Yes, Abortion Is a Women’s Issue, and Yes, More Male Allies Are Welcome
Further, sexist assumptions about women’s role in reproduction are at the core of other oppressions women face. Rape culture is intertwined with ideas that men are irresistibly driven to sex, that women are submissive sexual objects to be conquered, that women are either sluts or prudes. Lack of family supports in the workplace, from paid sick days to paid family leave, are tied with exclusionary and outdated middle-class white assumptions that there will be a woman in the home to take care of the family, and discrimination in pay, promotion, and leadership is underpinned by assumptions that men are primary breadwinners. Pretending that social discrimination against women is not linked with sexual discrimination against women, which can therefore be ignored, may feel “less controversial” but it’s not going to get us anywhere.
When men are quoted in the media five times more often than women on the topics of abortion and birth control, we are simply not ready to move abortion into a post-gender framework that declares abortion is “not a women’s issue.” In particular, it seems that society has a great deal of resistance to putting younger women and women of color, not mutually exclusive categories, at the center of reproductive rights conversations.
While we need more men, more LGBTQ people, and more of everyone taking leadership in the reproductive rights movement, those most directly affected by abortion restrictions—younger women and women of color—need more focus, not less. Turn on the television, and it’s not uncommon to see a white man opposing abortion rights and, if a pro-choice woman is included at all, she is often white and past reproductive age.
Within the abortion rights movement, there is some resistance to having the most directly affected lead the message in a way that doesn’t seem to be paralleled in other human rights movements, including LGBTQ movements and civil rights movements. Some take offense when it is suggested that more younger women and women of color should help lead. This is something that I hope men will keep in mind when taking on leadership roles in the movement. It is possible to be a loud ally and also be an ally who works to ensure more young women and women of color are included, and your sisters need the help.
Do we need more men to fight for reproductive and sexual rights on their own terms? Do we welcome more men to fight for abortion as human rights issues, public health issues, and women’s issues? Is it cool if those men want to call themselves “bro-choice”? The answer is an enthusiastic yes.
Will Live Action Threaten the Provider-Patient Relationship in Abortion Care?
In the period immediately after Roe v. Wade, it was very common in most abortion settings for designated counselors or physicians to have the opportunity for open-ended discussion with a patient. This kind of encounter, which goes beyond offering the patient the requisite informed consent information and ascertaining she has not been coerced into the decision, has been difficult for many facilities to sustain over the years for various reasons, not the least being that in many states patient-doctor time is eaten up by doctors having to impart to patients legislatively mandated scripts about abortion, many of which contain blatant falsehoods. Nevertheless, most abortion facilities with which I am familiar make every effort to offer additional conversational time to patients who seem most in need of it.
What do these efforts to maintain meaningful provider-patient conversations have to do with Live Action, the anti-abortion group notorious for its undercover “investigations” of abortion clinics? For several years, Live Action operatives, pretending to be prospective abortion patients, have gone into clinics, questioning various levels of staff about abortion policies and procedures, and when their hidden cameras manage to catch a staff person making an inopportune comment, the organization triumphantly posts videos (typically highly edited) of these visits.
The latest Live Action “gotcha” moment is in a video of Dr. Leroy Carhart, one of the few providers in the United States who openly provides post-24-week abortions in selected circumstances, and as such is a longstanding target of the anti-abortion movement. In the video, Carhart is repeatedly grilled by a would-be patient, who portrays herself as 26 weeks pregnant, as to the procedure he would use in a pregnancy of that gestation. In response to the woman’s stated concern that a fetus whose demise has been caused by injection “would decay inside of her,” Carhart seeks to reassure her, at one point saying the fetus would soften like “meat in a Crock-Pot.” Predictably, Live Action, and subsequently other anti-abortion groups, have seized upon this statement and used it to further their campaign of what might be called the “Gosnellization” of individuals who provide later abortions—that is, to claim that Carhart and his colleagues are no different than the rogue doctor now on trial in Philadelphia for dangerous and illegal practices.
But Leroy Carhart and Kermit Gosnell could not be more different as abortion providers. As the New York Times pointed out in its coverage of this incident, “[T]he video provides no evidence of illegal action or subpar medical techniques.” Tracy Weitz, my University of California, San Francisco colleague, further pointed out to the paper the evident concern that Carhart exhibited toward the (imposter) patient, and offered this context to his “Crock-Pot” remark: “Doctors struggle to find terminology to help a client understand what’s happening, and while it may seem wrong to us, it may be appropriate for that conversation.” (The recentfilm After Tiller also amply demonstrates Dr. Carhart’s compassionate relationship with patients.)
What will be the upshot of this latest Live Action incident? Dr. Carhart, who previously provided later abortions in the clinic of Dr. George Tiller in Kansas before Tiller was assassinated, will not be deterred from his “mission” to carry on his friend’s work, as the former military surgeon often puts it. In the years since he decided to devote himself full-time to abortion work, Carhart has had extremists burn down his barn with 17 horses inside, seen the state of Nebraska pass a law deliberately aimed at preventing him from performing abortions after 20 weeks’ gestation, and is subject to constant protestors at his two clinics as well as vilification in anti-abortion media.
But while Dr. Carhart will continue with his work, I do fear that a possible consequence of these well-publicized Live Action videos may be a chilling effect on the free and open conversation between clinic staff and patients that is such an important part of abortion care. Should this occur, I have no doubt the anti-abortion movement will declaim self-righteously about the “coldness” and “impersonality” of abortion facilities.
In the early stages of pregnancy, there are two lives in the balance, but one of them is a potential life; it can only become viable over time and at the expense of the other.
Only that mother knows what the cost to her will be and whether she can afford it or not.I defy anyone, male or female, to look my 17-year-old self in the eye and tell her that they feel personally entitled to deny her the right to regain control of her own body, that they will force her to endure an extension of that rape for the sake of their world view.
But that’s what it means to pass laws that frame the kinds of restrictions our legislature are discussing right now.— TW: I Was Raped When I Was 17. Where Were the Abortion Experts and Commentators? (via forthecatholicgirls)