Wow. Abortion has certainly topped the news cycle lately, thanks to a law just passed in New York and a bill in Virginia that prompted a controversial comment by the governor of that state, who is now embroiled in a blackface controversy that has put his future at stake.
Needless to say, my Facebook newsfeed is filled with opinions, from both pro-lifers and pro-choicers, on the topic along with countless links to support this point or that point.
As a libertarian, I am pro-choice. I would not elect to take away a woman’s right to choose. But I also see it as a health issue and not a government one. But that’s a different discussion. But as a human, a woman, I am pro-life. So I tend to stay out of abortion discussions.
One thing is clear, the two sides are talking past each other, and so no one gets anywhere.
Those who are pro-choice say a woman has a right to choose because it is her body and only she has the power of deciding what making decisions about her body. Abortions are necessary for the true freedom of women, freedom from having children at any given point in their lives if they find themselves pregnant, whether by accident or due to rape or incest, if they so choose. Of course, this is simplifying it all. But I don’t want to get into an argument about all of the reasons a woman has sovereignty over her own body and what occupies it.
Those who are pro-life believe abortion is murder, plain and simple.
And how could there possibly be any compromise between these two viewpoints?
Well, there certainly can’t be as long as the pro-choice position is that those who are pro-life only seek to control women’s bodies. And that men are not allowed to have an opinion about this. I assume you can see how those attacks will fall on deaf ears. Because the people being attacked think abortion is killing. They truly aren’t trying to control women. That’s not their goal. They are trying to save babies, as they see it. And because they think it is murder, yes, men can also have that opinion. So when told they just want to move backwards to a time they could control women’s bodies is just…confusing.
I also can see why someone who is pro-choice would see it that way, because forcing a woman to go through with a pregnancy she doesn’t want absolutely is taking the control of that decision, and hence her body, away from the woman in question. But there is a conflict in the hierarchy of values of the two groups in question.
Those in the pro-choice camp value a woman’s sovereignty over her own body over the fetus of an unwanted pregnancy.
Those in the pro-life camp value the life of the unborn baby over the woman’s choice.
And I used different terminology on purpose.
Unfortunately, a serious, respectful discussion of these values rarely occurs. Or at least, I never see it.
Lately, I have become more interested in the topic of abortion because of the recent headlines. I couldn’t believe what I was reading and hearing. And a bit of digging, as usual, reveals that people are not speaking carefully or precisely about what current laws actually already allow and what the new proposed laws change. The ten-second soundbites are outlandish (a word I am not sure i have ever used, but it popped into my head and seems so accurate).
For example, what the governor of Virginia said on radio show (fast forward to around 38:30 – I didn’t want to post the comments out of context) about the third trimester abortion bill that had been introduced shocked me, along with millions of others. It absolutely appears that he is saying after a baby is born, the doctor and mother can decide what to do with the baby. And he gives that as an example of a third trimester abortion.
Surely, reasonable people can understand how his comments would be confusing. So if he misspoke or if he simplified a much more nuanced situation, a further clarification would clear things up. Unfortunately, much of what I have seen on the issue has been a doubling down.
And then there is the condescending tone that screams “You’re an idiot if you don’t understand what he meant,” followed by the accusation “you only want to control women’s bodies,” given simply for asking for clarification.
The craziest thing happened to me, as I struggled to figure out what the governor meant and what exactly the bill in Virginia was proposing, because I was becoming concerned about my own pro-choice position from what I was hearing.
I was invited to a local political lecture by a friend, and a quick dinner beforehand. I was unaware a third person would be joining us. Turned out, this man and his wife own an abortion clinic in Virginia. And they have been extremely active politically. My friend told me she was at the Washington DC Women’s March this year with them, and it was like being with rock starts. Everyone knew them and their work.
So I asked. And asked. I did apologize for inundating him with questions at the end of the dinner. I expressed no opinions. I was just striving for understanding. And it was probably one of the most productive discussions on abortion I have ever had.
He revealed that he (and he made it sound like many in his community) were angry that the bill had even been proposed in Virginia. Turns out, the difference between current law and the proposed law was that as the law now stands, three doctors are required to certify a third semester abortion. This bill would reduce that number to one, the woman’s primary doctor. It also would take out the words “substantially and irremediably” from the statement allowing abortion if the pregnancy “substantially and irremediably impair[ed] the mental or physical health of the woman.”
I just wonder how many people were aware of the current law. I know I wasn’t. Turns out, it could be argued that this bill is not a huge change. My dinner friend was upset because he said it really wasn’t necessary to even bring this bill forward. He could think of only two cases in the last five years that might apply. But under the current law, they were both able to get three doctors approval and obtain the abortion. So in fact, they didn’t really need the new law. Now, he also stated that he only performs up to 13 week abortions, so it is possible there are other cases he is unaware of. He said it is also possible if someone didn’t get the three doctors to sign off, she could have travelled to another state where laws are looser.
But what the bill accomplished was putting abortion on the front page, and turning the discussion to an emotional, reactionary war. And Governor Northam’s comments didn’t help that.
I asked my dinner mate a question I’ve been wondering about. In all the talk about having to do a late term abortion to save the mother’s life, I have been confused. Isn’t that what a c-section is for? After all, when I was pregnant with my son, believe it or not, my life was at risk TWICE during the pregnancy. The first time was at 26 weeks. I had to go through emergency exploratory surgery because doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong. All tests on the baby showed that he was mine. I was the problem. I actually had to sign papers saying that it was ok if I lost the baby. Which I did. I was in unbearable pain, pain I didn’t think I could survive.
Turned out, I was bleeding internally from a ruptured ovarian cyst. My son rested peacefully in my uterus while all hell broke loose around him. But after surgery the doctor told me that had he been at risk, they would have removed him and rushed him to NICU. But there was no need to. I came out still pregnant with twenty staples from my belly button wrapping around to my side. The scar is pretty horrendous!
The second time, my water broke early, at 35 weeks. I was admitted to the hospital for observation. It’s a long story as to why I was still pregnant and in the hospital on bed rest five days later, but on the fifth day, I yelled out in pain, resulting in a rush of nurses to my side. The baby looked fine. Heartbeat was strong. No labor. But I was howling in pain. Soon I was screaming “Fuck” as loud as I could. I asked to make calls to say goodbye. I knew I was dying. The last words I remember hearing came from the anesthesiologist as he put me under. “This doesn’t look good.”
When I finally awoke and had some semblance of consciousness, I was told that if we had not already been in the hospital, both my son and I would have most assuredly died. Instead, I had a healthy, albeit tiny, baby boy and I should recover fully. The doctor told me that the placenta had attached on a weakened section of the uterine wall. In my previous pregnancy, the placenta would not expel and doctors had to cut it out. They thought perhaps it was that spot where the placenta attached. It broke through the uterine wall, and once again, I was bleeding out internally.
An emergency c-section saved both me and the baby.
So I asked. Isn’t that what a c-section is for? An emergency? The mother’s life (or the baby’s, for that matter) is threatened? He also informed me a bit about the medical emergencies that might lead to a late abortion, but he also admitted that it really isn’t about that. These late term abortions are really about nonviable fetuses, those without a brain, for example.
These are the discussions that need to be a the forefront. Discussions that would actually promote understanding. They might not change anyone’s mind. In fact, I doubt they would. But they might get us to see each other as reasonable, sentient beings rather than as demonic enemies, which is seriously what it feels like today in the United States.
Things like this aren’t helpful: Tucker Carlson interviews Monica Klein of Seneca Strategies.
And honestly, neither are articles like this: “Abortions at or after 24 weeks are sometimes needed medically. Anyone who says otherwise is wrong.”
If I were still in the classroom, I would bring this article in for my college freshmen to discuss. My first question would be “How would you describe the tone of the article?” I would follow that up with asking for examples of words that reveal the tone.
My second question would be “Who is the intended audience?”
I would suggest that the tone is condescending and sarcastic. Here’s an example: “I have written about 3rd trimester abortion so much that I am stunned at the basic inability to grasp what is happening.” The author is Dr. Jen Gunter, and OB/GYN who has a blog and Twitter following. When I saw this article, which someone shared on my Facebook newsfeed, I had never read anything she had written nor even heard of her. So to assume I have read what she has written on the topic multiple times and that I am just a dolt who cannot grasp her meaning reveals a misunderstanding of reach.
I think for most of the population, and correct me if I’m wrong, the issue of abortion is not a day to day topic I am talking and reading about. Obviously, for others, it’s their business to be experts about the medical side of abortion as well as the legality in all fifty states and federally. So to assume that the reader is an idiot who simply can’t grasp what is happening is a gross mischaracterization. I promise you I am not an idiot. This just isn’t my area of expertise, and it isn’t an area I haven’t been busy investigating in my spare time. I have other priorities, other things going on in my life, other pet projects. That doesn’t mean I cannot learn. I actually want to learn.
Or how about this line? “Here are the facts about abortion at or after 24 weeks and the facts and I don’t care if you believe in them or not. They are still true.” She even adds that “Apparently some doctors don’t really grasp this [the facts], so here we are.”
As an academic, I cannot imagine accepting a paper on abortion stating this about the facts used as evidence. Nor would I accept facts on an essay from a source that claimed this. Not that this is a college research paper or that the author is interested in being quoted in college research papers, but …still.
You can read the article yourself and find other examples of the condescending tone. But that leads me to the second question. Who is her audience? It doesn’t appear to be doctors, in order to educate them on medical terms and procedures. She insults them. It’s not anyone who is pro-life. The entire article is designed to prove what idiots they are. I would consider myself philosophically pro-choice. I am not an activist, and I don’t participate in protests. But I want women to have the right to choose an abortion through the first 13 weeks. I am not exactly what I think after that. So an article like this might help me clarify my own stance on second or third trimester abortions. But this article isn’t written for me either. I am turned off by the first sentence when she mentions all the lies circulating about the New York law. A few sentences later, she states, “This has sadly been an opportunity to mischaracterize and even lie about what women who are 24 or more weeks pregnant go through when they need an abortion and I find this deeply offensive.” Or perhaps it is misunderstanding? Why isn’t that a possibility? Pretty much everyone who is not an abortion activist that I have spoken to in the last couple of weeks is completely confused. Is Governor Northam really saying that if a baby has severe deformities and is born alive that a discussion will ensure about what to do with that baby? And what constitutes severe deformities as opposed to non-viability, which he also mentioned? What is wrong with getting clarification on that?
Buried deep down in the insults is actually some useful information that I didn’t know and had wondered about. But I doubt many in my position would be willing to get that far in the article.
So the only thing I can imagine is that her audience is people who already completely agree with her position, not only on abortion but that those who disagree and those who might be confused about procedures and laws are tiresome morons.
I’m just not sure where we go from here…