In anticipation of the coming general elections, in which debate about abortion will no doubt figure prominently, I wanted to highlight and discuss two developing debates on that topic. In both cases, we see groups who do not believe that a woman should have the right to decide what happens to her body willfully distorting the facts of the case to forward their agenda. The challenge, though, is for those of us who do believe that women should have that right to find effective ways of countering the lies.
First, there is the recent news that abortion rates have gone down in the United States. As this New York Times editorial explains,
Abortion opponents like the National Right to Life Committee seized upon the numbers as vindication for their strategy of demonizing abortion and making it harder for women to obtain one. Many states now mandate counseling sessions beforehand. But a harder look at the data suggests another explanation.
Almost two-thirds of the decline in the total number of abortions can be traced to eight jurisdictions with few or no abortion restrictions — New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Illinois, California, Oregon, Washington State and the District of Columbia. These are places, notes the Guttmacher Institute’s president, Sharon Camp, that have shown a commitment to real sex education, largely departing from the Bush administration’s abstinence-only approach. These jurisdictions also help women avoid unintended pregnancies by making contraception widely available.
So much evidence–not to mention common sense–exists that real, scientific sex education combined with access to contraception constitutes an effective way to prevent unintended pregnancy that it is astonishing anyone would argue the opposite. That, however, is just what the anti-choice groups do. In this way, they win either way. If abortion rates go up, they get to decry the dissolute culture and stir up their followers. If they go down, they get to claim success and stir up their followers. This scenario, though, reveals that these groups do not actually care about the sexual health of young women–they care about politics.
If they cared about the sexual health of young women, they would acknowledge the human teenager’s sex drive and favor sex education. In the states that do this, you see a decreased abortion rate.
I found this Nation piece very interesting as well. Apparently, some opponents of women’s rights have decided that a syndrome called Post Abortion Syndrome (PAS) exists. This syndrome is a mental disorder that, supposedly, afflicts individuals who have had abortions. The emphasis of the article, though, is on male victims of PAS. The author, Sarah Blustain, deftly narrates the strange intersection of junk psychology, religion, and sexism that generates this new mental disorder. There are, if you believe the PAS groups, many victims of abortion. The problem, as Blustain points out, is that
The data to prove the existence of PAS come from a combination of deeply flawed original research–featuring tiny samples and lack of controls–and the manipulation of large samples into correlations from which pseudo-researchers claim causation. Among the most prominent forms of “data” circulating in the American political system are a few thousand PAS testimonies collected with the express purpose of being used in court to help overturn Roe v. Wade–hardly a scientific sample.
As usual, science and reality are the twin Achilles heels of the anti-choice movement. They substitute faith and absolute ideology for any reasonable discussion of sexuality and health.
I mentioned the need for tactics to counter these new moves. It is difficult, because the facts and figures that prove our case are not effective against the emotionally and religiously charged rhetoric of the anti-choice groups. We must adopt a passionate rhetoric ourselves, and the focus must be women. It is fundamentally wrong to force a woman to undergo a pregnancy against her will. Her body is her own. This fact, and the fact that some groups wish to reduce women to government-enforced gestation units, should be enough to generate some rhetorical fire.