She Called Abortion a “Blessing”

The Freedom from Religion Foundation has announced that co-founder Anne Nicol Gaylor died last night at age 88. She ran the foundation for two and a half decades. She was “out to destroy Christianity”. She was a polemicist in the very best sense of that word. She wrote thousands of checks to fund abortions through her Women’s Medical Fund and made sure there was always someone to answer the phone when someone found themselves pregnant and desperate.

She is also, as a female atheist activist of a prior generation, always in danger of being written out of history. Yes, even having done all that.

Don’t let her be forgotten. Take a moment to celebrate a life devoted to making a difference. Read an appreciation of her life, and recognize the quotes that are used so often and attributed to her so rarely. Read her writing (including her book Abortion Is a Blessing) and share it with others.

This kind of legacy is the only form of immortality we’re offered. If anyone has earned it, Anne Nicol Gaylor certainly did.

Secular Anti-Abortion Link Roundup

A friend is leading a discussion on reproductive justice and would like all the links related to last month’s blow-up in one place. I realized I’d tweeted many of them and, thus, had them collected in other posts already. This is just pulling them all together, though I’m sure I don’t have them all. If I missed anything that contributed to the discussion, please drop it in the comments. [Read more…]

The Day I Decided to Have an Abortion

Migraines were the reason I was at the doctor’s office.

She was a wonderful doctor. It was the first time I’d had an internist as my primary care physician. She had a Palm Pilot with a good medical database on it so she didn’t have to work on anything by memory or leave me sitting to get more information.

A lot of what she had to say wasn’t new to me. I’d figured out that the frequent headaches and other weirdness were migraines through internet research. But she had access to more and better information. When I said I had these three to four days a week, she looked at me funny and said, “Three to four times a month is the point where we want to consider prophylactic treatment.”

I was all for treatment. She looked at my chart, particularly at my (low) blood pressure, consulted the Palm Pilot again, and said, “You’re having stress headaches with the migraines. I want to put you on propranolol.”

I was fine with that too. Then she said, “But if I give you a prescription for this drug, I need to know that you’ll be okay with having an abortion if you get pregnant.”* [Read more…]

Very Different Objections to Talking Abortion Rights

Tomorrow,’s Abortion Rights Freedom Ride comes to Minneapolis. This morning, we had Sunsara Taylor on Atheists Talk briefly to tell us about this and about why organizing people around abortion rights is important, even in a state where they’re not being immediately threatened. It’s the first segment in our show.

This afternoon, I sat down to my computer to see two very different reactions to the piece. One was on an atheist, feminist discussion group I’m part of. The other came directly through our radio show email. The difference between the two struck me as incredibly characteristic. [Read more…]

Federal Abortion Bill Advances

Last week, I received this action alert from CFI’s Office of Public Policy:

Help Defeat Proposals That Would Ban All Abortions in U.S. After 20 Weeks

Rep. Trent Franks is at it again. Last month, the Republican Congressman from Arizona introduced a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives that would outlaw all abortions in Washington, D.C. after 20 weeks — with saving the mother from death being the only exception.

Now, Franks has announced his intention to amend the bill and expand its reach nationwide. That’s right: Rep. Franks wants a nationwide ban on abortions after 20 weeks. The bill has quickly racked up 133 co-sponsors in the House, and has a companion in the Senate, S. 886.

The Center for Inquiry (CFI) considers these proposals an outrage and urges members to contact their elected officials in Congress to oppose them.

As you might imagine, I agree with the OPP on this. I’m passing this on now because the Republican majority of the House Judiciary subcommittee assigned to evaluate the bill disagree with me. [Read more…]

When You Take Women Out of the Abortion Debate

So…Richard Dawkins is still insisting on Twitter today that his comparison of fetuses to pigs and talking about their relative pain is critical to the abortion debate, more important than talking about the actual pregnant person involved.

Woman's right to own body is good but not BEST pro-choice argument. Better argument would be abortus doesn't feel pain. I'm pro choice.
Richard Dawkins

He’s not saying why his is the better argument. He’s ignoring all the people who are telling him that an argument based on lack of pain opens up several other cans of worms. He’s just claiming his argument is better because…reasons.

He certainly doesn’t respond to Ana Mardoll’s excellent post yesterday that has already explained why his position is wrong.

From a consequentialist standpoint, a woman’s right to bodily autonomy outweighs fetal pain not because the fetal pain is or is not arguably less important than pig pain, but because the fetal pain is demonstrably less than the woman’s pain. Abortion is safer than childbirth. If Dawkins wishes to make the point that pain matters when discussing the morality of abortion and that relative pain is relative, then he should focus on the pain of the women carrying an unwanted and potentially unsafe pregnancy rather than invisibling that woman in order to focus on farm animals. To suggest that we once again effectively erase pregnant women from the discussion about the rights of pregnant women is to suggest that they are the least important entity in this on-going debate. That’s not consequentialism; it’s rank marginalization.

I wish I’d written that post. I wish Dawkins had read that post and taken the time to think about it. [Read more…]

“Hard” Questions on Abortion

Adam Lee took on a set of 10 questions about abortion this morning. These are questions that an evangelical thinks should be put to pro-choice presidential candidates because they’re never asked the “hard” questions about abortion. Looking at the questions, I’m not sure they’re particularly hard, but they’re worth answering.

You should read Adam’s answers. For the most part, my answers agree with his, and I suspect many pro-choice people will produce very similar answers. As I said above, these aren’t that hard. However, I thought I’d pull out a couple questions to elaborate upon myself. Adam’s answers on these are good, but I wanted them unpacked further. [Read more…]

The Secular Morality of Abortion

I and some of the other authors in Atheist Voices of Minnesota spoke this afternoon at a local community college about morality and atheism. There’s very little in my Atheist Voices essay about morality, and it isn’t a topic I deal with much here outside religion’s contribution to the problem of unearned authority. I wanted to talk about morality itself directly, though, so I knew I’d be speaking about something new.

The first half of my remarks were based around a story I wrote up for last week, about not having the words to help a gay classmate back in high school and how the situation has changed between then and now. I told the story and pointed out how various churches and denominations have lagged behind society on this moral issue. Secular society has led on this matter of religion, and religion is playing catch-up–or not.

That wasn’t going to be enough, however, and it’s a well-worn argument. I wanted to make my talk my own, and to do it by more than using a personal story. I was at a bit of a loss until a comment by Ophelia made something click. I knew what I’d talk about. The morality of abortion is a light subject matter for a lunch talk with students, right? Well, whether it is or not, here’s what I told them: [Read more…]

The Medical Facts Behind Pre-Abortion Ultrasound

Who knew that the Virginia legislature was packed full of doctors, specifically OB-GYNs? Oh, wait. They’re not. So what the hell is up with them legislating medical care? Is it somehow okay because they’re onlly legislating it for women? (No need to actually answer that.)

Dr. Jen Gunter, on the other hand, is an OB-GYN qualified in two countries. So maybe we should listen to her when she talks about the medical science behind pre-abortion ultrasounds. I know I learned something.

Second-trimester abortion

Let’s just take that off the table. Every second trimester abortion needs an ultrasound and often gets more than one. Second-trimester abortions are more often done for birth defects, typically diagnosed or confirmed by ultrasound (sometimes a few ultrasounds are done). In addition, these procedures require more skill the further along, so it is essential the practitioner knows the gestational age with as much accuracy as possible. Ultrasound laws will not change any procedure costs for 2nd trimester ultrasounds, but they may affect the viewing requirements (whether the woman sees/hears a description of the ultrasound). I’ll get to that in just a bit.

First-trimester abortion

Many providers already do a 1rst trimester ultrasound, especially with medical abortion. This is because a medical abortion can only be done up to 63 days (9 weeks). However, there is a growing body of literature suggesting medical abortion can safety be accomplished without an ultrasound for 98% of women. So these laws will prevent practitioners from doing away with an ultrasound (i.e. prevent them from practicing evidence based medicine) which will halt efforts to expand medical abortion into low resource settings. Ultrasound requirements will also affect many women getting a surgical procedure as and ultrasound is typically not required if the size of the uterus agrees with the dating of the pregnancy (although some providers do ultrasounds anyway, generally for medico-legal reasons).

Go read the whole thing. Send a copy to your state and national representatives as well. If they insist on passing laws on this stuff, don’t let them deny that they’ve seen the scientific information.

Bonus: While you’re at Jen’s blog, check out her proposal for National No Non-Procreative Sex Day.

The Abortion Post

Last night, health care reform passed the House. I should have been happy. Not ecstatic–the plan doesn’t contain enough of what I wanted (strong public option) for that. But happy. This is progress. It has been a long time coming, and the forces arrayed against it, from vested interests to an administration unwilling to spend too much political capital to a media more interested in talking about the fight than about the huge political will among the public to see it passed, have been formidable.

Instead, I found myself angry. I Tweeted this:

HCR = yay, but once again, women bear the largest burden of getting everyone to the table and acting like adults.

An old friend on Facebook wanted to know what I meant, so here’s my answer. The anger here isn’t directed at him.

I’m tired of this. I’m tired of my reproductive system being held hostage by people who are, you know, generally okay with treating people decently as long as they can still have a peep into my uterus whenever they feel like it. I’m tired of my autonomy being the price of getting anybody to do anything helpful politically. I’m tired of being the sacrifice for the common good.

This pregnancy thing; you know it kills people, don’t you? It doesn’t kill as many people as it used to, but women still die over this. Those who don’t die are changed, sometimes drastically, sometimes permanently. There isn’t a system of the body that isn’t affected by pregnancy. If it didn’t result in the continuation of the species, we’d be devoting unprecedented resources to finding a cure–despite our poor history addressing conditions that only affect women.

I have a great deal of respect for women who know what pregnancy entails and choose to go through it willingly. Forcing the unwilling, however, is barbaric. That includes the lies and coercion that make it impossible for a woman to make the choice for herself. It also includes the ignorance that is imposed on so many women by insufficient or misleading education on the subject.

Life doesn’t begin at conception. Sperm and eggs are not dead things. They can’t survive without a host, but neither can the products of their fusion. And a large percentage of those don’t survive even with a host.

Neither the Bible nor any other holy book I’m aware of condemns abortion. Most of them do praise life, as do most people in general, whoever they think should get to make reproductive decisions. But aside from the Jains, most religions don’t maintain a core belief that every bit of life must be preserved at all costs. Those messages come from those who don’t have to bear the costs–neither of your pregnancy nor mine–and without them, women who have had abortions don’t experience crushing regrets in this life either.

Of course, this isn’t just about the women. It’s also about the children. It’s about what it’s like to be unwanted, or to be “imperfect” in a world that still doesn’t tolerate difference well. It’s about going hungry amid too many grumbling bellies and starting out in the world too far behind to ever catch up and running wild because someone can work or spend time with you but not both. This too is barbaric.

And this is what we may not fix. This is what we’re not allowed to change, the problem we must set aside every time we want to achieve any tiny step forward in the world. This is the currency with which we buy progress, and last night’s progress is just one more example. The cost of human decency must apparently be human decency.

And it’s pissing me off.