Women’s health? Or women’s suppression?

One of my favorite blogs around is The Well-Timed Period, and it’s unfortunate that it doesn’t get more attention: it’s greatest strength also militates against it achieving widespread popularity (which is more a flaw in how the internet and blogs work than with the blog itself). It’s so beautifully focused — it’s all reproductive health all the time.

For example, Ema mentions that Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) has been playing legalistic games to hold up the use of RU-486. He makes claims like this:

The reported risk of death associated with RU-486 is ten times greater the risk associated with surgical abortions. The death rate associated with surgical abortion is one in a million. By contrast, the reported risk of death associated with RU-486 is higher than one in 100,000.

If you’d been reading W-TP, you’d know that DeMint is playing fast and loose with the facts. The risk of death from an abortion before 8 weeks is about 1 in a million, but the death rate from a surgical abortion is about 1 in 140,000, and the risks are increasingly greater the later in the term the operation is carried out (there’s a reason doctors want the option to do what the press calls “partial birth abortions”—late term abortions are much more dangerous for the mother, and procedures that reduce the threat ought to be welcomed). You’d also know that he has left out an important and highly relevant statistic that puts it all in perspective: the risk of death from normal pregnancy and delivery is 1 in 8700. It’s a little weird to think that we put my beloved wife at risk of a 0.01% probability of dying 3 times just to spawn those ungrateful kids, but then again, her commute to work is more dangerous than that.

Statistics are strange things. Phrase them with the right twist, and you’ll be convinced that you ought to spend the rest of your life in your basement, surrounded by pillows; DeMint has twisted them outrageously to misrepresent his motives. If he were really interested in women’s health and safety, he’d be working to support universal health care, for instance — there are a lot of women who are poor and pregnant and at great risk, and responsible reproductive health ought to be among the first of our representatives’ concerns. The biggest lie in his press release is the implication that this is about women’s health; it’s not. It’s about limiting women’s choices and reproductive freedom.


  1. rrt says

    Not to mention…COMFY CHAIRS!!! Muhahahaha!

    Sorry, ’twas a Python weekend.

  2. says

    …and this is one of the greatest reasons to promulgate science blogs, to have undergraduates in research as much as possible and to push for real science in elementary/secondary school.

    the goal is to have the voting public’s BS alarm go off when presented with dubious statistical arguments. sometimes i think we need to replace ‘civics’ with stats courses, it would have much greater practical application to our public decision making…

  3. says

    I guess the Bible they read doesn’t say anything about feeding the hungry and clothing the poor but says a whole lot about how women can have abortions (although it does say a lot about repressing women, I don’t think there’s too much about abortions specifically).

  4. says

    I have friggin’ 1000 blogs on my blogroll, but Ema’s blog is one of the two dozen or so that I read REALLY regularly. I need to comment more and link to her more in the future instead of just reading and admiring her work…

  5. Plummet says

    PZ wrote: “It’s a little weird to think that we put my beloved wife at risk of a 0.01% probability of dying 3 times just to spawn those ungrateful kids.”

    WE? I thought this was a family blog.

  6. Carlie says

    I teach a college class on the evolution of reproductive strategies, and this semester I included a day at the end on human reproductive technologies, specifically fertility treatments and chemical contraception. I did it specifically because I was so ticked off at the Supreme Court, because I generally assume that they had all this stuff in high school health, right? I could not believe so many of them had no clue how “classic” birth control works,let alone newer confusing (to the general public) ones like Plan B. I made sure I went over it all in excruciating detail, but on the final exam there were almost a dozen that still described chemical birth control as mainly “keeping a fertilized egg from implanting”. Gaaa.

    When they won’t even learn the facts, is it any wonder they fall for the lies so easily?

  7. Carlie says

    Disclaimer: Yes, I know very well that RU-486 is not Plan B; I was just using it as an example of widespread ignorance on all things reproductive.

  8. says

    I notice the same woman-harming hypocrisy on anti-choice Web sites. They cry crocodile tears for the 4 poor women who died after abortions in the U.S. They don’t mention the 40 who that lived after abortions when they would have died by carrying to term because abortions are eleven times safer than childbirth.

  9. Teresa says

    In the basement surrounded by pillows?!?!?

    PZ, are you insane? Do you know aht the risks are of being exposed to RADON in a Minnesota basement?!?!

    And pillows! Pillows! Do you understand that pillows suffocate babies? If they are made out of down, you could have an allergic reaction!

  10. Mike says

    “late term abortions are much more dangerous for the mother”

    Slip of the tongue there, eh.

  11. Azkyroth says

    Mike, I have no idea what point you’re trying to make. If you’re the same idiot who decided to ignore 200-odd posts explaining our position in the “Why we should all be pro-choice” thread, you really should quit while you’re merely (a horse’s) behind.

  12. says

    First, heh, repro health 4ever! Given that my topic affects most people one way or another, you’d think I’d be ruling the Internets by now.

    Second, thank you! The admiration is mutual.

    Third, just to make sure your readers don’t miss Sen. DeMint’s other many, many lies, here’s the condensed version:

  13. says

    [sorry, but for some reason I’m unable to post the full comment]

    Of the six fatalities, three involved the rare bacterium C. sordellii. In four cases, women were given part of the drug regimen vaginally, an unapproved method.

    Contrast that to reported deaths involving C. sordellii infection unrelated to ETOPs: 8 cases after giving birth, 2 cases following miscarriages, and 1 death linked to infection during the woman’s menstrual period.

    But wait, there’s more!

    According to the FDA, the off label regimen used in the cases under discussion was 1 tablet of RU-486 (200 mg) orally, followed by 4 tablets of misoprostol (800 mcg) pv.

    [The FDA-approved regimen is 3 tablets of RU-486 (600 mg) orally, followed by 2 tablets of misoprostol (400 mcg) orally.]

    All these deaths occurred in patients who used only 1/3 of the FDA-approved RU-486 dose po, but double the misoprostol dose administered pv.

  14. Mike says

    Azkyroth: the horse’s ass you see is just the reflection off your monitor.

  15. Azkyroth says

    I’ll take that as a yes.

    For the curious (and to minimize the already tiny risk of anyone taking him seriously), I’ve reproduced Mike’s original post (which can be found here) below.

    Please show me where a fetus is a “thing” as many of the discussions here seem to treat them. Tell me how a fetus is not,and will not become a human being.
    Except for cases of clear danger to the mother, rape or medical conditions, abortion is wrong. It is not a “choice” it is murder, or do you want to be able to screw like bunnies with no consequences?
    Ask yourselves this question: Why is more “convienent” to kill a human baby, than to have the child and give it up for adoption? Why is so important to end life?
    BTW I’m not a “cristian” or “bible thumper”. I just know right from wrong.

    The button-pushing strawman mischaracterization of pro-choice sentiments and the views of life, humanity, and abortion prevalent among those supporting the right to choose is tiresome (particularly in his characterization of abortion as “convenient” and the slut-shaming in his second paragraph). The fact that he asks us to “show [him] where a fetus is a ‘thing’ as many of the discussions here seem to treat them” and “tell [him] how a fetus is not,and will not become a human being” in the 292nd post in a thread containing many, many posts from people doing precisely that(to the extent that his statements above even resemble our actual points) is inexcusable. Mike, you are welcome to disagree with and argue with our position as articulated, but pretending we haven’t articulated it and then putting Chick-tract-caricature-level words in our mouths is dishonest and despicable.

    Mike and Senator DeMint are just two of the most recent examples, but the entire anti-choice position seems to be riddled with dishonesty. Why is it that the handful of people whose opposition to legal elective abortion is merely based on cognitive dissonance, knee-jerk emotional reactions, and metaphysical fuzziness about “souls” and what is supposedly “meant to be” are willing to associate with this ilk, given that many of them explicitly reject “ends justify the means” reasoning?

  16. JohnnieCanuck says

    NMMNG, you missed a possessive/gerund mistake in the very same sentence. You need to expand the range of pet peeves in your life.