Tag Archives: abortion

10 Reasons Feminism Might Not Be For You

18 Sep

This post originally appeared on the blog The Outlier Collective. But since that blog is now defunct, and since people have been asking for this post, I’m republishing it here.

I’m typically a huge proponent of the idea that feminism is for everybody. Feminism is for ladies! It’s for men! It’s for individuals who don’t subscribe to the idea of a gender binary! Feminism is for teenagers and small children! In fact, I’m even pretty sure that at least one of my cats is a feminist, although the other one just prefers to think of herself as a cat-ist, because that’s less political. Regardless, I’m usually of the opinion that feminism, as a philosophy, can and should be embraced by everyone.

Lately, though, I’m not so sure. I’ve been seeing a lot of questionable behaviours and comments, many of them coming from purported feminists. I’m starting to wonder if some people might want to re-think whether the feminist movement is right for them. With that in mind, I’ve created a handy-dandy list of ways to tell whether or not this movement is for you.

So without any further adieu, here are ten signs that feminism might not be for you:

1. You are against victim-blaming except in the case of _____

No one is deserving of any kind of violence, sexual or otherwise, at any time, ever, full stop. I would have thought that this would be something that would be fairly well understood within the feminist community, but apparently that was just wishful thinking. I’ve heard self-professed feminists say all kinds of nasty victim-blaming shit, especially about women who have been sexually assaulted, ranging from complaints about girls giving out mixed signals (hint: there is no such thing as a mixed signal, there is only consent and lack of consent), all the way to suggesting that if a woman does not loudly and forcefully defend herself against an attack then she’s somehow complicit in it. I’ve also heard people criticize and even doubt assault victims because they’ve said something problematic or at some point in history weren’t very nice. But let me tell you something right now: there is no such thing as a perfect victim.

You guys, a victim is a victim is a victim. It doesn’t matter whether or not they’ve lived an exemplary life. It doesn’t matter if they’ve said things that you find disagreeable. It doesn’t matter whether or not you like them or would want to be friends with them. None of those things mean that they are deserving of violence.

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2. You think that one of the goals of the feminist movement should be to make men feel safer or more comfortable about feminism.

Someone recently shared this video with me and it made me want to throw up everywhere:

I mean, I have so many issues with this video that I could probably write an entire series of blog posts about it. Also, I’m not sure that someone who doesn’t understand that sex and gender are two different things should be telling anyone about anything, and especially not opining on feminism. But the moment that especially makes me want to claw my own eyes out is when she asks “young women” to make feminism “male-friendly.”

Look, lady, the entire world is male-friendly, for one thing. For another, feminism isn’t anti-man – it’s anti-patriarchy, which is completely different. It is really fucking toxic to the feminist movement to suggest that we need to be more open and welcoming to men. That’s like saying that the civil rights movement should have been more open and inclusive towards white people. And this isn’t to say that men can’t be involved in feminism, in the same way that white people are still able to fight against racism – it’s just that movements working to forward the rights and freedoms of the oppressed should never, ever try to make themselves more friendly to those who have been historically oppressive.

That’s just common sense.

3. You think that someone can’t be a feminist based on how they dress or present themselves.

I can’t help but think of an interview with Zooey Deschanel that Glamour ran in February of this year. In it, she said,

“We can’t be feminine and be feminists and be successful? I want to be a fucking feminist and wear a fucking Peter Pan collar. So fucking what?”

There’s this weird idea (even within the feminist movement) that femininity somehow takes away from feminism. And, I mean, I guess that I kind of get it? Maybe? Sort of? Like, wearing pretty dresses and putting on makeup and removing your body hair definitely plays into patriarchal ideas of beauty. But you know what? Feminism is about choice, and these patriarchal ideas are so deeply ingrained in our culture that’s it’s nearly impossible to escape them. So you know what? You fucking wear your feminist Peter Pan collar with pride, Zooey, and I will do the same.

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Still A Feminist

4. You don’t think that feminists are funny.

We’re fucking hilarious. Deal with it.

And not only are we funny, but our jokes don’t rely on the same old tired stereotypes about women that dudes seem to find so charming. That’s right – we’re actually coming up with new material and it’s fucking fantastic and maybe you should get over yourself and read some Lindy West or Mallory Ortberg or one of the other million woman who are a riot and a half. Turn off your white dude comic show for HALF A SECOND and check out something new for once in your life. Just saying.

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5. You’re not interested in hearing how women of colour, queer women, or trans* women feel that the feminist movement has failed to recognize or address their needs and wants.

The feminist movement likes to think of itself as being anti-oppression, anti-racism, anti-homophobia and anti-transphobia. And I do think that most feminists believe in these ideas in theory; unfortunately, many of them have a harder time putting these concepts into practice. There’s a tendency to ignore or even silence queer women, trans* women and women of colour, and while I don’t think that this silencing is intentional, exactly, I do think that many people, even those working within the feminist movement, don’t want to address this problem or even acknowledge that it happens.

Here’s the thing: when someone from an oppressed group speaks up, you listen. You shut your mouth and you listen. You don’t tell them that we’re all women, here, and the issues that we’re working to resolve are issues that affect all women. You don’t discount their lived experiences by countering with your own examples of being oppressed as a white woman. And finally, you most fucking do not pretend that sexism experienced by women of colour or queer women or trans women is exactly the same as what you’ve experienced. Because it’s not; it’s worse. Get off your high horse, acknowledge your privilege, and let someone else have the microphone for a while. Feminism isn’t an egalitarian movement if it’s only promoting the rights of white, educated, middle-class women.

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6. You can’t handle being called out.

Getting called out is going to happen, I can guarantee it. Pretty much any person working in any kind of social justice movement is going to fuck up at some point (or, at the very least, do something that another person views as “fucking up”), and someone is going to call them out on it. And when that happens to you, it’s important to take a moment, cool your jets, and not immediately get your back up or become defensive. Instead, actually listen to what that person is saying (especially if they’re coming from a place of oppression that hasn’t been your lived experience). Try to take what they’ve said into consideration, even if you think that you’re not, ultimately, going to agree with it. And you know what? The funny thing is that you may very well end up realizing that the person calling you out is, in fact, right.

If you do realize that you were wrong (and let’s be real, probably you are if the caller-outer is from a more marginalized group than you) and you need to apologize, try taking a few notes from the fabulous Chescaleigh:

7. You ever, ever, ever feel the need to clarify that you’re not one of those feminists.

This is code for, “But I don’t hate men! I don’t wear cargo pants! I shave my legs! I promise!” And for sure those statements are true for many feminists; in fact, none of us hate men. But by distancing yourself from those feminists, whoever those feminists are, perpetuates the idea that a) there’s something wrong with those feminists, b) those feminists are totally threatening to men and masculinity, and c) that they make up the majority of the feminist movement.

Remember how we were talking earlier about feminism being all about choice? Well, it’s a two-way street, my friend. You can choose to wear your lipstick and your Peter Pan collar, and another woman can choose to wear hiking boots and a baseball cap, and at the end of the day, both of you are awesome feminists.

8. a) You think that there might be a type of body-shaming that is acceptable.

Nope. Never ok. You don’t get to comment negatively on another woman’s body, ever. You don’t make fat-phobic comments, you don’t make divisive remarks about how real women have curves, you don’t treat “fat” as if it’s a dreadful, dirty word. Oh, and while we’re on this subject, you can also feel free to keep any remarks about plastic surgery to yourself. Recently, when the new season of Arrested Development came on the air, a ton of my friends were gleefully jumping all over the fact that Portia DeRossi appeared to have had some kind of plastic surgery.

And yes, plastic surgery typically plays right into patriarchal ideals of how women should look. And maybe these women are furthering the idea that there is only one, very narrow definition of beauty, and that the appearance of aging is to be avoided at all costs. But you know what? Bodily autonomy. Bodily autonomy means that you get to do whatever you like with your body, and other women get to do whatever they like with their own body. End of story.

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8. b) You think that there might be a type of food-policing that is acceptable.

I once had a woman say to be that she openly judges anyone who uses margarine instead of butter, because apparently margarine is a tool of the devil or some such shit. Now listen, I am the last person to deny being judgmental. I will openly judge you if you are sexist, racist, homophobic, transphobic, anti-choice, mean to puppies, or any of that sort of vile shit. But when it comes to what you put in your body? I literally have zero things to say about that. No wait, I have one thing: bon apétit.

You guys, food is complicated. On the one hand, yes, you do need a certain combination of nutrients in order to keep your body functioning at an optimal level. On the other hand, not everyone has access to so-called healthy foods, and even if they do, they are under no obligation to eat them. In fact, no one is really under any kind of obligation to even be healthy. Bodily autonomy! You get to treat your own body however you want.

9. You are pro-choice, except in cases where _____.

Wrong.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

If you were on Jeopardy or whatever, the WRONG ANSWER buzzer would be going off right now.

The first part of this statement should never be followed up with an “except” or a “but.” You are either pro-choice or you are anti-choice. There is no hierarchy of abortions; they should be available to everyone, on demand, and without apology.

Sure, you are totally free to feel uncomfortable about why someone might choose to terminate their pregnancy, but you know what? You keep those feelings to yourself.

Say it with me, now, one more time: b-o-d-i-l-y a-u-t-o-n-o-m-y

10. You think that there is one specific way to be a feminist.

I know that I’ve pointed out a ton of things that people do that are unfeminist, but the flip side of this is that there’s no one way to be a feminist.

You can be a feminist and be married. You can be a feminist and be single. You can be a feminist and have kids. You can be a feminist and be childless. You can be a feminist and take your partner’s last name. You can be a feminist and keep your last name. You can be a feminist and breastfeed. You can be a feminist and formula-feed. You can be a feminist and work outside the home. You can be a feminist and stay home with your kids.

You can be a feminist in a box. You can be a feminist with a fox. You can be a feminist in a house. You can be a feminist with a mouse. And so on. And so forth.

Seriously, you guys, I can’t believe that I have to say all of this in 2014.

And yeah, I know that I said earlier that maybe feminism isn’t for everyone, but I totally take that back. I still think that everyone can and should be feminist. But I also think that it’s super important for people, especially those already within the movement, to be able to take a step back every once in a while, re-evaluate their beliefs and ask themselves if their speech and actions actually do help to promote women’s rights and equality. Because you know what? It’s easy to fall into the trap of offering the appearance of giving a hand up to women while actually actively engaging in pushing them down. It’s easy to feel that you are working towards “equality” while still sliding back into the old patriarchal beliefs that we all grew up with, to one degree or another. And it’s especially fucking easy to find things to criticize about the ways that women dress, act or talk – in fact, I actually can’t think of anything easier than that.

But we’re not here to take the easy route, are we? So let’s all start taking the time to check in with ourselves, to make sure that the stuff that we say and do actually promotes the changes that we want to see in the world. Let’s take a long, hard look at our thoughts and beliefs, and try harder to call ourselves out before anyone else can. And let’s all try to take few moments every night to repeat bodily autonomy is a necessity five times, out loud, in front of the mirror.

Because, you guys? This is our movement. And it’s our job to continue to make it a better, safer, happier place.

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Seven Reasons You Should Thank A Feminist Today

4 Jul

If there is one thing in this world that makes me want to chew my own face off, it’s women who think that feminism has ruined their lives.

You know the type – women who want to live in some kind of souped up 1950s fantasy world where they get married right out of high school and their husband makes enough to support their family on just his income and they think the moral decline of society has something to do with the fact that women no longer wear crinolines and genteel white gloves and cute little hats. Never mind that, you know, lots and lots of families in the 1950s weren’t able to live off of a single income; trust me when I say that feminism did not invent the working mother. Leaving that little scrap of truth aside, I guess I can see what some women find appealing about this model. They want to live in a world where there were fewer expectations put on women – and lord knows that in this day and age, when women often work full time jobs outside of the home and yet are still expected to do the majority of the housework and childcare, the idea that there was a time when you only needed to be pretty and fertile might seem downright relaxing. I guess.

Of course, many women were miserable back then, and the feminine mystique and blah blah blah. I’m not going to get into all that Betty Friedan second wave fun here, but feel free to look it up if you don’t believe me. Life for women back then was like a fancy chocolate with some gross shit inside – really pretty to look at, but best left in the box so that some other sucker who HASN’T read the chocolate map gets tricked into eating it. Just kidding. No one should eat that chocolate – it’s a garbage chocolate and should be treated as such.

All that being said, the thing that REALLY makes me howl with exasperation over this time-travel housewife fetishization is that the vast, vast majority of the women who say that they hate feminism seem to be pretty damn happy to reap the benefits of it. So either they’re totally unaware of what feminism is, what it’s done, and how history works, or else they’re just total hypocrite jerks.

If it’s the latter:

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But assuming that for some people it’s the former, here’s a short and totally not exhaustive list of things that they can do because of feminism.

1. Vote

Thanks to those lovely suffragettes, women have the legal right to help decide who runs your country. This means women get an actual say in legislation that directly impacts them and their daily life. THAT IS A REALLY AWESOME THING, regardless of whether or not you, personally, exercise your right to vote.

And just a heads up, I will jump-kick anyone who says that women were “given” the right to vote. No. Women were not given anything. They fought, endured violence, imprisonment and forced-feedings, and sometimes even died for the right to vote. So fuck you to anyone who wants to say otherwise.

Police arresting British suffragette Emmeline Pankurst

Police arresting British suffragette Emmeline Pankurst

2. Own property

Being able to own property is awesome. Being able to inherit property is also awesome. Know why? Because it totally helps you avoid a Sense and Sensibility type situation when you are your husband’s second wife and he totally wants to will everything to you and your daughters, BUT HE LEGALLY CANNOT. And then you have to go live in a cottage and the family that owns the cottage is the most annoying family in the world and then also Willoughby comes along and ruins everything even further. So.

The fact that women can now legally own property straight up means that the government can’t just walk in, take your house away, and give it to a dude (or keep it for themselves). The fact that women can now legally inherit property means that if a you are living in a house that a manly man owns and he wants to give you said house when he dies because he thinks you’re rad and maybe also you have nowhere else to live, he can TOTALLY DO THAT. This is seriously a huge thing and I can’t understand how any woman could be like, “huh, I wish I lived in a time when I could be turned out of my house because my presence has become inconvenient to a dude.”

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3. Have Reproductive Rights

Do you like being able to have any kind of control over your baby-making parts beyond yelling “MAKE SURE YOU PULL OUT IN TIME” when a dude starts making his o-face? Great, then you can thank feminism. Feminists of many stripes have fought long and hard to make sure that women have access to birth control, reproductive healthcare and safe and easy abortion. So unless you’re, like, part of the Quiverfull movement or else a staunch Catholic, you can high five feminism for the fact that you can totally get it on without getting knocked up.

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4. Wear Pants

Pants are fucking awesome. And let’s not forget about pants’ cute little cousin, shorts. I’m really glad that I can wear pants, because they’re super warm in the winter and they allow me to sit in all kinds of unladylike positions without flashing my junk at everyone. Yay pants! Thank you, feminism, for my pants. I am wearing pants right now – charcoal skinny jeans, to be specific – and I’m just going to have a little moment of silence to express my gratitude for these pants.

One time, back in ye olden days (the 1960s), my grandmother’s boss wouldn’t let any of his female employees wear pants. And my grandmother, bless her, was like, fuck this noise I want to wear some goddamn pants to work. So she took her boss to the Ontario Human Rights Commission and totally won the right to wear pants to work. So if you ever have those days when you just don’t want to wear a skirt, you can totally thank feminism (AND MY GRANDMA) for the fact that you can put on a pair of pants and strut yourself to work.

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5. Get An Education

Remember when we were growing up and our parents were all, “You can be whatever you want when you grow up!”? Well, that’s because of women who braved insults and abuse and alienation and all kinds of other shitty shit in order to be able to go to medical school or law school or like astronaut school or whatever. Women literally sat there in those classrooms and let their classmates and professors treat them like complete dirt in order to get a higher education. And that paved the way for women today being able to pursue any postsecondary studies they want to.

There are still so many girls on this planet who don’t have access to even a grade-school level education. Don’t forget that in some countries girls are threatened with violence or death for attempting to go to school. Stop taking your own education for granted and recognize the fact that thanks, in part, to feminism, you were able to go to, you know, walk into school without worrying about getting shot because you’re a girl.

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6. Work Outside The Home and Be Financially Independent

Whether or not you love your job, the fact that we are able to be respected members of the work force is so fucking important. Even if you’re the world’s happiest stay-at-home mom (and ain’t nothing wrong with being a stay-at-home mom), you should be grateful that, if need be, you could go out and get a job and make your own money. While, as noted above, women working outside the home is nothing new, the fact that they can do that AND be financially independent is. Ladies, you can make your own money and then keep it and choose what you spend it on. I mean, yes, this ties in with the whole idea of women being able to own things, but it’s so damn important it deserves its own entry.

Women need to have the ability to support themselves and their own families – whether they exercise that ability or not. Otherwise, we’re totally dependent on men for, well, everything. If your husband dies or leaves you or it becomes necessary for you to leave, then what the fuck are you going to do if you can’t get a job? So even if you’re not currently financially independent, the fact that you could be is really fucking huge.

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7. Be A Person

You know what’s awesome? Being a full-fledged person in the eyes of the law. I really, really love not being a man’s property. I love having agency. I love being able to make my own decisions. I love that I live in a world where it’s no longer completely 100% legal for a man to rape his wife. Being a person is so fucking rad. And yeah, if you’re a woman, you can fucking thank feminism for the fact that you are legally a person.

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The bottom line is:

I don’t give a fuck if you call yourself a feminist. I mean, you totally should, because feminism is awesome and patriarchy sucks, but you get to make your own choices about how you label yourself. However, I give all the fucks if you think that feminism is useless, or has never accomplished anything or, worse, is somehow responsible for all of your life problems. Because if you value any of the things mentioned above (and, spoiler alert, you should), then you can just give feminism a big old high five. Whether or not you’re a feminist is your own business, but for god’s sake at least acknowledge that you owe a debt of gratitude to the movement for so many of the rights and freedoms that you currently enjoy.

FEMINISM – FUCK YEAH

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Fredericton’s Morgentaler Clinic Is Closing, And Here’s Why You Should Care

11 Apr

The Morgentaler abortion clinic in Fredericton, New Brunswick, has announced that it will be closing in July due to lack of funding.

The Morgentaler clinic is the only abortion clinic in New Brunswick. In fact, aside from the Athena clinic in Newfoundland, it is the only abortion clinic east of Montreal. It serves not only the population of New Brunswick, but also that of Prince Edward Island. Currently, abortions in those provinces are not covered by medicare – in fact, Regulation 84-20 of New Brunswick’s Medical Services Payment act includes the following under procedures which are “are deemed not to be entitled services”:

(a.1) abortion, unless the abortion is performed by a specialist in the field of obstetrics and gynaecology in a hospital facility approved by the jurisdiction in which the hospital facility is located and two medical practitioners certify in writing that the abortion was medically required 

So just to clarify, women in New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island cannot access safe, legal abortions unless two doctors declare in writing that the abortion is medically necessary.

Medically. Necessary.

Women cannot choose to terminate a pregnancy unless two doctors agree that it is medically necessary.

It doesn’t matter how many times I type those words – I still have a hard time wrapping my brain around them. Medically necessary. Medically necessary. Jesus Christ, what decade are we living in?

Scratch that, what century are we living in?

The Morgentaler clinic is the only facility in New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island where women can access safe, legal abortions without having to demonstrate medical need. It is the only place where women can exercise their rights to bodily autonomy and reproductive choice. It is unbelievably necessary to the population that it serves – since it first opened in 1994, 10,000 abortions have been performed there. There is a demonstrably urgent need for the Morgentaler clinic in New Brunswick.

And yet, even within the Morgentaler clinic, there are still barriers for women who require access to abortions. Because provincial healthcare does not cover abortions, women need to pay between $700 and $850 (depending on how many weeks along they are) in order to terminate their pregnancy. This means that the most vulnerable, economically disadvantaged women – arguably the women who would benefit the most from access to safe, legal abortion – are often unable to pay for the procedure. And that is incredibly fucked up.

Think about what it would mean to your family to suddenly have to shell out $850 on just a few weeks’ notice. Think of what it would mean for you to have to get that money together in a short amount of time, or else face the burden of an unexpected, unwanted pregnancy. I live a pretty comfortable middle class existence, and even I would struggle to come up with that kind of money on short notice. And I know that I’m luckier than most – I have a steady income, I have a partner with a steady income, and we have a stable home life. I cannot imagine what it would be like to be a single woman working at a minimum wage job, barely scraping enough together for rent and bills each month, to discover that she has to scrape together $850 or else face raising a child that she does not want and cannot afford on her own.

I also want you to think about what will happen in New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island once the Morgentaler clinic is gone. Do you honestly believe that women just won’t have abortions? Are you seriously buying into some kind of anti-choice fantasy where a woman gets to the halfway mark in her pregnancy and suddenly falls in love with the idea of being a mother and then her boyfriend shows up on their doorstep and asks her to get married and it’s all roses and white picket fences from there on? For fucking real?

If that’s the case, let me tell you what’s actually going to happen – women are going to die. Women are going to die because they will be forced to turn to unlicensed abortion providers who might prey on their vulnerability by charging extortionate rates for unsafe procedures. Women are going to die because they will attempt to terminate their own pregnancies at home, by themselves, with little or no knowledge of what they’re doing. Women will die because their pregnancies will force them to stay in abusive relationships that they might otherwise have been able to leave. If you think that closing an abortion clinic will somehow equal more happy endings or at the very least more babies, then think again – worldwide statistics and history both show that the real outcome of this situation will be the loss of women’s lives.

This cannot happen. We cannot, in good conscience, let this happen. We need to do everything that we can to allow women to exercise reproductive freedom. We need to stand up for the right of women in New Brunswick – and all across Canada – to have access to save, legal abortion.

Our voices, united, can affect change. There are so many things that you can do to help create a better future for women in this country; here are just a few:

1. Reach out New Brunswick’s NDP party  – they are actively working to end the two doctor requirement for abortions, and will happily provide you with the contact information for members of the legislative assembly so that you can write to your local representative. Call 1-844-NDP-NPD1 or email info@nbndp.ca

2. Put pressure on your MLA to have the law changed by writing to them, calling them, and emailing them

3. Tweet about this using the hashtag #NBProchoice

4. Sign this petition on change.org asking the New Brunswick government to fund the Morgentaler clinic

5. Check out the New Brunswick Pro Choice Facebook page

6. Share this story on social media – chances are that many Canadians are not aware of how limited access to abortion is in New Brunswick

I want to leave you now with one of my favourite quotes from Dr. Henry Morgentaler, who was a feminist hero, agitator for women’s reproductive rights and founder of the Morgentaler abortion clinics. D. Morgentaler was a Holocaust survivor, and his experience at Auschwitz left him with an enormous desire to make the world a better place. While receiving an honorary doctorate of law from the University of Western Ontario, he said:

“By fighting for reproductive freedom, and making it possible, I have made a contribution to a safer and more caring society where people have a greater opportunity to realize their full potential.”

It’s up to us to continue his fight for that safer, more caring society.

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A Safer And More Caring Society

30 May

I keep thinking of ways to start this post, but I can’t figure out the right words to use.

What do you say about someone whose contribution to your life, and the lives of all women, is invaluable?

I guess that I should start with the most basic fact: Henry Morgentaler, doctor and agitator for women’s reproductive rights, died today. He was 90. His work helped save the lives of countless Canadian women.

Henry Morgentaler was born in Lodz, Poland, in 1923. A Polish Jew, he was sent to Auschwitz during the Nazi occupation of his homeland. He survived. His parents did not. He came to Canada in 1950. In 1955 he opened a family practice in Montreal. He soon began petitioning the government to reconsider their stance on abortion, and opened an abortion clinic in Montreal in 1969. At that time, attempting to induce an abortion was a crime punishable by life imprisonment. Dr. Morgentaler’s clinic was raided, and he was arrested, jailed and acquitted multiple times, both in Quebec and Ontario. Abortion was legalized in 1988, in no small part because of Dr. Morgentaler’s actions. In 2008, he was named to the Order of Canada.

I’m only giving the briefest of biographical details, because I know that tons of other publications will discuss and dissect his life much better than I can. And anyway, that’s not really what I want to talk about right now. I want to talk about how Dr. Morgentaler’s struggle to legalize abortion affected all of us, and continues to affect us to this day.

Full disclosure: I’ve never had an abortion, and I hope that I never have to. Not because I think they’re wrong or bad, but because I try to avoid medical procedures if and when I can. But I have friends, many friends, who have terminated pregnancies. And I know that most, maybe all of them would not be in the same happy, secure places in their lives had they chosen not to terminate.

Every baby should be a wanted baby. I have a son, and I wanted to have him. But carrying a pregnancy to term and then raising a kid is hard fucking work, and those things shouldn’t ever, ever be forced on any woman. My friends who have had abortions are able to live the lives that they do because they had the ability to choose. Many of them have very successful careers. Some of them have gone on to have planned, wanted children since then. Some of them already had children before, and have been able to enrich those children’s lives by giving them the time, care and resources that they worried would be diminished with the addition of another child. For some of them abortion was a difficult, emotional choice, and for others it wasn’t. But for nearly all of them, choosing to terminate meant being able to finish school, being able to work in demanding fields without having to make sacrifices for their families, or just being able to focus on their lives as they were, without adding an additional complication.

Anti-choice groups nearly always talk about what kind of cancer-curing genius any given fetus might grow up to be, but almost no one talks about what a woman might become if she chose to terminate her pregnancy. We already know that it’s basically impossible for the average woman to “have it all,” so really, who knows how many women would have gone on to make incredible scientific discoveries, be brilliant world leaders or do one of any number of things that might have changed the world for the better had they chosen to terminate a pregnancy. Or else consider the number of smart, successful women that you encounter every day  – your doctor, maybe, or your lawyer – who may have been able to get where they are now because at some point in their lives they had to choose whether to have a child, and they chose not to. On a more mundane level, think of how many women would have felt able to leave abusive situations earlier if they didn’t have a child complicating the situation. Think of how many women there are worldwide live in grinding poverty, working two or more jobs just to make ends meet, because they were unable to choose to have an abortion.

Above all, think of how many lives Doctor Morgentaler saved by helping to legalize abortion. First of all, because the legalization of abortion helps Canadian women avoid the same awful fate as Savita Halappanavar, who died because Irish law prohibited her doctors from terminating a non-viable pregnancy that was medically dangerous to her. Second of all, because history has proved time and again that criminalizing abortions does not stop them from happening, it just makes them more deadly to women. Without Doctor Morgentaler’s work, Canadian women would still have to seek back alley abortions if they wanted to terminate a pregnancy, procedures which often resulted in infection, sterility or even death.

Doctor Morgentaler was someone who understood what true lack of freedom was. In 2005, after receiving an honorary doctor of law degree from the University of Western Ontario, he said,

“By fighting for reproductive freedom, and making it possible, I have made a contribution to a safer and more caring society where people have a greater opportunity to realize their full potential.”

He then went on to add,

“Well-loved children grow into adults who do not build concentration camps, do not rape and do not murder.”

Having seen what the escalating restrictions of rights and freedoms had resulted in during the Holocaust, Doctor Morgentaler dedicated his life to giving Canadian women autonomy over their own bodies.

He said, “I felt, as a humanist and as a doctor, that I had a moral duty to help these women.”

Thank you, Doctor Morgentaler. Thank you for fighting for my right to choose, should I ever need to do so. Thank you for working tirelessly so that my friends could have the freedom to do whatever they want with their lives. Thank you for letting working class mothers choose to devote the time, energy and resources that they have to their existing children, rather than forcing them to add another mouth to feed.

Thank you.

Thank you.

Thank you.

Henry

Abortion and Down Syndrome

29 Jan

First of all, let’s get one thing straight: I am not in the business of judging women for when and why they choose to abort. If you’re only going to take one thing away from my blog ever, please let it be that.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, I have something that I want to talk about.

I want to talk about the fact that, according to some studies, an estimated 90% of fetuses that receive a prenatal diagnosis of Down Syndrome are aborted.

It should be noted that the actual numbers may be less than that, and some studies show a decrease in recent year in the number of pregnancies terminated after a prenatal Down Syndrome diagnosis. We’ll go with that 90% figure, though, because it seems to be fairly accurate and is the one that I see pop up the most often.

It should also be noted that this figure should not be misinterpreted as “90% of fetuses with Down Syndrome are aborted.” That statement is patently untrue. For one thing, many people opt out of prenatal genetic testing, or do not have access to it. So while it’s a fact that thousands of fetuses are aborted after a diagnosis of Down Syndrome, it should also be noted that there are still thousands of babies with Down Syndrome being born in North America every year.

All of that being said, that 90% is not an insignificant number. And we have to look at what that means, both in terms of the pro-choice movement, and in terms of the stigma surrounding Down Syndrome.

With regards to the pro-choice movement, there’s been talk recently (in the US, at least) of enacting a ban on abortions due to fetal abnormalities. A bill was introduced in North Dakota last week that, if passed, would charge doctors who perform abortions for reasons of sex selection or genetic abnormalities with a Class A misdemeanour, which could potentially result in a year of prison time. Indiana is trying to pass a bill that would charge doctors who perform abortions in cases of genetic abnormalities with a Class C felony, which can result in up to 8 years of prison.

Needless to say, I think these laws are a terrible idea, for a number of reasons.

First of all, as previously noted, I don’t think that banning abortion does much good anyway, as studies have shown that it does not affect the abortion rate.

Second of all, I never, ever think that giving women less information or less choices is the way to go. I think that women should be given all the information available about their fetus. I think that women should always have the option to abort that fetus, even if their reason is the sex of the fetus or because the fetus has Down Syndrome. And I think that limiting abortions because the reason for one particular abortion makes us uncomfortable is a slippery slope.

Thirdly, I think that these laws would be difficult, maybe even impossible to implement. Would they allow for abortions in cases where the genetic abnormality is incompatible with life? While it’s true that a doctor can diagnose genetic abnormalities with 100% accuracy given the right tests (tests like amniocentesis which, by the way, many women avoid because they carry a risk of miscarriage), no doctor can ever truly predict whether a disability or genetic disorder is incompatible with life. Does this mean that doctors will force women to continue pregnancies in cases of anencephaly, because in rare cases babies born with that condition can survive outside of the womb, albeit with absolutely no quality of life?

Finally, and most importantly, I don’t think that the fact that 90% of fetuses diagnosed with Down Syndrome are being aborted is the problem. I think that it’s a symptom of the problem, and as such, I don’t think that a ban on abortions is going to fix anything.

The really problems are stigma, lack of education and lack of resources.

We need to have doctors who are better educated about Down Syndrome, so that they can provide better information to their patients. This is especially crucial given that a new blood test is being developed that can, with 100% accuracy, predict whether or not a fetus has Down Syndrome. This is a test that can be administered by family doctors, meaning that now your general practitioner, the person who, as things stand now, has had very limited training when it comes to disabilities, will now be counselling you on whether or not to terminate your pregnancy. Many doctors will give women misinformation, or blatantly one-sided information, that will lead to the decision to abort. We need doctors who are providing the full picture, so that women can make truly informed decisions.

We need more government resources for families with children with disabilities. My mother is a social worker who works with children with disabilities, and I have heard many first-hand accounts about how little the government provides, and how incredibly financially straining it can be for a family with a child with Down Syndrome. People living with Down Syndrome can have a whole host of medical problems, sometimes spending years at a time in the hospital. And while, yes, we have socialized medicine in Canada, which means that the hospital bills will be paid (assuming that the hospitalized person is in a ward, not a private room, and excluding the cost of medication), what we often don’t take into account is the time that a parent of a child with a disability will have to take off work. Some parents even find that they are unable to work and have to care for their children full-time, or else face the idea of having their child institutionalized (this scenario is, admittedly, rare for children with Down Syndrome, but happens quite often for children with more serious disabilities or delays).

Above all, we need to work to reduce stigma. We need to find ways to teach society that a diagnosis of Down Syndrome is not the end of the world; that people with Down Syndrome can and do live long, healthy lives and contribute in many ways to the world around us. Most people with Down Syndrome are able to work outside of the home; many are able to leave their parents’ homes and go to assisted-living communities or places like the L’Arche homes. We need to have people with genetic problems and developmental disabilities become more visible in our society; why not have a character with Down Syndrome on a children’s television show? Why not feature more children with developmental delays in children’s books, or in movies? Why not include children and adults with Down Syndrome in consumer advertising campaigns, modelling for clothing companies or whatever? How are we ever going to teach society that those with disabilities are people, too, if they remain almost totally invisible?

I was speaking with a friend today about receiving a prenatal diagnosis of potential Down Syndrome (she’d had ultrasounds, but had opted not to have an amniocentesis, so doctors couldn’t say 100% whether or not her son had Down Syndrome). She said a few things that really struck me:

I remember a few weeks before his anatomy ultrasound reading a story of a mom who had a baby with Down Syndrome without any prior clues on any testing.. and I was like “oh well, what’s the big deal?” And then when everything went down for us I understood what the big deal was. It wasn’t that I didn’t want HIM, it was that everything that I wanted for him may not have been possible […] I think another factor for me was that it was like suddenly this baby that I had inside me for 20 weeks was a stranger. Because I had built up one image in my head of the perfect baby and suddenly they were someone different. Not any less perfect, but just not what I was preparing myself for, so I definitely went through a grieving period, even though I didn’t think Down Syndrome was a big deal prior to that.

Reading her comments made me tear up a little, because I think that this is something that we don’t often talk about, the idea that a diagnosis of Down Syndrome can feel like a loss. We don’t talk about the fact that the baby you’ve been envisioning all along, the baby you’ve been in love with no longer exists, and needs to be grieved. I remember that after I had my c-section and was upset about the fact that I hadn’t been able to have the natural birth that I wanted, someone told me that it was okay to grieve that birth. And hearing that helped.

And I think that in the society we live in, the society that teaches us that people with Down Syndrome are inferior, that their lives are worth less and, as such, they are to be pitied, it only makes sense that some women, as part of their grieving process for the child they thought they were carrying, will choose to abort a fetus with Down Syndrome. A diagnosis of Down Syndrome can often makes a mother feel that she might never love her child, might never want to hold them or care for them. What good will it do to force that mother to continue her pregnancy? And if you tell me that she’ll learn to love her child, that every mother automatically bonds with her child, well, you’re voicing the same anti-choice rhetoric that’s used against young or unprepared women who are facing an unplanned or unwanted pregnancy.

Banning abortions in cases of genetic abnormalities isn’t going to make people believe that those living with Down Syndrome are any more valuable, or less pitiable. Banning those abortions won’t magically make more funds or resources available to struggling families. Banning those abortions won’t make doctors any more knowledgeable about Down Syndrome or other disabilities. Banning those abortions won’t make a mother feel more capable of loving a baby with Down Syndrome. Enacting such a ban will only going mean that there are more mothers and fathers who feel lost, alone and unable to cope.

Is that really what we want?

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Feminism and Abortion

27 Jan

I like to think that there aren’t a lot of hard and fast rules when it comes to feminism. I think you can be married and have kids and be feminist. I think you can be single and childless and be feminist. I think you can be a stay-at-home mom and be feminist. I think you can be a working mother and be feminist. I think you can breastfeed and be feminist. I think you can formula-feed and be feminist. I think you can wear cute dresses and pretty pink lipstick and a giant fucking bow in your hair and be feminist. I think you can wear jeans and combat boots and cut your hair real short and be feminist. I think you can be a woman and be feminist. I think you can be a dude and be feminist.

I don’t, however, think that you can be anti-choice and be feminist.

This week marks the 40th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade, the landmark decision by the United States Supreme court to legalize abortion (up until then, the only legal abortions in America were those done in cases of rape or incest).

In the 40 years since Roe vs. Wade, the abortion issue has only grown more contentious. There are many people who are still vocal supporters of the pro-choice movement, but there are also many people who don’t support a woman’s right to bodily autonomy.

And you know what? I wish I could say that I understood, but I don’t.

I don’t understand why you would try to enact a ban on abortions when banning abortion does not actually affect the abortion rate.

I don’t understand why you would try to create legislature that is almost certainly going to be dangerous to the health of women, sometimes even leading to their deaths.

I don’t understand why you would spend your time preaching at women about dead babies, telling them at what gestational age they develop fingers and toes and referring to abortion as “murder”, rather than using your time to promote access to things like birth control and sex education.

And I really, really don’t understand how and why Ross Douthat thinks he can convince women that they can be anti-choice and feminist.

I think that part of the problem is that Douthat doesn’t seem to understand what the feminist movement and the abortion debate are all about. And you know what? Far be it for me to elect myself the Boss of Explaining Feminism and The Pro-Choice Movement to Ross Douthat, but I guess someone has to do it, so here goes.

Douthat begins by complaining that Nellie Gray, a former-WAC-corporal-turned-bureaucrat-turned-lawyer who helped establish the March for Life, the annual rally against Roe vs. Wade, is not a “case study for students of second-wave feminism.” This, Douthat argues, is because “cultural stereotypes” cause us to believe that the anti-choice movement has a more “complicated relationship” to women’s advancement than all those Liberal left-wingers want us to believe.

I bet you are wondering how on earth banning women from exercising their reproductive rights is anything more than a reverse of all the hard-won equality that feminism has fought for. I know that I sure am! Let’s see what Ross Douthat has to say.

First of all, Douthat wants you to understand that one of the “stereotypes” about the anti-choice movement, the idea that they are trying to reinforce traditional gender roles by forcing women to have children and stay out of the work force, just isn’t true! He notes that,

Jon Shields of Claremont McKenna College pointed out last year, pro-life sentiment has been steady over the last four decades even as opposition to women in the work force (or the military, or the White House) has largely collapsed. Most anti-abortion Americans today are also gender egalitarians: indeed, Shields notes, pro-life attitudes toward women’s professional advancement have converged so quickly with pro-choice attitudes that “the average moderately pro-life citizen is a stronger supporter of gender equality than even the typical strongly pro-choice citizen was in the early 1980s.” Among the younger generation, any “divide over women’s roles nearly disappears entirely.”

Translation: the anti-choice movement totally gives you permission to work outside of the home! And wear pants! And vote! They support all kinds of radical choices for women!

I mean, except whether or not to have kids once you’re already pregnant.

You’re totally allowed to be in control of your own body right up until that one, single, solitary sperm encounters that one single, solitary egg – after that moment, you’re up baby creek without a paddle.

Douthat then goes on to assert that,

The pro-life cause has proved unexpectedly resilient, in other words, not because millions of Americans are nostalgists for a world of stricter gender norms, but because they have convinced themselves that the opportunities the feminist revolution won for women can be sustained without unrestricted access to abortion.”

What he actually means is that SOME of the opportunities the feminist revolution won for women can be sustained without unrestricted access to abortion. You know, all the opportunities that don’t involve a woman’s right to choose whether she has kids or not.

And before you jump in to tell me that if a woman doesn’t want to have kids, she should just use birth control, let me tell you that that’s not how it works. Even with all sex education in the world, even with easy access to birth control, women are still going to have unplanned pregnancies.

Sex education is easily forgotten in the heat of the moment. Birth control fails. We all know that no form of birth control is 100% effective, except for abstinence.

Please, go ahead and raise your hand if you think that preaching abstinence is going to work.

Lindsey Graham, you can put your hand down right now.

Douthat finishes his article by saying that,

For its part, if the pro-life movement wants not only to endure but to triumph, then it needs … [to offer] … realist’s explanation of how, in policy and culture, the feminist revolution could be reformed without being repealed.

Ross Douthat, let me explain this to you using small words, so that you will understand:

If you are trying to take choices away from women, that is not feminist. If you want to enact policy that will quite certainly lead to women’s deaths, that is not feminist. If you think that you, as a man, get to have any say over what happens to women’s bodies, that is really not fucking feminist.

Got it?

Good.

And you know what? If you really, truly believe that life begins at conception, why not work to fund research and raise awareness regarding miscarriage and infertility? One in four pregnancies ends in miscarriage, and those are only the pregnancies that women know about. It’s actually estimated that 50-75% of all embryos fail to implant due to genetic problems, hormone imbalances and other factors – if you really want to save unborn babies, why not go that route? You’d be saving way more “lives” that way than by banning abortion.

And let’s not even talk about all the ways in which you don’t help the children you’ve “saved” from being aborted. You know, the children born to mothers struggling to make ends meet, the children who don’t have access to healthcare, the children who don’t get enough to eat on a daily basis. Those children.

The thing is, Ross Douthat, you and I both know that this isn’t about saving unborn children. This isn’t about the fact that you believe that abortion is murder. This is about controlling women, plain and simple. This is about you thinking that you can use the rhetoric of the feminist movement to somehow trick women into agreeing with your anti-choice stance.

So please refrain from ever using the word “feminist” in conjunction with the anti-choice movement ever again.

p.s. Also, please never use the term “mansplaining” ever again.

p.p.s. No one says “chauvinist” anymore. Just sayin’

p.p.p.s. I don’t like you.

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How I Told My Friends That I Was Getting Married

23 Jan

Last week, I wrote a post for the Good Men Project on why, from a feminist mother’s perspective, I think that fathers matter. The Marriage editor of the GMP then asked me to write something about feminism and marriage (which will probably end up being something like: “get married if you want to! don’t get married if you don’t want to!”), and so I went hunting for the email I sent my friends after Matt proposed to me. You know, as evidence that I thought I’d never get married and also used to hate marriage.

In my head I remembered this email being a few lines long and slightly awkward. But no. OH NO. It is so much more than that. It’s actually kind of horrifying. Naturally, since I’m pretty embarrassed about it, I’ve decided to make it public. Because that’s a thing that I do, apparently.

Check it out!

Hey dudes,

So, I have some news for you. Before he left for
Ontario, Matt asked me to marry him, and I thought
about it for a while, and then I said yes. I’ll give
you some time now to start pacing around the room and
yelling about how shitty marriage is and why the hell
do all your friends get married and then maybe you
need to call each other and yell some more. And then
maybe throw some things.

I’m actually really scared you guys will think I’m
incredibly stupid for doing this. And I know that
marriage is lame and old-fashioned, but the thing is,
I’m pretty lame and old-fashioned, too. And I’ve
realized that I don’t want to be with anyone else but
Matt, and I want to have a party with my friends and
family to celebrate that. I know I don’t get mushy or
talk about love much, but I really love him a lot, and
I want to spend the rest of my life with him. He’s one
of the few people that I know who can deal with my
awful moods and he puts up with all of my shit without
complaining, and he treats me really, really well, and
also (again) I love him a lot. It’s kind of hard to
put this down in writing and have it sound real and
not ridiculous, but there you have it.

Kat, maybe you remember this and maybe you don’t, but
you said once that that if you ever wanted to have an
abortion, you knew that I’d be right there beside you,
supporting you,  even though it’s not a choice I’d
make for myself. So, I guess it’s kind of shitty to
compare my wedding to an abortion, but I hope that you
can stand by me and not think less of me, even though
it’s not a choice you might make for myself.

I hope that both of you (once you’re done yelling and
smoking and stuff) will be happy for me, because for
once, I’m happy for myself (and that doesn’t happen
often).

Love,
Anne

….

YOU GUYS, I COMPARED MY WEDDING TO AN ABORTION. WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME?

No, but seriously.

At least I clean up well:

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