Safety, Freedom, and Choices for Women b y R ac h el M . M ac N air
egalized abortion has failed to deliver on several of its central promises — specifically that it would regulate and therefore increase the safety of the procedure, and that it would protect and advance women by giving them more choices. In 1992, almost 20 years after the legalization of abortion, 60 Minutes did a piece called “Suzanne Logan’s Story,” about health hazards at a Maryland clinic. Ms. Logan was braindamaged and would spend the rest of her short life in a nursing home due to anesthesia complications. She died there on December 1, 1992, after the story ran. The report showed her attorney, Patrick Malone, saying: The anesthesia was given without any monitoring whatsoever, without an anesthesiologist present, without a nurse anesthetist present, without the normal safeguards that are part of standard modern American medical care. I’ve seen a lot of cases, and met a lot of doctors, and reviewed a lot of records, and I’ve never seen anything like this.
choice philosophy. Luhra Tivis, who worked for the late Dr. George Tiller, was disturbed by events at Tiller’s clinic. “When I went to the leaders in NOW in Wichita and told them what was going on, they said, we agree with you, but we can’t rock the boat.” NOW is not normally known for being reticent about rocking the boat where women’s welfare is concerned. Only one choice = no choice Pro-life feminist Frederica Matthewes-Green wrote in 1989: “It is a cruel joke to call this a woman’s ‘choice.’ We may choose to sacrifice our life and career plans, or choose to undergo humiliating invasive surgery and sacrifice our offspring. How fortunate we are — we have a choice! Perhaps it’s time to amend the slogan —‘Abortion: a woman’s right to capitulate.’” Abortion defenders tend to object to being called “proabortion,” insisting instead on being called “pro-choice.”Yet abortion is the “choice” that they’re talking about. In some cases, it’s gotten so that the two words are synonyms.When bemoaning the closing of the last abortion clinic in Chattanooga, one clinic worker fretted that any woman who wished to exercise her “right to choose” would have to travel to another town. But that woman only needed to do so if she chose to get an abortion. Any other choice could still be done right in town. The word “choice” implies that there are several things to choose from, or at least two options. Only one choice and no choice are really the same thing. Any abortion defender who keeps insisting that abortion is necessary and many women have no choice but to abort is not really being “pro-choice.” That position would imply that more options ought to be offered to those women. The nature of what brings women to the clinic in the first place doesn’t make abortion merely one of a number of options. Former abortion nurse Sallie Tisdale reflected on her work at the abortion clinic. “We talk glibly about choice. But the choice for what? … Women who have the fewest choices of all exercise their right to abortion the most.”1 A 2004 psychological study of American women who had had an abortion showed the following results: 64 percent felt pressured by others to choose the abortion; 79 percent received no counseling on alternatives; 17 percent desired the pregnancy, and 39 percent felt emotionally attached to the pregnancy; 51 percent believed abortion was morally wrong (with 30 percent unsure); 52 percent felt they needed more time to make a decision; and 65 percent subsequently experienced multiple symptoms which they attributed to their abortions.2 If similar figures are found in other studies, this indicates that any method that actually gives women more choices and allows them to make the decision rather than have it pushed by other people would be a method that could cut abortions dramatically.
As a service to consumers, New York State officially ranks its heart surgeons.Yet New York allowed abortion doctor Abu Hayat to maim several women before prosecuting him. According to a May/June 1993 article in Ms. magazine entitled “Back-Alley Abortions Still Here for the Poorest Among Us,” they excuse themselves on the grounds that they have inadequate resources to monitor these doctors.These doctors deal only with women, doing something unique in female biology.Abortion is done mostly by men, exclusively on women. Large numbers of women get abortions, and especially in New York it’s one of the most common surgical procedures. Yet monitoring resources go elsewhere.The decision on where those resources go is made on some basis other than frequency or need. When the 60 Minutes piece showed the women who had been killed and maimed, they made the suggestion that perhaps greater regulation was necessary. To this the head of the National Abortion Federation, Barbara Radford, said, “We want to make sure that women have choices when it comes to abortion services. And if you regulate it too strictly, you then deny women the access to service.” Not many women want access to unqualified anesthesia services that leave them paralyzed. When pro-choice Maryland Senator Mary Boergers wanted legislation to regulate clinics because of this very scandal, she lost pro-choice support. When she stated her belief that “safe and legal” should mean safe, she was called on the carpet. She said that if you ask questions, “They then treat you as if you’re the enemy.” An insistence on not asking questions should be a major contradiction to the minds of many who believe in the pro-
The pro-life philosophy finds no riddle in the idea that women would be angry at the presence of the clinic giving them a “choice.” That clinic gives them all kinds of pressures that actually take away choices. Because that clinic is there, other people withdraw necessary support that the woman is entitled to. The father may refuse to pay child support; the employer may balk at maternity leave. Because the clinic is there, other people make remarks and even threats about that pregnancy that wouldn’t make any sense if it weren’t there. The 2004 study referred to earlier showed that women who feel pressured by others are in the majority, almost two-thirds.4 This is not to argue that the women are not responsible for choosing to have abortions. But the people who pressure them into it, and the clinics that sell abortions, are also accountable. When “choice” is used as a way of saying the responsibility belongs solely to the client and not to the seller, then its meaning is different. It becomes a mental ploy. (The National Abortion Federation complains that crisis pregnancy centers similarly apply pressure and deny choice.5 Just as there are undoubtedly some abortion providers who offer real choices and care to their clients, so there are undoubtedly some pregnancy centers that use uncaring and coercive methods to sell their “choice.” These methods, regardless of who is using them, are always wrong; the ends do not justify the means. See “A Different Approach” on page 21.) Pro-life feminism Dr. Don Sloan started doing abortions when they were illegal and was still doing them when he wrote a book in which he clearly grapples with this: That leaves the anti-choice feminists — the “feminists for life,” as if other feminists weren’t.They make some interesting points, though. Their position is that choice and abortion are in reality sexist, because they absolve men of responsibility for the products of their philandering. As long as society remains permissive, boys will be boys. The only way to get them to grow up is to remove the “easy out,” and make them responsible for the pregnancies they help to create. Then and only then will there be equality. Anti-choice feminism has a pretty impressive list of founding mothers speaking for it. Activist Elizabeth Cady Stanton said in 1878 that abortion treats women like chattel or property.
“For many women nowadays, they’re angry that they had a choice. It’s too bizarre, but it’s like, ‘If you weren’t here, I wouldn’t have had to make this choice…’” Charlotte Taft, a Dallas abortion clinic director
A constitutional right to ignorance In the abortion field the laws providing for “informed consent” by the patients were regarded as so intolerable that court cases were brought against them. For a time, they actually succeeded. In spite of the fact that, in the informed consent statute in question, the woman was only to be told of the availability of information on fetal development and was not required to actually look at it, the Supreme Court struck down the provision with Justice Harry Blackmun using these words: [This was] “not medical information that is always relevant to the woman’s decision, and it may serve only to confuse and punish her and to heighten her anxiety, contrary to accepted medical practice.”3 Even information regarding the “detrimental physical and psychological effects” and “particular medical risks” of the abortion was struck. Blackmun’s written opinion called it “likely to compound the problem of medical attendance, increase the patient’s anxiety, and intrude upon the physician’s exercise of proper professional judgment.” How many people, when going in for any kind of surgery, find that having more information about it increases anxiety? More importantly, the Supreme Court in this case found for women a constitutional right to ignorance. The abortion clinics demanded this and got it for a time. This was explicitly overturned in the Casey decision of 1992. Charlotte Taft, a Dallas abortion clinic director, made this offhand remark in a recorded telephone conversation: “For many women nowadays, they’re angry that they had a choice. It’s too bizarre, but it’s like, ‘If you weren’t here, I wouldn’t have had to make this choice…’”
I n 1869 the suffragist Susan B. Anthony urged prevention and not “execution.”The woman, she said, was guilty if she committed the deed, but “thrice guilty is he who drives the woman into the crime.” And in 1875 Victoria Woodhull, the first woman to run for president … said, ‘every woman knows that if she were free, she would never … think of
to decide their own fates and control their own reproductive lives. But it also puts more of the weight on women’s shoulders, allowing men and society in general to literally scrape and vacuum away their responsibilities.9
murdering [a child] before its birth.’ Woodhull, a true feminist, knew even as she argued against abortion that women were not free. But it’s a chicken-and-egg argument. Without freedom of choice, how can women be free?6 Many abortion defenders ignore the early and modern anti-abortion feminists.7 Sloan strengthens his case by not screening it out altogether. Yet in the same chapter, he cites cases where a woman doesn’t use birth control or continues having one child after another because that’s what her male partner wants. As he puts it, “It’s never simple. But when it comes to a choice between the man and the pregnancy, many women yield. They do what the man wants.”8 He further comments: It can’t be pure coincidence that the three surgical procedures most frequently performed on the female patient are hysterectomy, abortion, and cesarean section — all of them assaults on the uterus, the maternal end organ. Somehow, it seems that the manipulation, removal, and “cleaning” procedures that the womb is subject to arise from an attitude that it’s expendable — what one feminist friend of mine calls the “We Don’t Have It You Don’t Need It” school of medicine. … Abortion is, by almost any standards, a violent act. All surgery violates the integrity of the body; purely elective surgery seems particularly gratuitous. On the positive side, it gives women the means
Articles in periodicals show this pattern of ambivalence as well. The American Medical News broaches this topic: Oddly enough, many of the issues that disturb abortion foes also seem to trouble providers. Ultimately, however, they have different moral balance sheets. For providers, the bottom line is the woman’s life and the particular circumstances that drive her to choose abortion. For opponents, the bottom line is what actually happens during an abortion: a human life is taken.10 The problem is that the bottom line of women’s welfare doesn’t balance the balance sheet. It actually provides further dissonant information. Many abortion defenders have used the statement that a woman doesn’t “choose” an abortion the way she chooses an ice cream cone or a Porsche. She chooses an abortion in the same way that an animal caught in a trap chooses to gnaw its leg off to get out of the trap. Boston Globe columnist Ellen Goodman used it in her column, and many grassroots activists picked it up.To their minds, it showed how utterly necessary it was that abortion be available. It showed that the horror stories of yesteryear were inevitable if abortion is not safely provided. The statement, however, is pro-life in origin. Its author is Frederica Mathewes-Green, at that time vice president for communications for Feminists for Life of America. The fact that it wound its way into abortion advocacy shows that the disagreement is not about facts but rather about interpretation. If an animal wishes to gnaw off its leg to get out of a trap, is it a kindness to the animal to offer a surgical amputation instead? Anesthetic and medical instruments certainly have advantages over gnawing. But surely there’s a better alternative. The option of gently removing the trap would leave the woman much more whole. Not having a trap set for pregnant women in the first place is even better. Pregnant women and new mothers should have to settle for no less. Abortion should not be used as an excuse for leaving traps in place. When women were being subjected to outrages from abortion providers in the illegal period, the argument was put forward that legalizing the procedure would remove the scandals. This is now and always has been the most effective argument that abortion defenders have. But how long can that argument remain effective if we have tried legalization for over 35 years and we find that the outrages don’t diminish?
“If we claim that it is offensive for pro-choice women to be confronted by [repulsive images of abortions], we are [saying] that women are too weak to face a truth about which they have to make a grave decision. This view of women is unworthy of feminism.” Naomi Wolf
suggest that a woman’s right to abortion was more important that a woman’s right to speak her mind shows some internal inconsistency in her thinking. Nevertheless, there are some well-known feminists who favor abortion availability who have noticed that there are some problems with the consistency between feminism and abortion. For example, Germaine Greer in a 1992 interview in The New Republic commented: It is typical of the contradictions that break women’s hearts that when they avail themselves of their fragile right to abortion they often, even usually, went with grief and humiliation to carry out a painful duty that was presented
When, on National Public Radio, the chair of the National Women’s Political Caucus (NWPC), Harriet Woods, was asked if pro-life women were welcome in the organization, she responded, “Only if they kept their beliefs about abortion in the dark.”Yet one of the co-founders of the NWPC, Fannie Lou Hamer, said that she believed that legal abortion was legal murder.11 Woods was proposing to silence one of the founders of the group. If Hamer had still been alive, no one would have succeeded in silencing her. She made too many sacrifices for the civil rights movement and other anti-violence movements for human dignity, and she was not the reticent type. But the fact that Harriet Woods could, with a straight face,
A Different Approach: Advocating for Both Woman and Child b y A ngie W es z ely
We are passionate about providing emotional support and practical resources to women facing unplanned pregnancies, because without these things, we’ve learned, women often don’t feel they have much of a “choice.” Four years ago, as an established crisis pregnancy center, we acknowledged that some of the criticism from pro-choice groups was valid.We saw coercive practices to varying degrees — some within our organization and some from women who came to us from other centers. Surely this is not how Jesus responded to people in crisis, we reasoned, and so we entered a season of soul-searching, prayer, and seeking out best practices. We became very focused on what a woman facing an unplanned pregnancy is going through emotionally. We tried to enter her world and asked God to show us what she needs. We discovered, for example, that when a woman receives an unexpected positive pregnancy test, she experiences feelings of isolation, panic, and shame that cause her to shut down and feel that her life as she knows it is over. We also discovered that she often doesn’t want to have an abortion but feels it is the only way out of this desperate situation. After three years of reassessing our approach, we have developed a new strategy.We now consider ourselves a pregnancy counseling agency and provide: 1) commitment to a theology that God is for both the woman and the child; 2) counseling by professional Christian counselors who help women navigate the complex emotions and issues surrounding an unplanned pregnancy in a safe, nonjudgmental environment; and
3) c onnection, by helping women build an infrastructure for ongoing support, and by involving Christians who can demonstrate God’s love in practical ways as part of that support system. “I remember my counselor walking up to me,” reported one young client. “She made me feel comfortable. She wasn’t there to judge me, just to help. It wasn’t pro-life versus pro-choice — she cared about me and not just the unborn baby.”16 When we heard this response to research conducted with our clients, I couldn’t hold back the tears. I felt that God was confirming all the changes we had been making. Best of all, since implementing these changes, we have seen an increase in women seeking out our services, as word gets out in the community that we are a safe place where real help is offered. Guttmacher Institute research indicates that most women choose abortion because they lack the emotional support and practical resources they feel they need to have a child. Most of our clients who are considering abortion say to us, “I don’t want to have an abortion, but I just see no other way.”We believe God is calling his people to provide the support and resources pregnant women need to begin to see some hope in their situation. And as we do this, we work for justice for both the woman and the child. Angie Weszely is the president of Caris Pregnancy Counseling and Resources, which operates various locations in the Chicago area.
“We talk glibly about choice. But the choice for what? Women who have the fewest choices of all exercise their right to abortion the most.” — Sallie Tisdale, former abortion nurse
to them as a privilege. Abortion is the latest in a long line of non-choices that begin at the very beginning with the time and the place and the manner of lovemaking.12
understanding more about its hideous reality. Creative legislation might include: warning requirements on abortion advertising similar to those for tobacco; allowing for women to file legal complaints on high-pressure sales jobs at the clinic, or for not being screened at the clinic/hospital for high pressure from others in her life, or for not being informed of non-abortion options by professional counselors; greater protection of anonymity in court for women who bring claims; clear rules of evidence for complaints that take into account the discrepancies of assembly-line abortion practice with ordinary medical practice. Evidence suggests that increasing the availability of alternatives, such as crisis pregnancy centers which offer one-onone help to women, can have a major impact, especially when partnered with governmental economic and social supports.15 This makes sense because lower-income women tend to be more likely to oppose abortion but also more likely to get abortions, meaning both that they are feeling economic pressure to have an abortion but are more open to alternatives when that pressure is lessened. Locate the crisis pregnancy centers in your area and support them — you can do something as simple as donating diapers or as involved as mentoring (even lodging) a young woman who is pregnant. Direct anti-abortion volunteer education efforts, covering both the negative experience of abortion for women and the humanity of the unborn child, are another effective way to make a difference. Check out the materials and organizations listed on page 14 and equip yourself with the wide variety of excellent resources available. n
Naomi Wolf caused quite a stir in an article she wrote for a later issue of The New Republic with remarks like: How can we charge that it is vile and repulsive for prolifers to brandish vile and repulsive images if the images are real? To insist that the truth is in poor taste is the very height of hypocrisy. Besides, if these images are often the facts of the matter, and if we then claim that it is offensive for pro-choice women to be confronted by them, then we are making the judgment that women are too inherently weak to face a truth about which they have to make a grave decision. This view of women is unworthy of feminism.”13 Feminists also have a problem that can be illustrated by the man who, passing by a pro-life literature table, announced, “If my girlfriend is stupid enough to get pregnant, she’s going to the abortion clinic that afternoon, whether she wants to or not.” This kind of anti-choice/pro-abortion attitude is so common that there’s no way that anyone active on either side of the issue can have failed to run across it. Letting the ramification of it sink in is another matter. Working for real rights for women Insisting that women must choose between sacrificing their careers/life plans and sacrificing their children is making less and less sense. Pro-life feminism is on the rise, while the abortion industry is in decline (see “Too Fragile to Last?” on page 8). As it continues to decline, women will be in a better position to insist on more rights. Abandoning women to the abortion clinic is a lot harder to do when the abortion clinic is not right there. As women have more rights and therefore more choices, this will drive abortions down further. What else can we do? We can insist on laws such as informed consent or rightto-know, which appear to make a difference because they help women learn about fetal development and availability of alternatives. A 2007 study that compared different states produced evidence suggesting that parental-consent laws have helped cause a substantial drop in abortions for minors.14 Several other kinds of creative legislation at the state level can provide gentle ways of helping people avoid abortion by
This article was adapted from Achieving Peace in the Abortion War, (Feminism & Nonviolence Studies Association, 2009) and appears here by kind permission of the author. (Available from Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com, and IUniverse.com) Rachel M. MacNair is a longtime activist and scholar in both the pro-life movement and the peace movement. She served as president of Feminists for Life (FeministsForLife.org) from 1984 to 1994 and is currently director of the research arm of Consistent Life (Consistent-Life.org). Her many books include The Psychology of Peace, Perpetration-Induced Traumatic Stress, and Working for Peace. She lives in Kansas City, Mo. (Editor’s note: Due to space limitations, the endnotes for this article are posted online at esa-online.org/endnotes)