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The Tally Ho

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Lie to Me

First, please go check out Pandagon's coverage of Virginia Delegate David Englin's (D-45) speech on gay rights. The text of the speech is inspiring. Then go check out the man's political website. If this man can get elected in Virginia, what's our excuse in this big blue state?

Next, lookee! It's "Blogging for Choice" month. Of course, I'm blogging for choice every month over here, so I'm not sure what to make of this assignment. The recent NYTimes.com article "Some Abortion Foes Forgo Politics for Quiet Talk" is piquing my interest, both because of my personal experience and because the "Quiet Talk" the NYTimes purports to document is actually a loud and active political movement.

Like many crisis pregnancy centers, A Woman's Choice is designed to look and feel like a medical center, not a religion-based organization with an agenda. Becky Edmondson, the executive director, said the center chose the look and name to reach women who were bombarded with pressures to abort and might think they had no other choice.

If callers ask how much the center charges to perform an abortion, Lisa Arnold, a counselor and leader of the postabortion group, said: "I say, 'It changes, but why don't you come in for an ultrasound and we'll talk about it.' You don't want to deceive them, but you want a chance to talk to them." Once women come to the center, staff members - who oppose abortion even in cases involving rape and incest - encourage them to make further appointments, and refer them to doctors who share the center's views on abortion.

I've never seen "crisis pregnancy centers" admit in print to lying about the services they offer to women, but I do remember vividly a health fair I attended in the 'burbs one summer afternoon. I was in the basement of a church, next to a Latina woman from one of these anti-abortion pregnancy groups. We traded brochures and tried to network a little, but found we had a huge language barrier. She spoke halting English and I have less than 200 words of Spanish (my grammar is so abominable that I can usually speak only in nouns). However, she pointed carefully to the required baby-peeking-from-under-blanket pic on the front of her brochure, then explained slowly how women will call asking for abortion services and they will say, "Yes, we do that. Come in in two weeks for appointment." Then, they "show videos" and talk to the woman about her baby. The brochure also counseled abstinence for single women and natural family planning* after birth for married couples. This "colleague" of mine was smiling and very, very proud of the work that she did. The fact that she said it slowly, in such broken English that I ended up helping her with words, made it all the more excruciating.

Crisis pregnancy centers are dangerous to pregnant women because they will lie about how far along the pregnancy is, attempt to stall women until it's too late to obtain a legal abortion, and bait-and-switch women in regards to the care they can receive. (Earlier abortions are easier, cheaper, and medically safer. To stall a woman who has made up her mind is pretty idiotic on several counts.) But it's a small inconvenience compared to how they treat women after an abortion, even as they claim compassion towards her.

A Woman's Choice links the church [Southeast Christian Church: attendance 18,000/budget $25M)] to a national network of crisis pregnancy centers and postabortion groups that share marketing strategies, legal advice and literature emphasizing what they say are the harmful effects of abortion - including increased risk of breast cancer and a psychological condition called postabortion syndrome, which are considered scientifically unsupported by the National Cancer Institute and the American Psychological Association.

To "post-abortive" women, they claim that any negative psychological experiences are the result of the abortion they foolishly chose to have. They run support groups where women name their aborted pregnancies, read them poems and buy them baby clothes. This is the real political work of the center: to mainstream the idea that abortion is always damaging, whereas having a baby will always be fulfilling, and that "post-abortive" women can expect depression, anxiety disorders, and breast cancer as a result of their misguided choice. By getting "recovered" women to mobilize and tell their stories (over, and over, and over) they can shift the opinions of men and those 60% of American women who haven't had an abortion to believe that the procedure is damaging or dangerous. They can convince women who have had an abortion that they are mentally unstable and in need of ongoing care. And they don't require anti-choice laws, as they plan to shame and stigmatize pro-choice doctors, politicians, and women back into the cultural closet.

The title of the article is the most damning bit of this very biased piece. How does any of this equate with "forgoing politics"? Some workers in these crisis pregnancy centers are doing this work out of a genuine belief that abortion is immoral, whereas some might have a peculiar interest in raising the birth rate among certain populations or simply keeping women in their place by forcing them into their "natural calling". But in terms of cultural impact, their motives don't matter. CPC's like "A Woman's Choice" are engaging in widespread, nonstop social propaganda. They lie to their patients clients. They go against established science and threaten cancer. They victimize and pathologize women who choose abortion, instead of accepting them as moral agents. It must be politics, since it sure as hell ain't science.

further reading:
abortion clinic days (beware the comments, they've gotten vitriolic)
Exhale (nonpartisan talk line)
I'm Not Sorry (the opposite of "post abortion syndrome")
Feminists for Life (a very slick anti-choice website)

*I'm not against natural family planning in theory. However, it takes training by a medical professional and several months of charting before skipping the backup methods. Counseling this method to post-partum women without regular cycles is, to me, hideously irresponsible.


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