Humility, Arrogance, and Pride

I’ve learned a lot from people over the past few months when it comes to choice and abortion. The biggest thing I’ve gained is a better understanding of my own beliefs, and a clearer idea of where I personally draw the relevant lines. I’ve probably spent more time talking to people on the anti-abortion/anti-choice side than with those who I’m in basic agreement with, and everything I’ve seen and heard has only strengthened my convictions.

However, I recently got a huge reminder of why I’m on this side of the issue, courtesy of someone who has become probably my least favorite frequent commenter on Jill Stanek’s blog. He was responding to a sincere question of mine about some relevant bible passages. I admit, it took me a little while to get the message, because I’ve gotten into the habit of dismissing his personal and abusive missives. Here’s what he said:

I do not believe for a moment that you “really want to know”.

Instead of consulting and referring to a ‘book’ in which you place no trust or assess any value, why don’t you ask the ONE who gives you breath?

The ‘Author of Life’ holds the answers to all your questions and HE will indulge your contentious foolishness for a little while and if you are humble enough to acknowledge what you do not know, then HE will be gracious enough to fill in some blanks for you.

But be forewarned, with knowledge comes responsibilty and even HIS patience has it’s limit.

If you continue in your arrogance and pride HE will leave you to your own devices or as it is written, HE will allow you to return to your own vomit until you can humble yourself once again.

Enjoy the journey.

My initial response to this was, of course, to get a bit pissed off. And then, I laughed. Do you get the joke? It might be a little easier if I paraphrase for him a little:

I have all the answers and I’m better than you because I know the answers for everyone. If you can just be humble like me maybe someday you’ll know the answers (and then you can tell everyone else what the answers are for them, too)! Isn’t it great how smart I am to know all the answers? Oh, and if you don’t agree to walk the lines that I draw, you’ll lie in a pool of your own vomit until you come to your senses.

I’ve never understood how so many people mistake humility for its opposite.

Whatever any of us believe and no matter how strong a person’s faith may be, there is no human being on this earth who knows the answer to what many people see as the biggest questions of existence — is there a god? which god is THE god? is there one god, or many? what happens after death? what about reincarnation? — you get the idea. I don’t say this to belittle or minimize the strong faith of many, many people. There’s a reason we call it “faith” — because it has to be believed, and it cannot be known the way we know a fact. To develop an overarching philosophy that answers questions like these, faith is required because true knowledge is impossible.

And here we come around to where I started. I don’t talk all that much about my personal beliefs or to which religion I subscribe because I don’t really know the answer to those questions. I’m still looking for the answers that feel right and I haven’t yet found them. I have the humility to understand that I don’t have answers to the great questions of humanity, and that even if or when I may find answers that make sense to me, there is no way I can know them with any certainty — most definitely not with the certainty required to even attempt to force anyone else to fit into the mold I create.

Which is exactly why I am pro-choice. Even if I succeed in answering life’s big questions to my own satisfaction, I can’t answer them for anyone else. For many people, a lot of those big questions are involved when it comes to abortion, and their personal faith has everything to do with whether they call themselves “pro-choice” or “pro-life”. It has even more bearing on how each individual facing an unplanned or somehow unexpected pregnancy chooses to react to it.

Last week, in a thread about the new Oklahoma  law that protects doctors who lie to their patients about fetal defects, I shared a link to the personal stories at A Heartbreaking Choice, a website about and for families who chose (often difficult and late term) abortion after learning their children had severe defects. In response, I was given a link to Be Not Afraid, a site for and about families who faced similar circumstances and chose to give birth to their children. Both sites will absolutely break your heart, but what really struck me after reading both was that each of those families had a choice. Facing an impossibly difficult situation, each family had the right to choose how to act. (Not to mention the fact that because doctors actually told them something was wrong with their child, they had time to make that decision and to prepare for what was happening.) No one forced them into one choice or the other because one group of people believed their principles should override all else. Well, until recently, in Oklahoma.

There’s a reason that we call ourselves pro-choice and not “pro-abortion”: because it’s about giving each person the choice to decide for themselves. It’s about knowing we don’t have the answer for everyone. It’s about having one very specific kind of faith: that individuals can be trusted to choose what is right for themselves.

Let me finish up here with something that might surprise some readers. Suppose things were turned around, and abortion was a non-issue, but there was a big debate and a lot of disagreement about adoption. Suppose that much of society was totally against the very idea of giving up children for adoption. Let me tell you something that I know without a doubt:  the very same people you see fighting tooth and nail to protect abortion rights would be doing their all to protect the right of women to give up their children for adoption, not to mention the right of everyone to adopt children that they aren’t related to. This fight is not about abortion. It’s about choice. Plain and simple.

So thanks, “yor bro ken,” for reminding me what this is all about.

Age of Consent

I was surprised this afternoon when I clicked on a link in someone’s Twitter post in the #prolife channel and found a picture of a high school I know well — a school where my mother taught for several years, halls I walked during and after seeing music and drama performances, the facade I drove by every day on my way to and from work and doctor’s appointments. That picture was next to a headline I imagine many people found shocking: “Mother furious after in-school clinic sets up daughter’s abortion.”

The story was, it seems, immediately picked up by antiabortion news sites and blogs, despite an obvious dearth of real information on what happened. Most people are blaming the school for everything, despite the fact that the clinic where she had a pregnancy test is not operated by the school, but by Swedish Medical Center, a local group that operates two hospitals (and where I’ve had two surgeries and countless treatments) and has an excellent local reputation. Many of the blogs and sites that repeated the story along with commentary make it sound like the school staff “arranged” the abortion and the taxi that transported the girl to the clinic where the procedure was done.

However, you have to view this story in the context of Washington State law, which not only provides that female patients can consent to abortion at any age, but does not require parental consent OR notification. If this girl had gone to a clinic off campus, the exact same thing would have occurred — she would have been given a pregnancy test, and they probably would have asked her if she wanted information on her options, including abortion. If she said yes, they would have given her a referral to a clinic and answered any questions she had about the laws and whether they would have to notify her parents. Which is exactly what it sounds like happened at the clinic — which, again, was operated by a local medical center, NOT the school.

It’s also worth noting that the mother, “Jill,” had signed a paper saying that her daughter could be treated at the clinic, and the paper included specific mentions of reproductive health care along with mental health care and substance abuse treatment as types of care they could provide. “Jill” even states that she knew her daughter could get birth control at the clinic without her parents being notified.

When you’re over 13 in Washington State, doctors no longer have to inform your parents about what happens at your doctor’s visits, and conversations with your doctor become private between you and the doctor. I distinctly remember when I turned 13 being told this, and being relieved that I could talk to my doctor about anything and not have to worry.

Personally, I don’t see much of a story here. If the clinic had not been located at the school, there wouldn’t have been anything to report about. It also looks, from a Google News search, that only one of the local news outlets — KOMO 4 News — initially reported the story, and all other reports quote that original, which makes me think that the mother sought the media out, probably to bring criticism on the school. Why she isn’t blaming the clinic is beyond me. Because Swedish operated and staffed the clinic, even though it was located on the school campus, a visit there would be identical to a visit to one of their other facilities, and the same laws — HIPAA, consent, etc. — would apply.

If anyone should be blamed here, in my opinion, it’s “Jill” — to me it’s a logical extension of understanding a clinic can prescribe birth control that the same clinic could provide referrals and information about reproductive health matters that couldn’t be handled there, such as abortion. If she felt so strongly about being involved in her daughter’s health care, she shouldn’t have signed the release that allowed her daughter to be treated at the clinic. Their family doctor could have provided any services the clinic provided, and if her daughter was sick at school she could have called mom to be taken to the family doc. Did mom sign the clinic form because it was convenient to have minor health issues taken care of on campus at the clinic, rather than missing a day of work to take her daughter to the doctor? Did she have a problem with the idea of her daughter getting birth control without mom’s knowledge — something the form mom signed seems to have made clear?

And there’s the big question — what was it that made this girl so scared to tell her parents she was pregnant that she left school to have an abortion that she knew her parents could not find out about unless she told them? (The logical follow-up question is, of course, what happened to get her to tell her parents what she did?)

I think there’s an answer to this in the original KOMO article: “Jill says her daughter, a pro-life advocate, was given a pass, put in a taxi and sent off to have an abortion during school hours all without her family knowing.” (Emphasis mine.) How pro-life could this girl be if she chose to have an abortion? It suggests to me that it’s the mother who is pro-life, and that she wants her daughter to feel as strongly about it as she did. It also sounds to me like mom’s in a bit of denial — her daughter must have been coerced into the abortion, must have been talked to it by those awful clinic people, who must be (to borrow a term from Jill Stanek) “pro-aborts” who didn’t even give her daughter a chance to think about what she was doing.

The bottom line here is that everyone involved acted within the law. The clinic staff treated the daughter, not the mother, and gave the treatment and information asked of them. The facility that actually performed the abortion did so with the daughter’s consent, and neither the mother’s consent or notification is required under the law. In fact, if either the clinic at the school or the facility where the abortion was done had notified the parents, they would have been breaking the law.

I want to end this with a caveat:  if it turns out that this girl was pressured or coerced into having an abortion, I would never, ever support such actions. If, however, it happened as it sounds today and this was the girl’s choice without coercion, I am 100% behind this clinic and the school and support their actions. If I had been pregnant at 15, I would probably have done the same thing and been extremely glad the clinic was there. My dad told me when I was a teenager that he and my mom would disown me and kick me out if I got pregnant, and while I’m not sure that’s what they’d really have done — after all, it’s taken them almost 7 years to get to the point of being ready to kick out my drug- and alcohol-addicted brother — I don’t think I’d have wanted to face them until I’d handled the situation by having an abortion, or until I’d decided to keep the baby and formulated a plan to do it.

I still don’t see much of a story here. And I’m sorry that Ballard High, a pretty decent school overall, is becoming the center of what shouldn’t be a controversy at all.

Generation Gap

I had an opportunity today to listen to an interview on Issues for you Tissues with Mary Ann Sorrentino, pro-choice activist and former executive director of Planned Parenthood in Rhode Island. Called a “women’s health hero” and tireless advocate for reproductive choice and abortion rights, I was introduced to her via her article on Angie Jackson and #livetweetingabortion. While many pro-choice advocates and supporters were behind Angie all the way, I was surprised to read how judgmental and derisive Sorrentino was of Angie’s actions. At the time, though, I was too busy fighting off antiabortionites to do more than comment on her article. Then, today, I listened to that podcast, where Sorrentino expanded on her thoughts about Angie and abortion in general.

A few things that I had started to pick up in her article became very clear — particularly that there is a significant generation gap between Sorrentino and perhaps the other activists of her generation, and those of us who were born and raised after Roe vs. Wade. To be fair, I do think that some of her statements come out of an incorrect understanding of Twitter and the internet. But that doesn’t account for all of it. Many of the criticisms she has of Angie’s choices and actions are so similar to the statements I’ve heard from antiabortionites that she could probably pretend to be one and no one would be the wiser.

For example, in the interview she says that she has no problem with women talking about their abortions with friends, and you can almost see the image in her head of a handful of women talking together over tea and cookies. But discussing abortion on Twitter, in her view, isn’t discussion but “performing” for the world — and here she shows her lack of understanding of the technology — because “she wasn’t getting any feedback, or any responses, except in comments later”. Sorrentino describes #livetweetingabortion as performing in front of a screen, rather that a quiet discussion of personal matters among friends. The underlying message? You can talk about your abortion experiences amongst yourselves, but don’t you dare tell the whole world about them.

This leads right into another point that seemed to really bother her:  that Angie didn’t just talk about the emotional experiences, or the factors that led her to choose abortion. She told us exactly how she felt physically, how much pain she was in, how much she was bleeding — all the gory details. Sorrentino, at least by my perception, feels that putting so much detail out there will work against the pro-choice movement, and would make some women change their minds about abortion.

And here’s where I started to get really irritated, because the implication is that — and this carries particular weight coming from a former executive director of Planned Parenthood Rhode Island — the real details of how exactly an abortion is going to feel physically are being withheld from women so that it’s an easier choice to make. Seriously, if the details of Angie’s experience were enough to change any woman’s mind about having an RU486 abortion, those women probably shouldn’t be having one.

Something that’s become really clear to me over the past several weeks as I’ve become more and more involved in the issue of reproductive choice is that there’s a real problem on both sides when it comes to giving women accurate, complete information about their options. The pro-life Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPCs) will give you great information and referrals if you want to keep your baby or give it up for adoption, but if you want to talk about abortion you’ll get graphic videos and materials designed to make abortion look as horrific and bloody and deadly as possible. They often talk about very uncommon adverse reactions and post-abortion risks that are barely substantiated by one or two studies as if they happen to all women who have them — breast cancer, clinical depression, infertility, hemorrhage, death. On the other hand, when you go into an abortion clinic to get an abortion, the focus is on giving you one, not on counseling you about your other options. There are plenty of stories from women who had bad experiences from both types of facilities.

I will never support pressuring women and pushing them to any choice that is not fully their own. But Sorrentino’s interview made me wonder exactly what’s being left out when women are told what to expect with their RU486 abortions.

I’m left with the impression that perhaps there is not much left for Sorrentino’s generation of pro-choice warriors to teach us. The battle we face now is different and the world has changed considerably. Online environments like Twitter and Facebook are where many of us communicate with our closest friends, and the speed of 21st century life means there is not as much time as there used to be for sharing stories over coffee or tea. Women like Angie are becoming the norm, not the exception. Angie may have been the first — at least the first to capture the attention of the mainstream — to live-tweet her abortion, but she won’t be the last. It saddens me to see the incredible generation gap between Sorrentino and women like Angie, and me. At the same time I feel like there’s so much more that we can do as women today to protect each woman’s right to choose — the reach of one person is so much greater because of the internet, and every one of us can make a bigger difference than was even imaginable in 1973.

Doing what Angie did, talking about her real life experience in real life terms, not whitewashing it to make it sound better to the opposition or making it easier for women to choose RU486 for themselves, but describing in 140 character bursts what she was going through in a way that all women could understand and identify with in some way — that is the first thing that women who have abortions can do, whether during or after or long after, to help crack the terrible wall that society has built around women who choose abortion. We’re told that talking about it is wrong, that telling our stories is unacceptable. We need to change that.

If you have a story, please tell it. Tell it in as much detail as you can, so that women who hear your story know what it was really like. Don’t worry about how it might look or sound to someone who doesn’t agree with your choice. Don’t worry about who might object. Tell your story to one person, or ten, or a hundred, or more. The more stories that are heard, the more we can overcome the stigma that is attached to abortion, and the more we can help women who need help to heal and move on after their abortions. There is nothing worse than feeling like you are alone in the world and that no one understands. When it comes to abortion, as many as 1 in 3 women will have an abortion in their lifetime, and the only reason we still feel alone is because our stories aren’t being told. Tell your story. Women are listening.

Missing Pieces

For the past two weeks I’ve been talking to lots of people on Twitter and blogs about health care reform. Because it’s an issue that there is a lot — a LOT — of misinformation about, I’ve focused mainly on trying to dispel the myths and lies about the presence of abortion funding in the health reform bill. (For the record, there is no abortion funding in this bill, and if you want to discuss specifics on that point, do it somewhere else. You could see Jill Stanek’s blog, where I’ve been over, and over, and over all of the evidence and explained it in detail in comments on some of her recent posts.)

The more I’ve talked to people about this issue, the more I’ve heard absolutes like, “I’m happy to go my whole life without health insurance rather than support the murder of unborn babies” and “I will be in jail before I give you a penny to kill poor people’s children.” I could give you a dozen more examples like these, and I’m not insensitive to the sentiment or the emotion behind those statements.

Except for the fact that there is something missing from this argument, something missing from all of the so-called “pro-life” blogs that have been discussing this health reform bill. Now that the bill has passed, I thought maybe I’d start seeing it. Maybe I’m just not looking at the right blogs. Maybe I’m not missing the tweets talking about it. But you’d think, with all the talk about reducing, preventing, and stopping abortions, there’d be some talk, somewhere, about all the things that this bill would do to support that cause.

First of all, though you may have heard differently, there’s ample data supporting the theory that universal health care reduces abortion rates. In the developed world, the United States has the highest abortion rate, despite the fact that women often pay out of pocket for abortion services. The developed countries with lower abortion rates include Canada, Denmark, and the UK — all countries that provide abortion services for free as part of universal health care — as well as Germany and Japan, where they have universal health care but abortion services are not covered.

Why does universal health care reduce abortion rates? Consider a young, low-income woman who gets pregnant unexpectedly in the United States. She doesn’t have insurance and earns too much to qualify for Medicaid. She knows that even if the man who got her pregnant helps, having a baby is expensive — starting as soon as you get pregnant, with the cost of prenatal care. Add in the cost of labor and delivery, plus anything unexpected that might mean her baby staying in the hospital for weeks or months, and already she can see it’s impossible for her to manage. She hasn’t even started to calculate the cost of formula and diapers.

If this young woman was in a country with universal health care — let’s say the UK — she wouldn’t have to worry about any of those things. She probably wouldn’t even give it a thought. She’d be thinking about how to handle the expenses when the baby comes, and would be able to spend the 9 months of pregnancy saving money and preparing for the expenses of having a baby, instead of using all the money she can scrape together to pay for medical care. For many young women, it is the difference between choosing to keep their babies and choosing to abort them.

That one is pretty obvious, but there are more ways universal health care reduces abortion rates. With universal health care comes very much improved access to contraceptives and family planning services. Better access to contraception means fewer unplanned pregnancies, which translates directly into fewer abortions. Remember Angie Jackson, who live-tweeted her abortion? If she had been in a country with universal health care, she could have had that tubal ligation, and there would most likely never have been an abortion to live-tweet. As it stands, she can’t have her tubes tied because the cost is so prohibitive — as she is one of the 45 million people in this country who are uninsured.

Looking more specifically at the health reform bills, there are a number of specific measures that, by improving prenatal and early childhood health care, are likely to reduce abortion rates and ensure that babies are born healthier. It’s also conceivable that over time the infant mortality rate, which is an absolute disgrace in this country, could improve along with advancements in prenatal, perinatal, and postnatal health care for the poorest women and children.

One measure that’s gotten a lot of flack because someone, somewhere decided that it could be twisted and used to fund abortions, is the $11 billion the bill sets aside for Community Health Centers. CHCs are critically important in reaching the neediest people in our communities. It’s estimated that the money would allow them to serve 15 million new patients — and since currently they provide prenatal care for 1 in 8 children born in this country, that means a lot more kids will be born healthier and their mothers will be, too. And with the Executive Order to be signed by Obama, those funds can’t be used for abortions — well, they couldn’t be used for abortions before, either, because the money falls under laws that prevent HHS-administered programs from using federal funds for abortion.

In addition to the CHCs, here are some other interesting snippets from the original senate bill and the house reconciliation bill that will help reduce abortions by improving access to health care for women and children and reducing the out of pocket costs. Note: This is based on a search-and-read review of the bills, and my interpretations may be incorrect or missing details. I am just trying to give an overview of all the things that are in this bill that we haven’t heard word one about from the pro-lifers.

  • Comprehensive tobacco cessation services for pregnant women on Medicaid
  • Outreach program to enroll vulnerable and underserved populations in state exchanges
  • Coverage for women who give birth at “freestanding birth centers” instead of hospitals, including coverage of midwife and other profession services used in the process of labor and delivery
  • Creation of home visiting programs to assist high risk and vulnerable populations, including pregnant women under the age of 21
  • Comprehensive education for adolescents (contraception, sex, abstinence, relationships, etc) using proven and studied methods to reduce youth pregnancy and birth rates

There’s a lot more in there — that’s just what I pulled out in about 20 minutes of skimming the bills. It surprises me every time I spend a little while going through the bills how much I find that I haven’t heard word one about, especially when it comes to things you’d think the pro-lifers would be celebrating.

So when I went to check out a couple of pro-life blogs tonight — well, this morning — I was hoping to find both satisfaction that abortion is really and truly not in the bill thanks to the EO, and discussion of the measures in the bill that are going to work for the antiabortion cause. Instead, all I’ve seen is disappointment with Stupak (and other antiabortion democracts) for caving in, and the same vitriolic fear and hatred we’ve seen since Obama won the election pointed at anyone and everyone who supports choice or isn’t kicking and screaming about the passage of the bill. Even if they are antiabortion.

The reality is that there are a LOT of wins for the antiabortion crowd in this bill. That we had to give so much to them to get the almost-universal heath care that this country desperately needs is frustrating, but we need the reforms in this bill so badly that I’m hoping it will end up being worth it. And in the long term, the Executive Order could eventually be overturned, given the right situation and majorities. Who knows. What I do know is that the number of deaths due to lack of insurance are going to start falling, and the number of people who lack access to medical care — and by that I mean access that doesn’t result in exorbitant bills that are impossible to pay — will be reduced to something approaching zero.

This is a start. It’s a good start. And maybe one day, the antiabortion people will get their heads out of the ground and realize that this bill is going to be working for them, too.

Response to comments on Jill Stanek’s blog

Posting here because I had too much to say to post in the blog comments — responding to post at http://www.jillstanek.com/archives/2010/03/bluffing_they_do_not_have_the.html

It sounds like most of you who have replied to me have no idea what’s actually in the bill, and are just repeating the scare tactic lines and rhetoric that has no relationship to what’s in the bill.

(I apologize for the length, I am trying to respond to all of the questions and comments in one go.)

This bill does not create a public option or single payer option that would be under government control. The control over health care services will still be in the hands of the insurance companies — the government is only involved because they are forcing insurance companies to accept people like me who were previously denied, places restrictions on how they can raise premiums (for example, prohibiting them from raising premiums due to health history), and creates a health care exchange that people like me can buy into that will result in lower rates because it spreads the risk across a large pool of people, and provides subsidies to insurance companies covering more sick people than the median rate, which will also encourage them to keep premiums lower.

The bill also expands Medicaid to cover more people and provides states with assistance to pay for those additional people. It strengthens Medicare. It promotes preventative care, which reduces health care costs. It will help put primary care doctors into communities without them. It improves access to experimental and new treatments.

But all of these reforms end up with the control for day-to-day health care still in the hands of the insurance companies. The government involvement is limited to reforming the insurance companies and changing the way they do business in ways that will insure that more Americans get coverage and that people won’t lose coverage because they get sick.

Have you heard the story of Natoma Canfield, who was forced to drop her individual health insurance that she had struggled to pay as they hiked her premiums year after year, and when they raised her rates again by 40% she was unable to pay it? She was diagnosed with leukemia just a week or so ago and is now in a hospital not only stressed and worried about staying alive and fighting the disease, but trying desperately to figure out how she is going to pay for the 28 days of chemotherapy and all of the tests and treatments that she needs to survive. Without insurance, her only real hope is that the center where she is being treated will write off the cost of her care. Otherwise, she is likely to lose her house — the house her parents built — in order to pay for care that she quite literally can’t live without.

This is the status quo that you are supporting by fighting against this bill.

Mary — I have looked at all of the options available. Only one of my prescriptions is on those $4/$10 prescription program lists; the rest cost up to $80 a month. They would be much more, except that a locally owned pharmacy has agreed out of the kindness of their hearts to discount my prescriptions. Still, I spend up to $300 a month for the drugs I need to be able to function and work. I am currently on the waiting list for California’s high risk pool, which costs up to $800 a month for one person. Last I heard it will be at least 3-4 more months before I get coverage.

Lori — I’m not sure I follow your logic. Because Pelosi and Planned Parenthood support health reform, abortion must be in the bill? Do you realize that 97.3% of Planned Parenthood’s services are NOT abortion-related, and they provide basic health care for many people who are uninsured? They see people every day in desperate need of health care and health insurance. The bill expands grants to community health centers so that those people, even if they aren’t insured after this bill passes, will have much better access to health care than they do now. That is why they support it. THERE IS NO ABORTION FUNDING IN THE BILL.

And as far as Pelosi — she supports many bills. Because she supports a budget bill or a military funding bill, do you assume that abortion is in those bills too? Is it so unimaginable that someone who is pro-choice has other concerns, like the tens of millions of people who are uninsured, like the thousands of people like Natoma Canfield who are taking on extreme debt so they can live, or dying because they can’t afford the care they need? Your reasoning makes no sense. I suggest that you actually read the bill and see for yourself what is in it. (http://www.opencongress.org/bill/111-h3590/show has the full text; http://dpc.senate.gov/dpcdoc-sen_health_care_bill.cfm has several summaries and documents describing the bill highlights.)

You also say that you would rather go your whole life without health insurance than “let innocent babies die in the womb for your health.” There is NO ABORTION FUNDING IN THE BILL. Do you realize that you are sacrificing the lives of probably tens of thousands of Americans each year in order to prevent imaginary abortions that ARE NOT GOING TO BE FUNDED BY THIS BILL? Do you know that universal healthcare REDUCES the abortion rate? In fact, by not supporting this bill, you are actually supporting more abortions, because more women are going to terminate pregnancies because they can’t afford the health care costs of pregnancy, labor, and raising a child?

I just don’t understand where you are coming from.

Vannah — As far as I know, I am cancer free, though I had to have a precancerous lesion removed in November (at great expense). However, my last scans and tests were done about a year and a half ago, and I have no way of knowing whether there are metastatic lesions somewhere in my body. I still have a 20% chance (1 in 5) that the cancer will recur. Not being able to afford the tests that would be able to determine that is a potentially deadly bet I am forced to make with my life. By the time I have symptoms from metastases, it would be too late to have any real chance to survive it. Early detection is critical, and right now it is also impossible for me. I also suffer from severe chronic pain caused by Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, which started when I was hit by a car while crossing a street (at a crosswalk) and a woman ran the red light and hit me. It has spread from my right wrist/arm/hand into my left wrist/arm/hand as well as my right hip, left lower abdomen, and now my neck and part of my head and face. This is where the majority of my health expenses come from, as I have to see a doctor every month and take 6 different medications to get the pain to a level I can live with — but I live with pain 24/7. If I had insurance, I would be able to have procedures like trigger point injections, and would be able to go forward with the treatment my doctors have long believed would end my pain: an implantable device similar to a pacemaker that stimulates nerves in the spinal cord to short-circuit the pain signals from the CRPS. This involves two surgeries and a very expensive set of equipment and is completely out of the question until I have insurance coverage. Until then I live with a regular level of pain that most people would find intolerable.

And finally, Jill — I haven’t forgotten it, and I try to reach @nextthurs every day. But that doesn’t mean I am going to stop fighting for the causes that are important to me, and right now health care reform is at the very top of that list. I am tired of seeing people like you who say they are pro-life spreading lies and misinformation about the abortion funding you believe is in the bill but IS NOT. You obviously have a large readership and a large following, and instead of using that to save the lives of uninsured Americans, you are fighting to keep a status quo that kills people every day — because of reasons that you made up. You should be ashamed of yourself, but I don’t expect you to ever come down from your high horse long enough to see the damage you’ve done.

Operation Rescue: Pro-death

I’ve seen a lot of things on antiabortion websites and blogs that make me mad. But when I clicked a link today that sent me to a blog post on Operation Rescue’s site, I could hardly believe what I read:

Dear Friends of Life,

A critical vote on health care in the Budget Committee is expected Monday, one that would clear the way for a final vote later this week on legislation that would insure the largest expansion of abortion funding in the history of this nation.

Make no mistake. This entire health care bill is all about abortion funding, or it would have passed months ago.

Abortion is THE issue on which President Obama and his fellow radical pro-aborts in Congress will not compromise.

But people like you and me have clearly spoken. Over 71% of us are OPPOSED to tax-funded abortion, so much so that we would rather defeat any health care reform than allow even one cent of our tax money to be used to fund the injustice of abortion.

But that has not mattered to the likes of Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Henry Waxman, and others who are bent on ramming through abortion funding no matter the will of the people or the political consequences.

They are trying every trick in the book – and then some – to circumvent the vast opposition to the government take-over of health care.

Last week, Rep. Louise Slaughter proposed changing the rules so that the abortion faction in Congress could pass this oppressive law without having to vote on it! That’s because they don’t have the votes, and they know it.

To “deem” a law voted on when there was no vote, as Slaughter proposed, is a step toward utter totalitarianism and should be a wake-up call to the American people that this administration will stop at nothing to make sure that as many babies as possible die from abortion – at taxpayer expense!

Don’t forget who Obama hand-picked to run the Department of Health and Human Services. It is none other than former Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius, who was heavily supported by Planned Parenthood and the largest late-term abortionist in the country at that time, George Tiller.

Operation Rescue worked hard to “out” Sebelius and her radical abortion agenda. We know all too well how she repeatedly vetoed every piece of legislation that would have held an out-of-control abortion industry accountable. This is the same woman who danced the conga line at a celebration of her birthday thrown by Planned Parenthood in her honor. (That PP organization was later charged with 107 criminal counts related to illegal late-term abortions. Those charges are still pending.) Sebelius also entertained Tiller and this entire abortion clinic staff at the Kansas governor’s mansion at tax-payer expense*. And this is the same woman whomisrepresented to the Senate during her confirmation hearings the amount of money Tiller dumped into her political campaigns.

There can be no doubt that Sebelius is bought and paid for by the abortion cartel, yet she will be the one in charge of doling out the cash to the abortion clinics under Obama’s plan.

We can defeat this health care disaster, but only if everyone acts!

This is the last few yards of the race to protect the lives of thousands of pre-born children that Obama’s so-called health care plan endangers. Please call your Congressman and Senators today!

Contact CongressmenContact Senators.

For the innocent,
Troy Newman
President, Operation Rescue

P.S. Our efforts to expose and oppose tax-payer funding of abortion have taken a toll on our budget. Please consider making a sacrificial donation to Operation Rescue today. Thank you in advance for your prayers and support.

“Dear Friends of Life, Here are some more outright lies to convince you that even though you may well be among the more than 30 million Americans who are uninsured and don’t have access to basic healthcare that you need, you should do everything you can to keep this bill that would give everyone health care. Oh, and by the way, we have spent so much money lobbying to keep tens of millions of Americans from getting basic and life-saving health care, we need you to make a ‘sacrificial’ donation to us so we can keep fighting for the early and unnecessary deaths of countless uninsured Americans.”

I’ve seen plenty of distortion from people on the antiabortion side about this reform. And I’ll be the first to tell you that it’s not the best reform bill in the world — far from it — but it’s a start, and it gives us some basics that can be added to and improved. Most importantly, it would force insurance companies to accept people regardless of their health or preexisting conditions, and provide financial help for people who can’t pay the premiums.

This piece from Operation Rescue, though, takes the cake over anything I’ve seen before. Despite a federal law — since 1976 — prohibiting federal funds from being used for abortion except in cases of rape, incest, and when necessary to save the life of the mother, they are asserting to their supporters that not only does this bill use federal tax money to pay for abortions, it is the “Largest Expansion of Abortion Funding in US History”.

A key indicator that they know exactly what they are doing is that they don’t even try to back up their claims. Rather than explain how the bill expands abortion funding, they use some of the same tired stories to badmouth Pelosi, Reed, and others who are working to push the bill through. It’s a smart strategy, since there’s no way to prove it because NONE OF THEIR CLAIMS ARE ACTUALLY TRUE.

I don’t know much more than the average person about what’s in the bill, but I have read the section of the bill that talks about abortion funding, which says that abortions that can be federally funded can be funded, and abortions that can’t be federally funded can’t be. There’s also the part of the bill that requires people to write separate checks for plans that include abortion funding, to ensure that any federal funds received by the insurance company don’t go to the part of the plan that pays for abortions.

I suspect that what Operation Rescue calls funding for abortion is actually the part of the bill that provides for the funding of community health centers. That, in and of itself, isn’t really much of a change. Planned Parenthood, for example, receives both state and federal grants to operate its health centers, but that money can’t be used to provide abortion services. (That’s fairly simple because only 2.7% of Planned Parenthood’s services are abortion-related — see a couple posts back where I review their financial records and service numbers in detail.) A March 4 post to a US News and World Report blog puts community health center funding at 11 billion, and yes, some of those health centers provide abortions. Depending who you ask, that money might — or might not — be subject to either the Hyde Amendment or language in the health care bill preventing use of those funds for abortion. (I’m no expert, but looking over the many other statements on the issue, which you can find on Google, it appears that the funding can’t be used for abortion. And I’m pretty sure that Operation Rescue knows it.)

The greatest irony here, to me, is that Operation Rescue describes themselves as “one of the leading pro-life Christian activist organizations in the nation” — yet they are actively campaigning against a bill that would bring urgently needed healthcare to over 30 million Americans who are currently dying every day because they don’t have health insurance. Without insurance, there is no early detection of cancer; no preventative care; no primary care physician; no physicals. You hold out as long as you possibly can before going to the doctor because you know there’s gonna be a bill for every person who sees you, talks to you, or writes in your chart, and for every bandaid and aspirin. By the time people without insurance see a doctor or end up in the ER, they are sicker and cost more to treat. They often pay more than twice as much as an insurance company pays for the same care, and when it comes to prescription drugs, the costs can be even higher. When a doctor prescribes medication that you need to take every day — maybe it’s a blood pressure drug, or something to prevent seizures — you have to calculate every money whether you can afford it, or if you can stand to go a few days, or a week, or the whole month without it so you can buy groceries instead.

This is the status quo that “pro-life” Operation Rescue wants to maintain. This is the kind of life that Operation Rescue stands for. Don’t forget:  the single moms that Operation Rescue wants to see created instead of allowing those women to have abortions make up a significant percentage of the uninsured, as do their children. It’s just one more piece of incontrovertible proof of what I’ve known for a long time:

“Pro-life” ends at birth. After that, you’re on your own.

(“And by the way, please send us money so we can keep lobbying against health care for all Americans.”)

A Letter from Anthem Blue Cross

I’ve been without major medical insurance for about a year now, though I’m on the waiting list for California’s Major Risk Medical Insurance Plan, which is a pool of people who are denied coverage by insurance companies. Periodically I apply for individual insurance anyway, on the offchance that I might be accepted, which means that every couple of months I get a thick packet of paper in the mail listing all of the reasons I’ve been denied.

I would be willing to bet that just about everyone who is speaking out against Health Care Reform has spent the majority of their lives insured through their jobs or healthy enough to get individual insurance. That’s certainly true of our senators and congresspeople, and I have a hard time imagining someone who has had to manage chronic or serious medical conditions without insurance, or who has had to fight against insurance companies to get desperately needed services or procedures covered, spewing the kind of vitriol I’ve heard from the anti-HCR camp.

I’m one of the millions of Americans who doesn’t get benefits from my job — I work full time, but I’m technically a consultant — and who can’t get individual health insurance because I need it so badly. It sounds ridiculous when you say it that way, but it’s true. I’ve been denied health insurance because I have too many pre-existing conditions. In fact, any one of the conditions they list in the following letter would be enough to deny me. My sister-in-law has been denied coverage because she has slightly elevated blood pressure — not high enough to need medication or even close followup, but apparently high enough to make her a poor risk in the eyes of the insurance companies.

Today I got one of these denial letters, which because I applied for a “hip” new plan offered by Anthem to attract young (and healthy) people, is worded a bit more casually than the usual, but under the slight glaze of conversational language is the same old same old — we don’t want you, you need health care too badly.

Dear Ms. [my last name],

Thank you for applying for a Tonik plan from Anthem Blue Cross Life and Health Insurance Company. We wanted to follow up and let you know what’s happening.

Bear with us while we get a bit technical.

Sometimes medical conditions present uncertain medical underwriting risks. We carefully reviewed the health information and medical history that you gave us when you applied, and you are not eligible for any of our medically underwritten plans at this time. Specifically, our decision was based on the following health information:

Source: Health Statement, 03/05/2010

Medical History:

  • Complex regional pain syndrome requiring ongoing treatment (since 2003) with [list of four medications].
  • Migraine headaches.
  • Epilepsy/seizure disorder
  • Melanoma or squamous cell carcinoma (our records reflect a history of stage III melanoma).

This medical history precludes coverage under any of our medically underwritten plans.

Although we cannot offer enrollment under any of our medically underwritten health insurance plans, enrollment in the California Major Risk Medical Insurance Plan (MRMIP) may be an option for you.

[Followed by several paragraphs of information on who to call or talk to about different options and how to appeal.]

This is what’s wrong with our current health care system today. We have the best health care in the world here in the U.S., yet our infant mortality rate, our lifespan, and other statistics that measure how accessible that health care is are far below the top of the list. We have handed over control of access to healthcare to the insurance companies, who make decisions based on profit. They routinely jack up premiums by 40% even though they are making record profits. They deny lifesaving coverage or force families to go through lengthly appeals and legal challenges because some treatment that is generally accepted is still “experimental” in the eyes of the insurance companies. And as a matter of policy, unless you are covered as part of a group policy (through your job), they deny anyone who might actually need the health coverage they offer, so that they can profit as much as possible from people who are healthy and pay monthly premiums in case they need the coverage someday. (And even when these people who have paid years of premiums get sick, the insurance companies will do anything they can to get them kicked off the rolls — including finding the tiniest infraction that could be considered “lying on your application”, no matter how ridiculous it is. We’ve all seen the stories in the news, and they are the rule, not the exception.)

Yet every day now I see people blogging and talking about how HCR is handing over our health to the government (it isn’t — public option and single payer were off the table long ago, and the current plan keeps the control under insurance companies), how the government is going to be killing the elderly with “death panels” (it isn’t — what was painted as “death panels” is actually coverage for conversations with your doctor about living wills and end of life care, something everyone should be doing no matter how young or healthy), how HCR will spend federal funds on abortion (it doesnt, because federal funding of abortion is already prohibited except in extremely limited situations — in cases of rape or incest, and when an abortion is life-saving). These rumors/myths/scare tactics are designed to pull people away from the cause of HCR, to draw support from reform our country desperately needs because the Republicans are on a mission to stop any of Obama’s plans from becoming law.

The thing I really don’t get is when people go on and on to me about being pro-life, yet will tell me how much they are against HCR. Sometimes it’s because of the abortion funding they thing is in the bill, or they say they’ll only support it if the Stupak language is added (which is impossible at this point, and which is unnecessary because the bill already prohibits abortion funding except in the very limited circumstances listed above), and sometimes it’s because “why should I have to pay for your health insurance? you should go and get a job and pay for your own insurance! why should my money pay for your medical care?”

I read just today that universal health care reduces the abortion rate — and I’ve been saying for weeks that if we already had universal health care, Angie Jackson would probably have already had a tubal ligation, her IUD would not have failed, and she would never have needed an abortion in the first place. There would have been no #livetweetingabortion. Yet most people who call themselves “pro-life” continue to be bitterly against HCR. It’s a contradiction I don’t understand at all.

Right now, people die every day because they don’t have access to health care. People wait months to have conditions checked by a doctor because they can’t afford it, and end up in the ER only when their condition becomes deadly. Even people on Medicare don’t have coverage of preventative care or physicals, which means that conditions like cancer that can be found early through routine exams go unchecked until it’s far too late as well as much more expensive to treat them. Women who don’t have health insurance have abortions because they can’t afford the out of pocket costs of pregnancy — prenatal care, labor and delivery, postnatal care, medical care for their children. Women have more unwanted pregnancies because they don’t have access to birth control, because they can’t afford the birth control pills or other methods that would protect them from getting pregnant. More unwanted pregnancies equals more abortions.

We desperately need universal health care and coverage in this country. It would save lives, it would reduce the number of abortions, it would reduce our overall health care costs, lower infant mortality rates, raise life expectancy, reduce the number of bankruptcies due to medical costs.

No one should ever get a letter like the one I got today. If HCR passes, which by all appearances it will, that may become a reality. We’ve let this system become so dysfunctional, and it’s time for real change, real coverage for every single American.

The Meaning of “Pro-Choice”

This past week I’ve been asked the same question several times by people who are antiabortion/antichoice. “If you support abortions, why don’t you just call yourselves ‘pro-abortion’? Why don’t you like it when people call you ‘pro-abortion’?”

Despite the fact that I have answered this question at length, it seems like there’s a real inability to understand on the opposite side. To most of the antiabortion people I talk to, they consider abortion equal to murder of a child, and any kind of support of the right of women to choose abortion — regardless of how you might feel personally about abortion — is the same as going out and telling everyone you can that abortion is a fantastic option and you should go out and get pregnant just so you can have one. In other words, there’s no difference to them between supporting a woman’s right to choose (including her right to choose things that I disagree with) and pushing abortion on women. In fact, I think a lot of people on the antiabortion side consider supporting the right to choose as bad as having or performing abortions yourself.

I’ve been thinking since I was first asked the question if there’s a way to answer it that people might understand, and I’m writing this post to try and explain my personal position and what “pro-choice” means to me — which also happens to be what it means to everyone I have spoken with personally who considers themselves pro-choice.

The phrase “pro-choice” is pretty much a shortened form of “pro-reproductive-choice”. “Reproductive choice” encompasses a wide variety of options, and while it generally is applied to women, it also applies to men. “Reproductive choice” is everything from contraception, including the right to have access to contraception, the right to negotiate for it before and during sexual encounters, the right to determine what happens to and in your body at all times, the right to reproductive health care, and the right to choose how to handle a pregnancy and what the outcome will be. I’m sure I’ve left a few things off the list that fall under the “reproductive choice” category, but that’s most of it. And by the way, as far as the rest of this post goes, when I say “choice” I mean “reproductive choice”.

Central to the pro-choice philosophy is the idea that our own personal feelings on any of the options that people have are only relevant when it comes to making those choices for ourselves. Each person has an inalienable right to choose for themselves their own path. This isn’t just true of reproductive choice, it’s true of everything in life. Take freedom of religion, for example. It’s one of the most cherished rights of Americans, something most people see as incontrovertible and a core value. But believing we each have the right to choose and practice our own religion — or no religion — does not in any way mean that I have to like the religion you choose. I can even hate your religion (and freedom of speech gives me the right to tell you and the rest of the world how much I hate it) but I can’t prevent you from practicing it.

Being pro-choice is very similar. One thing that’s really crystallized for me the past few weeks is that part of being pro-choice is respecting the choices every woman (and man) makes when it comes to reproductive choice. It means trusting each woman to make her own choices and not needing to know the reasons or justifications. Do some people make bad choices? Of course. We’re human. Making mistakes is part of being human. The best we can do is work had to make sure everyone has the best information we can give them on all of their options, so that they can make the most informed choice possible. Often, when people make bad choices it’s because they have bad information. I recently read an article that described results of a study that looked at how much men knew about birth control and contraceptives, and the results were hysterically funny but also very concerning. They showed how far we have to go in educating everyone, men and women of all ages who are having sex, on how to protect themselves from both STDs and pregnancy.

And thus the greatest task the pro-choice movement has, arguably greater than the political battle of protecting the rights we have to make reproductive choices, is educating people on what their choices are and how to go about accessing them. This is integral to what I think is some significant common ground between the pro-choice and the antiabortion/antichoice movements, a common ground that I don’t think many people realize exists:  all of us want to reduce the number of abortions.

I think the reason that people so often confuse “pro-choice” with “pro-abortion” is that abortion is currently the cause that needs the most defending. The right of women to choose abortion is constantly under attack in the U.S. and elsewhere, and many countries have banned it to various degrees, with three countries banning all abortions (which results in the unnecessary deaths of many women who go without treatment for conditions like ectopic pregnancies for fear that doctors will be prosecuted for performing abortions). But being pro-choice is about a lot more than fighting for abortion rights.

Being pro-choice means being pro-adoption. Pro-keeping-your-baby. Pro-support-services-for-women-who-keep-their-babies. Pro-contraceptives. Pro-birth-control. Pro-sex-education. Pro-tubal-ligations-for-women-who-want-them. Pro-vasectomies-for-men-who-want-them. Pro-reducing-unwanted-pregnancies. Pro-reducing-abortions. Anti-rape, anti-sexual-abuse, anti-victimization. And it also means being pro-abortion-rights — even if you don’t like abortion and would never choose it for yourself.

To me, a perfect world when it comes to reproductive choice would be a world where there were no accidental or unwanted pregnancies. Where women got pregnant when they wanted to have kids, and when they didn’t want kids or weren’t ready for them, they had access to the best contraception available. And personally, I would add that this perfect world, with no unwanted pregnancies, would also encourage infertile couples and families to adopt foster children, older children, children that are currently passed over in favor of the more attractive infants of the right race or skin color.

I believe that safe, legal abortion should be available to women who want it, regardless of the reason or circumstances,up until about 22-24 weeks, when the fetus becomes viable. I also believe that women  who are considering abortion should be provided with as much information as possible on all of their options, including the potential risks of the abortion procedure they are considering, what kind of adoption options are available to them (open adoption, closed adoption, etc.), and especially what kinds of support services are available to them if they decide to have and raise their child. Any kind of clinic or resource center that counsels pregnant women on their options should do everything it can to locate services that those women need — if they are afraid they can’t provide for a child, have a social worker or counselor who knows the system work aggressively with them to find support services and programs that would make it affordable. If they are not in a position to raise a child, because they are teenagers or in a bad relationship or have more kids than they can handle already, show them all of the adoption programs they might be interested in being a part of, let them meet couples who are looking to adopt, give them information on the type of support they can get through these programs to carry the child to term and be healthy. If there is a problem in the way that is causing a woman to consider adoption, work with her and see if it can be solved.

But not all problems can be solved, and statistics from countries where abortion is illegal show that when safe, legal abortions are not available, women will go to incredible and dangerous lengths to terminate their pregnancies anyway. When a women chooses abortion, they should receive enough counseling to ensure that they are making this choice on their own and not under duress. While women who choose abortion should take into account the opinion of the father of the child, if it’s appropriate or he is in the picture, they should not be forced one way or the other by any partner, boyfriend, husband, family member, friend, or anyone else (including clinic or resource center staff). Because studies show that women with preexisting mental illness are far more likely to develop mental issues following abortions, a basic mental health screening should be part of the abortion process — not because those women should be preventing from terminating, but to identify women who will most likely need additional counseling after the abortion to deal with any consequences or trauma. And that counseling should be free or affordable, if not covered by insurance.

The picture I am trying to paint is of a world in which there are few abortions. Where the abortions that happen are reasoned, serious decisions made only after taking all of the options into account, or are medically necessary. Where most pregnancies are intentional and wanted and result in the addition of a loved child to a family. Where women have access to the contraception and protection they need to plan when and how they will reproduce, and with whom.

So no, I am not “pro-abortion”. I am pro-choice, and I am proud to be.

The Myth of Profit-Driven “Abortion Mills”

When someone commenting on a blog I’ve recently been following made a passing  comment about how much Planned Parenthood makes from abortions, I decided to do a little research and find out for myself if that was really true.

Planned Parenthood is frequently characterized as an “abortion mill” that does everything it can to make women have abortions so that they can make money. Common statements among the “pro-life” community regarding Planned Parenthood include:

  • Do you think it right that Planned Parenthood is killing girls, maiming them, scaring them for life at the same time making a profit off of their pain? (link)
  • They profit every time they convince a minor child to utilize their services. (link)
  • When Planned Parenthood argues that they’re working hard to reduce the frequency of abortion, the fact remains that their financial livelihood is built on abortion. (link)

These statements, and those like them, are patently, provably false. Only a tiny percentage — about 3% — of Planned Parenthood services are classified as “abortion services”. They spend nearly twice as much operating their health centers than they bring in through the health centers — effectively subsidizing about 50% of the costs of all types of care received at Planned Parenthood. Here’s how it adds up:

In 2007, the most recent numbers currently available, Planned Parenthood performed 10,921,825 services/procedures/exams. Of those, only 305,310 were classified as “abortion services” — which make up only 2.7% of the services that they provided that year. In 2006, the numbers were almost identical, with 289,750 “abortion services” out of 10,588,360 services/procedures/exams, which also comes out to 2.7% of all services provided.

The other 97.3% of the services that Planned Parenthood provides include cancer screening, vaccination, prenatal care, HIV and STD testing, family planning, vasectomies, and tubal ligations. They also provide basic medical care for many men and women who have limited access to health care services. 36% of Planned Parenthood’s services were related to contraception — over ten times that amount of abortion services — showing that they’ve spent far more time and resources preventing unwanted pregnancies than terminating them.

As far as income, only about a third of Planned Parenthood’s income is derived from their health centers. According to the most recently available annual report, they actually spend nearly twice as much providing medical services as they bring in through the health centers — bringing in $374 million in health center income, yet providing those services costs them more than $635 million. Only through donations and grants are they able to operate the health centers at all.

If Planned Parenthood truly had the goals they are accused of — doing as many abortions as they can; deceiving women and talking them out of options like adoption; using methods like RU486 with which a small percentage of women will require a subsequent surgical abortion, in order to increase profits — a person would expect to see some very different numbers. Abortion would presumably make up a much larger percentage of the services they provide, and they would also presumably be making more than they spend in operating the health centers.

The annual report that these numbers are taken from, along with IRS filings, show excess revenue of about $21 million, which is a fairly small amount considering the total revenue before subtracting expenses and losses is about $1.05 billion. The forms also show net assets of about $96 million — but also shows they started the year with about $87 million in net assets, suggesting a relatively small gain for 2008 of about $9 million. Compared to what they spend, the asset gains and excess revenue make up a pretty small number. The combined total of about $30 million is only 4.7% of the annual health center operating costs.

As you can see, much of the standard pro-life wisdom regarding Planned Parenthood is blatantly false. Especially the idea that they make any money at all off abortions, which turns out to be shockingly easy to disprove.

You can see the report as well as their 2008 IRS filings here:
http://www.plannedparenthood.org/files/AR08_vFinal.pdf
http://www.plannedparenthood.org/files/PPFA/PPFA_FY09_Form_990_Copy_for_Public_Inspection.PDF

On selflessness

Yesterday, someone I was talking to about reproductive choice and abortion sent me to this video — a short documentary piece about a couple who were told while they were expecting their first child that their son had Trisomy 13, a chromosomal disorder that bears similarities to Down’s Syndrome (Trisomy 21) but is usually fatal, and usually within days or weeks of birth. Their son was found during ultrasound to have heart valve and brain defects, as well as a cleft lip. (You can read more about their story here, here, and here.)

No one can imagine what it was like to live through their experience, to make the choice they did to have their son anyway and cherish the time that they had with him. No one, certainly not me, has the right to judge them or question their decisions. But, after listening to people — on Twitter, commenting on videos, blogs, and news articles — talking about abortions and women who have them, describing them as “selfish” and concerned only with the money they save not having another child, or painting them as promiscuous and careless women who used abortion as birth control, there was one thing that felt conspicuously missing from the article and video.

On camera, Deidrea, Thomas’s mother, says, “The only thing he’ll ever know is love.” Both the video and the articles note that he was sent home with morphine, but there’s no mention of whether he was in any pain. The video documents as he stops breathing, then starts again, over and over. Anyone who’s had to struggle to breathe — or has had a heart arrhythmia, or any kind of heart problem — knows that this can be quite painful. But there’s no mention in any of the accounts of whether Thomas was in pain, or how much he might have been suffering. The focus of all of the pieces seems to be how glad his parents were to have even 5 short days with him, and how much he touched the lives of family and friends who got to know him briefly.

Like I said, it’s not for me to judge. I can’t imagine what making that choice was like for them, regardless of how they feel about abortion as an option. The video is only 9 minutes or so long, so it’s hard to tell if it shows all sides of the story, but it seems from what is there that they were concerned mainly with having some time, even just a few days, with their son. I don’t know what they talked about with their doctors or the hospice nurse, and maybe the part where they discussed how much their son would be suffering was left out because it could distort the intended message. Which, to me, seems to be that when doctors tell you that the child you’re expecting has a birth defect that is almost guaranteed to be fatal, probably within days of birth, and suggests that you terminate the pregnancy, saying no means having this beautiful, wonderful — though difficult — time with your child before they die. While that message is never overt, it’s underscored by the way they talk about their choice:

Thomas was meant to be theirs, he told the doctors, and Thomas had a purpose. However brief his life might be, it was a gift.

“My opinion is that God is good and full of grace, and God cherishes life, and he’s glad that we chose to have Thomas,” Deidrea said. “I also think that in this situation, if you choose to terminate, it’s not hell and damnation.”

One of the things I’ve heard over and over from those who oppose abortion is that life begins at conception, and ever life has a purpose. But that statement ignores the fact that as many as 65% of pregnancies end in miscarriage, often before women even know they are pregnant. Do those embryos have a purpose too? If a woman gets pregnant and never knows it, what purpose could possibly be served by creating that “life” in the first place?

Likewise, I have a hard time imagining a loving God creating a child — by anyone’s account, an innocent life — who will probably never know a moment without pain. Is the pain Thomas went through balanced by the impact he had on his parents, family, friends, and those who saw or read his story? It’s probably a question only God, assuming he exists, can answer.

Another very common statement by those who believe abortion is wrong is that abortion is selfish. Some recent comments on the subject from Twitter:

@violetlorien Regardless, abortion stops the life of a child that otherwise would be. It is selfish to deny a child an opportunity at Life (by @oilsfromgod)

Abortion: The most selfish decision a woman could make. (by @heathhollensbe)

16& prego bitches if u dnt wanna take care of a child then fuckin use protection or abortion sheeeesh it’s fuckin annoying u selfish bitches (by @DejaVu_)

Those I’ve talked to at length insist that there is no such thing as a “selfless abortion”, and some even describe terminating a pregnancy that has a significant chance of causing the mother’s death as selfish. One woman told me that true selflessness was risking your own life to bring another life into the world — despite how many other children you might leave without a mother, despite how serious those risks might be.

I happen to disagree. I can think of several situations where abortion is not about selfishness at all. Many people in situations similar to Thomas’s parents chose abortion, and because many serious birth defects and conditions can’t be seen until late in pregnancy, those that chose abortion only had the option of late-term abortion. You can read several stories here, where women faced the challenge of serious birth defects and made a heartbreaking and selfless choice to terminate their pregnancies and save their children a life of suffering. (That site also has a number of stories, listed under “Kansas Stories”, of women and couples who were helped by the late Dr. Tiller when it was too late for an abortion in their state.)

When it comes to the question of abortion, there are few clear-cut answers. The same can be said about the choices people make in the face of tragedy, such as finding out the child you’re expecting has a severe and fatal birth defect. But there are both selfish and selfless choices on both sides, and you can’t define any choice as fitting solely into either category. There are people who believe that a woman’s suffering is irrelevant, and nothing — not significant health risk, or rape, or complications — makes that suffering outweigh the value of the life of the fetus she carries. There are others who believe that abortion at any time between conception and birth should be legal, for any reason, as it is in Canada — even if the child would survive being born.

For me, the reality is somewhere in the middle. First- and second-trimester abortions should be legal for any reason, with the upper gestational age limit being revisited periodically as medical advances warrant. Once a fetus could be reasonably expected to survive outside of the womb, abortion should only be done in cases where there is either a great risk to the mother’s life, or severe birth defects that are highly likely to be fatal soon after birth. I also think those guidelines should be relatively loose and left at least partly up to doctors to determine when it should be an option.

Until abortion is made illegal, if that ever happens in the U.S., those who think they know better than the women and families going through each individual situation need to stop appointing themselves judge and jury. Just like whether Angie Jackson’s health risks were serious enough to justify — not that she needed to — an abortion 4 weeks into the pregnancy is between her and her doctors, whether an abortion is selfish or giving birth to your child is selfless varies from situation to situation and often it’s somewhere in between.

And that’s precisely why we leave reproductive choices up to individuals: only I can make a choice for myself that takes into account all of the factors involved, because only I know what those factors are.

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