ProLife


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.

You have heard, no doubt, people saying that their choice for president is based on sentiments such as “we have shared values” or “he’s authentic” or “he’s prolife.” Political scientist Samuel Popkin of the University of California, San Diego, calls this kind of reasoning “gut rationality.” Essentially, people vote by heuristics and go with their gut, with whom they most identify, or with how the candidates make them feel. But such a vote, while rational sounding, tells us that voters often vote with their heart and not their head.

For most prolife voters (and other single-issue voters), emotional voting is a substitute for their cognitive-processing limitations. Most voters simply do not know all that there is to know about a candidate. The information available on the candidate’s record, the assessment of the veracity of the information and prognostications for what the candidate might do if voted into office, is a daunting task for political pundits. For ordinary citizens, sifting through this data, if available, could cause an overload for even the most studious.

The average citizen is woefully ignorant of facts and, thus, relies on sound bytes and obfuscatory God terms like family values, patriotism, freedom and progress. In fact, according to political voting behavior expert, Drew Westen, PhD, when given empirical data that pushed voters one way or the other, that had no impact, those facts only hardened their emotionally biased views. In politics, Westen claims, “when reason and emotion collide, emotion invariably wins.” It’s a sad reality for our democracy when reason and facts lose to emotions, when politicians’ sound bytes reign over the complexities within the platform of each candidate aspiring to lead our country.

  Not surprising, for most prolife voters, abortion, couched as the all-encompassing prolife moniker, is their single issue vote looking for a prolife candidate. So, if you are that voter, ask yourself how ending legal abortion will improve the lives of single mothers, homeless and hungry families or unemployed parents. Ask yourself how your prolife candidate will address the astronomical rise in sexually transmitted infections in teens (one out of four) in spite of the failed conservative-embraced abstinence-only education in school districts. Ask how ending legal abortion will help the woman carrying a dead fetus at 14 weeks or help the woman with a hydranencephalic fetus. Ask how ending legal abortion will help the woman who is forced to continue her pregnancy despite suffering from affective psychosis and serious hyperemesis gravidurum.  Ask how ending legal abortion will help the pregnant woman who does not want to continue the pregnancy, does not want to be a mother, does not want the fetus to be inside her, has no emotional attachment to this thing growing inside her and does not want any outsiders telling her what she can or cannot do with her body. These questions are just about abortion. They’re not about the larger issues that support women and their families. They’re not about the very real issues that families face as they try to put food on the table, tutor children with their homework, juggle work and family, and juggle finances to pay the rent or buy the groceries. Some say that it’s a matter of conscience. They say they cannot support someone who agrees with taking innocent life. OK. But does your prolife candidate support the military’s taking of innocent lives in the many U.S. invasions? Does your candidate support capital punishment? Does your candidate support budgetary cuts that break the lifelines for the poor, the disenfranchised and our veterans? And after you’ve pondered your answers to these questions, issues that the Congress and the president can impact, remember that the president doesn’t decide the abortion issue. The only role the president has in that regard is through his judicial appointments, primarily to the Supreme Court.

To sum things up, consider two more questions. First, if you’re an antiabortion single-issue voter making your bet on the prolife candidate, ask yourself if abortion is something that is paramount to the safety, prosperity, to the very existence of all in this nation. Second, ask yourself if the end of legal abortion will save the nation from destruction in the long run. I’m betting you cannot answer in the affirmative to either question, if you are truthful.

Our media-saturated culture conditions boys and men to dehumanize and disrespect women in magazines, television, and film and in everyday life. The message is clear. Womanizing is about power and privilege, a sense of entitlement. And in religion and politics, we see the same culture of misogyny. The latest comes from Missouri Republican Senate candidate Rep. Todd Akin. Akin, who opposes abortion in all cases, including rape, said, “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” Mr. Aiken, oddly enough, is a member of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, yet he uses non-scientific reasoning to perpetrate one of the most offensive and ignorant campaign season’s comments yet. To wit a study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology that states, “an estimated 32,101 pregnancies result from rape each year,” in the United States, meaning that about 5 percent of women who are raped do become pregnant. And of that 5 percent, 50% choose to abort the pregnancy. Imagine—Science defying the logic of the GOP.

Beyond what Akin said is the logic that informed his gaffe. If you get pregnant, it wasn’t rape. That’s it. If you are violently and sexually penetrated by a rapist’s penis, against your will, and you are impregnated, then it wasn’t rape. But even beyond that logic is his unquestionable stance against abortions for any reason; hence, he believes if you get pregnant, you should carry the pregnancy to term.

This faux science is not new. In fact, his canard has been floating around the anti abortion Republicans for some time. Let’s go back to 1998 and a statement from Fay Boozman, the late Fay Boozman of Arkansas. He was running for U.S. Senate, and he said fear-induced hormonal changes could block a rape victim’s ability to conceive. In 1995, North Carolina State Representative Henry Aldridge said, “The facts show that people who are raped, who are truly raped, the juices don’t flow, the body functions don’t work and they don’t get pregnant.” Then there’s a similar statement from 1988. Pennsylvania Republican State Representative Steven Friend said, “The odds of a woman becoming pregnant through rape are one in millions and millions and millions.” He said, “The trauma of rape causes women to secrete a certain secretion which has a tendency to kill sperm.” One has to notice the covert message that almost excuses the perpetrators and blames the victims of sexual violence.

I’m reminded of an incident at an Allentown PA abortion clinic where a mother and daughter were verbally accosted by a particularly aggressive protester. The mother told the man that her daughter was raped. And rather than back off or show some modicum of compassion, he screamed,“If the child was conceived in rape that’s the way God wanted it.” [see video]. Essentially, disregard the violence. Disregard her pain. Disregard her humanity. Fr. Frank Pavone said essentially the same thing in an interview years back. He claimed (and still does) the mother was harmed once. Abortion would harm her again and kill her unborn.  Again, no regard for the violence, no regard for the woman, no regard for what the woman wants.

The fact remains that Todd Akin will never know what it means to be a woman, to be trapped in a bed, shoved down on a parking garage staircase, or tied to pole in an abandoned basement. He’ll never know what it’s like to be violently assaulted by some aggressive, indifferent friend or stranger or relative. He’ll not know what it feels like having someone gag you, rip off your clothes and enter your most personal, sacred, private part of your body and do so violently, hatefully forcing himself into you, ripping you apart, filling you with unwanted sperm, and knowing you cannot escape the thing growing inside of you. Todd Aiken will never experience being a woman who is pregnant from a rapist and being told you have no choice. Yet, I’m betting, he’s pretty self-righteous when he says women should have no choice.

Like the majority of the GOP, including the Vice President hopeful Paul Ryan, Todd Akin’s message is clear: No abortion for you! Your body is to support the rapist’s fetus against your will. And when you see the face of the rapist in that child, you will be judged harshly if you cannot love that face.

My sense is that this debacle is further evidence of what is known as the GOP’s war on women. But right-wing media figures have downplayed and dismissed Republican Congressman Todd Akin’s controversial remarks on rape and abortion, calling them “dumb” and a distraction. The public response to Akin’s comments more or less drove him to offer a feigned apology. I say feigned because it now it appears that, all the while, the people really in charge of the GOP—fundamentalist anti-choicers among them—have been writing a party platform that not only makes all of that a lie, but is in effect a promise to make the personhood of fertilized eggs the law of the land.

The draft official platform strongly supports a “a human life amendment” to the Constitution:

Faithful to the ‘self-evident’ truths enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, we assert the sanctity of human life and affirm that the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed, the draft platform declares. “We support a human life amendment to the Constitution and endorse legislation to make clear that the Fourteenth Amendment’s protections apply to unborn children.”

Let’s be very, very clear that such an amendment—which Mitt Romney has said unequivocally he would sign—would not only criminalize abortions of any kind for any reason, but also would outlaw many forms of contraception, in-vitro fertilization, and treatment of pregnant women with life-threatening conditions such as cancer. Moreover, it would also criminalize miscarriage.

So, there you have some of the facts. The problem isn’t Akin.

It’s the central position of the GOP controlled by fundamentalists who believe women have no rights. Which side of history will you be on?

In 1969, one of my housemates, Michelle, and I offered to drive a colleague from Fort Collins CO to Denver. All three of us worked at Luby’s Cafeteria. Michelle and I worked part time because we also attended Colorado State University while our friend, Linda, worked full time. Linda was a 30-something divorcee with two children living in a trailer park with her Baptist parents. She had started dating again and found herself with an unplanned and unwanted pregnancy. So she arranged for an abortion and needed a ride and an alibi. The story she told her parents (who would be watching her children) was that she was stepping out for the evening with friends and would crash at our house (we were five women who shared a really large rental home). That was her cover story. The real story was quite different. She could not tell them she was pregnant. Unmarried women, according to her parents, did not have sex, did not get pregnant and, sure as hell, did not have an abortion. Linda was convinced that if they knew she was pregnant, they would throw her out on the street.

So, with the best of intentions, Michelle and I made the one-hour trip to Denver with our friend. She was understandably nervous about the arrangement she made over the phone with a strange man, the abortionist. The plan was to meet him at a motel on West Colfax Avenue, cash in hand, where he would perform her abortion. It’s kind of amazing to think about legislators and antis talking about waiting periods and ambulatory surgical requirements now. Our friend had an abortion on a motel bed without any assurance that the man was a doctor, without any assurance that the man had hospital privileges, without any anesthesia, without any assurances of sterility, without any guarantees that she would live and without any state required speeches about pregnancy options.

I do not recall much of the trip. Knowing the three of us, we likely chatted like magpies. I also loved to drive. So, zipping down the highway was just a way of life for me. It wasn’t until we arrived at the crummy looking motel, that I began to feel afraid for Linda as she got out of the car. She seemed scared. Michelle and I watched her enter the designated motel room and the door close behind her. Our instructions were to pick her up in two hours, as best I can recall.

Keep in mind those were not the days of cell phones. We couldn’t text or call her. And we knew not to knock on the motel door. Instead, Michelle and I went to the local favorite, a coffee shop called the White Spot.

They were all over the metropolitan Denver area and had one of the best waffles around. Whether for greasy comfort food, post party munchies or waiting for a friend, the cheap eats at the White Spot were just the ticket.

From the recesses of my memory, I recall feeling anxious while Michelle, a veteran of abortion, seemed more comfortable. I was 20 years old and naïve. I didn’t know anything about abortions except hushed conversations about girls desperately scrapping together funds to go to Mexico or Sweden. I didn’t know even that much about sex or pregnancy. Thinking about this naiveté (or ignorance) now, as I write this post, reminds me of our 2006 documentary fieldwork with junior high students in Allentown. The kids were making digital stories about issues that impacted their community like speeding, litter, graffiti and recreational parks for kids. In what was likely the hottest day on record, our digital documentary campers were doing fieldwork in downtown Allentown when one of the antiabortion ‘truth trucks’ rolled down Hamilton Boulevard. One of the young girls, a nine year old, saw the truck and said, “That’s why I won’t use birth control.” I was astounded at her misperceptions (but said nothing to correct her because it wasn’t my place). But considering my ignorance back in 1969 and her misperceptions in 2006, there seemed to be little difference in terms of naiveté. But I digress.

After polishing our waffles, swilling gallons of coffee, and polluting our lungs with cigarette after cigarette, we eventually returned to the West Colfax motel. Linda was cramping but seemed otherwise OK. I felt a bit of relief because she was with us.

But by the time we got Linda settled in our house, things took a turn for the worse. She began bleeding really heavily. I drove to the drug store for sanitary pads. But the bleeding worsened still. She soaked through an entire box of super soaker pads in no time. Fortunately, we had enough sense to take her to the emergency room. She survived, thanks to an emergency hysterectomy, a short visit to ICU and several transfusions.

This is before Roe v Wade. Others weren’t so lucky.

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