When anti-choice propaganda works even on liberal-minded folks

6 Dec

Despite moments of pessimism and consternation over the years coping with the never-ending nonsense of anti-choice folks’ actions and propaganda, I’ve always been predominantly optimistic that legality of and access to abortion will remain sure and firm in this country. It’s always seemed a sure bet that eventually the antique notion that abortion is some terrible thing that should be outlawed would head the way of the dodo. But more and more these days I feel an unshakeable pessimism sinking into my bones, where my spans of optimism are now the exception rather than the rule.

 Some of this indelibly-inked pessimism came from a recent conversation with my best friend. We were chatting one afternoon and she mentioned that her pregnant partner had a prenatal check-up the next day. She said that it was the last opportunity for her sig to get an amniocentesis but that they’d decided to forgo having one.

I blinked. “Wait, what? Why?”

She explained that they had decided just to take their chances, that if the fetus was indeed possessed of some congenital disease or genetic defect, they didn’t want to know ahead of time nor did they want to do anything about it (i.e. abort); they would just roll with whatever the universe threw at them.

 “So even if it’s 100% guaranteed that your baby will be born with some truly horrible disease that makes her life, whether a few hours, days or years, utterly unlivable – there’s no worse-case-scenario where you would consider an abortion?”

She turned both sheepish and defensive as she asserted that she and her partner just weren’t comfortable undergoing an abortion, regardless of the circumstances.

Now my bestie and I are tight. As lesbian former-partners we’ve been through lots, know each other like the back of our hands, and are politically aligned on pretty much everything; she’s pro-choice and knows well my degree of involvement in reproductive rights causes. So I just gaped and sputtered at her, gobsmacked: “But…but…?”

We then had a momentarily heated conversation as, in my knee-jerk incredulity, I leaped to point out the flaws in her logic: how she had clearly been psychologically duped by years of exposure to those damned billboards, how it was incredibly naïve and irresponsible to be so blithe about the prospect of bringing a child with severe abnormalities into the world, how she…I then stopped and realized what a complete jerk I was being. There I was – reproductive rights and choice advocate extraordinaire, brow-beating my bestest friend for her and her partner’s reproductive health choices. What an ass-hat.

 We ended the conversation on a positive note, she is my bestie after all; I apologized for my zealotry and asserted my complete respect and support for her and her partner’s choices.

While I ended up feeling resolved in regards to the tiff between my friend and me, I’ve remained troubled by a larger concern that’s been kicking around in my head since that conversation – the billboard factor: the thought that years of unrelenting exposure to the deliberate misdirection, manipulation and half-truths of those ubiquitous cherub-faced please-mommy-don’t-get-an-abortion billboards could have seeped quietly into the psyches of rational-minded, reality-based people.  My creeping suspicion is that under the barrage of relentless advertising over the years, even the most hippie liberal folks must be feeling hard-pressed to think of embryos/fetuses as anything less than fully-formed, thinking, talking, swimming, bouncing, giggling people.

And THAT is what’s given me a bad case of the grim-pessimisms these days, because if the most hyperbolic, highly- mock-able anti-choice propaganda is working on us liberal-minded folks – we’re in more trouble than I thought.

14 Responses to “When anti-choice propaganda works even on liberal-minded folks”

  1. Laura December 8, 2011 at 8:57 pm #

    Let me open my critique with an explanation that I am explicitly pro-choice, pro-reproductive-justice and for abortion on demand.
    That said, I had problems with this post, first for the assumptions made on why a person would choose to not have an abortion (being swayed by propaganda, rather than their own decision on a very personal matter) and for the ‘OMG YOU COULD HAVE A DISABLED CHILD’ scare tactic that was ableist.

    In this post you admitted to “brow-beating my bestest friend for her and her partner’s reproductive health choices” but then ended your post with the suggestion that “the most hyperbolic, highly- mock-able anti-choice propaganda is working on us liberal-minded folks.”

    This ignores the very real concerns that PWD have regarding screening pregnancies for ‘genetic defects’ and how we cannot have reproductive justice for all when we suggest that some people’s choices about when to, or not to carry their pregnancies to term are right or correct.

    An individual’s relationship to their pregnancy is obviously an incredibly personal thing. Pregnant individuals are already bombarded with the idea that any choice they may make will be wrong (how much or what to eat, how often to be active, what medications to continue to take) an the idea that the choices they make are some clear indication that they have bought into the ‘pro-life’ or forced-birth propaganda is incredibly disrespectful.

    I suggest you check out the following posts:

    http://disabledfeminists.com/2010/01/22/do-you-really-trust-women/

    http://nwhn.org/disability-rights-and-prenatal-genetic-testing

    http://disabledfeminists.com/2010/03/01/defiant-birth-impolite-women-who-didnt-make-history/

    (yes, the author of the book the profile is pro-forced birth, but that does not mean a collection of stories about reproductive choices be cast aside)

    The reality is that two individuals could have the same political mindset, read the same books, had similar experiences and still make very different decisions in life. Some people wear high heeled shoes, others won’t shave, some folks are vegan, others raise chickens. No one choice is the badge of honor of ‘most figured it out person of the year’ rather that choice speaks of personal reflection, resources, philosophy and individuality.

    It is important to call out the propaganda used by those who would want to limit choices for people, but it is just as important to listen and respect each choice a person makes not just about when they will and will not carry a pregnancy to term, but in why any of us makes the personal choices that we do.

  2. Sparki December 9, 2011 at 3:24 pm #

    I don’t suppose it ever occurred to you that some people get pregnant intending to love whatever child they get because that’s just what they want to do? Even if that child doesn’t meet your standards of perfection? A couple doesn’t need any influence of billboards or propaganda to have that attitude. Isn’t that what people did in the days before ultrasounds and amnios and the great pro-choice/pro-life divide?

  3. Tara December 9, 2011 at 4:15 pm #

    Hi Laura,
    I appreciate you sharing your perspect. I disclaim somewhat by asserting that my post is a frank unvarnished opinion piece on:
    1) one woman’s experience (mine),
    2) acknowledging/facing/owning my own biases and ass-hattery in dealing with a close friend’s (not a total stranger’s) repro choices,
    3) my legitimate concerns and frustrations about possible/likely impacts and effects of decades of mis-informing/manipulative anti-choice advertising onslaught.

    Yes – you’re spot on that a knee-jerk “OMG YOU COULD HAVE A DISABLE CHILD” would be a troublesome reaction. However, neither in my post itself nor in the rest of the conversation not quoted in the post, did I assert anything along the lines of “omg – even the most minor glitch or abnormality that could be determined/suggested by amniocentesis will ruin you and/or your child’s life and anything but aborting it immediately would be irresponsible and stupid.” And while I own that I indeed have all sorts of able-ist biases, I wouldn’t categorize any part of the conversation, nor point of my post, as using scare -tactics – overtly, inadvertently or otherwise.

    My sentiment (again, totally owning the opinion-ality of it) was particularly about worse-case scenarios of unliveable awfulness, and (knowing her like no one else knows her) being frank and honest with my friend about my concerns that she was actually making her decisions based on misinformation or manipulation she might not even be aware of. I already owned up to in the post that I was being an unsupportive jerk towards my friend.

    However – I stand solidly on having every reason to be damn concerned about the effects of decades of lies on the ability for rational-minded people to make informed and sound decisions. I’m not saying that informed/sound decisions are those decisions I would make – not at all. Not even for a second in my knee-jerk response towards my friend was it about what was good for me – I wasn’t having the kid. It was my (albeit badly executed & kneejerky) concern that she wasn’t considering all of the factors about what would be the right decision for HER, her partner, and their child. The reality of being a friend is that we express to our friends our concerns, worries and advice all the time about all sorts of choices they make. That can entail relationship choices or circumstances, employment options, living choices, what kind of car to buy – any number of things. Sometimes that advice or concern may be misguided or errant, and sometimes it’s exactly spot on – that’s how being a friend works. I wouldn’t have had such a conversation with a complete stranger, nor would I have made a post ranting about how I thought some woman I’d never known/met made some choice about continuing or ending a pregnancy.
    Looping in my growliness about anti-choice ads/billboards happened to dovetail with the whole conversation had by my friend and I (of which, granted, I only shared a portion). Yes – the relationships women have with their pregnancies are completely individual and based on countless factors, variables and pressures both overt and subtle, which for any given woman to whom I’m not directly personally related/connected, is none of my business. Zero.
    However the reality is that women will never have the luxury of making their reproductive choices (particularly those that relate to ending a pregnancy) in a happy vacuum where their decisions can be made objectively and exclusively based on facts, free of pressures and manipulations. I assert that the ubiquitous billboards, terror-tactic-using clinic protestors, and the universal vilification of women who end their pregnancies have all but guaranteed that. And I feel no shame that care and concern for a friend impulsed me (albeit clunkily and not in the most awesome manner, for which I apologized and made amends) to pursue a conversation expressing my concern that she might be being duped by the nigh un-pierceable clouds of anti-choice nonsense.

  4. Lucy1821 December 9, 2011 at 5:25 pm #

    Yeah, what Laura said. I was going to launch into an epithet-laden diatribe, but she said it better than I could.

  5. Katie December 9, 2011 at 8:01 pm #

    I’m also pro-choice to the max and hated this post.

    Amniocentesis does pose the risk of harming the foetus. If you’ve chosen to carry the foetus to term, and are hoping to birth to the healthiest child possible, it’s a perfectly reasonable and definitely respectable choice to forgo the testing.
    (If you do on the other hand choose to get screening I’m not judging—again, that’s what this whole reproductive justice thing is about. respecting a woman’s CHOICE.)

    Sure, it was a personal experience of you being gobsmacked. But you chose to assume that personal experience means you needed to write a blog post saying “OMG WOMEN ARE BRAINWASHED!” instead of asking yourself, “Oh, what does this personal experience say about my relationship to women’s choices?”

  6. Kevin W Boyd December 10, 2011 at 10:13 am #

    Tara,
    I got here from Jill Stanek’s site (feel free to read into that whatever you like about me).
    But I am curious what you mean when you write such things;
    “the never-ending nonsense of anti-choice folks’ actions and propaganda”
    “she had clearly been psychologically duped by years of exposure to those damned billboards”
    “the billboard factor: the thought that years of unrelenting exposure to the deliberate misdirection, manipulation and half-truths of those ubiquitous cherub-faced please-mommy-don’t-get-an-abortion billboards could have seeped quietly into the psyches of rational-minded, reality-based people”

    I did notice that you realized you were out of line jumping down your friend’s throat like this, we should all be so honest with those closest to us. But isn’t it possible that the very reason that rational-minded people are being influenced by those billboards is because they are reality-based?

    I realize that you and I do not agree in the least with just what is floating around a pregnant women’s womb. But might not now be a perfect moment to reconsider? I would fain play Lucy van Pelt and suggest that the violence of your reaction indicates something you are not yet willing to admit…

    On a much different note, people can’t be impulsed; it’s a noun. ;)
    -Kevin

  7. K December 10, 2011 at 12:58 pm #

    This is a pretty fucked up abelist post. I mean, you’re basically saying that the thought of giving birth to a “retard” is so atrocious, anyone who’s okay with it has obviously been brainwashed by anti-choicers. Backpedal all you want. Seriously. WTF.

  8. David December 11, 2011 at 3:42 am #

    “to think of embryos/fetuses as anything less than fully-formed, thinking, talking, swimming, bouncing, giggling people” It takes many years until any person fits that description. That doesn’t mean that they have less value before reaching such mature status.

  9. Jacqueline December 12, 2011 at 8:23 am #

    16 weeks pregnant here, decided against genetic testing as well. What I get is what I get – no matter the results, I want my baby. Last night it became a little more real to me in a dream, my baby had an AWFUL genetic defect where it’s skin shed and blistered everywhere. I still wanted my baby. I did not reject it.

  10. Alys December 13, 2011 at 4:43 pm #

    Just to let you know, before I start, that I am pro-choice and that in the last two days I have been spitting blood about the sheer hateful aggressiveness of pro-life methods and ideology. I am also, like Jacqueline, 16 weeks pregnant. Personally, I would never have amniocentesis due to the associated risk of miscarriage.

    I am not saying that a fetus is a living, breathing, laughing child before it is born, but, in a planned or wanted pregnancy it becomes very difficult to seperate that potential child from the emotional experience of pregnancy itself. While I agree that there is no evidene that abortion leads to mental health problems, I’ve never known a woman lose a wanted child who did not view the miscarriage as a defining trauma in her life. This is because miscarriage is not a choice, it is something visited upon you which takes away that potential baby, to which, in a wanted pregnancy, many women have already formed an attachment. Making a decision to increase that risk is a terrifying and nerve-wracking experience, one that has it’s attendant doubt and potential for self-blame.

    I don’t know if I would carry to term a child with such severe health problems that they could not survive more than a handful of medically invasive weeks/ months out of the womb. I really don’t. What I do know is that I’m not prepared to risk losing a pregnancy – any pregnancy – to check the very small risk of this being the case. I respect women who make the other choice – as I said, I’m pro-choice – but my concern is that a ‘brainwashed blindness’ is being attributed to women making pro-active decisions about their own medical care and which risks they are willing to run.

    Do you know, for example, if your friend is willing to try ultrasound, which is a far less invasive, if less exact alternative?

    I do agree, however, that the effect such vile propaganda is insiduous, and we don’t always notice its effects upon us and our decisions.

  11. Andrea December 14, 2011 at 11:32 pm #

    There are so many things I want to say that I feel like bullet points would be easier. First and foremost is that I have complete respect for a person who is open and honest about what is going on in her own head regardless of potential backlash. It is rare indeed to find a friend who loves enough to be that level of honest. Second, I’m pro-choice probably only in the vain hope that the same level of freedom will be given to women on where and how to birth – the government has no business in my womb one way or the other in my opinion. Having said that, I cannot conceive of a situation where I would have an abortion and it’s not my place to decide if or when it’s right or wrong for somebody else. But for me that’s the ‘choice’ part of the equation.

    As far as the ‘relentless advertising’ etc it seems to me as though you are operating under the assumption that we are not intelligent enough or mentally strong enough to weed out fact from fiction – that we would somehow be better off if we were not exposed to opposing viewpoints. I live my life on the assumption that more information is better than less and it is my responsibility to work out the truth and form opinions on the rest. Does that make sense?

  12. Steph L December 15, 2011 at 10:48 pm #

    @K
    “This is a pretty fucked up abelist post. I mean, you’re basically saying that the thought of giving birth to a “retard” is so atrocious, anyone who’s okay with it has obviously been brainwashed by anti-choicers.”

    I think the OP was more concerned with terminal birth defects such as anencephaly and sirenomelia. Cool it.

  13. Sarah December 16, 2011 at 11:59 am #

    I’m with @Andrea above. I’m pro-choice. I believe each woman should be able to make her own choice about whether to carry a pregnancy to term. There is no right or wrong choice when it comes to pregnancy and there is no right or wrong reason; it is none of my business to make such an intimate choice for a woman when it involves her entire BEING. I can never know all of the reasons why a woman would or would not want to carry a pregnancy to term. That is why I am pro-choice. Its pretty apparent that people are pro-choice for different reasons; people have different life experiences. I was brought up pro-life and I’ve heard and seen ALL (and I do mean all) of the propaganda. I changed my mind. Probably for reasons other than you did…there was a point when I was pregnant (before viability) where I did strongly feel a baby. A life. It felt like life. Life that was completely dependent on me, but life none the less. Other people have different experiences. Pregnancy and childbirth are PERSONAL. THAT is why I am pro-choice. Not because I don’t believe that the fetus becomes a life before it is born…but because the mother never stops being a life. And she is important, too. In fact, she is more important than the fetus because the fetus is still dependent on her for its life. And she is not a human incubator, she is a person who is independent of this future baby and who has independent needs and desires. She can decide whether to have the baby based on whatever the f*** reasons she wants. Her body. Her choice.

  14. Tracey Seth March 25, 2013 at 5:51 pm #

    I’m the mom of 8. Two who were born with birth defects. One who died and one who lived.

    My son was born with Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome. He was my 6th child. At the time, I refused any tests because I was 38 years old and the risk of Down’s Syndrome was much more increased than it was with my 5th child, 12 years earlier. My husband and I just decided we would love whomever was coming to us and we did not have testing past the 10th week. Had we done so, we would have found the HLHS sooner and been given the option to terminate.

    I can say without a doubt that we would not have. I would have carried him still and then let him go, relishing in the 3 days he was with us.

    Thing is that his life didn’t belong to me, it belonged to him and I would never have dreamt of taking it from him before he was ready to give it up himself. I do believe he had the power himself to do that; that he could have died inside me had he chosen to. He didn’t.

    My 7th child ended up with another completely unrelated birth defect where abortion is routinely advised. With her, we checked everything and at 26 weeks got the news. Born with a Sacrococcygeal Teratoma full term, she is most definetly still with us at almost 5 years old. I belong to a group of parents of SCT survivors and survivors themselves and amazingly, not one of them wishes their lives had been ended in the womb, despite the difficulties of colostomies and urostomies and fistulas and hip dysplasia and parpalegic conditions. My kid was lucky and she doesn’t suffer any of those issues, but even if she had, they’re doable and we would have done them.

    I can’t imagine life without her. I wish my son had lived. My faith tells me I will see him again someday and I really hope that that is true. I suppose it’s really the only thing that keeps my faith intact, hoping for chance to pick up where we left off. If that doesn’t happen, well, I’ve lost nothing then and it doesn’t matter, so there’s no harm in keeping that hope alive.

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