Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Abortion and Childbirth and Coercion

I'm sure by now you've heard about this:
SD governor signs bill requiring women to wait 72 hours for abortion, longest wait in nation
And while I've honestly been too tired/distracted/depressed by the predictability of the whole thing to blog about it, it did get me thinking about the common thread that runs through our cultural approach to childbirth and abortion and female decision-making altogether.

Proponents of legislation like this always yammer on about how they're trying to help women make better decisions. They're trying to prevent coercion. Get that? On the one hand if you were contemplating an abortion but decide not to do it after spending three days being shamed and harangued by the anti-choice folks who run crisis pregnancy centers, then that wasn't a coerced decision in this view. On the other hand, if you go ahead with the abortion after the three day wait and the forced visit to your mom's church a crisis pregnancy center, you won't have made a good decision. It was coerced. Of course, I'm not saying that women are never coerced into having an abortion, or that it's not a serious problem if they are. But claiming that you're trying to prevent coercion when what you're advocating for is forced exposure to a whole gamut of coercive rhetoric preceding a major life decision is so disingenuous that it would be laughable if the consequences weren't so sad.

So what does it really mean to make a "better" decision, and why do women need so much more help than men to make good decisions?

First we should note here that this legislation assumes that women who come in to get an abortion haven't already thought about this decision for three days, or possibly even longer. In the imaginations of the men who write legislation like this, what actual women in this situation do is
  1. take a pregnancy test
  2. grab their jacket and car keys
  3. head straight to the abortion clinic.
No time to even grab a snack or apply lipstick. There are no long serious talks with the boyfriend/husband/father of the baby or with close friends preceding the decision. There are no thoughtful pauses in the middle of the work day or school day or while driving the other kid(s) to daycare or doing homework or folding laundry or sitting in a meeting at work or making dinner or ... in which the possibility of raising a child, or the emotional/social cost of carrying a child and giving it up for adoption, is carefully weighed against the other projects/obligations/goals/dreams/hopes/burdens the woman might have in her life. No. Because in this imaginary world women aren't actual 3-dimensional characters living actual lives, and anyway lady brains don't work like that. Therefore women don't show up at abortion clinics having already gone through a decision-making process.

So ... obviously there's just going to be this fundamental disagreement on what counts as women making good decisions concerning their reproductive life. But I still think it's an important question. Maybe this is the better question: what are the cultural conditions that would allow for truly uncoerced reproductive choices? For instance, what if women were neither economically penalized for becoming mothers nor shamed for choosing abortion or a child-free life? What if teens had access to both reliable birth control and open and honest conversations about sex and sexual relationships and pregnancy with adults who were neither squicked out by nor turned on by the reality of their developing sexuality, instead of the pathetic mess of mixed and contradictory messages they currently receive from abstinence-only sex ed and the media? What if we moved away from our cultural commitment to the socially and economically isolated nuclear family and instead encouraged networks of friends and extended family members who shared in both the work and the rewards of raising children?

And thinking about the cultural conditions of mothering makes me realize the parallels between the rhetoric surrounding abortion and the rhetoric surrounding childbirth. Your OB tells you "you think you can just read up on the current research on birthing practices and then be prepared to make informed choices about how your birth will go, but you can't. Because I am the doctor and you are the patient and therefore I will tell you what's right for your body, and you will shut up and be a good (by which I mean passive and docile) patient." Legislators tell you "you think you understand pregnancy and conception, but really you don't, so you will shut up while I tell you what's happening inside your body and make you have unnecessary ultrasounds and listen to anti-choice rhetoric and withstand three days of shaming to make the choice you've already made, because you're not smart/mature/responsible enough to handle a choice like this on your own."

And beyond that, there's another deeply troubling feature of this latest legislation that few are talking about. And that has to do with the time and energy and economic resources it takes to access an abortion in most parts of a state like SD to begin with. If SD is like Wyoming in this regard, I'd bet that abortion clinics are already few and far between. Which means that if you don't live in the biggest city in SD (or possibly one of the cities), accessing abortion services involves traveling some distance. That means taking time off school or work, paying for gas, or finding someone to pay for gas, or finding someone who has a car who can help you out ... and driving to the clinic, however far away that may be. Then once you get there you have to undergo hours of counseling and have your ultrasound and make your trip to the crisis pregnancy center, etc. etc. etc., and then drive back home, however many hours that might take, and then three days later turn around and do it all again to get the actual abortion. And as you can see, this all works to place a clever series of obstacles in the paths of the women and girls who probably need an abortion the most. I mean, if you can't afford the gas money and lack supportive friends or family members and don't have sick leave to travel back and forth repeatedly and waste hours and hours of your time getting "counseling" how can you afford to have a baby? But as more and more obstacles are erected in the abortion path, these are the women and girls who will be having more unwanted babies.

You want to talk about choices and coercion? Let's do it. But let's drop the Orwellian doublespeak. War is not peace. Coercion is not free choice. If you want to claim that you stand for free choice and personal autonomy, then drop the condescending manipulative paternalistic bullshit, and let's start talking about the conditions of autonomy and good decision-making and supported choices. The catch is, before you can make that move, you have to alter your worldview to one in which women are capable of making informed decisions. And that's something I suspect you are incapable of. Prove me wrong.

40 comments:

  1. Sinderella3/23/2011

    Oh god, this whole thing just makes me so angry. Thanks for laying it out so clearly.

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  2. Anonymous3/23/2011

    If you would have taken the time to actually listen to the debate, you would have a better understanding of the motives of these legislators your belittling, Little Miss Smarty-Pants.

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  3. Dear Anonymous,

    Don't you mean "you're"?


    Kind regards,

    Little Miss Smarty-Pants

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  4. I think you should make that your permanent login name. It has a certain flair.

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  5. Shanigan3/23/2011

    That's Little Ms Smarty Pants to you.

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  6. The creation of obstacles for women who are already disadvantaged is the most sinister thing in all this. And then the same people run around whining about welfare queens and trailer trash. Who exactly do they think loses access to abortion and other things like birth control when they enact these kinds of policies? It's so infuriating.

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  7. rinkmaster3/23/2011

    You seem to forget that you can have all the reproductive "choice" that you want by just keeping your legs closed.

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  8. But of course, all this discussion of choices and coercion isn't sincere on their part, right? It's just a facade to push through the policies they want. So it's almost pointless to act as if they really mean it, even though if you were saying it you would mean it.

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  9. Anonymous3/23/2011

    That's about the level of maturity I would expect out of you.

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  10. Minerva3/23/2011

    The thing is, I sometimes get the sense that these guys really are kind of sincere and well-intentioned. Maybe they're just adhering to a religious worldview or have really old-fashioned views, but I don't think it's always a facade or meant to be consiously harmful.

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  11. Brandywine3/23/2011

    I suspect that's true, Minerva, but it's still just as damaging and needs to be called out as such.

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  12. If you want to claim that you stand for free choice and personal autonomy, then drop the condescending manipulative paternalistic bullshit, and let's start talking about the conditions of autonomy and good decision-making and supported choices.

    YES! YES! YES!

    The anti-choice legislation that is sweeping the country isn't about helping women make better decisions, or about keeping them safe, or about saving babies. I'm gonna say that anti-choice isn't about abortion at all. It's about subjugation and control. In the most obvious way. And it scares the shit out of me.

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  13. theotherHeather3/23/2011

    Gawd. I've been too depressed to follow the news on this too, but you totally nailed it. But then what do we know, with our delicate lady brains and slutty, slutty ways?

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  14. Callie3/23/2011

    Another factor in this situation is that the voters in SD have already voted down measures to restrict abortion access something like 3 times.

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  15. Emeline3/23/2011

    This probably seems like ancient history, but back in the day, the argument against the ERA was that it was unnecessary. And now we can see the folly of that thinking as the rights of women are eroded, one state at a time.

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  16. Minerva,

    I'd be able to believe that if these guys put their money where their mouth is. The thing is, they never do. If they're really interested in reducing the number of abortions, then how about comprehensive sex ed and easily accessible birth control? You'll never see these measures advocated by this type of politician.

    No, I think lifeversiontwo is right. This is about power and subjugation.

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  17. Wait, aren't repubs supposed to be against big gov and a "nanny state"? Or was that just more of the ol' doublespeak???

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  18. Awesome post, Rachel.

    Also, I see you've come to your senses and reinstated your most fab userpic ever, taken by *ahem* yours truly. Hugs from TN!

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  19. JennieAnn3/23/2011

    Are the men in SD going to have to receive counselling and then undergo a three day waiting period before they can engage in sexual activies with women? Cuz otherwise, how will they make "better decisions" that limit the number of abortions?

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  20. Mattie3/23/2011

    Whatever you do, don't make them wait OMG THREE DAYS!!! to buy a handgun. Because that's unnecessary gov't interference.

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  21. Anonymous3/23/2011

    Are you people seriously comparing buying handguns with killing a baby?

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  22. No sweetie, the comparison was between the reaction some socially conservative men have to the wait time imposed on purchasing a firearm and the corresponding lack of a reaction to the significant burden placed on women by imposing a similar wait period before an abortion.

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  23. Anonymous3/23/2011

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  24. As usual, comments that include abusive language will be deleted.

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  25. Anonymous3/23/2011

    "Sweetie" isn't abusive? It's pretty damn condescending.

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  26. As is "Little Miss Smarty Pants". Condescending and abusive are a bit different.

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  27. Anonymous3/23/2011

    OK, I'll give you that.

    K8,

    Yes *sweetie,* it is a comparison between buying a handgun and killing a baby.

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  28. Brandywine3/23/2011

    Somehow this discussion thread seems to have missed the "constructive dialogue" train.

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  29. I'm not sure it's possible to have constructive dialogue on the abortion issue. It's just too intense and divisive. :-(

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  30. AssMan3/23/2011

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  31. The other thing missing from the national conversation on this is that you can get an abortion anywhere. The question is whether you can get a safe abortion. Rest assured, women will still be getting abortions. But many more of them will be dying in the process.

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  32. Emeline3/23/2011

    Yes! Why isn't anyone talking about that aspect of this debate?

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  33. inHisimage3/23/2011

    I would hope and pray that women who find themselves in this situation will find the support and care they need at the crisis pregnancy centers. These centers are there to provide support to new mothers throughout the course of their pregnancy and with adoption or the care of the baby. This is a preexisting support structure that extends beyond the nuclear family and seeks to care for the body and soul of the mother and her child.

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  34. JennieAnn3/23/2011

    At what cost does that support come, inHisimage? If I convert to your religion you'll help me buy a carseat and some formula? It's still a coercive framework.

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  35. Gynormica3/24/2011

    And I think that still doesn't address this issue of being open to a wider range of family arrangements and social networks, inHisimage. It's true that churches can provide supportive networks, and I wouldn't dismiss the value of that. But I think Rachel is imagining broader cultural change in this area.

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  36. Most women who seek abortions already have children. They are not "new" mothers by any stretch of the imagination. They know exactly the physical and financial costs of childbirth. So when they want an abortion, they sure as hell are well-informed of the alternatives.

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  37. diamondsforhorses3/26/2011

    These last few comments make me wonder if this debate would be changed by some of the parties invlved doing some research into the actual stats on women who seek abortions. There seems to be this caricature they're working with, and maybe that's part of the problem?

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  38. Michael3/26/2011

    Hm, I think condescending is just a mild form of abusive.

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  39. Anonymous23/27/2011

    I'm curious about the views of these socially-conservative types on the obligations of fathers who don't want children but have no or little say in the abortion decision.

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