Tag Archives: pro-life

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?

trisomy

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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Female Feticide Is Not A Thing

29 Nov

I’ve been hearing a lot of talk about “female feticide” lately.

First of all, there was this Toronto Star article, published back in April, about the six GTA hospitals (all in areas with large South Asian populations) that won’t reveal the baby’s gender to parents because of fears of “female feticide”.

Then, there was Conservative MP Mark Marawa’s Motion 408, which reads as follows: “That the House condemn discrimination against females occurring through sex-selective pregnancy termination.” 

Most recently, I had the following image pop up on my Facebook feed:

 

Female feticide, or sex-selective pregnancy termination, is typically defined as an elective abortion performed after a pregnant woman has learned that her fetus is female. In cultures where males have higher status than females, and male children have more value than female children, it is becoming more and more common for women to terminate pregnancies based on the fetus’ gender. Two countries where this practice is especially prevalent are India and China; it’s estimated that the gender ratio in India for children under the age of six is currently 109.4 males to 100 females, and in China is around 106 males to 100 females (although in some provinces it goes as high as 130 to 100).

The fact that these abortions happen because girls have so little value in some cultures is abhorrent to me. The fact that a woman would terminate a pregnancy just because of the gender of the fetus both horrifies and sickens me. But you know what? Female feticide is not the problem, it’s just a symptom. The treatment of girls and women in certain cultures, and the underlying beliefs that lead to this treatment, are the problem.

There are so many things about the discourse surrounding female feticide that bother me; I even find the name itself problematic. I mean, first of all, let’s be super clear on one thing: FETICIDE IS NOT A THING. This is not a word people should use, unless they want to be seen as part of the pro-life movement. It doesn’t matter that it’s female fetuses being aborted; it’s still not called feticide. If a woman chooses to abort her fetus because prenatal testing has shown that is has some form of disability, do we call that “disabled feticide”? If a woman terminates her pregnancy because she can’t afford another child, do we call it “penurious feticide”? No. No we don’t. Why female feticide, then? Why do we target this one type of abortion as being so much more heinous than others?

All of which brings me to my next point:

There is no hierarchy of abortions. There is not one type of abortion that’s fine and another that isn’t. You can’t say that it’s all right for a woman to terminate her pregnancy because it’s just not the right time in her life to have a child, or because it’s her first abortion and she was using birth control and it’s totally not her fault, but then turn around and say that a woman can’t choose to abort based on the gender of her fetus. You are either pro-choice or you aren’t. It’s as simple as that. Sure, you can feel uncomfortable about the reasons why another woman might terminate a pregnancy, but guess what? You don’t get to say shit about it, because it’s her choice.

See, that’s really the crux of the matter here: choice. Choice, and bodily autonomy, and agency. When you don’t give a woman all of the information available regarding her pregnancy because you are afraid that she will make the wrong choice with that information, then you are removing her agency. Ultimately, don’t we want to be empowering women and girls in these cultures that give their lives so little value? How is removing a woman’s agency empowering her at all?

I know exactly what you’re going to say. But what if she’s pressured into the decision to abort? What if she asks for an abortion because her husband is forcing her to get one? 

For one thing, there is no foolproof way to tell if a woman is being forced or manipulated into something. None. We can’t just go around operating on the assumption that any given woman out there is being controlled by a man; I think we have to assume that they are acting under their own power until proven otherwise. For another, what is a woman going to learn if she goes from a partner who is trying to control the outcome of her pregnancy to a doctor who is also trying to control the outcome of her pregnancy? The main thing that she is learning is that she has no agency over her own body. Finally, maybe a better solution would be to provide safer spaces for women who doctors feel are at a higher risk for being in abusive relationships; we should give them the chance to speak their own mind and present them with information and resources, rather than just refusing to reveal their fetus’ gender.

Another issue that I have with the term female feticide and the ways that we talk about it are that it’s hard not to feel like this is an effort by the pro-life groups to try to get feminists and liberal left-wingers on board with the idea that abortions are wrong. It kind of happens in baby steps, you know? First we say that one type of abortion is wrong and should be made illegal, and then another, until finally the procedure is outlawed altogether. I mean, it seems very telling that Motion 408 was put forth by a Conservative Party MP, you know? Looking at that graphic above, I can’t help but imagine it without the text at the bottom – just a fetus with the text, I want to live, Maa. Seen that way, it bears a striking resemblance to a lot of the pro-life rhetoric.

I guess that at the end of the day, I just don’t see how limiting a pregnant woman’s knowledge about her fetus, or not allowing her the choice to terminate her pregnancy, is going to empower women. All that will happen is that she will give birth to a daughter that she (or her husband) doesn’t want, who might end up being neglected, hurt, or even killed; if that daughter somehow makes it to adulthood, she will likely marry, get pregnant, and continue the cycle. What we really need to do is find ways to change these pervasive and damaging beliefs that males are more valuable than females. We need ways to to alter all the big and little cultural practices and ideologies that elevate one sex over the other. We need to attack the root of the problem  if we ever truly want to solve this.

Ultimately, what we really need to do is to find a way to make the world safer and better for all women, so that female children are no longer viewed as a curse. Because they’re not a curse; they, like male children, are a gift.

The Senseless Death of Savita Halappanavar

15 Nov

In the early hours of Sunday, October 28th, Savita Halappanavar died a death that was, most likely, totally preventable. She died because the hospital where she was a patient denied her a lifesaving procedure, one that she requested, a procedure that she would have likely been granted nearly anywhere else in the western world.

Savita’s death, which many believe was brought about because of her doctor’s refusal to terminate her pregnancy, has sparked worldwide outrage. Ireland and India in particular, the former being the country where she died and the latter being the country of her birth, have seen massive vigils, memorials and protests in the wake of her death. What happened to Savita, and the role that her doctors’ decisions may or may not have played in her death, are currently under official investigation. Ireland’s Minister for Health, James Reilly, has confirmed that the findings of that investigation will be part of an “abortion report” brought before the Irish Cabinet, although experts estimate that it will be 2013 before their government takes any kind of official stance on the issue.

There has been a lot of talk, and much conjecture, about what happened to Savita Halappanavar in the last days of her life. Here are the bare facts:

Savita, who was 17 weeks pregnant, was admitted to University Hospital Galway in western Ireland on October 21st. She presented with severe back pain, and it was quickly determined that she was actively miscarrying. Although doctors were still able to find a fetal heartbeat, Savita’s cervix was fully dilated, and she was leaking amniotic fluid. She was told that there was nothing they could do to prevent a miscarriage or save her child; she was still 7 weeks away from viability, the point at which a fetus could, with serious medical intervention, live outside of its mother, although the survival rate for babies born at that gestational age is only 50%.

After enduring over 24 hours of debilitating pain, Savita asked to have her pregnancy terminated. Although it was a wanted pregnancy, she had been assured repeatedly that the baby would not survive, and she was in too much pain to continue miscarrying naturally. She was denied a termination of pregnancy, however, and told that as long as there was a fetal heartbeat, the hospital would do nothing to help end her pregnancy. Savita was told that because Ireland was a Catholic country, doctors could not terminate her pregnancy; although she explained that she was neither Irish nor Catholic, her requests continued to be rebuffed and ignored.

On Wednesday, October 24th, the fetus died. Savita, who had been growing increasingly ill, spiking a high fever and vomiting until she collapsed in a washroom, was rushed into surgery in order to have the fetus removed. That night, her condition worsened and she was moved to intensive care. She remained sedated and critical but stable until Saturday, October 27th, when her heart, liver and kidneys began to fail. She died early the next morning, with septicaemia given as her cause of death. She was 31.

Abortion is illegal in the Republic of Ireland. Termination of a pregnancy is permitted in cases where it’s necessary to save the life of the mother, but what happened to Savita demonstrates that this idea isn’t always practiced. And anyway, how does a doctor determine if a woman’s life is endangered by her pregnancy? What fool-proof test does he perform? None, because there isn’t one that exists. The doctor has to base his decision on his own, faulty, human judgment, and when a life hangs in the balance, that just isn’t enough.

Another part of the issues surrounding abortion legislation is that there seems to be a lot of magical thinking about how women’s bodies work; people think that pregnancy does not happen in cases of “legitimate” rape, or that, in cases of miscarriage, the body will complete the task naturally and on its own, without the need of any kind of intervention. Maybe there are men who truly believe that the female body has superpowers, or maybe we’re all just so disposable and interchangeable to them that it doesn’t matter if we die during pregnancy or childbirth, because there will always be other women to take our places. Sometimes that’s how it feels, anyway.

To any of you out there who are anti-abortion, I honestly want to ask you: what good do these Irish laws do? They certainly don’t prevent abortions; in 2001, 7,000 Irish women travelled abroad in order to obtain safe, legal abortions. Not included in that number are the women who went to back-alley abortionists, the women who were exposed to unsafe situations and unclean medical instruments, the women who put their lives at risk in order to exercise their reproductive rights. Anti-abortion activists tell me that these laws are in place to protect unborn babies, that they are meant to save lives. These laws do not save lives. They end them.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what Savita’s last days must have been like – first, having to learn that her child, who was both loved and wanted, would not be born living. Then, devastated by the knowledge that her baby would die, being forced to continue her pregnancy while in agonizing pain. Savita was forced to listen to the heartbeat of her dying baby several times a day. She was forced to wait until that soft, speedy pulse faded away into nothing before something, anything would be done to save her life. She was forced to lie in a hospital bed and have her own bodily autonomy denied again and again. Savita died in a country that was not her own, for laws that were not her own, because of a religion that was not her own. She died frightened and despairing and in crippling pain, and for what? For nothing.

We talk a lot about how important safe, legal abortions mean for women, and rightfully so; what we rarely discuss is what safe, legal abortions mean for men. Savita’s husband, Praveen Halappanavar, lost both his wife and his child in the same week. The last time that Praveen spoke to his wife was shortly after the surgery to remove their dead child from her womb; her condition deteriorated so quickly afterwards that the hospital was forced to sedate her before they contacted him. She spent the rest of her short life sedated; he was never able to hear her voice again, or tell her that he loved her, or that he would miss her.

Reproductive rights are not just a women’s issue – they are everyone’s issue. What happened to Savita was not an accident. Her doctors did not do everything in their power to save her life. Her doctors did not respect her wishes with regards to her own body. What happened to Savita is tantamount to murder, slow, painful, terrifying murder.

Given the right set of laws, given the right government, Savita’s death is something that could happen to any woman, any family.

Please don’t let Savita’s death be meaningless; please fight for your rights, and for the rights of the women you love. Please help make sure that this never happens again, to any woman, for any reason. Please.

Savita Halappanavar

Abortions Are Just Like Hot Air Balloons: Your Tax Dollars At Work

13 Nov

My old friend Stephen Woodworth, master architect of Motion 312, is feeling a little concerned. See, he’s worried that you, dear Canadian, don’t understand what M-312, which deals with fetal personhood, has to do with abortion. Woodworth, his brow furrowed by deep thought, has been wondering and wondering why his motion didn’t pass. Finally, he realized that his brilliant idea was just too complex for people to understand. Thankfully, man of the people that he is, he’s come up with an allegory to help explain it to us.

I’ve copied it below for your reading pleasure:

Part I: Motion 312, Fixed-Wing Technology and Ballooning -An Allegory
 
Note:  The following account is intended to be entirely fictional.  Resemblance to any persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
 
In the early days of air flight, a Canadian aviation engineer was well-known for his opposition to ballooning (which was the established method of air flight in those days).  He actively spoke and wrote against ballooning, penning letters to the editor and articles in professional journals to express this opposition to ballooning.
 
After years of being stonewalled by an aviation establishment entirely enamoured with ballooning and which was completely unwilling to consider alternatives, he fell into deep thought.
 
“Perhaps I could find some other issue to pursue on which a majority of Canadians could agree,” he wondered to himself “Could I find some aviation principles on which we might find a consensus?”
 
After serious analysis, he came up with some aviation principles he felt might be acceptable to everyone.  He suggested a process to study the principles of fixed-wing aircraft to determine whether or not they should be pursued.  He suggested that the study consider whether or not existing legal prohibitions against fixed wing aviation were consistent with early 20th century aviation science and understanding.  He pointed out that Canada was one of only a few advanced nations to completely protect ballooning against fixed wing development.
 
An honest man, the aviation engineer acknowledged the relationship between fixed wing technology development and ballooning, and even admitted that the development of fixed wing technology might mean fewer people would engage in ballooning.
 
You can imagine that the ballooning industry rose immediately to the challenge.  Their first attack was to indignantly accuse the aviation engineer of being a ballooning-hater whose only motive was to destroy the ballooning industry.  “He says he just wants to improve aviation, but his real interest must be to simply destroy the ballooning industry since he must know that fixed wing aviation will mean fewer people will pursue ballooning”, they said.
 
The engineer protested that ballooning and fixed-wing aviation were not necessarily inconsistent with each other, but the balloonists ignored him.
 
He pointed out that something wasn’t right if balloonists felt they needed to pretend that fixed-wing technology didn’t exist.  They still ignored him.
 
The balloonists lobbied against his proposed study on the basis that their minds were made up that ballooning was better than fixed-wing aviation, they knew they were right, and so dialogue and review of modern aviation science would be a waste of time.  They argued that ballooning was simply better as it existed, period, discussion over.
 
Finally, the balloonists pointed out that existing Establishment views supporting the ballooning industry had only been established after long and difficult public debate, and that “re-opening” that debate should be avoided since it would provoke passionate or even divisive comment.  The engineer’s reminder that the right to study fixed wing aviation had been explicitly preserved and allowed for when protection of ballooning first became popular with the Establishment, was ignored.  The engineer knew that these existing differences between fixed-wing technology and ballooning would actually be brought to resolution by his proposal for dialogue and study, but he was ignored.
 
Many balloonists took to social media, publishing vile and insulting slanders against the engineer and misrepresenting his proposal.  He was not deterred.
 
Members of Parliament who spoke against the engineer’s proposal focused entirely on the necessity of protecting ballooning.  Not one even mentioned the subject of fixed wing aviation.  Not one questioned the aviation principles proposed by the engineer.  They expressed a single-minded preoccupation with ballooning to the exclusion of any consideration of wider aviation principles.  A number of professional aviation associations, filled with balloonists, were told that the engineer’s proposed study was about ending all ballooning and were in that way induced to pass resolutions condemning him and his proposal.
 
In the end Parliament defeated the engineer’s proposal, setting back the cause of fixed-wing technology in Canada for a time.  Clear-thinking people were amazed that a modern democracy could accept such a result, turning its back on modern aviation principles.
 
Now do you understand the relationship between Motion 312 and abortion?

All right, all right, I know what you’re thinking – your small lady-brain can’t quite grasp this. I know. Shhhh, it’s okay, I know. Normally I would be right there with you. Fortunately, I’ve given myself a few injections of testosterone this evening in order to help explain this all to you.

Okay so first of all, ballooning is abortion – which is, I guess, our established method of dealing with unwanted pregnancy? Much like ballooning is the established method of air flight in this story? That’s sort of what he’s saying? He also apparently believes that we’re totally enamoured with abortion; I guess he’s one of those men who think that women totally have abortions for funsies, like it’s a fucking trip to the spa or something. I just love the foot massage they give you after they remove your unwanted fetus.

Anyway, the protagonist of this allegory, an engineer who is both a gentleman and a scholar, hates ballooning, and starts a nasty anti-ballooning campaign. Sadly for him, everyone else loves ballooning and/or no one gives a shit about his letters to the editor and/or this guy really needs a hobby, so his plan is going nowhere fast. In a moment of brilliance, he thinks to himself, “Perhaps I could find some other issue to pursue on which a majority of Canadians could agree“. Obviously he is talking about fetal personhood fixed wing aviation.

Here’s where shit starts to get nonsensical. See, he wants the Canadian government to “study the principles” of fetal personhood fixed wing aviation, which all seems fine and normal and reality-based, but then he goes on to suggest that the government, “consider whether or not existing legal prohibitions against fixed wing aviation were consistent with early 20th century aviation science and understanding“. Er, what? So he wants us to examine the legal prohibitions against personhood? Which don’t actually exist? Like, no one is saying that he can’t call his own fetuses “persons”, just that he can’t start assigning personhood to all fetuses ever.

Next comes one of my favourite lines in his whole allegory:

[He] even admitted that the development of fixed wing technology might mean fewer people would engage in ballooning.”

No shit, dude. If you are trying to pass personhood laws in order to enact abortion legislature, then for sure less people will fucking “engage in ballooning”. I mean, except for the people who go to those back-alley balloon enthusiasts in order to balloon in secret.

Fuck, you guys, I just have to take a minute here to tell you how gross it is that he is comparing abortion to a RECREATIONAL SPORT. Like, terminating a pregnancy  is totally comparable to something you do for fun at the fucking county fair. Look, I’m not saying that everyone who’s had an abortion absolutely agonizes over the choice, but I really don’t think that anyone is ever like, gee, I’ve got nothing better to do this afternoon, may as well terminate my pregnancy then go eat some funnel cakes and ride the ferris wheel. It’s still a medical procedure, for God’s sake.

Ugh.

Anyway, so the allegorical abortion ballooning industry gets all up in arms, thinking that Mr. Fixed Wing Aviation is out to destroy them, because of course that’s what this is really all about. The abortion industry. The secret abortion lobby that controls Canada. The board of shadowy abortion-loving figures. It’s not about women having the right to control their own body. It’s not about bodily autonomy. Women obviously only have abortions because the abortion industry manipulates them into believing that abortions are better than cake and pie combined.

Also, I’m so sure that abortion, especially abortion in a country with socialized medicine, is so profitable. Like, I’m sure Scrooge McDuck is sitting in a cash-filled room somewhere, rubbing his hands and cackling over how awesome killing babies is. Okay, now that is a Disney movie I’d watch.

The rest of the allegory is basically a giant whine-fest about how everyone is so mean to Stephen Woodworth the fictitious engineer and how he was slandered (vilely and insultingly!) in social media. The engineer is shocked and appalled that the Canadian government wouldn’t even consider his proposal, and apparently men “clear thinking people” everywhere were “amazed” that Canada could be so behind the times.

Now do you understand the relationship between Motion 312 and abortion?

Uuuuggghhhh you guys, this is actually the worst allegory ever. I mean, I totally and fundamentally disagree with Stephen Woodworth, and I could still write a better anti-abortion allegory than this. First of all, it’s so gross and offensive to compare abortion to an activity that people do for fun. Second of all, it’s full of ridiculous half-truths and rife with misinformation. Finally, it ends with the assertion that all modern democracies are enacting personhood laws, which is just untrue, unless by “all modern democracies”, he means, “America”.

Anyway, Stephen, I guess I give your allegory an E for effort. Thanks for coming out, and don’t quit your day job. I mean, please do quit your actual day job of being an MP, but, you know, don’t give it up just to become a man of letters. Unless becoming a writer would mean that you would write allegories about how underfunded the arts are in Canada, in which case: have at ‘er, buddy.