Pissed off feminist speaks out

Today's Post and Courier gave a small update on a piece of legislation making its way through the system. This legislation mandates that women seeking an abortion have an ultrasound and be forced to look at the image before their abortion.

I was interviewed about this legislation a few weeks ago, and the reporter then told me that the legislators are trying to sell this bill as something for women's health, because it's medically important to have an ultrasound before you have an abortion. I told the reporter that women already have ultrasounds before abortions so that the clinic can make sure they're not too far along. The reporter said, "Oh, really?" She was surprised, because the lobbyists are acting as if this ultrasound idea is some brilliant thing they've come up with, when in fact all they've really come up with is the "medical necessity" of the woman's looking at the fetus.

Carla Harvey, who works at the Lowcountry Crisis Pregnancy Center (for those of you not in the know, "crisis pregnancy center" is code for anti-abortion, anti-contraception, anti-truth centers where women who are unexpectedly pregnant are pressured to keep the baby), said, "In ultrasounds, a baby at eight weeks will jump on the screen and suck their thumbs."

When I had my abortion, which was at about eight weeks, I looked at the ultrasound image. It was a dime-sized blob. It did not jump. No thumb-sucking. There wasn't a Gerber baby in there.

The antis have done a great job of shaping the public conversation about abortion. They've humanized the fetus--they've coopted our warm, loving feelings about babies and said, "Feel this way about the fertilized egg, too." And if someone is pregnant and wants to be, then all those warm, loving feelings are great. But if she doesn't want to be pregnant, if she doesn't want to be a mother, then it doesn't help even if the fetus is reciting Shakespeare--she still doesn't want it. I didn't want it.

The reason I'm talking about my own abortion so much here lately is that I think the rhetoric of "choice" that feminists have been using is a little thin in comparison to the rhetoric of "fetal personhood" that the antis are using. The person I'd like us to focus on is not the potential one but the unambiguous, fully realized one, the woman herself. Her life, my life, is what we should be concerned about. How does our society benefit if a sixteen-year-old--or a college student--or a young professional like me--is guilted into bearing a child she can't raise, or just doesn't want?


mary said...

good post alison! well actually... good posts today from both of you.

Bookninja said...

Pissed off supporting anal retentive scientist word fascist speaks out in agreement.

Words, words, words...
In addition to the poisonous influence of the antis in humanizing the fetus, they blur the line between a fetus and an embryo. Embryos are the term for the first 8 weeks of gestation (wikipedia, but I've seen this number before). Weeks of pregnancy go back to the last menses (LMP).

So at up to 10 weeks of pregnancy, you don't even have a fetus. You have a lump shaped like a broccoli floret. But the word embryo, which is by definition non-viable, never passes their lips. "Fetus, fetus, fetus" people think of something looking like a kid instead of something looking like a floret. It's just so insidious.

(Alison, I don't know how you measured your 8 weeks and you're probably more up on this than me, so edit away. - Ian McCullough)

Biffle said...

ah ha! Ian Mccullough! Your cover is blown! We hadn't as yet known your secret identity! the best we'd done so far was:

q: who is this "bookninja" fellow?

a: awww, he's just one of the nerds.

Alison said...

Wow, I wouldn't have guessed it was you, Ian, although now it makes perfect sense, of course.

So, where's your Bookninja blog?

charlie said...

cool cool... did you see the katha pollitt interview in the last *Bitch*? (The green one)

She made some good points about reclaiming a proactive stance on these matters, so reading this makes me happy.

claire said...

There are times when America's shrine to choice (how many kinds of soda need to be on the market)is problematic. But was is so appalling is how we demand choice choice choice in every aspect of our lives and then whip around and say 1) women should not be able to choose this one thing that does actually matter enormously and 2) oh let's wring our hand over choosing. Yes, we should wring our hands over choosing to live in an economy that relegates 20 % of the actual living population to poverty. But abortion is the one issue where we can fully embrace what choice actually means. You go, Alison!

jmsloop said...

Alison, Nice post and wonderful tone. Not only do you make strong and important points here, but it's written in a nice convincing voice. I'll be sending some readers your way.

BTW, I'll be in Charleston early March! jms

Sarah said...

I always thought bookninja was a girl....sorry dude.

Pam said...

Great post. When I heard about this new legislation I just couldn't help but feel angry. It is amazing how the fully-realized adult can be so dismissed in the process.

Bookninja said...

I'm not sorry you thought I was a girl. It's kind of cool actually.

Anonymous said...

You may have posted it before and I missed it, but have you ever said how old you were when you had your abortion?

Anonymous said...

Ever heard of adoption? It's this brilliant concept where, if you don't want the inconvience of the "thing" that you created, you can allow someone who does want it and may not be able to create their own "thing" to have it. This way you don't have to stop a heartbeat.

Jane said...

Well said Alison. I have an 8-week embryo in me right now (a welcome one) and also had a termination at 8 weeks a few years back. I would have terminated even earlier but the doctor said before 8 weeks they can't be really sure they've actually got the embryo out, it's that tiny and unrecognisable.
The photographs and 'information' used by right-to-lifers are usually way off the mark. At 8 weeks (counted from LMP) an embryo has neither a proper mouth nor thumb to achieve anything like thumb sucking. There's a great website with very accurate diagrams of embryonic development: www.visembryo.com - note these pics are counted from date of conception, in days, so an '8 week' embryo is 42 days old.
An interesting fact I came across in some medical literature on pregnancy termination is that it's medically safer for a woman to terminate a pregnancy than to continue it to term!
Here's to choice.

Alison said...

Jane, thanks for your post! Congratulations on the welcomed embryo. I think that women who are pregnant by choice are some of the best advocates for reproductive rights, so go, you. Thanks for the link.

And you're absolutely right, by the way, about the safety of termination vs. pregnancy carried to term. An abortion is much safer.

Anonymous said...

I just want to say thank you to all the women posting on this blog from a sane perspective. I have been looking for some accurate info to help me process a recent abortion at 8 weeks and have basically found pictures of a fetus on a tricylce posted by antis.
The irony is that I was diagnosed as "prematurely menopausal" at a catholic hospital and told I would need fertility treatments if I ever wanted to conceive again. 2 months later I was pregnant with another set of twins (I have 2 yr. old twins and a 4 yr. old already). When I went into the office (angry to say the least) I was condescended and told the lord works in mysterious ways. Apparently so does grossly irresponsible medical practice. Or shall I say malpractice.

Anonymous said...

I'm pro choice. I have to say this up front because some of what I'm going to say is probably going to make me sound like I'm not.

The following statement bothered me: "They've humanized the fetus--they've coopted our warm, loving feelings about babies and said, "Feel this way about the fertilized egg, too." Maybe it was just a poor choice of words here, bu it's really not difficult to humanize a human fetus. They ARE human after all! They certainly aren't dog, cat, or alligtor. I do know & understand where you're coming from here though - it's the old argument of when life begins. Personally, I do feel that life begins at conception which kind of puts me at odds with my pro choice belief to an extent. But, at 8 weeks gestation there is a heartbeat, tiny arms & legs, etc... When the pg books & doctors give you these developmental milestones they're basing it off the LMP (last menstrual period), which adds an extra week or two to the actual date of conception. However, regardless of that fact, that's how doctors have always calculted how far along a woman is, & how developed the fetus is.

I believe that nobody has the right to make a decision like this for a woman. It's her body, her life, her maybe baby, & she's the one who will have to live with the consequences of her decision for the rest of her life regardless of what decision she makes. It's an unenviable position to be in, but it pisses me of that there are women who use abortion as a birth control method! I have one friend who's had 4 abortions through lack of birth control! Just this week another young friend, who is 23, had a chemical abortion at 8 weeks. She didn't use any birth control either, which stunned me because she has always said that she never wanted to have kids! There's no logic there. Yes I'm pro choice, but damn it, the choice should ultimately be made BEFORE you have sex! It angers me when selfish & ignorant women don't use birth control & then beat their chest for the right to choose. If you want the right to choose, then please exercise your right to have sex responsibly. Why should somebody else suffer because you were to damned stupid to use birth control?!? And yes; I realise that there are cases of women who DID use birth control & became pg anyway. It's rare, but it happens...

I don't buy the argument that it's unfair to expect a 16 year old to have a baby, or to bring an unwanted child into the world. There are other choices there too, but only someone with a truly giving heart could do it - adoption. It requires being unselfish & a lot of people don't feel they can go through 9 months of pg only to give the child away... I understand that, but just wanted to remind everybody that it is still an option.

I was a rape victim when I was a teen, & luckily didn't get pg as a result. If I had, I probably would've had an abortion, but I wouldn't have felt good about it.

It's a tricky thing. I ride the fence on it, but I don't believe that I or anyone else has the right to stop another woman from having an abortion. However, I've also noticed that as angry as the millitant pro choicers get at pro lifers interfering in the right to choose, many millitants don't hesitate to attempt to influence a pg woman or girl who is undecided about the pg. They are vocal to the point of shoving it down your throat.

My stand on that is silence. Every single woman or girl who has had an unplanned pg, & confided in me that they were uncertain of what they wanted to do, has been met with the same response from me - silence. I tell them it's 100% their choice to make & I won't attempt to influence them one way or another, but will support them in whatever decision they make because I know how difficult it is. I also tell them to stop talking to others, lock themselves inside for a weekend, don't answer the phone, & just do a lot of soul searching.

It's difficult all around, & there are no easy answers or outcomes. There are pros & cons to everything.