Abortion & Religion


There are antiabortion activists who stand outside abortion clinics with the genuine belief that their presence helps women, that they are prayerful warriors against abortion, and that their help will solve all of life’s little unwanted pregnancies. But their beliefs and women’s realities are, as the saying goes, a horse of a different color.Screen Shot 2013-12-23 at 9.34.05 PM

After watching and listening to antiaborts for nearly a decade, I realize that most claim women choose abortion solely for financial reasons, so they offer free housing, free medical care, free baby showers and financial support. Some even make bogus claims that 1) clinics only want women’s money and that 2) clinics don’t want to help women. Of course, the obvious response to this illogical claim is that they, instead, want to help, want to tell women that God loves them and want to show women that all that is wrong in their lives (and in this world) can be solved with their financial support and with carrying the pregnancy to term.

But, let’s set aside abortion and finances momentarily to look at what the government’s latest statistics reveal about annual child-rearing expenses. For the average middle-income, two-parent family the expenses range from $11,650 to $13,530, depending on the age of the child. Imagine, a single parent of one child, pregnant with a second child, who is considering her options for raising a second child on a salary of $18,700. The annual expenses for the first child, according to the government’s calculator, are $7,410; the second is $7,188.  So, where does that leave the mother? What are her options for education, being promoted beyond her entry-level position, helping her children become first generation college students?  The antiaborts’ claim that their money and help, tied with strings of obligations and guilt, will solve a woman’s unintended pregnancy. But such “help” fails to acknowledge women’s intellectual and moral capabilities for decision making, fails to respect her bodily and emotional autonomy and fails to value her own value and belief systems. The antiaborts’  failures illustrate how little they care about the details of women’s lives. Women choose abortion for many reasons–reasons that are not directly or soley related to finances. For example, the Guttmacher Institute finds 74% of women chose abortion because having a child would interfere with their education, work or ability to care for dependents. So, let’s look at a few details about why women choose abortion.

Educational goals, like continuing with coursework your senior year in high school or completing your master’s degree unencumbered by pregnancy and motherhood, are legitimately and morally sound reasons to terminate an unwanted or ill-timed pregnancy. The sad fact that women earn less than men for doing the same work translates to an even stronger rationale for women to attain higher levels of education. Pregnancy interferes with attainment of these goals. Motherhood surely messes things up big time.

As for work or career related reasons for abortion, the realities are evident in all walks of life. Working as a volleyball coach in a private college, an Air Force sergeant responsible for delivering meals to the airmen in Iraq, a hair colorist in a competitive salon in Manhattan or a change management consultant in a prestigious consulting firm all require devotion to the career and not to a fetus. It’s harsh but it’s reality. A fetus gets in the way. And don’t think for a moment that the simpleton who offers to help you keep your baby will be there to help you with nighttime feedings, with a presentation to a new client, with an out-of-town business trip or with a parent-teacher conference. Not gonna happen.

And for women with children, only they know whether they can commit to another child in the family. Paying for maternity care and delivery does not account for the physical and psychological costs to a woman and to her family. As I’ve written elsewhere, pregnancy carries a lot of risks that are silenced by all the mythology around the rapturous joys of motherhood including those illustrious Hallmark moments of Mother’s Day and Baby’s First Birthday (smash cake and all). In fact, the United States’ dismal maternal mortality and morbidity statistics rank 50th in the world. Women deserve to know the inherent dangers of carrying a pregnancy to term without the lure of money and misinformation from some oddball who hangs out on a sidewalk outside an abortion clinic. Women who are unfortunate enough to venture into a crisis pregnancy center deserve the truth about the risks of pregnancy, for certain, but they also deserve to know that the CPC will not be there for the woman and her baby after the first year of birth.

Screen Shot 2013-12-24 at 6.53.26 AMA few examples about pregnancy and parenthood that antiaborts ignore, drawn from real life stories, seems in order here. In Louisiana, over 30 years ago, a young pregnant African American teen, fully insured, presented at an Air Force hospital with  eclampsia that killed her fetus and nearly killed her.  While eclampsia is rare because of prenatal monitoring and medical care, it still occurs especially in poor, underserved populations and particularly in young pregnant teens.  All the money and support an antiabort might be willing to offer cannot work against the fact that pregnancy is not without its risks.

In another real life example, a family with a child with Asperberger Syndrome had to sell their home in one school district to move to another district because there was no support in their former school district for their child. No freebies from a well-intended baby shower would suffice for a family with such a complicated life. Where will these “love the mom, love the baby” antiaborts be when the fetus they claim they “saved” needs braces, a counselor for an eating disorder or bail money for their fourth underage DUI? Where will they be when the woman must run for her life, with her children, when the man in her life threatens her life?  Don’t expect antiaborts to help folks with stuff like this. The details are too deep; their offers of help too shallow.

As I said, the antiaborts’ beliefs and women’s realities are often worlds apart. At a surface level, tossing money to women to is easy. Respecting women in all their decisons, ranging from choosing to remain childless to all aspects of pregnancy and motherhood, takes hard work, relentless dedication and compassion. Unlike the pamphlet-pushing, cheap-talking, god-deluded antiaborts who spew superficial sound-bytes, compassionate folks know that decisions about unplanned pregnancies are based on many details. We must respect each and every woman and her decision about her pregnancy because the details of her life matter.

Slide1News stories about investigations into Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPCs) misleading women through deceptive advertising, malevolent counseling and egregious misinformation are pretty common. But one CPC wolf in sheep’s clothing is Real Alternatives. It’s a Pennsylvania state-funded program that claims it “exists to provide life-affirming alternatives to abortion” to women who are financially qualified. Real Alternatives (henceforth abbreviated as RA) boasts that their program has been helping women since 1996 while also abiding by stringent accountability to the state. Even though Real Alternatives claims that they do not use deception to attract clients, in actuality, they use what  Heiss, Monge, & Fulk, (2012) call predatory practices that resemble legitimate reproductive health providers (RHPs).  In their attempts to appear as a legitimate RHP, Heiss, Monge & Fulk found that CPCs rely on ambiguity in their values and program offerings to elicit positive responses from potential clients and the public. Applying the concept of predatory practices, I argue that while RA’s textual and visual communication practices uses woman-centered advocacy language like “we’re here for you” and “your alternatives to abortion” and “forced abortion and your right to choose” and more, they promote, instead, distorted interpretations of the scientific literature and prescriptive counseling that can be misleading and even dangerous to a woman’s health if she makes a decision based on false information. To that end, I will turn to RAs home page where there is an array of text, images, and hypertext links to videos and where I will focus my attention on the video The Miracle of Life. But first, I want to tour the home page because it provides evidence that pregnancy and women’s sexuality are framed as problematic territory. The tabs in the uppermost section of the page attest to this problematic with labels such as Pregnant? Being Forced to Abort? Worried about STDs? Caring for Your Baby? In the center of the page, are images of young women in poses, arguably framed as pensive and frightened, with the eye-catching, continuous loop of flashing yellow text that underscores what RA frames as the problematic of women’s sexuality with the words: Pregnant? Scared? Concerned about STDs & Sexual Health? Below the flashing text, the offer of services reads:

Whatever the reason, we can help. Call us at 1-888-LIFE AID for free, caring and completely confidential pregnancy and parenting support services. We can educate you about reproductive health concerns, and we can assist you in finding appropriate medical help. You’ll speak to women who will be on your side every step of the way. We’re here for YOU.

Featured in the lower third of the web page are two videos that, again, use woman-centered language to invite viewers to click and watch. One video, View a Short Film about the Help We Provide, offers personal testimonials from counselors and tearful women who allegedly used RA’s services. As emotionally moving as the testimonials may seem, their authenticity is questionable. Particularly if you read the small print in RA’s terms of use which states “Unless otherwise stated, the persons shown in the photographs posted on this site are models and their photos were chosen based solely for aesthetic reasons. Other than that, the persons shown in these photographs have no connection to Real Alternatives or any of the topics addressed on this site.” In fact, dig a bit deeper to reveal how RA assumes no liability for decisions taken by persons based on information they provide on the site. The juxtaposition between the “we can help” mantra liberally advertised throughout the web site and the “we won’t assume any responsibility” suggests a deeper truth about the organization’s mission to promote an antiabortion agenda through the politicization of a woman’s private reproductive life that symbolically separates the ideal woman who dutifully embraces family and motherhood from the flawed woman who willfully chooses her own needs (and those of her existing children) above the need of a fetus.

The second video and the focus of this article, The Miracle of Life, is introduced with the text, View a Short Film about Your Baby’s Development. It provides an emotionally manipulative and factually deceptive video about fetal development. In the 3.33 minute long video, a Miracle of Life is visually appealing, yet problematic in that it symbolically annihilates the complexities of a woman’s private life while it visually and textually offers one solution. In general, the Caucasian-centric video uses a problem-solution format beginning with a series of questions and answers about a pregnancy and the fetus with the invocation at the end to choose life. Through the use of computer-generated graphics, soulful music and emotionally manipulative juxtapositions of imagery, the producers at Catholic Media House drive home the fact that the fetus is a living human entity. In what is arguably an artifact of Catholic propaganda, The Miracle of Life intentionally blurs the lines between fact and fiction about fetal development in an ethically compromised production. While it purports to be truthful, to hold claim to reality and to the authority of science, the video exists as a tool of the Catholic Church to support their religious power structure and their privileged forms of communication within their church and the state of Pennsylvania. While a deconstruction of the video could extend for pages, I’ll give a few highlights to illustrate how the lines between fact and fiction work.

The beginning of the video opens with a black screen and piano music that dissolves to an image of a gestationally-advanced abdomen of a pregnant woman with text floating on and off the screen What should I do? “Is this a fetus or a baby? “When does life really begin? Then the question to the audience “Do you know about the miracle of life?” with the word miracle in enlarged red text that flashes and expands, as if “breathing” in and out on the screen then transitions to an image of a zygote with text that reads “at the moment of conception, a unique human being’s DNA is created, then a flash of the DNA helix and the text “human DNA that never existed before and will never be repeated again.” Thus, the fetal-centric tone of the video is established.

As the video continues, gestational milestones are offered as scientific facts. For example, the video, using the female pronomial reference, claims that at six weeks, “she has fingers and toes” while sources such as the National Institute of Health (NIH) claim that at eight weeks the arms and legs have grown longer and that while the foot and hand areas may be distinguished, the digits are still webbed.

In an emotional framing, the video erroneously claims that at 11 weeks, she can smile and frown, wiggle her fingers and toes and even suck her thumb. And while it’s a charming thought to consider such animation and agency of the fetus, the science provides a more sober response. Piontelli (2010) found that an immature suck-swallow pattern is observed at 32-34 weeks while other sources (Mayo, NIH) note non-directed sucking motions at 26 weeks. It’s a far cry from the Hallmark card version of hegemonic parenting and the preferred reading of pregnancy and infancy.

At 16 weeks, the Miracle of Life video claims that she can open and close her eyes and that she has her own fingerprints while the NIH states that around 11-14 weeks the eyelids close and will not reopen until around 28 weeks. It further states that finger and foot prints do not begin to form until around week 30.

WolfSheep

While I’ve provided only a few examples of how the producers blurred the lines between fact and fiction, the overall pattern of enthusiastic support for the fetus in exuberant applications of artistry over reality can easily be discerned.  The concern I want to point out is how potentially  problematic the video can be for a distraught woman faced with an unplanned pregnancy. Regardless of circumstances, all women deserve honest and accurate information when faced with a pregnancy. Real Alternatives, is, instead, a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Posed to appear as a legitimate reproductive health care facility, RA, instead, disseminates misleading and false information. Like the thousands of CPCs across the United States, I find that RA’s predatory textual and visual communication practices, as illustrated in this very short video, clearly violate ethical guidelines about truthfulness and the admonition to do no harm. It’s a miracle that their work is considered legal.

References

Heiss, B. M., Monge, P. and Fulk, J. , 2012-05-24 “Predatory Mimicry in the Crisis Pregnancy Center Movement: Ambiguous Form Communication as an Evolutionary Strategy” Paper presented at the annual meeting of the International Communication Association, Sheraton Phoenix Downtown, Phoenix, AZ Online <APPLICATION/PDF>. 2013-08-16 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p552613_index.html

Piontelli, A. (2010). Development of Normal Fetal Movements: The First 25 Weeks of Gestation. Milan, Italy:Springer Verlag.

Slide1Let’s face it. Most of us are here on this earth because our parents had sex. As honest as this statement is, it likely makes people squirm. Who wants to think about their parents naked, sweaty and humping one on top of the other or grinding side-by-side on the dining room table or in the back seat of the car or in the tent next to you in Yosemite National Park? Certainly, not me. I’d rather scratch my eyes out. Our squirminess and discomfort points to a huge problem in our nation. While the common hegemonic sentiment of America is one of superiority, in reality, we Americans have failed miserably to accept and fully embrace our human sexuality. More specifically, we have failed to apply scientifically-sound and medically-accepted knowledge in public health and public education to benefit those who engage in sexual activity safely and responsibly. And who is responsible for this failure? I’d argue that those responsible are a misguided minority with their knickers in a knot over human sexuality. They go by many names but together they’re really the self-appointed morality police who run for political offices mostly on a conservative ticket, who prey on women outside abortion clinics, and who work for or are members of organizations like the Heritage Foundation, the Catholic Church or Operation Rescue. These morality cops are all about promoting abstinence only sex education in schools, sustaining propaganda campaigns about the evils of masturbation, telling bald-faced absurdities about a raped woman’s body shutting down a potential rape-related pregnancy, denying the spectrum of sexual expression, and ignoring the scientific data about the safety and efficacy of contraception and abortion. Sexual behavior for these folks certainly seems, well, icky on so many levels. And we as a nation pay a stiff (no pun intended) penalty.

In addition to their narrowly informed heteronormative perspective on sexuality, this minority further constrains natural human sexuality with their religiously informed myths about intercourse being only for procreation. Doesn’t that just take the fun out of an afternoon romp in the sack for post-menopausal Auntie Joyce and Viagra-defunct Uncle Tony? Such a heterosexist view clearly ignores the sexuality of our LGBT brothers and sisters.  It also ignores the perfectly natural practice of going it alone because, in their worldview, the two concepts—pleasure and masturbation—are the work of Lucifer. And such a view surely ignores those lovely, lively priests with predilections for little boys. But I digress.

Let me say a bit more about some of the religious conservatives’ bias in favor of opposite-sex relationships of a sexual nature, and against same-sex relationships of a sexual nature—aka, what is called heteronormativity. The problem here is that they take their sexual bias to an extreme in educational settings. In many states, their bias has rewarded with state funding to discriminate against LGBT children. Specifically, their homophobia is rewarded with adopted state laws – sometimes referred to as “neovouchers” – to transform state money into private Christian school scholarships used at religious-based schools that prohibit gay, lesbian or bisexual students from attending. These schools are essentially given a license to emotionally and physically bully and expel children who fail to be straight.

Abstinence only = Unwanted pregnancy

Abstinence only = Unwanted pregnancy

Listen, I have no argument with being sexually conservative, heterosexual and/or abstinent. It’s a right that should be respected just as individuals who are not hetero should be respected. But, I do have a big argument when their penchant for prudery and balderdash leads to serious health consequences for real children. I’m talking about their misguided drive to demand abstinence-only sex education in public schools and as the price to play for charter school funding (at the cost of decreasing public education funding). Abstinence-only sex education is a well-documented financial waste as well as an epic education disaster that has resulted in the United States having one of the highest rates of teen pregnancy and the highest rates of sexually transmitted infection rates in the industrialized world. Thanks, in part, to abstinence programs, female teens are more vulnerable to sexual violence because abstinence isn’t a realistic response to peer pressure. Among the general teen population, one out of four has a sexually transmitted infection. The STI rate for African American teens averages 50%. And for all teens, if left untreated some of their STIs can cause permanent damage, such as infertility and even death.  Of course, the response of the Panties-in-a-Wad crowd, this bastion of heteronormative bias, is to point a judgmental finger at the individual teen and wag their tongue about the evils of having sex. But my response to the Panties-in-a-Wad crowd is to illustrates the impact of states with predominantly conservative and religious views and the teen birth belt.TeenBirthRateStates

A further response to this uber conservative minority is say that their work is disingenuous. Teens are sexual beings. Not providing comprehensive, age-appropriate sex education is the moral failure of conservative, religious thinking.

And speaking of moral failure, consider all the bickering over the Affordable Care Act and contraception. Church-going entities like Hobby Lobby, the Catholic Church, and Chik-Fil-A went ballistic over their obligations to provide contraceptive insurance for their employees. Let’s be honest here. We’re talking about white men making a fuss about paying for health care for the women in their organizations because it goes against their beliefs while making no religiously-informed complaints about paying for Viagra or Cialis for men.  Let’s also be clear that statistical studies illustrate the majority of women (Catholics, Christian Evangelicals alike) who are married to these men use contraception. Hypocritical much?

Access to contraception, while clearly a smart response to reducing unplanned pregnancies and abortions, is seriously problematic for many who protest outside abortion clinics and for those who legislate morality in the state and federal government. They believe that contraception causes abortion, is dangerous, and is immoral if outside heterosexual marriage. The bigger issue with those who don’t believe in abortion or contraception is their attempt to impose their beliefs on others. A comparison of the United States to countries where abortion is legal reveals that other countries have much lower rates of abortion, have healthier perspectives on human sexuality, have better health care systems and have normalized sexual education for children and teens.  What we have here in the United States is staggering puritanism informed by a peculiarly aberrant form of Christian ethos that is seriously harming our children with the abysmal failure of abstinence education. So much for the claim to be pro life, to uphold family values.

Those with their eyes wide open have witnessed the stunning waste of taxpayer dollars over legal battles about DOMA, about the Affordable Care Act and contraception, and about targeted regulations against abortion providers based on nothing more than willful ignorance of science and, no doubt, their god-deluded sense of moral righteousness. Like the epic failure of prohibition on alcohol during the early 20th century, this ongoing battle against our God-given sexual nature has failed our nation. Attempting to prohibit or constrain sexual behavior according to the mythically-constructed boundaries of the sexually thwarted and perverted minority, is dishonest, unhealthy, disingenuous, and immoral.

ImageYou are forever talking about what you know is right for women, what women want, and what they really need.   You’ve even told clinic staff, doctors and nurses that you know they could do better in another line or work. With your particularized notion of moral righteousness, you’ve lodged complaints with police about what you know are your rights to free speech at abortion clinics. You’ve written letters to private citizens, neighbors of doctors and clinic directors, asking them to tell these professionals to find a new job, because you know better, you know what’s right. But your self-obsession as well as your presumptuous omniscience conveniently ignores the rights of others and summarily dismisses the knowledge women have of their own lives. Behaving, as you are wont to do, foolishly believing you are right when you are really wrong on so many levels, you reveal more truths about your nature than you might imagine or want. Let me spell it out for you.

  • To begin, it’s not right when you call escorts, staff, and doctors murderers because they don’t murder anyone. The carnivalesque act of calling someone a murderer is convenient because it frees you from thinking about the sacredness of women and men who offer and choose abortion services.
  • It’s not right when you use grotesque images that defy the reality of abortion. Aborted fetuses look remarkably different from all the manipulated grotesque images you use in your visual propaganda. Using such images only serves to shame, hurt and demonize women and, consequently, alienate them to your message.
  • It’s not right to say that All Women Regret Their Abortion. Documented scholarly evidence illustrates that overwhelmingly women have no regrets about their abortion. Not one bit. People make choices and live with them. It’s called life. Some women have sadness about their choice to end their pregnancy, but choose abortion anyway because they know it’s right for their situation. Your bombastic overgeneralization only makes you look ignorant and desperate.
  • Forced Birther Screaming in Women's ears with Megaphone

    Forced Birther Screaming in Women’s ears with Megaphone

    It’s not right to scream at women we’re here to help you. Take a good look at yourself. You’re a stranger who is screaming. What reasonable person would want to trust you or anything you say? It makes you look doubly foolish and deceitful when you follow with the disingenuous high-pitched scream God loves and so do we and, immediately afterward, shout, you’ll regret this day the rest of your life. Again, take a good look at yourself for you are nothing but a vacuous and mean-spirited provocateur.

  • It’s not right to publicize your own sexual fears and perversions. Telling women that the doctor will perforate their rectum and uterus illustrates your own salacious fascination with debauchery. Telling well-endowed women with cleavage, “You look like you’re all set up for breastfeeding” reduces you to a common pervert. Telling women to abstain from sex reveals your prudish anxiety about human sexuality.  In your ill-conceived attempts to lie about body parts and sexual matters, you embarrass yourself in a most undignified way, earning a big fat 10 on the Ick Factor Scale.
  • It’s not right to lie. Remember thou shalt not lie? Until you have an M.D. after your name, you should rely on reputable medical and scientific sources and not junk science in LifeSiteNews. The evidence is there for you to read. Let’s face it. You rely on the scientific and medical credibility of pediatricians, cardiologists, dermatologists and internists. Yet you throw out medical and scientific evidence when a gravid uterus is involved. Here’s the evidence: There is no post abortion stress disorder. There is no abortion-breast cancer link. There is evidence that the morbidity and mortality in pregnancy and childbirth can be more dangerous than abortion. It’s also a fact that the United States is 50th in the world for maternal health. Such transgressions illustrate the disturbed fascination with fear mongering that is your lingua franca.
  • It’s not right to inflict your religion on others. Humiliating and dehumanizing women is morally unacceptable.  Manipulating your faith to justify your heinous actions displaces your responsibility onto your God.  Like the Nazi war criminals that claimed they were only following orders, you antiabortion protesters claim you are doing God’s will. Barking like a madman “in the name of Jesus” as preface to a hurl of toxicity hardly seems godly. Face it; your morally bankrupt behavior only serves to show how unchristian and blindly intolerant you are towards others.
The Anti Abortion Brain

The Anti Abortion Brain

When I think about the pornography of your madness, your frothing, detailed rendering of humiliation of women and men who choose and provide abortion services, I have to say that the unintended consequences of your own behaviors illustrate how karma works. In plain English, you get what you give. And what you give is intolerance, disdain for truth, misogyny, desperation, alienation, and misanthropy.

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