January 22, 2013

The Truth Behind Choice: Part 1

Today is the 40th anniversary of the groundbreaking Roe v Wade decision that allowed women in America to legally obtain an abortion. The decision no doubt saved lives (which is slightly ironic) and provided a way for women to move up in society, rather than begrudgingly be burdened with a child she does not want or cannot care for.

You wouldn't know it, however, if you looked at politics today. For whatever reason, 40 years later abortion is a huge issue. People who have not had abortions, especially people who physically cannot have abortions, are trying very hard to dictate what those who need and want them can or not do. The amount of outright lies, in addition to the extreme ignorance surrounding abortions is disgusting. Men (and the women who back them, for whatever reason) who advocate abstinence only and pro-life in every scenario are at the height of hypocrisy: if over 95% of American adults have had sex and 20% of women (just women, mind you) are choosing to remain childless, that points to a bit of an overlap. That means there are women out there who are having sex without the intention of becoming pregnant (gasp!). In this day and age, too. Women are educated just as much as men are (sometimes more), are earning almost as much as men are, and are found in every manly profession. We're getting married later, making more important decisions, and are pretty much real people now. And some of us are having abortions. And those abortions are helping us maintain our status in life, which often is being in a position to care for the children we already have.

Today on NPR's Fresh Air two very different women were interviewed. The first woman decided with her husband that it was time to have a second child and became pregnant, only to discover halfway into the pregnancy that the fetus had a severe developmental problem that would lead to certain suffering. The second woman runs a pregnancy center called Involved For Life, which counsels pregnant women on every option except for abortion. Both women live in Texas, a state that recently made it mandatory for women seeking abortion to undergo a sonogram (women in early pregnancy endure a transvaginal sonogram because it picks up a better picture), wait 24 hours, and listen to government propaganda.

Here's a (pretty comprehensive) summary of both of the interviews:

In America there were more abortion restrictions passed at the state level in 2011 than in any prior year, and 2012 had the second highest number of state level abortion restrictions. This is a country that made it legal in every state for any woman to receive an abortion for any reason 40 years ago, and is now back tracking, making it harder and harder for women to do so. The first woman, a journalist named Carolyn, wanted her pregnancy. Thanks to modern healthcare she was able to plan when she got pregnant and made a conscious decision with the help of her husband to have a second child when they were both ready. When they went in for the sonogram (the "jelly on the belly" kind) that was supposed to determine the sex of the baby, the doctor noticed an problem. The fetus had a major neurological flaw that caused his brain, spine and legs to not develop correctly. The doctor said he wasn't sure the baby would survive. If he did, he would live a life of crippling pain and be in and out of hospitals until he died. He would always suffer.

Carolyn says in the interview that any parent understands the innate impulse to protect your child from any pain. She and her husband realized that by bringing this child into the world they would be causing him a lifetime of pain and suffering. She says that the decision to have an abortion was "a terrible, a heart wrenching choice, but also a simple choice." She wanted to prevent him from knowing a life of pain, which made it a relatively quick decision, an "almost instinctive response." But it was heart breaking.

Two weeks earlier Texas passed a law that required any woman seeking an abortion to undergo a sonogram first, and then wait 24 hours. It turns out that women seeking an abortion due to rape, incest, or medical necessity (as was Carolyn's case) do not have to endure a sonogram, though her doctor didn't know that at the time. But the rest of the state requirements still apply, no matter what reason a woman is seeking an abortion, and these include:
  • a 24 hour waiting period
  • requiring the same doctor to perform the sonogram and the abortion (which can create a scheduling nightmare, which can result in delayed abortions) 
  • the doctor must describe the fetus' characteristics to the woman
  • the doctor must play the heartbeat for the woman
  • the doctor must read a state-written script about the risks of abortion (that includes two parts that have been discredited) 
  • the doctor must read a script describing in graphic detail the abortion process
  • the doctor must read a script that informs the woman that the father is required to pay child support even if he wants the abortion and that the state may pay for maternity care.
Quite a bit of effort, no? Could you imagine going through this if you'd been raped?

Carolyn said having to hear that her baby had 4 healthy heart chambers was traumatizing. It was the only part of him that was healthy and her doctor was required to describe it to her. She said nothing anyone said or could have said swayed her in the slightest - she was making the right decision by not bringing him into a world of nothing but pain and suffering. But she noted that politicians want women to have a sonogram so they can see the life they're about to end. It's completely ideological, has no medical purpose, and does not belong in the doctor's office. After a while she couldn't take it any more - she wanted her baby and was devastated to have to have the abortion, and these state laws were horrible. The nurse in the room noticed her distress and turned up the radio. The doctor apologized for having to follow these new orders - no one in the room wanted to do this. How could someone who has no say in her personal decisions invade her private life, reduce her dignity, and give her such injustice? It still makes her angry, and that's why she writes about it so openly.

Obviously the goal of all of these obstacles is to get women to reconsider abortion. Texas slashed the family planning budget to two thirds of what it used to be in order to try to starve out Planned Parenthood. Instead, 60 small town clinics that served the poorest Texans went out of business. These clinics didn't just offer abortion services or birth control, they provided women who had no other means of health care with breast cancer screening and well woman visits.  State legislators are budgeting for an extra 24,000 births for 2014 and 2015, and need hundreds of thousands of extra dollars in their budget. (That's saying nothing about the cancer cases that won't get caught in time...)

Instead, Texas is giving the funding it used to give to clinics that performed abortions to Crisis Pregnancy Centers, which are usually Christian run anti-abortion centers. These centers claim to provide women in need with alternative options. As if the first thing women think of when they find out they're pregnant is "must...get...abortion." The centers convince women (most of their clients are low income women 15-24 years old) to keep their unborn children rather than have an abortion, telling them that abortions aren't the right decision for them. Medical professionals criticize these centers for giving women incorrect, inaccurate or incomplete information in order to get them to keep their pregnancies.

The state of Texas takes money away from family planning centers and gives that money to centers that encourage more births to women of all ages, abilities and incomes. Oh, and those centers are not required to discuss contraception with women seeking abortion (whether or not they go through with it), and the centers most often do not provide any detailed counseling on birth control options. Seems totally counterintuitive. Abstinence is 100% effective, so anyone not willing to immediately give birth to a child should not have sex at all. Even married women.

The centers, one of which is run by the second woman (also named Carolyn), offer alternatives to abortion, counseling, ultrasound, STD screening and treatment, and parenting classes. They also have mobile sonogram units, which they park in front of abortion clinics, and offer free sonograms to women. The second Carolyn says their goal is to provide nothing but education for women. She says that often women don't know their options (a claim I find impossible to believe), and the centers provide the support these women so desperately need. I agree that women who find themselves unexpectedly and unhappily pregnant do need loads of support... but the misleading half-truths these centers are known for telling are not the kind of support women can rely on once that baby comes. Carolyn says "we do not ever mislead;" they are up front about their unwillingness to perform abortions or even refer women seeking one to a qualified doctor. In fact, she tells stories of women who become successful even after "unplanned circumstances." But a pat on the back and go-getem-girl does not raise a child...

One of the most surprising parts of the second interview was when Carolyn (the second one) said that they have to point out on the sonogram what is a baby. They actually point to the image on the screen (which she says the women say is blurry and not clear in the abortion clinics and hospitals) and tell them that is a baby. And apparently the women are surprised that that's what's growing inside them. If that's the case we need to put a lot more money into Texas schools... Carolyn seems to have her heart in the right place, which is wanting to help women, but her ideals keep getting in the way. She says, "I don't think the Supreme Court had any idea that there would be thousands and thousands of women who regret that they ever had an abortion." Yes, women must regret their abortions. If I had one I know I would. But it would be far more regret that the abortion had to happen, not that I had one. If I were in these women's shoes I imagine I would know it was the right thing to do, not just for me but for the child I would unfairly be bringing into the world. Of course there would be regret... I imagine that's almost unavoidable. But regretting the situation and regretting my actions would probably be two different things.

Carolyn, the journalist, talked about a pamphlet that these centers give out to women called "A Woman's Right To Know" which describes the abortion process in unnecessary, graphic, upsetting detail. Women are told that now that they're pregnant they're already a mommy.

Women may have a legal right to have an abortion, but those rights are being chipped away by the states. Federal funding is not allowed to go towards abortions (family planning clinics that provide abortions are in a pickle), so any clinic or center that does want to provide safe abortions to women must charge for it. Which puts the poorest women at a significant disadvantage. Oh, and birth control funding is cut, too. Carolyn, who runs the Crisis Pregnancy Center, applauds the "progressive" nature of Texas schools that make it easier for young single mothers to stay in school by providing day care, but is this not something that could be prevented with education and access to birth control? Is that not the type of information these pregnancy centers mean when they talk about providing women with resources?

The moral of the story, here, is don't have sex unless you actively want a child; don't get raped; and no matter what don't have an abortion.

Here's Part 2.

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