Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Shattered Illusions of an Abortion Fundamentalist

I enjoy reading what informed feminists have to say about abortion. Their words often seem to underscore what pro-lifers have to say about the issue. This is especially true of an anthology of essays called Abortion Under Attack: Women on the Challenges Facing Choice. The point of these essays is to present ideas that challenge the cliché pro-abortion ideology. And in doing so, these feminists—all supportive of legal abortion-—evoke themes and echoes from the pro-life movement (although they might not admit it.)

In this blog post, I’d like to highlight some passages from Jenny Higgins’s autobiographical “Sex, Unintended Pregnancy, and Poverty” In her teens, Jenny Higgins was what one might possibly call an abortion fundamentalist. She says of herself:

“When I innocently approached the issue on this pure and abstract level, abortion was always an acceptable option, no matter what the circumstances of the pregnancy. Abortion seemed to serve as a symbolic embodiment of women’s autonomy, a harbinger of personal or social empowerment. That is, in exercising her right to choose, a woman was capitalizing on her personal freedom and power. As such, I associated abortion with positive, rights-based connotations, not with tinges of loss, poor decisions, or irresponsible behavior (e.g., not using contraception, even after numerous prior abortions), let alone larger social pathologies such as sexism, racism, or poverty.” (p.32)

At age nineteen, she began a five-year stint at two abortion clinics, doing a variety of jobs, from counselor to lab assistant. And in the process of doing her job, many of her illusions were shattered. Take for instance, the counseling sessions that women are supposed to be entitled to:

“Counseling sessions strictly time constrained, sometimes allowing only five minutes per patient. I had to rush women out of the procedure room within minutes—sometimes seconds—of their terminations so that we could quickly prep the room for the next patient. “ (p.34)

I have a hunch that one of the reasons why laws against consent and ultrasound are so opposed by feminists is that it would put a cramp in these five-minute counseling sessions.

Dealing with post-abortive women is no fun, either:

“In a second challenge to my previously held beliefs, clinic work forced me to face the reality of abortion as a real human calamity. It was hard to ignore abortion’s underbelly of loss when so many patients exhibited deep and, at times, almost bottomless sadness, distress, or anxiety. Even though these women were trying to make the best decision for themselves, such a certainty of choice couldn’t entirely remove the psychological injury. While the reality of this loss didn’t make me any less pro-choice, it did diminish the whole abortion-as-empowerment model I had held so dear.” (p. 34)

Psychological injury you say? How can something so good be so bad for the woman?

“Privacy, for example, was a rare luxury at the clinics, especially on high-traffic procedure days. On Saturdays, women waited in the hallways for hours in flimsy medical gowns, already counseled and medicated, but queued in a long line of patients waiting to see the doctor. Sometimes, even counseling was done in groups to save time, ten or fifteen women sitting in a circle, holding their consent forms as they listened to me speak. At other times, I was strictly limited to a five-minute counseling session for each patient. This is hardly sufficient time to ascertain a woman’s consent, inform her of what to expect during and after the procedure, and counsel about contraceptives so that she could better avoid future unintended pregnancies.” (p. 38)

Now you know why pro-lifers call them “abortion mills.” No other kind of medical treatment is administered in this fashion.

The sentence in the next paragraph is a real killer (pun intended!):

“Yet, as most of us who have worked in the abortion field know all too well, both the clinics’ clients and the staff have little choice [My emphasis]. […] We tried to accommodate as many women as we could, which often meant that ‘extras,’ such as extensive counseling or follow-up care, were out of the question.” (p.38)

Isn’t that nice. They short-shifted the individual patient in the name of an ideological goal of performing as many abortions as humanly possible. If I had been a patient, that would have made me feel warm and fuzzy.

Could you imagine what would happen if the Canadian medical system treated EVERY surgery that way? There are wait times for surgeries in Canada, but there is no “skipping” consent or other preparatory measures. I have had surgery and my daughter has had surgery, and there was no “five minute” counseling session. The medical personnel, as far as I know, made sure to give all the necessary details.

Why is abortion so special that it has to evade these proper medical procedures?

And what is this garbage about people “not having a choice”? Of course you have a choice. You can choose a different course of action—the fact that you do not want that course of action does not mean it is not a choice.

In essence, the clinic CHOSE to operate that way. They had a choice. They could have offered standard care. They just refuse to make the effort to do so.

“I was disillusioned by the general dilapidation of the clinic, the dated medical equipment, the revolving door of staff, and other indications of clinical setting with inadequate resources.”(p.34)

They simply do not want to fund their own clinic. That is what medical fees are for. If poverty is the issue, why don’t they put on a fundraiser? Oh wait, that would mean not depending on tax money. That’s anathema. And it also takes away an excuse for the crappy treatment.

Pro-lifers try to pass laws to get abortion clinics to adhere to certain medical standards because they do tend to be relatively unsanitary. But feminists oppose these, too.

Higgins goes on to attribute this inequitable situation to the women’s circumstances. They are poorer, they are burdened with the job of pregnancy prevention (which she thinks men tend to shirk). Their use of contraception is poorer because as they do not have the same education and job prospects, they do not have the same motivation to avoid pregnancy.

It sounds like it’s not a personal responsibility issue. Which is just bunk to me. Just because you’re poor, uneducated and have no prospect of advancement doesn’t mean you can’t be responsible or have common sense.

She goes on to comment about the "tough cases"-- of women who had their third, fourth or fifth abortion, or who waited until the second trimester until they terminated.

I felt they made the pro-choice platform even more vulnerable to critics. That is, a political safe haven for choice remained all the more elusive when abortion was requested late in the pregnancy and/or multiple times in a woman's lifetime. I'm a bit hesitant to admit that the tough cases took a personal toll as well. They tarnished my innocently romanticized version of abortion as a difficult but worthy, and even admirable, decision. I was angry to feel alienated from the uncomplicated feminist principles which had been so essential and inspiring to me just years earlier." (p.35)

So how did she deal with these "tough cases". She intellectualized. Like many a good liberal. She looked at the big picture. These "tough cases" were the product of social constraints. Social constraints, in the liberal mind, always trump personal responsibility. And the number one constraint is, of course, gender equality. The woman is the victim. She is the one who is primarily responsible for pregnancy prevention. That's just so unfair that she was born with a biological physique that she did not choose. It's so unfair that male sexual pleasure is more valued, so a woman feels compelled to service him without contraception-- never mind that she always has the choice of just bloody saying "no." And of course there is poverty. Rich women can afford good counselling for contraception and nice abortion clinics. Why feminists don't feel compelled to provide the poor with those same nice abortion clinics is interesting. Liberals raised tens of millions of dollars to put a Black Guy in the White House, but they can't raise tens of millions of dollars to upgrade abortion clinics which are supposedly so central to women's reproductive justice and personal autonomy. Isn't that interesting.

So it's all The Man's fault. That's how she deals with tough cases. Personal responsibility? That's just an illusion. Remember that.

There are many other revealing essays in this book. I strongly recommend it. Read it, blog it, pass it on.

Bibliographical citation:

Higgins, Jenny.
“Sex, Unintended Pregnancy, and Poverty”
Abortion Under Attack: Women on the Challenges Facing Choice
Krista Jacob, Ed.
Emeryville, CA: Seal Press, 2006