Archive | November, 2010

The (Real) Truth About Medical Abortion

15 Nov

Thanks to a recent column by Nicholas Kristof, the celebration of the 10th anniversary of the FDA’s approval of mifepristone, and a creative use of teleconferencing to bring abortion care to women living in rural Iowa, medical abortion is in the news.  As a provider who is, above everything, pro-choice, I am of course thrilled that women have had another choice for ten years.  I also welcome the media coverage of medical abortion; we need to talk more about abortion, and women deserve to know all the options available to them.

I am, however, less than pleased about how this issue has been covered in the media, particularly on the Internet.  The information I’ve seen isn’t wrong; it’s just incomplete.  I hope this post can clear up some of the confusion.

Medical abortion basics:

Medical abortion is a safe alternative to surgical abortion.  It is used in the US for pregnancies up to 9 weeks after the first day of the last menstrual period.  In some countries it is used up to 13 weeks after the first day of the last menstrual period, although there are some differences in the timing and dosages of the 2 medications used.  (Of note, the US packaging states one of the medications used, mifepristone, can be used up to 7 weeks after the last period; however, it is labeled for up to 9 weeks in Europe and we have ample evidence that it is safe and effective even later than this).

In the US, medical abortion is usually done using two different medications.  The first medication is called mifepristone.  It is also called Mifeprex (its brand name) or RU-486 (its experimental name).  Mifepristone causes the lining of the uterus that is necessary to maintain the pregnancy to start to recede, softens the cervix, and starts to cause uterine contractions.

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The Monkey and the Fetus Jar: A Fable

12 Nov

Well, I dreamt that come 2008, I would never need to hear from him again.  The monkey would retire to his Texas ranch to hang his head in shame, but unfortunately this is not the case.  George II, alternately known as the monkey, has reached a new level of likeness to his namesake.  Throwing shit to get someone, anyone, to pay attention to his new book, Decision Points. The most bizarre piece flung thus far is a story of how his mother, former first lady Barbara Bush, by carrying her own miscarried fetus in a jar, turned him into an anti-choice advocate for life  (pun intended).

Now, how does this relate to a book defending declaration of war in a historically impossible to conquer region and the wrong country…?

More puzzling, how did Ms. Bush get ahold of said fetus?  Was it suspended in formaldehyde?   Dangling at the bottom?  How disturbing are we talking?  Is that not a biohazard?

Also peculiar, why would a vocal pro-choice person like Barbara scar her children like this?  Really, why would anyone?  It’s complicated enough explaining where babies come from in the first place.

The evidence is extremely bare, and as a woman of science, I refuse to make unfounded assumptions.  But I leave you with my research questions and a hypothesis: The monkey is flinging shit again.

The Right’s Fetus Obsession

11 Nov

Over the course of the past year there has been a lot of media coverage that has highlighted the fetus. For those of you who are unclear, the definition of fetus is “The unborn offspring from the end of the 8th week after conception (when the major structures have formed) until birth. Up until the eighth week, the developing offspring is called an embryo.”

Former President George W. Bush recently shared information regarding an incident where his mother, First Lady Barbara Bush, showed him a miscarried fetus in a jar.  At the beginning of the year, it came to light that the state of Florida and a family obstetrician had confined a local mother to the hospital, on “bed rest,” to protect the life of the fetus she was carrying. Unfortunately, this did not do what it intended, because this woman still miscarried. And, finally, someone dug up this case from antiquity (and Canada) to argue against legal, safe access to abortion.

The case, for those of you who are not inclined to click the link (it’s long, I know), the story goes something like this: 1996: Brenda Drummond, a 29 year-old mother of two, decided, for whatever reasons, that she did not want to carry her fetus to term. She proceeded to put a pellet gun into her vagina and shoot it. One can only assume that she did this to either terminate her pregnancy or to kill herself. Regardless, the baby was born healthy two days later, though he needed to have emergency surgery to remove the pellet from his brain. The baby recovered fully and continued to do well. Brenda was arrested, charged with an obscure Canadian law and held in a psychiatric unit while her case went to trial. Long story short, Brenda was acquitted of all charges because Canadian law does not permit “personhood” to the unborn.

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Abstinence Made Me Pro-Choice

10 Nov

In so many ways, it seems like I should be the poster child for the anti-choice proponents.  I’m living, breathing, normal productive contributing member of society proof that yes, you can graduate from high school without having sex first. I’ve never been pregnant, never decided to have sex without protection. For me, for my life, it really has been that simple.  Sure, when I was in high school I was petrified that I would find myself pregnant – which would have been a failure in my own eyes – at which time I would have had an abortion.  I circumvented that risk by not having sex.  Problem solved.  Frankly, it wasn’t that big of a deal for me.

It would be so easy now, as an adult, to sniff derisively at those who say that it isn’t realistic for teenagers to simply not have sex – after all if I did it, so can they, right?  And yes, part of me does think that.  But the rest of me knows that what worked for me, may not work for someone else.  The rest of me sees the absurdity in holding up my own experience as a reason to condemn someone who does make a mistake, who acts foolishly.  I don’t understand how someone could be sixteen or seventeen, or older, and not know about condoms, about the birth control pills or Plan B – but I do understand that those people are out there.  Those who don’t know that two condoms are not, in fact, better than one.  Those who won’t look at expiration dates or any of the millions of reasons why unplanned pregnancies occur.  Hopefully sex education in schools will advance to the point that no one gets pregnant because she doesn’t know that it can happen the first time, but the margin for error for an unplanned and unwanted pregnancy will always exist.  It exists every time a man and a woman have sex.

Still, as an adult, able to support myself comfortably, and even a child if I were to become pregnant unexpectedly, many people ask why I am so adamantly, vehemently, pro-choice.  Why waste my time, energy, and money fighting for something that I will never need?  The truth is, I don’t know – nor does anyone else – whether I will have an abortion in my lifetime.  What if I were to have an ectopic pregnancy?  Or through genetic testing learn that the fetus had irreparable damage?  Tay-Sachs perhaps, wherein the child dies before age three after a total mental degeneration, or another degenerative disease that offers little or no quality of life?  What if I’m in my forties and already have children that are half-grown?  What if my body simply can’t handle another pregnancy?  The possible reasons to have an abortion don’t decrease as we get older, they only multiply.

Many of us will never need to have abortions – but we all need to have the choice.

Birth Control Matters!

9 Nov

The Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear was labeled a comedy event. But for some of the attendants, it was a chance to get out their message and find more support among the general public.

Planned Parenthood was one such group. Now, if you were anti-choice, you might think Planned Parenthood was out there promoting abortion. The truth is, Planned Parenthood was out there doing work which will ultimately prevent abortions. Planned Parenthood was trying to get more support for birth control. And not just any birth control, but free birth control!

Planned Parenthood currently has a campaign running called “Birth Control Matters.” This is a petition in favor of birth control being available for FREE under the new health care law. The health care bill has a prevention provision which requires new insurance plans to cover preventative health care for free. This is the perfect spot for birth control coverage- because birth control prevents unplanned and unwanted pregnancies.

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Books for Reproductive Justice Activists: Risky Lessons by Jessica Fields

8 Nov

Last week, Max wrote a great piece for us and Scarleteen called “Sex-Ed and Bleach” that got me thinking about my experience in the sex-education classroom ten years ago. I can’t tell you whether or not the public high school that I attended accepted funding for abstinence-only education. In many ways, my recollection of the curriculum resembles Max’s account of his school’s sex-education unit: condoms were mentioned, but abstinence was touted as the be-all and end-all of pregnancy- and STI-prevention methods.

Until recently, I assumed that my public high school taught a comprehensive curriculum. Of course, “comprehensive” doesn’t mean that educators cover everything that should be covered. Like Max’s, my sex-education experience was painfully heteronormative and erased sexual and gender nonconformity. But my vagina was never likened to a dirty toothbrush or a discarded piece of duct tape, so I figured that I hadn’t been a part of an abstinence-only classroom.

Then I started reading this amazing book by Jessica Fields entitled Risky Lessons: Sex Education and Social Inequality. Fields analyzes sex-education curricula at three middle schools, two public and one private, in North Carolina. One public school espouses a comprehensive model, while the other adheres to abstinence-only policies under the state’s Teach Abstinence until Marriage bill, which was enacted in 1996. Surprisingly, Fields’ research reveals that the public schools’ curricula, whether comprehensive or abstinence-based, aren’t that different on the ground. The sex educBook Cover, Risky Lessonsator at the public school that accepted abstinence-only funding simply amended her existing materials to recommend abstinence until marriage. Certainly, this isn’t the case everywhere, but I’m accustomed to conceptualizing comprehensive and abstinence-only programs as starkly different from one another. Fields’ findings shatter this assumption. I actually started to wonder whether or not my sex-education experience was truly “comprehensive.”

In discussions of sex education, we often focus on egregiously sexist abstinence-only curricula that demean girls’ bodies and present gross misinformation about the birds and the bees. But how many classrooms teach the brand of abstinence-only education cited in Fields’ research? And is it “good enough” that these educators aren’t comparing young peoples’ genitalia to dirty toothbrushes? What about the social norms and values that surface, oftentimes unnoticed, in “comprehensive” classrooms?

Fields begins to answer these questions by turning a critical eye to the images and flip-charts used in sex-education classrooms that depict “normal” sexuality as white, able-bodied, and heterosexual. She dissects the scientific and biological language used by educators to depersonalize conversations about sexuality and points to adultist beliefs about adolescents’ feelings, desires, and curiosities. Fields forces readers who advocate for comprehensive sex education to rethink the ways in which lessons about sexuality, even those that aren’t abstinence-based, perpetuate social inequalities. Risky Lessons is truly a must-read book for all those who are interested in the emancipatory potential of the classroom and the reasons why even “comprehensive” sex-education simply isn’t “good enough.”

Deadbeat Dads and Abortion Rights

5 Nov

A devoted reader of The Fredericksburg Star Corita Scott of Spotsylvania, Virginia, took issue with an op-ed written by Fredericksburg Mayor Thomas J. Tomzak that dealt with the social cost of deadbeat dads. Mayor Tomzak used to be an obstetrician; he has seen firsthand the reality of teen pregnancy and teen motherhood; he has seen what happens when the father shirks his responsibility. Dr. Tomzak rightly pointed out that “when the cord is clamped and cut, the discussion of women’s reproductive issues should end and a discussion of the rights of newborns should begin.” Dr. Tomzak also called on us all to “stigmatize male irresponsibility for what it is – anti-woman, anti-child, and anti-community.”

So what was the problem here? Surely pro-choicers and pro-lifers would agree that fathers should step up for their children, right? But Dr. Tomzak mentioned being “sympathetic” to “reproductive issues,” which Scott saw as code for “the right to abortion.” (Not once in this piece did Dr. Tomzak ever call for easier access to abortion, nor increased access to family planning, nor better sex ed. But why let facts get in the way of righteous anger?) This was the segue to such apt questions as:

Isn’t abortion the expedient way to eliminate this problem of unfit parents and neglected children who place a financial burden on society? If so, why hasn’t the funding and the need for such programs mentioned above decreased in 2010?*

I am not dignifying the eugenicist bent of these questions with a response. Ick. Did it ever occur to Scott that the legalization of abortion is not the only newsworthy trend of the 20th century? The funding and need for such programs increased for other reasons than abortion. I propose the fact that the rich have gotten richer and the poor have gotten poorer after the 1970s. Maybe addressing the inequality might do something about the need for social programs. Just saying. Scott has her own solution.

The answer is not to destroy the unborn child but to help the mother gain self-esteem by compassionate care, education, and training for job opportunities.

Fantastic. Mayor Tomzak wouldn’t disagree that teen mothers need compassionate care, education, and training for job opportunities. It does not have to be an either/or proposition, either. Access to abortion – which, again, Dr. Tomzak never actually advocated in this article – does not diminish the importance of any of those things. But Scott was not satisfied because Dr. Tomzak didn’t spell out that abortion is bad. Having a shred of sympathy for women’s health – even the condescending, paternalistic kind – is tantamount to being pro-abortion. And this obsession with vilifying abortion drove Corita Scott to derail what could have been an important conversation about the need for young men to take responsibility for their children. (Why does male responsibility get glossed over every single time?) Let Corita Scott’s LTE bear witness to the “pro-life” agenda – it has never been about abortion, but rather, a call to withhold anything resembling respect, anything that doesn’t smack of shaming and judgment, from women and girls.

*Incidentally, Steven Leavitt, the author of Freakonomics, did in fact propose that we can thank the downturn of violent crime in the 1990s to abortion; potential violent criminals of the 90s had been aborted in the 70s. Leavitt’s theory was spectacularly wrong. (Lifenews had a field day with the fact that Leavitt was wrong, but I refuse to link to Lifenews. Google it yourself.) No surprises that it was wrong – Leavitt was wrong on one of his basic premises, that the abortion rate skyrocketed after Roe. Legality never has been nor will it ever be a sine qua non of abortion. It is not Latin America, where abortion is illegal, often even in cases where the mother’s life is in danger, but Western Europe, a bastion of liberal abortion laws and easy access, that boasts the world’s lowest abortion rate.

Anti-Choicers And Their Swag

4 Nov

Maybe the reason that it seems like so many more people are willing to declare themselves anti-choice than pro-choice has nothing to do with what is and is not socially acceptable.  Perhaps it’s not about religion or politics at all.

Maybe it’s about the swag.  That’s right – the anti-choice movement began monetizing their agenda a long time ago.  They have online storefronts with names like “Pro Life World” offering both pamphlets explaining how to convert non-believers to their agendas and accessories to tell the world that yes, you are in fact, “pro-life.”  Want to cement your street cred with your kid’s piano teacher or the guy who mows the lawn?  Be sure to purchase the anti-choice checks with little fetuses smiling angelically up at the payee.  Not sure if your office co-workers know that you can be a cool feminist?  Get yourself a mug picturing Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton as anti-choice fanatics, complete with quotes!

Sure, you could bring just any ornament to your new mother-in-law’s for Christmas eve, but if you want to be memorable, buy an “egg baby” ornament from the CafePress shop dedicated to meeting the high level of demand for anti-choice paraphernalia.  Need to cover up that dent in your rear bumper?  You could to go an auto body shop but for just a few dollars, slap on a bumper sticker asking the guy in back of you if he’s glad his mother was pro-life.  For the more subtle anti-choicer, how about a rose shaped sticker?  Yes, apparently the anti-choice market has spread so far as to usurp the rose – once the symbol tattooed on condemned women in revolutionary France – as somehow indicative of anti-choice leanings.

So how does the pro-choice movement get in on the action?  Because clearly what’s most important here isn’t whether women should have basic rights to their own bodies or anything as minute as that.  Oh no – it appears that what matters most to the anti-choice and those they recruit is who has the best “stuff.”  Like high school students whooping it up at the college admissions fair, the anti-choice seem to put more focus on having “pro-life cupcake day” and printing rolls of stickers with cutesy phrases and pictures of babies than considering the effects of their anti-choice agenda.  So, I propose that since we can’t beat them without joining them in pandering to the lowest level of intelligence with promotional t-shirts and free pens and stickers that border on graffiti, we join them.

How about pro-choice gum – because really, is there anything more abortion-like than chewing up a chiclet with a baby printed on it?  Oh but wait – the anti-choice stores already sell exactly that.  However creepy eating something shaped like a baby was as a pro-choice statement, it goes double for someone who proclaims to be “pro-life” … and minty breath, of course.  Aside from bumper stickers that say, “Keep your laws off my body” – one of which proudly adorned my beloved first car, and t-shirts quotingCheris Kramerae‘s infamous line, “Feminism is the radical notion that women are human beings,” there isn’t much out there for the undecided.  So instead of spending our time, energy, and money on helping women gain access to birth control, abortions, counseling, and other medical care, let’s focus on what really matters – some clever license plate frames, a design for checks and return address labels to further communicate to the world how cool being pro-choice really is, designating our own dessert day (if they can have cupcakes then I say let’s take ice cream sundaes as ours!  Nothing says choice like a sundae bar!) and printing our new logos and quips on as many promotional items as possible.

Because, clearly, in the anti-choice world, that’s what matters.

Election Detox

3 Nov

I for one, started out with very minimal hopes for the Democrats.  Looking at polls from Gallup and almost every other polling company, I was gearing up for a very bad night.  Nate Silver at FiveThrityEight even developed a worse case scenario prediction that Republicans could take almost 80 House seats from the Democrats (they only took an estimated 65).  Though it’s unlikely that we will know exactly what happened on November 2nd for several weeks, due to several very close races that we probably end up being decided in a legal battle, we do know the result of most seats.

Overall the results aren’t terrible, but they’re pretty bad.  Some anti-choice politicians like NY governor hopeful Carl Paladino (R) were not elected.  Paladino was defeated by about 25 points by pro-choice Democratic candidate Andrew Cuomo.  Pro-choice Barbra Boxer (D) also won California’s Senate, defeating Carly Fiorina (R), the former CEO of Hewlett Packard.  This will be Boxer’s fourth term, and with a new governor of California, it will definitely be an important term.  Boxer has stood up for women’s rights year after year, and if Fiorina had taken her seat, we would have lost a key ally in the United States Senate.  In Connecticut, Senate candidate Richard Blumenthal (D) was able to win against WWE entrepreneur Linda McMahon (R).  Finally, in Delaware, Senate candidate Chris Coons (D) defeated Christine O’Donnell (R) by a wide margin.

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Confronting Antis Online

2 Nov

As a general rule, I am a very confrontational person. I am in law school and hope to be a litigator; I thrive on confrontation. That being said, as another general rule, I refuse to try and ‘change’ the minds of antis on the internet. On Twitter, if an anti engages me, I’ll refute their nonsense, but I almost never engage them. I rarely, if ever, visit their blogs and I absolutely never comment on their blogs. I refuse to engage them. In real life, I’ve organized and been involved in a 3-woman pro-choice counter-protest and I volunteer at my local clinic and from time to time, antagonize the antis. Yet online, I generally keep to the pro-choice world. In my opinion there are only two reasons for me to engage with antis online: to either (i) change their minds, or (ii) piss them off.

In regards to the former, I really fail to see the point; you can’t reason with logical fallacies. Most antis do not think critically about their point of view and thus no amount of logic will change their minds. I believe that it takes a personal epiphany for these people. I despise wasting my breath about as much as I despise logic fallacies, so I don’t bother. I prefer to focus my energies on people I meet out in the real world who are ignorant of the facts (I mean ignorant as simply lacking knowledge; uninformed). I’ve had discussion with some young women I know who spouted standard “I’m pro-choice except for when it’s used as birth control” nonsense. I tell them the reality and how what they are saying is wrong. I then take the opportunity to ask them to justify their views. Usually, inevitably, they fail to do so. I don’t expect them to change their minds in that instant, but I hope to get them thinking. These are the people I want to educate, and that is why I don’t bother with the firm antis.

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