Pro Life Deception


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.

It’s hard to deny that we are becoming a visually mediated society. The power of visuals to (mis)inform, persuade and threaten is evident particularly when iconic photographs are considered for their power to expose the truths of local and global catastrophes, wars and social unrest. Nick Ut’s Accidental Napalm, and Kevin Carter’s Struggling Girl are images that produce certain truths but they also produce a moral conundrum. Showing these images are representations of reality but they also alienate the public. In fact, the circulation of Accidental Napalm has been considered a pivotal turning point against the horrors of Vietnam War while Struggling Girl forced the world to see the plight of the starving. More recently, Richard Drew’s September 11, 2001 Falling Man was subjected to criticism for being too offensive to publish and for revealing the immorality of the photographer and the news sources entrusted to uphold societal values. Falling Man is troubling because, while it reveals a truth about the World Trade Center attacks, it also exploits the human dignity and privacy of a man and moves us to question the propriety of such a display.  The representation of images have ethical implications in that they are a kind of truth that can be shown but can never tell the whole story. It is with this notion of  (mis)representations that I want to address three lessons about the power of visuals and recommend using visuals in a more provocative, yet enlightening campaign—as a proposal for the 21st century.

Lesson One

The first lesson addresses this tension between propriety and morality for photographers and for activists who choose to capture and use spectacular images of human beings. For example, for antiabortionists, any propriety about displaying mutilated human fetal images is easily set aside out of concern for a larger moral purpose. In fact, in the antiabortion movement, there are those who use grotesque fetal images that, while inducing both empathy and disgust, raise ethical questions about the public display of these dead bodies. Antiabortion activists promote and distribute these visual materials based on a premise that once Americans see images of abortion, they will reject abortion. And while legal debates over the right to display such images erupt on state-run university campuses, outside the walls of progressive churches and, of course, outside the perimeters of abortion clinics, the majority views these prurient displays as morally repugnant and potentially harmful to young children.

Lesson Two

GOP StupidA second lesson is drawn from campaign materials of the antiabortion activists’ use of mutilated fetuses and from the 2012 presidential election.  Both campaigns ignore an essential element—women. While Republicans fell on their collective swords with their anti abortion and rape rhetoric, the so-called prolife crowd (majority Republican) continued with their fetal fetish worship. In hindsight, the lesson is clear. Don’t ignore women and their rights.

Lesson Three

The third lesson addresses the failure of media to address some of the most fundamental and important issues that half the world’s population—women—face. Corporate media, held hostage by capitalistic greed, flourishes on a diet of sensationalism and entertainment. For example, recent news reports focused on Angelina Jolie’s mastectomies but ignored the science about environmental toxins (caused by unbridled, irresponsible industries) that are known causes of cancer. The news of her surgical decision also ignored the enormous costs of media’s relentless messages to young girls and women that their breasts are accessories for voyeuristic entertainment and men’s physical and sexual pleasure. Jolie’s story also ignores a very powerful human right—to be empowered to make a tough choice about her own body.

In another media ruckus over the accessibility of Plan B emergency contraception—political brouhaha about other-the-counter access, age limits and state-issued identification as proof of age—the stories failed to point out the cozy relationship that politics and pharmaceuticals play, failed to address the importance of emergency contraception to those who need it most, and failed to address the personal, social and economic consequences when emergency contraception isn’t available. As with Angelina Jolie’s story about making the choice to prevent cancer, the story about unfettered access to Plan B means women have the choice to prevent an unwanted pregnancy.  But corporate media seldom acknowledges a woman’s agency unless she’s a celebrity.

A Proposal

In the spirit of Jonathan Swift, I propose a 21st century campaign that speaks directly to real women’s lives—the on-the-ground reality of women as they attempt to hold up half the sky.  To begin, I suggest that legislators draft laws that require obstetricians, crisis pregnancy centers and abortion clinics recite narratives with accompanying displays of women killed by unsafe and illegal abortions, with displays of bodies that succumbed to pregnancy-related deaths, and with bodies who, devastated by post partum depression, committed suicide. While it may sound too far-fetched, consider that there are currently laws that dictate what doctors in abortion clinics tell their clients. In particular, there are numerous states that require that physicians provide specific information about fetal development, pregnancy options, abortion complications, and about voluntary, non-coercive decision making about abortion. Euphemistically called A Woman’s Right to Know, the law is the ironic work of conservative legislators—the very same conservative who cry “I don’t want big government coming in and telling me what to do with my healthcare” but actually want big government to tell doctors what they can do to women. So, the precedence is in place for legislators to continue practicing reproductive medicine without any education or without a professional license. Despite the long-standing tradition of fully accredited abortion clinics providing comprehensive counseling about pregnancy options, state legislators use their bully pulpit to impose their morality on others with these laws. What these right-to-know tactics ignore are the realities of illegal abortions and complications of pregnancy. So, it’s appropriate to suggest that legislators enact laws to more fully inform women with a new campaign.

A proposal such a mine would comb the world for images of the approximately 219 women who die worldwide each day from an unsafe abortion. With that many images of dead women, there would be plenty of material to use in pamphlets and in educational materials. Such a visual bounty would provide a deliciously, deadly assortment to post on blogs and to add to the Op Ed sections of local newspapers. As with the antiabortion activists who wear their fetal focused messages around their neck, counter protesters could sport an image of a woman in a blood-soaked bed with RoeEndWomenDyingthe words “Keep Abortion Safe” written in large letters. The thought of such a poster borders on pornographic, unethical and downright obscene. And while such a poster aligns with antiabortion impropriety, at least it’s honest in demonstrating the truth about women who want and need but cannot access safe and legal abortions. Perhaps we could further underscore the situation by showing all the children left motherless because safe abortion is not available.

At the very least, the displays should show the very real complications of illegal  abortions with up-close-and-personal representations of pelvic abscess, septicemia, lacerated cervix, perforated bowel, exsanguination, and gangrene. And should anyone charge that these images are obscene, recall that obscenity laws cover material that deals with sex in a manner appealing to prurient interest, i.e., material having a tendency to excite lustful thoughts.  A dead woman’s gangrenous bowel or an exsanguinated body certainly cannot be considered titillating. In an effort to ensure a woman’s right to know, as so many conservatives are determined to legislate, a campaign such as this would more fully inform women of all the potential harms.

Let’s face it. The antiabortion activists use fetal images, as they claim, to expose the injustice of abortion. In reality, their images are a misogynistic attempt to shame women and to alter the realities of safe abortion for religious and political dogma. On the other hand, a display of women’s mutilated and dead bodies would expose the discriminatory, immoral violations of their human rights including the dishonorable reality, specific to the United States, that

  • this nation is 19out of 134 countries in terms of gender equality
  • this nation is 50th in world for maternal health
  • 68,000 women nearly die in childbirth annually
  • 1.7 million women suffer a complication that has an adverse effect on their health
  • the annual maternal morbidity is currently between 500-600 deaths

Equally important to my proposed campaign would be evidence of the endless attack on women’s reproductive rights through targeted regulations against abortion providers, through defunding of family planning services, through state-directed funneling of monies to (mostly religiously-affiliated) crisis pregnancy centers, through imprisonment and subsequent poor treatment of pregnant women (often resulting in miscarriage, preterm delivery and poor birth outcomes including neonatal death), through the rise of sexual assaults in the military and through the silent war being waged against poor women through cuts in Medicaid for abortions, cuts in state support (food stamps and welfare ) after one year and cuts in Head Start programs. Finally, a Google map of the United States using hyperlinks could locate the draconian politicians’ current laws as well as proposed legislation to further obstruct or outlaw access to abortion and contraception. Further details of such a map should include their political party affiliation, their religious affiliations and their financial supporters (such as PACs).

Religion_PoliticsMy modest proposal would visually depict the inexcusable health and human rights violations that occur due to the corrosive effects from religion, corporate greed, politics, military and government obstructionism for women of reproductive age, particularly for the poor in urban and rural areas, for minority women, and for those with limited or no access to health care. My campaign would be a much-needed corrective for media’s drive for entertainment and sensationalism, programming that’s foisted on the public as relevant and objective.  Moreover, my proposal would illustrate the true nature of the conservative, right wing as misogynistic, anti-science, anti-medicine and anti-woman.

It’s a modest proposal that I’d like to think Jonathan Swift would admire.

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