Katha Pollitt is on the mark

She has written an excellent post on abortion.

I cringed as I watched Planned Parenthood’s president, Cecile Richards, apologize in a YouTube video last month for the lack of “compassion” in two doctors’ language at supposed business lunches arranged and secretly recorded by the anti-abortion Center for Medical Progress.

Not because she wasn’t eloquent, but because of what her words said about the impossibly narrow path abortion providers now are forced to walk. After all, have you ever heard an apology from a crisis pregnancy center for masquerading as an abortion clinic? What about the women in Texas who lost access to gynecological care when the state defunded Planned Parenthood and did not, as promised, adequately replace its services? Has anyone said sorry about that?

We keep playing this defensive game, and we need to stop — why aren’t the goons who run crisis pregnancy centers arrested for lying and misleading and making women suffer?

We need to say that women have sex, have abortions, are at peace with the decision and move on with their lives. We need to say that is their right, and, moreover, it’s good for everyone that they have this right: The whole society benefits when motherhood is voluntary. When we gloss over these truths we unintentionally promote the very stigma we’re trying to combat. What, you didn’t agonize? You forgot your pill? You just didn’t want to have a baby now? You should be ashamed of yourself.

My mother had six children, because she wanted us all — and my parents struggled to take good care of us, despite not being wealthy. That’s a good thing. But it’s also a good thing if you choose not to have children, because you don’t want them. Aren’t happy parents and happy children our goal? What’s happy about forcing women into pregnancies?

Women aren’t the only ones who need to speak up. Where are the men grateful not to be forced into fatherhood? Where are the doctors who object to the way anti-abortion lawmakers are interfering with the practice of medicine?

On the issue of fetal-tissue research, we need to hear loud and clear from the scientific community. Anti-abortion activists are calling for a ban on this research, which ironically is used primarily to find treatments for sick babies. Will scientists let that happen?

I can answer that: a lot of men see parenting as women’s work, so they’re not forced into anything. Getting a woman pregnant is a way to trap her into taking care of your progeny.

I wish more doctors would complain, but my experience with older doctors is that a) most of them are painfully conservative, and b) they don’t do abortions anyway, so nobody is interfering with their practice. Med schools do little to teach their graduates how to have a conscience.

I’m a developmental biologist, and although I don’t work with human fetal tissue at all, a lot of the work in my field requires human fetal tissue — and even those of us who work on mere fish think the issues in stem cell research, organ culture, regulation of differentiation, etc., are important. It’s not a question of letting it happen — we’re kicking and screaming all the way — but of where the power lies. And, unfortunately, it rests in the hands of a country dedicated to anti-intellectualism, that elects goddamn Republican know-nothings, and is happy to let universities and science rot.


  1. congenital cynic says

    Isn’t part of the problem that the religious right has with abortion (and the pill, and the morning after pill) is that people (women) are having sex just because it feels good and they want to, and not to make another baby for jesus?

  2. carlie says

    I’m glad I don’t see it as often any more, but the “What if YOU were aborted? Huh?!” version of this argument still pops up from time to time, too. Like that should be the reason, that I wouldn’t want to be aborted, so I shouldn’t want to let anyone have one. I don’t particularly want to have a bone marrow transplant either, but I want other people to be able to. I was born before Roe, so my mom didn’t have the choice. But if I had been aborted? Well, I wouldn’t know the difference. And my dad would have been able to go to the state college on a track scholarship instead of working at the steel mill and taking two night classes at a time for ten years to get a degree, and my mom would have kept her business career instead of becoming a stay-at-home parent for twenty years. Or maybe they would have chosen the same path anyway. But nobody knows, because they didn’t have that choice. I wish they’d had it, and if they had chosen that route that they wouldn’t feel they had to apologize for it.

  3. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    “Where are the men grateful not to be forced into fatherhood?”
    as in “child support” payments. Where are the men demanding that their private wallets be unmolested, and not robbed to pay for those babies the women were denied aborting?
    [to put it liberterms]

  4. says

    Yeah, the men grateful for abortions because it meant they weren’t fathers idea isn’t going to fly. A man admitting that is just going to get attacked or used by the same people who oppose abortions.

    “See, we told you!!! Abortions allow men to be irresponsible and hurt women.”

    “I supported my girlfriend’s abortion, but now I realise I was just using it to avoid responsibility. But Jesus has forgiven me!”

  5. Jack-booted Verbalist says

    I am pro-abortion.
    Just like I’m pro-appendectomy. If you need one, you ought to be able to get a safe, legal one.
    I’m also adopted, first born of an unmarried woman in the early sixties. I can’t get maudlin about whether she had aborted me. It would have been way better for her. She kept her first pregnancy and my birth secret from so many, and I am told had deep depression & guilt that they can only surmise was worsened by the fact of the first furtive pregnancy & birth. How can I mourn for a me that never existed? I can’t. It doesn’t make any sense to me.
    I’ve also had an abortion. I’ll admit to occasionally thinking how old that person would be if I had decided to continue the pregnancy. But I have never regretted the decision. I’ve thought about it. But not with regret.

  6. chris61 says

    The whole society benefits when motherhood is voluntary.

    This is pretty much it in a nutshell.

    Where are the men grateful not to be forced into fatherhood?

    This one I have to quibble with because men are forced into fatherhood given that pregnancy outcome is the woman’s choice. I don’t see any way around that but it’s still true.

  7. allyp says

    I have always been pro-choice but since deciding to have a baby and getting pregnant, I find myself even more strongly pro-choice.
    This is not a state one should be in, unless one wants to. It is by no means super pleasant ( and I am not having a particularly hard time). Loss of agency over my body and bodily functions ( think peeing several more times a day, having heartburn and morning sickness), the inability to do some things I used to easily ( bending down, running three miles without breathing hard) and then the understanding that a lot of things are going to change so much- this I would not and could not wish on anyone else unless thy wanted it.
    No pregnancy should be unwanted. No child should be unwanted either.
    As for the people who equate a fetus to a person, in my opinion, they think very little. Having the potential for life does not a person make. My pets are more sentient at present than my potential baby. And much as I want him I am under no illusions about his viability outside of me at present. He is wanted for the person he will be- a person who I and his father will nurture and work with and love and want very much.
    It is evil to force this huge responsibility on someone who does not want to take it.

  8. redwood says

    Japan, despite being extremely conservative politically, is a non-Christian country. It has safe, legal abortions available to anyone. I think most European countries do as well, though not the ones heavily influenced by religion. I think I see a trend here. When will these religionized countries grow up and join the adults?

  9. mudpuddles says

    @ congenital cynic, #1

    Isn’t part of the problem that the religious right has with abortion (and the pill, and the morning after pill) is that people (women) are having sex just because it feels good and they want to, and not to make another baby for jesus?

    I agree. When someone echoes PZ’s sentiment “what’s happy about forcing women into pregnancies?” the indignant response is often “What? Forced??! If they learned some self control they wouldn’t be in this mess! It’s their own fault, they should live with their mistakes! No one forced them to have sex!” …. and other such disgusting, blame-laden, shaming nonsense. On the one hand they demand that women be always available to serve and obey their husbands and fulfill their “marital duties”, i.e. be available for sex whenever their husbands want it, consent be damned (and, remember, if women are not married they should not be having sex at all) , and on the other hand they want women to not be having sex unless they are prepared to “deal with the consequences”. And if women do get pregnant as a result of servicing their husbands, jesus will be happy, even if their own well-being is compromised.

    Rather fucked up, that.

  10. davidrichardson says

    This is the way things work in Sweden, where I live.

    Sex education (called ‘sex and living together’ or ‘sex och samlevnad’ in school) actually starts in day nursery, with children as young as 12 months old. They had to invent a Swedish word for the bodily part women have that men don’t have (called ‘snippan’ to correspond with the male ‘snoppan’). Here’s a link to the famous children’s programme song about ‘Snippan’ and ‘Snoppan’:

    <a href="” title=”Willie and Twinkle (!)”>

    The age of consent in Sweden is 15 and young people will have had a lot of time in school learning about their bodies and about relationships by that time. The attitude of the school system is that everyone has a right to learn about how their bodies work – and about how relationships work. If an individual pupil actively wants *not* to know, he or she has to receive a special dispensation from the head teacher. What abortion is, how it’s carried out and the ethical questions surrounding it are covered at school. There are specially-trained teachers for these ‘sex och samlevnad’ lessons, but all teachers have to be trained to teach this subject nowadays.

    Most places in Sweden have a ‘young people’s clinic’ which dispense (free) contraceptives (including the pill) and advice about sexuality and relationships (including same-sex relationships and sexuality) confidentially to young people under the age of 26. These are staffed by nurses, doctors and counsellors from the regular medical services and the staff are not allowed to contact the young people’s parents without the young person’s explicit consent. They’ll often recommend that the young person talks to their parents, but they aren’t allowed to force the issue.

    If a woman wishes to have an abortion, she starts off by contacting some part of the ordinary medical services: the local clinic, the young people’s clinic or the gynaecological ward at the local hospital. There’ll be the usual co-pay to pay (usually around $20), but after that everything’s covered by general taxation.

    Women wanting an abortion are always offered counselling from professional counsellors (called ‘kurator’ in Swedish), who’re on the staff of the hospital and often deal with many other types of counselling than abortion counselling. Abortions are carried out by the regular staff of the hospital and nearly always take place during the first trimester (since the procedure for obtaining an abortion is so straightforward that women don’t need to wait).

    The only real exceptions to this are women who’ve had an amniocentesis at around the 20th week of pregnancy and something has been discovered that will make it dangerous for the woman (or the foetus) to go to term. Women who discover they’re carrying a foetus with Down’s syndrome will also be able to have an abortion. However, this situation is so rare – and so traumatic – that women who find themselves in that situation are given a great deal of medical and emotional support.

    The net result is that the rate of teenage pregnancies – and abortions – is much lower here than in the US.

  11. elly says

    I’ve done both: I had a first-trimester abortion when I was 22 and, later, had two children (my kids were born when I was 32 and 35, respectively).

    I absolutely agree with allyp: having children made me even more pro-choice than I was before (if that’s possible), and I had “good” pregnancies – in fact, I never missed a day of work until the day(s) I gave birth. But I still found it physically demanding: despite the fact that a normal, uncomplicated pregnancy is “wellness” not illness, it was sometimes hard for me to tell the difference.

    Not only did I not agonize over my decision to abort my first pregnancy, I felt then – and even more now – that it was the right decision for both me and my then-boyfriend (now husband of 3 decades+). It enabled us to mature and grow closer together, in the absence of the stress a child would have placed on our still-young and fragile relationship. It enabled me to complete my undergraduate education and go on to graduate school. It enabled both of us to acquire steady, professional, well-paying jobs with good health insurance. It also enabled us to have fun, to the point where we’re looking forward to being a twosome again, now that our kids are grown and getting ready to leave the nest.

    It was also the right decision for my kids, who wouldn’t exist if I had continued my first, unintentional pregnancy. At best, it would have put us on a very different life path (one in which the precise circumstances that led to their own conceptions would not have occurred)… at worst, we would have stopped at just the one.

    The “defensive game” is one that has royally pissed me off for years because it has implicitly judged me “guilty” of insufficient hand-wringing and anguish over exercising my right to full control over my body and my life. I’d be willing to let it go if the strategy was working, but it’s definitely not.

  12. opposablethumbs says

    1) I wish I were Swedish.
    2) elly, I am kindofalmost you :-)
    I sometimes point out to anti-choicers that my two kids actually owe their lives to the fact that when I was in my twenties I did have access to legal, safe, early abortion (free of charge). If I’d been forced to stay pregnant against my will, to the extreme detriment of all concerned, the kids I have now would never have been conceived.
    Never regretted it for a minute.

  13. kayden says

    Sweden sounds like heaven. I am pro-abortion. I don’t understand why anyone beyond the pregnant woman (and to a certain extent, her family) has a say in her pregnancy. Anti-choicers/forced birthers are small government in everything except sexual issues (same sex marriages and abortion).