Abortion


In a recent Daily Beast article concerning abortion-related comments between Rand Paul and Debbie Wasserman-Shultz, Samantha Allen wrote, “By turning late-term abortions into a metonym for the issue as a whole, [Rand] Paul is clearly attempting to challenge the American consensus on the legality of abortion earlier in pregnancy. It’s a tactic as old as Roe: make first-trimester abortions guilty by association with the more easily demonized late-term procedures.” Nothing new was said here about the intent to frame all abortions as happening in the third trimester. “Metonym” is what caught my attention.

It is metonyms that keep the average person confused about abortion. Since most people, politicians and regular voters included, do not go out of their way to educate themselves about abortion and the numerous complexities of the debate, they are influenced by metonyms.

Not to be confused with a metaphor, a metonym is “a word, name, or expression used as a substitute for something else with which it is closely associated.”  We use metonyms all the time. Online sources cite “Washington” as an often used metonym for the federal government, “sweat” for hard work, “plastic” for credit card and so on. Most of us take care in everyday conversation to avoid metonymic usage if it will misinform. That is not the case in politics and, after reading Allen’s article, I realized how pervasive metonyms are in the language used to discuss abortion, primarily by those opposed to abortion.

What is the most destructive are the efforts to present abortion as something it is not. Achieving public policy objectives through false data and building public support by misleading the less passionate into a belief system based on ideology presented through using inaccurate and incorrect word choices is wrong, yet never effectively challenged.Embryos-Human

Responding to the same Rand Paul – Debbie Wasserman-Schultz comments, Casey Mattox shared in the Federalist that Wasserman-Shultz and the Democrat Party support abortion “through all nine months of pregnancy.” He later states, “Democrats are big on abortion euphemisms. When they say, as Wasserman-Shultz did, that abortion should be a woman’s ‘choice’ through all nine months, they want you to focus on something other than the reality of what abortion is. Simply put, there is no clean and humane way to kill a seven-pound, full-term baby.”

I am not sure what specific euphemisms Mattox had in mind, or if he incorrectly thinks that correct terms, such as blastocyst, embryo, or fetus, are euphemisms and that pro-choice advocates should use his preferred set of ideological words or metonyms. All pro-choice people I know would agree that it is inhumane to kill a full-term baby. We also tend to believe it inhumane to have public policies that would force a woman to compromise her health or die in order for a fetus to evolve into a born person. Mattox used the “choice” term in the context of the abortion debate as a metonym for “abortion on demand at all stages of pregnancy for any reason.”  Sadly, the dispassionate all too often believe such rhetoric.

Over the years, many of us have written about the language used to discuss abortion. Often divisive and steeped in emotion, the language is powerful. The terms “pro-choice” and “pro-life” have always created barriers to productive discourse about abortion to the point that many people now refuse to be categorized as one or the other.

Decoding Abortion Language imageFetus and unborn baby are frequently used as metonyms for blastocysts and embryos. Abortion opponents use murder metonymically for the abortion procedure itself.  Decoding Abortion Rhetoric: The Communication of Social Change (Celeste Michelle Condit 1990) discussed how metonymic language shaped public policy on abortion. That was 25 years ago and metonyms continue to define each and every facet that leads to abortion-related public policy today. Another book, Lexical and Syntactical Constructions and the Construction of Meaning, published in 1995, also discussed the metonymy of abortion language. When “embryo” is used by abortion opponents, it is as a metonym for stem cells, which has dramatically limited potentially lifesaving research. As author Mark Bracher stated in yet another book, Lacan, Discourse, and Social Change: A Psychoanalytic Cultural Criticism (1993), “Insofar as antiabortionist discourse convinces its audience, through such operations of metaphor and metonymy, that the fetus is an instance of human life, it succeeds in positioning abortion…” (p105).

Metonymy has positioned abortion in public policy outcomes. What it cannot accomplish is altering the experiences so many Americans have had, directly or indirectly, with abortion. Abortion polls that both sides use to claim victories from time to time are not reliable. What is reliable are the personal and family experiences people have with abortion rights and access.  Those experiences reject the metonyms and steer people to the belief that abortion is a personal decision between a woman and her medical provider.

Congressional-sealCongress began the 2015 session proposing more anti-abortion legislation, keeping in step with legislators at the state level doing the same. Abortion rights have been chipped away so continuously, many of us have come to expect more, no matter how ludicrous.

The proposed laws calling for intrusive, expensive, and uncomfortable (even painful)  transvaginal ultrasounds and mandated scripted information containing unscientific , inaccurate or incorrect information to abortion patients serve no purpose but to promote anti-abortion propaganda and delay access to abortion services.  Some proposals are truly bizarre. An addendum to legislation in North Carolina that passed in 2013 is currently being pushed by some politicians to “…[establish] governing and quality assurance boards and [designate] a chief executive to handle day-to-day operations…”  Exactly what will an additional layer of bureaucracy in a medical practice accomplish for women’s health?

restrictions-2011-2013_smWhen asked to describe the benefits of these laws, the answers are generally the same and women generally have reactions of disbelief to their claims:

Women need to be “properly” informed. Once they are provided the right information, they will be less likely to have an abortion. Uh, yeah, even we women know that we really just do not know what we are doing when it comes to pregnancy, abortion, or other decisions involving our reproductive lives. Yep. We women need the wisdom and personal, often religious, convictions of politicians before we can feel confidence in our decision. We should not trust ourselves or our medical care providers.

It protects women’s health. Abortion is such a dangerous procedure with two victims – the pregnant mom is scarred for life and her child is killed. Can you please just give specifics about how it actually protects women? Are you saying that childbirth is safer or, really, be honest, are you just trying to put another barrier in place to stop women from choosing to have an abortion? Or, are you thinking illegal abortion would be better somehow?

We care about women and children. Oh, I know, I know…you will eventually convince me to give birth whether I am a healthy young woman, a 46-year-old woman with four children and no desire for more, a woman with chronic health conditions, a 13-year-old unprepared for pregnancy and parenting, an 11-year-old pregnant as a result of repeated sexual molestation from a male relative, or any other woman in any other circumstance. You care so much that you will promise to support me spiritually, emotionally, and financially until my offspring become adults. Oh, wait…I forgot, most of you actually stop supporting women once we give birth, once the fetus becomes a child.

preg patientsIf we assume for a moment that those who support abortion restrictions are sincere in their claims that they believe women should be properly informed, that the laws protect women’s health, and that they care about women and children, then they should also support other reproductive healthcare-related proposals that have the same goal in mind. If the premise of restrictive abortion laws is really about informing and protecting women, then laws must be developed to ensure that all women who get pregnant and plan to give birth are aware of the risks involved. All medical practices that have pregnant women as patients must arrange for structural modifications to their facilities to ensure women and the government that they can properly respond to medical emergencies that might arise. The medical providers of pregnant women must also be required to make specific, politically dictated statements about the range of risks involved in pregnancy and childbirth although, unlike the “abortion information,” statements can be based on empirical data and medical facts.

acogResearch by Elizabeth G. Raymond, MD, MPH and David A. Grimes, MD and published in the American College of Obstetrician and Gynecology’s Obstetrics & Gynecology (February 2012), concluded, “Legal induced abortion is markedly safer than childbirth. The risk of death associated with childbirth is approximately 14 times higher than that with abortion. Similarly, the overall morbidity associated with childbirth exceeds that with abortion.”  (Full PDF article available at no charge through embedded link.) While I am not interested in shattering the joy of women learning of a wanted positive pregnancy test, fair is fair. There are risks associated with pregnancy and childbearing for which women should receive appropriate medical information. Given the political and religious propaganda out there, the chances are that a lot of women think that pregnancy and childbirth are safe. If women cannot be respected as able to independently make decisions about abortion, how can we possibly believe them able to make decisions concerning pregnancy and childbirth?

In addition to pregnancy and childbearing putting women at a higher risk of death than abortion, there are numerous risk factors that require medical attention and monitoring, including prior to conception. Rh incompatibility, kidney disease, diabetes, polycystic ovary syndrome, and autoimmune diseases are among the many conditions that can dramatically complicate the health of pregnant women and their babies. Age and lifestyle are other factors that obstetricians must consider during preconception consultations and prenatal treatment practices. The latest blow to pregnant women and fetal wellbeing is research concerning the influence of the time interval between the delivery of the first baby and conception of the second.  “[A]n interval of less than 12 months causes an increased risk for severe preterm birth in women who already suffered preterm birth in their first pregnancy” was the primary finding of the research, which will be presented this week at the Society of Maternal-Fetal Medicine’s annual meeting.

Obesity is one of the most common risk factors for women in developed countries. According to research published in Science Daily (July 2010), “The heavier the woman, the higher the risk of induced preterm birth before 37 weeks, with very obese women at 70% greater risk than normal weight women.  Overweight or obese women also had a higher risk of early preterm birth (before 32 or 33 weeks). Again, the heavier the woman, the higher the risk of early preterm birth, with very obese women at 82% greater risk than normal weight women.”

CDC pregnancy-related-death-2010_600pxAll proposed Pregnancy and Childbearing Risk Awareness legislation should reach far to include all possible complications – just as restrictive abortion legislation underscores improbable complications such as a perforated uterus or death. For example, maternal mortality is on the rise in the United States, with roughly 18 out of 100,000 women dying from pregnancy-related complications in 2013; between 1998 and 2005, the figure was much lower, with roughly eight deaths per 100,000 pregnant women. In 2011, the Center for Disease Control reported 17.8 deaths per
100,000 pregnant women, noting also significant racial disparities with a rate of 12.5 per 100,000 white women and 42.8 per 100.000 black women. The death rate from abortion is one for every one million abortions performed at eight weeks or less, one for every 29,000 abortions performed at 16 to 20 weeks gestation, and one for every 11,000 abortions performed at 21 weeks or later. Obviously, far more women die due to pregnancy-related complications than abortion complications, even at the later stages of gestation. It is only appropriate to ensure that women have the correct information so that they can decide if they really want to be pregnant and if motherhood is actually worth such possible health concerns.

Those of us who believe that reproductive justice is critical to achieving social and economic equality for women know that women can and do think for themselves in every sphere of life and most especially their reproductive lives. We also make many household and relationship decisions, not to mention educational and career decisions. We do not need politicians, pastors, or “sidewalk counselors” to help us make informed, personal decisions nor do we need them to create laws to try to impose their views on us. If they feel they must be a part of our reproductive lives, they should go about it fairly and provide complete and accurate information on abortion and pregnancy.

GOP out of bedroomA US News and World Report article (12/31/14), What the Battle Over Abortion Will Look Like in 2015, should remind all of us concerned about reproductive justice that Republicans will control the Senate and the House of Representatives beginning this month. As much as Republicans claim to favor small and less government, we all know that when it comes to issues relative to human sexuality, they espouse as much government intrusion and regulation as possible. Although many Republicans are pro-choice, the party continues to allow its extreme right wing and Tea Party darlings to steer the votes and priorities. Reproductive decisions, sexual orientation, and even personal sexual activity preferences are of greater concern to John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, and friends than ensuring that every child has food to eat, that people are working and earning a fair wage, or that the U.S. government is protecting business from cyber-attacks, and so on. It makes no sense, but it is a reality.  It is reasonable to expect more attacks on reproductive rights in 2015.

Rick BrattinThe Republicans are on a roll. Just last month Missouri Republican Rick Brattin reintroduced a bill to require women seeking abortion to get permission from the father of the zygote/embryo/fetus.  According to Mother Jones, Brattin’s bill would exempt “legitimate rape” victims. For a pregnancy resulting from rape to be exempted and the claim of rape “legitimate,” a police report must have been filed immediately after the rape. Oh yes, the Republicans are on a roll, seemingly even including distinctions about rape – Todd Akin style. Always claiming that the legislation is to “protect women,” these mostly male representatives apparently believe they know more about what is best for women’s health than, well, legitimate women.

Thomas State legis LoCPro-choice Americans have got to step up to the plate in 2015.  They must resolve to at least let their elected
representatives know their views. As fellow blogger and former lobbyist Pat Richards can confirm, it is very easy to contact members of Congress.  One website that provides direct contact information of each congressional member is https://www.congress.gov/members. For state and local legislative representatives, The Library of Congress Thomas website provides links to each state legislature. Pro-choice people need to take a page from the playbook of the zealously anti-choice organizations like violence-promoting Operation Rescue and the various evangelical groups that pressure church members to attend sessions to write emails and make phone calls en masse. It can make a difference in the extent to which a member of Congress maintains interest in sponsoring or defending restrictive anti-abortion or other family planning legislation.

During my years directing a clinic, countless state and federal legislators shared with me that the primary reason they hesitated to have a stronger public pro-choice position was because they seldom heard from their pro-choice constituents, but they constantly heard from the anti-abortion groups. That needs to finally change – there is too much to lose if it does not.  While NARAL and Planned Parenthood supporters often initiate outreach activities, they simply cannot compete with the church-sanctioned and sponsored groups in terms of numbers. It is also worth noting that politicians actually like to hear the views of individuals speaking from the heart instead of an organized script.

minds changeAs much as we may see reproductive rights as an issue in which people do not change their positions, there are studies that illustrate that people do change their minds about polarizing issues such as abortion and gay rights. Minds change through personal experience or learning about the firsthand experience of someone they know, love, or in some way care for. Minds can change when we interact with others with whom we share general values and recognize that on polarizing issues with which we disagree, things are not so black and white, all or none propositions. No one should be fooled into believing that when minds change about abortion it is only to the anti-choice position. National Right to Life has done some great messaging in that regard. In fact, pro-choice groups could do the same.

Maria Rivera

Maria Rivera/Photo from Trust.org

In 2015 we can probably expect to see more legislation proposed to ban abortion as early as 12 weeks, more verbatim scripting for medical professionals to impose on patients regardless if true, and more unnecessary and invasive ultrasound or other testing. Before you know it, every woman who miscarries will be subjected to a law enforcement report and inquiry. Think that sounds extreme? Just take a few minutes to learn about Maria Teresa Rivera in El Salvador where all abortion is banned. She did not even know she was pregnant when she miscarried, but the judge did not believe her and sentenced Rivera to 40 years in prison for aggravated murder. Each and every anti-abortion bill proposed in the U.S. under the guise of women’s health is another step towards a total ban.

Time is of the essence for reproductive justice. When and whether to have children is a personal choice. Abortion is a personal choice in which women do not benefit from, and can be harmed by, governmental interference. Medical professionals do not need the input of politicians in the private relationships they have with patients. Please, be it resolved that you will share your pro-choice position and dedication to reproductive justice with your elected representatives beginning this first month of 2015.

texasBy now, any person who reads this blog is aware that the State of Texas has ruled that their very unnecessary anti-abortion law, designed to make it impossible for current abortion providers to comply, can be immediately enforced.  The Facebook page of Abortion.com just posted the link to an essay by Damon Linker in The Week (10-3-14) that raises critical questions that all pro-choice voters must hold their anti-choice elected officials accountable to answering:

If you believe abortion is murder, what specific punishment should be meted out against women who seek abortions, those who assist in the procurement and practice of abortion, and those who provide abortions?

In your view, Ms./Mr. Elected Official, since you think abortion is murder, will you be sponsoring legislation asking for the death penalty if your state has laws restricting abortion?

Damon Linker wrote: “If abortion really is murder, then everyone involved deserves to be punished, and punished severely…If, on the other hand, such punishment sounds wildly, almost absurdly disproportionate, then maybe it’s a sign that abortion really isn’t murder after all.” His point is excellent and one that has been raised here as well as the Abortion.com Facebook page. Politicians have never really been forced to reveal the actual penalties they believe should be imposed on those who participate in an abortion, should it become illegal or severely restricted and prompt women to resort to whatever is feasible and providers to resort to underground practices. At the moment, it is arguable that Texas ought to start expanding their correctional facilities. We know that women have already been obtaining drugs from Mexico and international mail for medical abortions or to cause a miscarriage. Yep, Texas better get their death row lodging in good order, not to mention make sure that all lethal injection protocol training is thorough and an ample inventory of execution drugs.Lethal injection

This ruling will undoubtedly energize the most whacko, zealous of the anti-abortion groups to pattern the Texas laws into initiatives in other states. Therefore, it is sensible and important for pro-choice voters to get their pols to answer the questions raised here.

The organizations that have fervently advocated reproductive rights over the years, specifically Planned Parenthood, NARAL, and National Organization for Women, opposed grassroots efforts to propose legislation to support reproductive justice in states like Arkansas in 1989. Their reasoning was that it was somehow better to work with legislatures to oppose restrictive laws, which, at the time, were focused primarily on parental notification or consent. Creating law is easier than trying to undo law. I sure hope those organizations – that raised a lot of money on the issue – kept the contact information on the many that supported the pro-choice legislation efforts. They will need it now for more than donations.

The one silver lining in this outrageous ruling in Texas is that it may well motivate voters to show up in the upcoming mid-term elections. Texas indeed does things big – that does not mean any other state is interested in Texas sharing any of their “big.” There is not one excuse for a pro-choice person to not vote this November.

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