Time to Rally: Pro-Choice slogan brainstorm!

I’m attending the Boston Walk for Choice event on Saturday. Believe it or not, this will be my first time attending a Choice event in person, even though I definitely attended a bunch of them in spirit and web-based solidarity. Since this is my first time, I’m super excited to make a sign with a rad Pro-Choice slogan.  I did some Google image searching to get ideas.


From DCPages.com

From DCPages.com

From kaganof.com

From sfbaycantwait.org

From sparecandy.com

And my personal favorite:


From sunshinetuegel.blogspot.com

What should my sign say?

The best I’ve come up with so far is:

My Vagina:

I decide what goes in

AND what comes out

Please – drop some suggestions for me in the comments!

“Post-Abortion Syndrome” is a Major Logic Fail

In 2009, Priscilla Coleman of Bowling State University and her colleagues published an analysis of the National Comorbidity Study and concluded that women who reported having had an abortion were at higher risk for anxiety, mood disorders and substance abuse than women who did not report having an abortion. Julia Steinberg of the University of California, San Francisco, and Lawrence Finer of the Guttmacher Institute recently reviewed the data (read their report) and reject Coleman’s finding.

After analyzing the same data from the National Comorbidity Study, Steinberg and Finer refute the causal link between abortion and mental health issues.  From the Washington Post:

“We were unable to reproduce the most basic tabulations of Coleman and colleagues,” Steinberg said in a statement released with the paper. “Moreover, their findings were logically inconsistent with other published research — for example, they found higher rates of depression in the last month than other studies found during respondents’ entire lifetimes. This suggests that the results were substantially inflated.”

What they did find was a that women who had multiple abortions were more likely to have pre-existing mental health disorders and to have experienced sexual or physical violence before the abortion, compared with women who had had one or no abortions. Taking that into consideration, researchers found no significant link between abortion history and substance abuse or mood and anxiety disorders. Not only does that finding dispute Coleman’s bogus claims, it reminds us that when thinking about supposed “mental health risks of abortion,” to use our common sense.

The reality is that most women who get abortions do not choose to do so for so-called “frivolous” reasons, as the Pro-Lifers would like us to believe. Often times there are a lot of overlapping factors that go into that decision. While plenty of women DO NOT experience depression after having an abortion, some certainly do. But suggesting that this link is causal – that abortion causes depression – is ignoring a whole piece of the puzzle and just bad logic.  Mental health is inextricably linked to situational circumstances, and the same kinds of circumstances that could lead to one needing an abortion are also ones that could affect mental health. Post hoc ergo propter hoc: correlation, not causation.

Let’s say a woman is raped and becomes pregnant from that assault. Or let’s say she becomes pregnant because her partner refuses to use contraception and she cannot afford to support or care for any more children. Or maybe she had a health condition that makes it really dangerous to continue the pregnancy. Or maybe she’s 16 and her parents will kick her out on the streets if they found out she was pregnant. So she gets an abortion, and she is also depressed.

Saying that she has “post-abortion syndrome” is kind of like saying that a woman who has to leave home to escape from an abusive partner and goes to a hotel is depressed because she’s suffering from “post-hotel syndrome.” Or that a victim of a vicious bear mauling is depressed because she is suffering from “post-reconstructive-surgery syndrome.”  She’s not depressed because she went to a hotel or had a medical procedure. She’s depressed because of the circumstances surrounding it.

And yes, often times the circumstances surrounding the decision to abort are depressing. If Pro-Lifers were actually concerned with women’s mental health, they would be working to improve those conditions (poverty, homelessness, rape, misogyny, sex education, healthcare) instead of working to take away access to a procedure that is most often chosen in order to prevent and alleviate further strain.

This study is just another example of how Pro-Lifers value the *airquotes* life of the fetus over the actual, real-life LIVES of women, and how they are ready to manipulate the truth in order to get what they want.

My Vision for a Feminist Crisis Pregnancy Center

Crisis pregnancy centers are increasingly relevant to our discussions of abortion access. These days, Pro-Life protesters find it more effective to hold signs saying, “Need Help? Come to our Crisis Pregnancy Center,” instead of “DIE YOU BABY KILLER.” (Good call, Pro-Lifers.) The problem with the Pro-Life offer of “help” is that these so-called Crisis Pregnancy Centers are not really what they appear to be.

While many claim to offer psychological counseling services, they rarely have medical professionals on staff. They use the rhetoric of choice (words like “options” and “choices”) but exist to convince vulnerable women to continue their unplanned, and often unwanted, pregnancies. They are happy to downplay the hard realities and difficulties of parenthood, adoption, and carrying a pregnancy to term. They are also happy to give out misinformation, like that abortion causes breast cancer (it doesn’t) or post traumatic stress disorder and other mental health issues (it doesn’t). As Emily Kadar wrote, “Women and girls visit CPCs at the beginning of an unplanned pregnancy, one of the most vulnerable states in which one could be, and they are given false information and limited choices. And it angers me.”

So, I was excited to see a post on Feministing asking the question “What would a feminist crisis pregnancy center look like?” The author shared one vision, which you should take a second to check out. Back? Okay.

I agree and love many of the points the author makes. A feminist Crisis Pregnancy Center should be Pro-Choice, should provide education about pre-natal healthcare and birthing options, parenting classes, free counseling from licensed professionals, and financial assistance to parents-to-be. Absolutely.  But what seemed to be missing from this picture was help for women who choose abortion as well.  So, here is my vision for a feminist Crisis Pregnancy Center.

  1. It would offer counseling and information for women seeking help making their choice. It would provide non-judgmental information about abortion, adoption, and parenthood and help each woman decide what was best for her and her situation.
  2. It would provide referral services to abortion providers, adoption agencies, healthcare providers, and other organizations supporting women who choose to parent. It would screen the organizations and providers to make sure that women are referred to reputable, and like-mindedly feminist “safe spaces.”
  3. It would provide free (or on a sliding scale), ongoing counseling for women – no matter what their choice – before, during, and after the unplanned pregnancy/abortion/adoption/birth.
  4. It would incorporate financial and material assistance to women who need help paying for an abortion, paying medical bills, and starting out as new parents. It could work together with abortion funds, help collect donated baby supplies, etc.
  5. It would provide parenting classes.
  6. It would provide free comprehensive safer sex education and counseling, covering contraception options as well as STI prevention and safety for anyone seeking information or help.
  7. It would provide free education and counseling on sexual assault and relationship violence, including referrals to domestic violence resources, etc.

Feministing asks what your visions are, and what it would take to make this happen. I can’t help but wonder: Why hasn’t this happened?

New organizations are set up all the time. Why don’t we have feminist crisis pregnancy centers? Why not? Seriously people, wouldn’t it be amazing to have a place you could go to get real information and real help from people who do not have an agenda and will support you in whatever choice you make?

What would it take to make this happen? And when can we start?

“EC is not the abortion pill”: a Rhetoric Fail for ellaOne

As a sex educator and counselor, I have given the emergency contraception (EC) spiel many times. There are two important points that must be made. The first is to explain that “the morning after pill,” is a misnomer because EC it works for up to 72 hours after unprotected sex. The second is to make absolutely sure that everyone understands that EC is NOT! THE! ABORTION! PILL!

Differentiating between Plan B (EC) and RU-486 (the abortion pill) was a key component of the strategy to make Plan B available without a prescription, to convince pro-life pharmacists to dispense it, and to reassure women that taking Plan B will prevent pregnancy without terminating or harming an embryo if pregnancy has already occurred. This strategy was effective, and necessary, and is often used to promote EC as the solution to “the abortion problem.”  If everyone had access to EC, women wouldn’t need to have so many abortions, and we can all agree that abortions are the least desirable outcome. Unifying as this strategy can often be, it is problematic.

A form of EC already used in 21 European countries called “ellaOne” is headed to the FDA for U.S. approval and is generating a great deal of controversy. EllaOne works differently than Plan B, and can prevent pregnancy for up to five days. FIVE DAYS.  Like Plan B, ellaOne is more effective the earlier it’s taken, but studies seem to be showing it is still more effective than Plan B.  This is a big deal.

Folks don’t realize that time can be a major barrier to obtaining Plan B, especially for those who live in rural areas, or anywhere that doesn’t have 24 hour pharmacies or Choice-friendly clinics or pharmacists.  Sometimes it can take a day or two to figure out where to get Plan B and negotiate how to get there and how to get the time off from work. The cost of Plan B (around $50) is also a barrier, and it may take a few days to scrape together the money to pay for the pill.  An extra 2 days of effective prevention could make ellaOne a real game-changer.

The problem is that ellaOne may have some chemical similarities to RU-486, the abortion pill.  According to the Washington Post, it is possible that ellaOne could induce an abortion by making the womb inhospitable to an embryo. (Much like what happens during a miscarriage.) But ellaOne (ulipristal acetate) is NOT the same as RU-486 (mifepristone). The differences are explained in this fact sheet.

Regardless, the Pro-Life lobby is well on its way to preventing ellaOne from being approved by the FDA. As Ms. Magazine reminds us, the Pro-Life lobby prevented the FDA from approving Plan B until 1998, when it had already been used in Europe since the 1970s. It took another 8 years of fighting to make Plan B available over the counter for women 18 and up. Plan B was only made available over the counter to 17 year olds in 2009. Getting ellaOne approved by the FDA will be a political battle rather than a medical one. And unfortunately, we have already sabotaged our case with our own anti-abortion rhetoric surrounding EC.

By driving home the distinction between EC and the abortion pill and stressing that EC is acceptable because of this distinction, we have set up ellaOne to fail. If ellaOne does cause “abortions” (or miscarriages, or “spontaneous abortions” just like ones that occur naturally), well, we’re screwed. We played the game of rhetoric, and now we might have to put our foot in our mouths.

I keep putting “abortions” in quotations because it’s important to acknowledge that no one is really sure if ellaOne causes abortion. The reason is not because we don’t understand what the drug does – we do – it’s that there is no consensus on when life begins, so it’s pretty hard to define what is and what isn’t an abortion when we’re talking about fertilized eggs and uterine implantation.  Does life begin with a fertilized egg? Does it begin when that egg implants on the uterine wall?  Does an egg that naturally fails to implant an abortion? A miscarriage? Or just another period? It’s confusing, but the Pro-Life lobby is happy to spin it. By claiming that ellaOne has similarities to the abortion pill, it will be viewed as an abortion pill. And by demonizing the abortion pill as the pro-EC rhetorical strategy has done, we have hurt the case for ellaOne.

In most cases, the people promoting EC are Pro-Choice and actually support RU-486.  From a Pro-Choice, pro-healthcare-access point of view, RU-486 is a good thing. It is a great option and has the potential to make abortion safer and more accessible for many women. It has even been administered via webcam to women in remote locations!

And ellaOne, even if it does sort of cause “abortions,” would be a great product to fill that in-between space – the space between Plan B and abortion. For those truly concerned with reducing the demand for abortion – real, unambiguous abortion – ellaOne is actually a good thing. A really good thing.

Let’s hope that it doesn’t take another 30 years to give American women better control over their own health, bodies, and lives.

A victory for sure, but the fight isn’t over

“It is with mixed emotions that I write with news that, tonight, the House of Representatives passed the health-reform bill.

I am extremely disappointed to tell you that the final package includes the insulting, unworkable Nelson restriction on abortion coverage in the new system.

As you may recall, the Nelson language requires Americans in the new system to write two separate checks if the health plan they choose includes abortion coverage. This unacceptable bureaucratic stigmatization could cause insurance carriers to stop covering abortion care. This would represent a major setback, given that more than 85 percent of private plans cover this care for women today.

Despite this totally unacceptable anti-choice provision, reform will bring more than 30 million Americans into a system that includes affordable family-planning services and maternity care for women. It also outlaws some discriminatory insurance-industry practices that make health care more expensive for women. Improving women’s access to birth control and prenatal care and making reproductive-health care more affordable are also at the core of our mission.

Here at NARAL Pro-Choice America, we struggled with the dilemma of how to respond to a bill that included both positive and disappointing provisions for reproductive health. Ultimately, we determined that we could not endorse this bill due to the abortion-coverage restrictions. But, we also could not, in good conscience, call for the bill’s outright defeat and deny millions of American women the promise of better—although imperfect—health-care services that are an important part of our pro-choice values.

That these abortion-coverage restrictions remained in the bill is terrible news for all of us who believe that American women should not have to sacrifice their right to choose in order to gain ground in other areas of health care. It is an outrage that anti-choice politicians such as Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) and Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) used women’s reproductive health as a bargaining chip.

But, believe me when I say that Congress and the White House have not heard the last from us. NARAL Pro-Choice America does not accept this bill as the final word on how abortion coverage will be defined in the new health-care system. We are committed to finding opportunities to repeal dangerous and unacceptable restrictions as the new system takes shape.

Thank you for standing with us for so many months. We will keep fighting to elect pro-choice members who share our pro-choice values.”

Nancy Keenan
President, NARAL Pro-Choice America


Bringing the abortion debate home, or across the street

Today an abortion provider opened her practice across the street from my office. I could see the protesters from the window. Luckily, they all went home for lunch and didn’t bother coming back. Too cold for politics, I guess, or maybe one of the most liberal and Jewish areas in Boston isn’t the best audience for “Jesus loves your baby” signs. The hubub may have been anti-climactic, but today felt very significant for me. I have been an abortion rights activist for years and years, but today the issue came home, or, er, moved in across the street.

I have interacted with the abortion debate in a number of ways. I have participated in activism. I have donated to Pro-Choice organizations and abortion funds. I have voted for Pro-Choice candidates. I have volunteered at Pro-Choice organizations. Hell, I used to dance around my college campus handing out condoms dressed as the “Condom Fairy” (the Tooth Fairy’s second cousin). But what has shaped my conception more than anything is the fact that I have studied the abortion debate in school as a subject of inquiry. As theory.

I have surveyed American attitudes towards abortion from the Colonial period to the Civil War period to the 20th century. I have studied the history of the Pro-Choice and Pro-Life social and political movements. I understand the strategy used by both sides to gain political ground. I know the Roe v. Wade trial inside and out and my dissertation featured Norma McCorvey, Jane Roe herself, as a case study. Not having had an abortion myself,* this all made sense. [*Because I was privileged enough to have the resources to obtain birth control and the education to know how to use it properly. Yes, I know I am damn lucky.]

Today surprised me because today abortion became real. The abortion debate is not a philosophical question of personhood. The abortion debate is not a morality contest. The abortion debate is not a political football, nor is it a case study. The abortion debate is a real, tangible thing and it’s happening outside my window.

I recently found out about a new project called 45 Million Voices. This website will be a safe haven for anyone to share their abortion story — no comments (or judgment) allowed. “The goal is to provide a safe space to listen women into voice.  A space where stigma is eradicated, silence is broken, and honesty prevails through the power of love and support.” I am excited and hopeful about the power of this project. I believe in the power of telling stories and I believe that change can happen when the silenced are given a voice.

Women who have had abortions are silenced by the very nature of the political tug-of-war over abortion that has left us too timid to even speak the “a” word. Not even Focus on the Family, a die-hard player in this battle, could say the word. Even if a woman is Pro-Choice and sure of her decision, she is still shamed into silence. And if she does choose to speak, we are only prepared to hear her story if it fits the familiar and acceptable trope of shame, regret, and penance.

I don’t believe there is anything wrong with studying abortion from an academic perspective. On the contrary, there is much to gain from the approach, especially when one comes to really understand the position of those with whom they disagree. Still, there is something lost when someone is divorced from the physical reality of abortion. An abortion clinic shouldn’t have to open up next door for the issue to hit home. I hope that 45 Million Voices will accomplish for the masses what I felt today. The abortion debate is real, and we will finally be able to connect with that reality through the words of the women who are living it.

Pregnancy plots are easy, writing other choices is hard

With the recent increase in teen pregnancy rates, the hoopla over Lifetime’s The Pregnancy Pact, and the season finale of MTV’s Teen Mom airing tonight, it’s no wonder we all have teen pregnancy on our minds. In TV shows and films that deal with unplanned pregnancy, 99% of the time the woman (or teenager) will keep the baby. It is easy to see this as a glorification of pregnancy and motherhood, particularly teen motherhood. While that may be the agenda of certain parties, I think there is more to it. Namely, pregnancy is a damn easy narrative to write. Writing a story about abortion or adoption is much harder.

Let’s face it, unplanned pregnancy lends itself to story-telling, but only if the woman keeps the baby. Sexy times (exciting beginning) –> unplanned pregnancy (conflict) –> working through the pregnancy and/or relationship (gradual resolution of conflict) –> birth and chubby baby smiles (happy, heartwarming ending).  It’s the classic coming of age story, though for many of us (bad pun alert) it’s more of a coming of rage story.

It’s all right there: the classic beginning-middle-end plot, plus the opportunity for growing baby belly montages.  Lazy writers love to write about the girl who finds herself pregnant, decides to keep the baby, learns a lot about life while she’s pregnant, and then gives birth.  They are especially fond of hospital scenes with 20 people crowding around the happy new mother.  And then fade to black.  What happens after the baby comes home from the hospital, well, that doesn’t fit into the formula.  Neither does abortion or adoption.

Think about it.  How do you write a story about abortion?  It’s hard to imagine a formula because, like life, there is no formula.  The only example of a heartwarming tale about abortion I know of is this amazing short film by Gillian Robespierre.  But there is a reason this is a short film. The abortion narrative has a beginning and an end, but lacks the convenient 9 month period of character development and conflict resolution. Adoption is similarly problematic, although we do see it for one of the teen couples on MTV’s Teen Mom and in the film Juno.

Abortion does not lend itself to romantic comedies, dramas, or even reality TV, and since it’s controversial anyway, the entertainment industry is happy to ignore it.  As much as I would like to accuse the industry of a sinister plot to glorify teen pregnancy, I think the truth is simply that industry folks are lazy and formulaic plots sell.  And, as usual, it’s young women who pay the price.