mothers’. While that fetus is in its mother’s body, she does have sovereignty over the decision whether or not to bring the child into the world. That is her sacred right as a mother. It is her sacred right as a woman not to have her body violated against her will — be it by another adult, a child or a fetus. Alone, a fetus cannot be brought into the world to become a baby. Therefore, you can’t talk about a fetus as though it exists without regard for the woman upon whom its existence depends. To alienate the pregnant woman from a discussion about pregnancy is like having a conversation about the weather on an asteroid.

Zylstra concludes her article:

It’s not that the test is bad. To be able to map a child’s DNA while they’re still in the womb is fascinating. But so is the fact that many mothers believe that it would be worse to live in an imperfect body than not to live at all.

There’s a huge problem here. Cystic fibrosis is a serious disease. Downs syndrome can be serious. Genetic diseases can leave children’s independence stalled, their mobility hampered, their bodies aching, their minds wracked with torturous bouts of depression and anger, their futures uncertain and their families stressed to the breaking point. This isn’t about perfect and imperfect bodies. This is not the difference between passing on genes correlated with overweight and comparing your potential child to fitness models. The perfect/imperfect body dichotomy is a red herring. No body is perfect. It’s disingenuous and manipulative to assert that having a serious genetic disorder is equivalent to having a few pimples and a crooked nose.

If I somehow (metaphysics be damned!) had a choice to be born in a body that would slowly disintegrate on me, like that of Stephen Hawking, or not to be born at all, I’d pick the latter. This does not mean that I think Stephen Hawking shouldn’t be alive. He is a great scientist. He has done marvelous things with his life. But that does not make the pain and horror of his situation any less. If I could prevent my own child from being born into a life like that, I would. I consider it my moral imperative. And if Stephen Hawking and I were hanging out in the metaphysical waiting room before descending to earth, and he told me he didn’t want to be born into all that suffering, it would be unfathomably selfish of me to demand that he endure what he has endured just so that I (and other healthful people) could benefit from his mind.

My Points:

If you made it this far, congratulations. Here’s the rundown:

  1. Respect disabled people for their personhood, but don’t promote the continued existence of disabilities. That doesn’t do anyone any favors.
  2. Don’t treat disabled children as special projects to improve their parents’ character.
  3. Don’t act like everybody can afford to live by your conscience.
  4. Don’t prioritize the wellbeing of a fetus over the entire family.
  5. Don’t force special needs children into families that don’t want them, and will abuse, neglect or abandon them. They have it hard enough in families that want them and have the resources to care for them.
  6. Don’t conflate serious disorders with minor imperfections to guilt parents into a choice to raise a child they don’t want to have.
  7. Don’t abuse statistics to lie about the satisfaction rate of parents with special needs children.
  8. Don’t minimize the labor of mothers or pretend that you can talk about fetuses without women.
It is possible to choose abortion based on a positive screening for genetic disorders because you are morally opposed to inflicting suffering on others. It is possible that women who abort fetuses with Down syndrome or more series disorders do it not because they hate Downs people or like genocide or are Selfish Career Bitches(TM), but because they honestly believe it’s what’s best for their families. The anti-abortion crowd is not the only one with a flagpole stuck in the moral high ground.
 
Now, finally, a thought experiment.


Why is it a "blessing" and a "rewarding" experience to raise a child with Down syndrome, but not one with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome? If there’s something inherently valuable about disabilities themselves that improves the lives of people who have them and whose loved ones have them, why does the origin of the disability make such a difference? Why is taking every precaution to avoid FAS, to the point of making pregnant women neurotic, a worthwhile societal goal? Why does no one hate to imagine a world in which there are no children with FAS?

I suspect the answer has something to do with control. Because if you can control an outcome (or at least think you can), people will be justified in blaming you for an adverse outcome. But if you can’t prevent suffering (or think you can’t), your reputation remains untarnished. If you see suffering in your future and evade it, those who are suffering will attack you for your selfishness and arrogance. ("How dare you have it so easy?") But is that feeling of moral superiority actually moral superiority? I don’t think so. It sounds more like a cry of pain at the unfairness of the world — which is something we should be trying to fix, not perpetuate.

Sierra is a PhD student living in the Midwest. She was raised in a "Message of the Hour" congregation that followed the ministry of William Branham. She left the Message in 2006 and is the author of the blog The Phoenix and the Olive Branch.

Open Letter to Representative Trent Franks: What Caring About Women and Babies Really Looks Like

7:31 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Bria Murray for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

Dear Representative Trent Franks,

A mother nurses her infant

What does it mean to care for women? (Photo: See-Ming Lee / Flickr)

Today, I watched you debate during the markup for H.R. 3803, or, as you may know it, the District of Columbia Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which would ban abortion after 20 weeks in Washington, DC. I watched you valiantly fight to save “the children” from their pain even in the case of rape or incest, or when a mother has been diagnosed with cancer and the treatment needed to save her life is incompatible with the continuation of her pregnancy. I watched you warn the rest of the judiciary committee that abortions are linked to higher rates of suicide, even though this “fact,” and the basis for the bill itself (that 20-week-old fetuses can feel pain) flies in the face of all accredited scientific evidence.

And all I could think about was September 7, 2007.

It may seem strange to you. September 7, 2007 was nearly five years ago. Why think about that now? And why such a specific date?

September 7, 2007 was the night I was raped.

September 7, 2007 was the night that my rapist’s sperm met my egg and I was impregnated with the child of my rapist.

I thought about all of this as I watched you passionately advocate on behalf of “the tiny little babies” and the only reaction I could muster was “how dare you.”

How dare you, Representative Franks. Your claim of caring about the “pain of the tiny babies” rings hollow when one remembers your support of the Ryan Budget, which would have slashed over $36 billion from food assistance programs. You called them “slush funds” and “runaway federal spending.” This from a member of the House of Representatives, who makes more in a month than I do in a year.

How dare you, Representative Franks. Your claim of caring about the “increased risk of suicide” among those who seek abortions rings hollow when, again and again, you have voted to strip people like me of health care by voting for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act and the slashing of Medicare and Medicaid. These programs that I, personally, rely on so that I can afford counseling to help me deal with the trauma of being raped.  After all, “health care” involves your mental health as well.

How dare you, Representative Franks. Your faux concern for the physical and mental well-being of parents and their children is sickening when you have over and over again proven your concern for both is nonexistent.

Read the rest of this entry →

Fertilized Eggs Are NOT People!

11:04 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Photobucket

Written by Ann Rose for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

Originally posted at DailyKos.

On November 8th, the voters of Mississippi will be considering a “Personhood Amendment” (Amendment #26) which would give a fertilized egg more rights than a live born woman, and would outlaw abortion and birth control.  The threatening part about this amendment (and others like it proposed in all the other States) is that it could be a vehicle to be used in the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade and thus make abortion and birth control illegal throughout the country.  This High Tech Uterine Occupation should scare every progressive and every woman.  But, the Democratic Party is not working to organize against this dangerous amendment.  The word hasn’t gotten out about how to help fight this.

Eggs Are NOT People.

But, time is running out to fight this, and I’m confident The Great Orange can help reverse the cone of silence around Amendment 26. Mississippi has an unemployment rate of 10.3 percent (9th worse in the nation), consistently ranks in the lowest in education, 17.6 percent of Mississippians have no health insurance, and 21.8 percent of its citizens live below the poverty level.  Yet, these yahoos think it’s important to focus on further degrading women by making it impossible to get an abortion instead of taking real action to improve the living conditions in their state.  This is also the state that has the strictest abortion TRAP laws of any state.  And, this is the state that has only one remaining abortion clinic, the Jackson Women’s Health Organization.

The text of Amendment 26, The Personhood Amendment,  is as follows:

“Be it Enacted by the People of the State of Mississippi: SECTION 1. Article III of the constitution of the state of Mississippi is hereby amended BY THE ADDITION OF A NEW SECTION TO READ: Section 33. Person defined. As used in this Article III of the state constitution, “The term ‘person’ or ‘persons’ shall include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning or the functional equivalent thereof.” This initiative shall not require any additional revenue for implementation.”

This proposed Amendment 26 – The Mississippi Personhood Amendment – will be up for  vote on November 8th.  If this passes, AND IT IS EXPECTED TO PASS, it will be a disaster for women in Mississippi.

In the years ahead, the disaster will spread across the country.  Here’s why: The idea of “personhood” sounds so warm and fuzzy and even reasonable, it’s hard for most people to believe that there might be something nefarious to this campaign. One doesn’t have to do much digging to see that this is an all-out assault on abortion rights.  As Personhood USA says loudly and proudly on their website: “personhood is the key to defeating Roe v. Wade.”  On the first page of their website, they brag that they have “personhood petitions now active in all 50 states.”

This week, the clinic put up a website

and sent out the following plea for support:

Dear Friends,

This is an URGENT MESSAGE FROM MISSISSIPPI!!!!     I am writing to you from the true FRONTLINES of the ABORTION BATTLE!!!  Jackson Women’s Health Organization is the last and only refuge for Mississippi Women seeking abortion.  After the tragic loss of Susan Hill, we scrambled to ensure that the work of this facility did not lapse.  I want to thank you for all your support over the last several years in protecting Jackson Women’s Health Organization.  Mississippi Legislators and anti choice zealots continue every year with their assaults on reproductive healthcare making MS abortion laws the most restrictive in the land.  AND…We are still standing STRONG!  However, on November 8th, the MS ballot will include the Personhood Amendment which will end abortion in MS and will more than likely take Roe-v-Wade to the Supreme Court.  WE CANNOT ALLOW THIS TO HAPPEN!  And neither can you…

The extremist group – Personhood USA – openly states on their website that “personhood” is the key to overturning Roe V. Wade.  On the front page of their website they brag that they have petitions for similar amendments in ALL 50 STATES!

MS Amendment #26 actually states that a zygote is a person even before it attaches to the uterus!  If passed, Personhood Amendment #26 will not only ban abortion BUT ALSO ban most (if not all) forms of birth control, end in-vitro fertilization, and make stem cell research illegal.  In addition, women who miscarry will be subject to criminal investigation!  THIS MEASURE GOES TOO FAR AND IS A THREAT TO – NOT ONLY WOMEN IN MISSISSIPPI – BUT THE ENTIRE COUNTRY!

If you are thinking to yourself that this amendment is too radical to pass, think again.  The original petition to place this on the ballot had 30,000 MORE SIGNATURES than necessary.  The Democratic candidate for Governor openly supports this amendment as does the current Attorney General, ALSO A DEMOCRAT!

Jackson Women’s Health Organization is working with grassroots women and men throughout the state to defeat this measure.  Although Planned Parenthood offers some family planning services in Mississippi, they do not offer abortion services and therefore do not endure the harassment our doctors, staff, and patients deal with daily.
We are the only ones left in the fight and on the ground!

We are creating home-made signs and leaflets to distribute everywhere/ anywhere we go.  Mississippi Pro-Choice Activists are popping up in towns across the state and asking for resources to spread the word on this dangerous Amendment.  We have never seen anything like it before!  We need your help!  We must expand our outreach immediately to radio, billboards, and TV.  Please send a donation to support this “on the ground” movement to protect the rights of Mississippi Women.  We must thwart this MIS-INFORMATION campaign that Personhood USA is spreading and educate our voters about the dangers of Amendment #26!

We ask you to put your money where the real battle is being fought…not in a corporate board room, but in the halls of the clinics and the houses of the organizers who are volunteering their time and efforts.  We don’t have time for polling or committee or subcommittee meetings with less than a month left before the vote.  http://www.WakeUpMississippi.org/ is already on the ground running.  We don’t have the luxury of a built in donor list and the name recognition of the abortion corporations.  PLEASE SPREAD THE WORD.  Please put your money where it will do the most good: on the front lines in Mississippi.

Please support this organic movement and show that America cares about Mississippi Women and their Families!  Your response is required immediately!

Sincerely,

Diane Derzis
Owner and Reproductive Freedom Fighter
Jackson Women’s Health Organization
Jackson, MS

PS  Please send whatever you can NOW to stop Amendment #26 in Mississippi!  Use this link to our organization for Paypal payments:

http://www.WakeUpMississippi.org/

Or mail checks to:
WakeUpMississippi.org
2903 North State Street
Jackson, MS 39216

Thus, this initiative is the first step in a plan by Personhood USA to overturn Roe V Wade and end all abortion in this country.  The impact goes further than shutting down clinics. This amendment could literally imprison women in addition to imprisoning women in their own bodies.

Here are some examples that come to mind of the possible impacts this amendment would have.  Add your own insane scenarios in the comments section:

1.  A pregnant woman who goes out to dinner with family and friends and accidentally picks up the wrong glass and has a swig of rum and coke can be charged for child abuse.

2.  What about pregnant illegal immigrants?  The right wing is pretty hot on getting them out of the country as fast as possible. Well, this is going to be a big problem when the pregnant immigrant is actually two people…one who is legal (the fertilized egg) and the other who is not (the living, breathing woman).  I guess at this point most folks trying to avoid deportation should get pregnant and move to Mississippi and have their “legal” zygote/fetus/child apply for welfare and medicaid.

3.  Women who are found to have birth control pills could be prosecuted for attempted murder.

4.  If a pregnant woman wearing 2″ heels trips and falls, subsequently having a miscarriage, she could be prosecuted for manslaughter.

5.  When a woman has a life threatening ectopic pregnancy, who decides which “person” gets to live and which “person” gets to die?

6.  Will an ultrasound picture be an acceptable form of ID for the fetus/person to be able to travel out of the country?  Will “don’t know yet” be acceptable as a category for gender?

7. How will any future candidate for President prove that they were conceived/born in the United States?

It’s almost a relief to think about how idiotic this amendment is.  Most rational people think that it is SO crazy that there is no way it can stand legally.

But, before those of you who are not from Mississippi try to make yourselves feel safe by thinking that these folks are from a different world and that nothing like this could ever happen in the state YOU live in, take a look at what CNN recently reported:

“Mississippi is the only state with a “personhood” initiative on the ballot this year. Similar measures are being planned for next year in Florida, Montana and Ohio, say supporters. Efforts in at least five other states are in the planning stages.”

Don’t think for a second that this amendment will not pass.  It will.  Even the Democrats of Mississippi have jumped on board the “personhood” bandwagon.  Laura Bassett of HuffingtonPost.com says:

“The personhood measure actually has a fair amount of support from Mississippi Democrats. Jim Hood, the Democratic Attorney General, endorsed the amendment in a statement and said he would defend it if it were challenged. A spokesperson for Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny DuPree, the Democratic candidate for governor, told HuffPost that that he supports the amendment as well, despite his ‘concerns about some of the ramifications’.”

Sid Salter, columnist for The Mississippi Press and journalist-in-residence at Mississippi State University, writes that this amendment is expected to pass with overwhelming support in November.

“Conservatives expect a nearly uncontested passage of the “personhood” amendment in Mississippi…….Regardless of the legal challenges, expect Mississippi voters to pass the personhood amendment with strong backing from many of the state’s churches.”

Nancy Kohsin-Kintigh, Programs Director of ACLU of Mississippi writes:

”Mississippi extremists want to take away the right to abortion and birth control by passing the “so called” Personhood Ballot Initiative #26.  It is dangerous and is an all-out assault on women and their families. If passed, this amendment would not only ban abortion but also birth control and many assisted reproductive healthcare procedures which include in-vitro fertilization.  The initiative will insert government control over our wombs, our ability to choose when and how many children we have, and we will be criminally investigated when we have a miscarriage.”

If you haven’t heard very much or even anything about this amendment, don’t feel bad.  It’s not your fault.  There has been a total lack of publicity, education, and action from notable groups who are dedicated defenders of choice.

This of course results in a total lack of coverage from the nation’s media outlets.  This is because the unspoken word is that Mississippi has always been “a hopeless case” in our country when it comes to abortion rights. The women and families of Mississippi have had to suffer the injustice of being undefended because of the need to focus where progress can be made.

This won’t work anymore.

All it takes is for one “personhood” amendment from one state to reach the Supreme Court of the United States and be upheld to end abortion and birth control access in this country.

We can’t let this happen.  Our opposition is determined, invigorated, well organized, and well funded.

Mike Huckabee recently spoke at a fundraiser banquet for “Personhood Mississippi.”  In his speech, he warned the audience that they had “no idea how many millions of dollars are likely to be poured into your state” to fight Amendment 26.

Sadly and shamefully, this is not the case.  While the right wing is holding fundraisers and bringing in right-wing brand names, there’s not a single billboard in the state of Mississippi warning of the impact of this amendment.  There hasn’t been a public rally or outcry of any kind.  And the clock is ticking.

Here’s our to do list:

  • Contact the Democratic National Committee at their website, or call them at 202-863-8000. Since Mississippi’s Democrats aren’t speaking out against Amendment 26, the National Democrats must do so.
  • The focal point of this effort is WakeUpMississippi.org. Organizers there say they are trying to organize demonstrations and rallies and educate the people of Mississippi on the dangers of this amendment.  To make a donation or to get involved go to http://www.wakeupmississippi.org.
  • LIKE the WakeUpMississippi FaceBook Page and spread the word throughout your network.
  • Send E-Mails about this effort to your family and friends.

The Facts About Amendment 26

Remember:

“Fertilized Eggs Are NOT People”


Working with Dr. Tiller: His Staff Recalls a Tradition of Compassionate Care at Women’s Health Care Services of Wichita

12:54 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

"Compassion."

"Compassion." by matrianklw on flickr

Written by Carole Joffe for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

This article is cross-posted with permission from the forthcoming issue (September 2011) of Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health.  We are grateful to the Guttmacher Institute for facilitating this exchange.

While attending Sunday church services in May 2009, Dr. George Tiller, an abortion provider in Wichita, Kansas, was assassinated by an antiabortion extremist. The doctor’s murder led shortly to the closing of his clinic, Women’s Health Care Services (WHCS), which had been the best known of the handful of U.S. facilities to openly provide abortions at 24 weeks of gestation or later for women with serious health conditions and those carrying fetuses with severe or lethal anomalies. One of the most polarizing symbols of the U.S. abortion conflict, Dr. Tiller was reviled by abortion opponents. Among abortion rights supporters, and especially among his colleagues in the close-knit abortion provider community, Dr. Tiller was a beloved hero, legendary for the kindness and compassion he extended to desperate women who came to him from all over the United States and abroad.

Dr. Tiller’s murder and the closing of his clinic brought renewed national attention to the problems facing women who need abortions late in pregnancy. Fewer than 2 percent of the 1.2 million abortions performed each year in the United States occur after 20 weeks of gestation.[1] An unknown number occur after 24 weeks; in most states, such procedures are permitted only under highly restricted circumstances. At the time of Dr. Tiller’s death, only two or three other clinics were known to openly provide third-trimester procedures for qualifying women. Some hospitals provide these services on a case-by-case basis for patients of attending physicians, but the fact that WHCS served women from all over the country indicates that many women had difficulty finding the care they needed close to home. Read the rest of this entry →

Ignore That Self-Affixed Halo: Anti-Choicers Know Just What They Are Doing to Incite Violence

11:46 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Immediately after the assassination of Dr. George Tiller in the vestibule of his church in Wichita, Kansas just over two years ago, anti-choice leaders who had long used stridently violent language to describe Dr. Tiller specifically and abortion care generally, fell all over themselves proclaiming innocence of any connection to the murder.  Among these was Troy Newman, current president of Operation Rescue, who stated:

“We are shocked at this morning’s disturbing news that Mr. Tiller was gunned down… Operation Rescue has worked for years through peaceful, legal means, and through the proper channels to see him brought to justice. We denounce vigilantism and the cowardly act that took place this morning.”

But the fact is that Newman and his cohorts regularly used imagery and language that depicted Dr. Tiller himself as a monster and in many ways indirectly if not directly suggested him as a target for someone willing to commit a violent act. That someone turned out to be Scott Roeder, who had, it turns out, several links to Operation Rescue.

And, as the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. Any doubt of Newman’s own gruesome feelings of glee about Dr. Tiller’s murder can be summed up in a photo showing Newman standing at the site of Dr. Tiller’s assassination giving a thumbs up.

Operation Rescue and other anti-choicers have now turned their sights on Dr. LeRoy Carhart, who is providing late abortion care to women in need several times a month in Germantown, Maryland.  During the several hours I spent on three days in Germantown, to help with clinic defense, I saw suggestions of violent action everywhere, courtesy of the anti-choicers marshaled by Operation Rescue and its colleague organizations.

First, for example, there was the truck plastered with photos of what the anti-choicers claim are mangled fetuses.  These photos, whether real or not, are obviously distasteful, and meant to be so. But they are also misleading if not outright fake.  If, for example, a woman is carrying a fetus that has died in utero, and it is removed for her own mental and physical health, it may well look grisly. So would, for example, heart surgery. But the implication without context is that someone is killing near-born babies without reason. Using photos-and science for that matter–that is either created entirely for shock value or so grossly misrepresents reality as to have no relation is a primary strategy of the anti-choice movement.

But also plastered across this truck, amidst the “dead baby” photos were photos of Dr. Tiller and those of Dr. Carhart. Those of Dr. Tiller pronounced him “dead,” and tho

se of Dr. Carhart had large yellow arrows fixed around the perimeter with the word “Abortionist” in large black block letters, pointing to Dr. Carhart.  The message, if not explicit, is nonetheless clear: “One of these men is dead, the other is still working. Whaddya gonna do about it?”

Then there were the sidewalk chalk drawings, pictured here.

These drawings, which were one version of other drawings that appeared on a different day as well, were drawn out by teenagers “called in” by OR to help out with th protest.

Among these on Sunday were the sayings:

  • Would it bother us more if they used guns?
  • What would Jesus do? (with a gun)
  • Would it bother us if they used guns?

A drawing of an exploding gun as at the bottom of this row of chalk drawings.

Again, these images have two purposes. One is to suggest violence is an answer to something that anti-choicers don’t like, namely, women exercising self-determination in their lives by determining whether and when to have children, taking control over their own reproduction and sexual health, and safeguarding their own and their family’s health when a wanted pregnancy goes horribly awry.

The other is to intimidate those who are protecting women seeking care, and doctors who serve them. What would come to your mind if you walked the street toward your doctor’s office and there were exploding guns sketched on the sidewalk leading up to the office door?

Operation Rescue and other anti-choice groups such as those in Germantown use religion and piety to advance a patriarchal agenda cloaked in religious fervor.

But it is violence by any other name.

Democrats Seek Permanent Repeal of Global Gag Rule; GOP Seeks to Enshrine it in Law

9:42 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

"Gag Law"

"Gag Law" by gmcmullen on flickr

Written for RHRealityCheck.org by Editor-in-Chief Jodi Jacobson. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

Yesterday, Congresswoman Nita Lowey introduced the Global Democracy Promotion Act of 2011, a bill that would permanently repeal the Global Gag Rule (GGR), a policy that has been applied and revoked via executive order at each change in the White House, beginning with Ronald Reagan and leading most recently to repeal by President Obama in 2009.

The GGR prohibits international health care providers from receiving U.S. international assistance for family planning if those organizations use other (non-US) funding to provide abortion counseling, referrals, or services, or seek to change laws regarding abortion care in countries in which abortion is a leading cause of death among women ages 15 to 49.  Access to contraception and to family planning counseling and information helps women and their partners to plan the number and spacing of children they want to have and to avoid unintended pregnancies that lead to abortion.  As such, by denying U.S. international assistance to groups that also provide safe, legal abortion, the GGR actually increases the number of abortions, rather than reducing them. Read the rest of this entry →

In Missouri, Legislators Fail to Protect Women’s Basic Rights, Undermining Justice for All

8:11 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Pamela Merritt for RHRealityCheck.org. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

On July 14, 2011, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon allowed two identical abortion restriction bills to become law. In a bizarre move toward the end of the 2011 legislative session, Missouri legislators passed two versions of the same restriction bill, one originally filed in the Senate and the other in the House. The passage of identical abortion restriction bills was likely fueled by more than one legislator wanting to take credit.

Often erroneously reported as banning abortions after 20 weeks gestation, HB213 & SB65 can more accurately be described as eliminating certain health exceptions that protected women facing serious pregnancy-related complications. The legislation changes the factors physicians must consider before performing a post-viability abortion and creates criminal penalties for physicians not following the new regulations. Governor Nixon, a Democrat who successfully ran as a pro-choice candidate in 2008, did not sign the abortion restriction bills into law nor did he veto the legislation.  The identical abortion restriction bills automatically became law once the July 14, 2011 veto deadline passed.

Reproductive justice advocates had hoped that Governor Nixon would veto the abortion restriction bills. In the weeks leading up to the 2011 veto deadline, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch published an editorial that called on the Governor to do just that and send a message to state legislators that it is time to get serious and cease treating women’s health like a political football. The Post-Dispatch editorial points out that Missouri’s annual legislative pander to anti-choice special interest groups in lieu of focusing on prevention is both fiscally irresponsible and hypocritical; unintended pregnancies cost tax payers billions, while reducing the number of unintended pregnancies would also reduce the number of abortions. But as the hours ticked by Thursday July 14th it became clear that the Governor was not going to capitalize on this leadership opportunity to send a message through his veto.

Continue reading…

The Real Reason Anti-Choice Activists Are Pushing Fetal Pain Laws

9:36 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Robin Marty for RHRealityCheck.org – News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

The anti-abortion activists and politicians in the states have made passing 20-week abortion bans based on the idea of “fetal pain” a cause-du-jour for this year’s legislative sessions.  It’s become obvious, as Kate Sheppard reported in Mother Jones, that “fetal pain” is their number one priority this year, with four new states enacting bans and a dozen others at least proposing the legislation.

Emily Bazelon writes in the New York Times that the Center for Reproductive Rights is considering their own eventual lawsuit over the bans, which are unconstitutional due to the Roe V. Wade ruling stating that abortion cannot be banned before a fetus is viable, usually at around 23 weeks.  These state-based bans are only carving off a small section of new abortions, and as Bazelon notes these bans are in many cases “symbolic.”  Some of the states involved don’t even have providers that perform second trimester abortions, and the number of women seeking them out are only a tiny percentage of the overall number of women wanting the procedure.

It’s that statistic that is so dangerous, and why the push for legal action over the ban is exactly what anti-choice activists are both hoping for and counting on.

Just as anti-abortion activists won a victory in ending “partial-birth abortion,” a made-up term that helped change the face of abortion challenges by placing a government duty to “protect” a fetus over the needs of a mother, even though very few abortions would ever be affected by the ban, “fetal pain” bans seek to do the same: allow the Supreme Court to place a new standard for which the rights of a fetus outweigh the rights of the woman carrying it.  

Read more

The War on Contraception Goes Viral

7:40 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Amanda Marcotte for RHRealityCheck.org - News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

As those of us who’ve been following the anti-choice movement for years can attest, the biggest stumbling block for them has been finding a way to make a move towards restricting access to contraception while still trying to keep something like a decent reputation with the public. Attacking sexual liberation and women’s rights has always been at the heart of the anti-choice movement, but in order to sell such a radical agenda as mainstream, they’ve had to make sentimental and often bad faith claims about simply wanting to protect fetal life. While making frowny faces in the direction of pregnant women who want to terminate has been an effective strategy for restricting abortion rights, however, it has its limits when it comes to attacking women’s ability to prevent pregnancy in the first place.

Not that there haven’t been attempts at using “pro-life” arguments to fight not just abortion but contraception. Some anti-choicers have floated the idea that contraception leads to abortion—claiming that women wouldn’t have abortions if they didn’t get it in their silly heads that they should be able to have sex for pleasure instead of procreation. (Never mind that women throughout history have attempted abortion by all sorts of means, whether their cultures had contraception or not.) A slightly more effective argument has been to claim, with no evidence in support, that popular, female-controlled hormonal birth control is the same thing as abortion. This hasn’t done much to convince anyone, but at least establishes a convoluted, disingenuous cover story about embryonic life that anti-choicers can hide behind while they attack contraception. But even then, it has limits, since while the “pill is abortion” argument can be used to attack hormonal contraception, even anti-choicers haven’t been bold enough to claim that condoms or other barrier methods are also abortion.

Then, just this year, it seems that the anti-choice movement came to a nationwide realization: Their past attempts to create some logical-sounding connection between contraception and fetal life were a waste of time and energy. … Read more