Tuesday, November 2, 2010

An Abortion Law We Can All Roll Our Eyes At

Hi, friends. Let's do something fun! Maybe you've heard of Bill C-510, the "coerced abortion" bill. This is another SUPER SUBTLE attempt by the relentless Rod Bruinooge to get a foot in the door for fetal rights. You might remember a very similar debacle around the unfortunate Bill C-484, introduced by Ken Epp in an attempt to help prevent intimate partner violence - oh wait, no, it was an attempt to create redundant legislation in order to wear away at abortion access in this country. If either of this men had even the slightest interest in actually doing something about intimate partner violence and preventing the kind of situations they are so fond of dedicating their proposed bills to, they would step the fuck up and write some real legislation, or perhaps even better, encourage their own government to stop cutting funding to social programs and women's groups.

So, something fun, right? This blog got name-checked in an article by Andrea Mrozek about the new bill, so I thought I would return the favour and have a look at this article, maybe go a step further and correct all the stuff the author got wrong. Let's go!

We've hit a new point in the abortion debate. This is good news for a conversation frequently called a dialogue of the deaf (and not without reason).

I've never heard this expression. It seems a bit outdated. But whatever, let's move on.

Pro-choice advocates are concerned that choice is threatened. And so it may be, just not in the way they think. Today, many women facing unplanned pregnancy feel pressure to choose abortion. We need to empower them with the ability to choose not to. Conservative MP Rod Bruinooge's new private member's bill, Bill C-510 (Roxanne's Law) would help.

First of all, it does not seem that Mrozek has spent any time at all considering why a woman would be coerced into having (or not having) an abortion. Where might that pressure be coming from? Our society places a great deal of stigma on women who choose abortion (as any woman who has had one will tell you - if she even feels comfortable admitting that she has), so most likely it is not a societal pressure. My guess is that any woman who is being coerced one way or the other is in some kind of relationship - whether romantic, platonic or familial - that is not entirely healthy. Which, I would argue, is the core issue here; NOT the pregnancy or what the woman chooses to do with it. But let's hear Mrozek out.

Since many will be incredulous at the notion that women couldn't say no to abortion, let's examine the lay of the land in Canada.

All but the most fanatical of abortion supporters acknowledge we have broad access, and that women are not impeded from getting abortions anywhere.

Well, I guess you can count me among the most fanatical of abortion supporters then (which, let's face it, is not a big surprise). But so, then, are most people who work in abortion care, as well as any woman from a rural area - or PEI, or up north - who has tried to access an abortion, any woman from New Brunswick without a family doctor (or with an anti-choice or unsupportive family doctor), any woman who has needed an abortion past 22 weeks for any reason, and on and on. In fact, the only women who are not impeded from getting abortions are those women who live in a major city (outside of New Brunswick and PEI), are in the first trimester of pregnancy, have up-to-date provincial healthcare, access to transportation to and from their appointment, and a myriad of other privileges like language, citizenship, physical ability, and on and on.

The abortion providers in this country do work hard to make abortion accessible for as many women as they can, but abortion access in Canada is far from "broad".

Women can get abortions at any point throughout the nine months of pregnancy, a fact that an Angus Reid poll in July 2010 showed only 21 per cent of Canadians know. (Statistics Canada indicates 12.1 per cent of abortions are done after 13 weeks.)

Legally, this is true. The practical reality is far different.

When studies arise indicating that abortion has negative repercussions, the media doesn't publicize them. For example, a pro-choice psychologist in New Zealand, Dr. David Fergusson, reported in 2006 that women who abort are at three times greater risk of mental health problems than women who give birth. After controlling for more variables he got a similar result in 2008. European studies show higher suicide rates for women who abort compared to women who deliver and American studies show increased drug and alcohol use post-abortion.

Finally, university administrations censor students who disagree. Most recently, Carleton University students who attempted to display anti-abortion materials on their own campus were arrested for trespassing. University of Calgary pro-life students too, have been charged with trespassing and hauled before an academic misconduct board.

This is just a bit of the usual anti-choice bellyaching that general accompanies this kind of opinion piece. Abortion opponents have to set themselves up as the victims in order to justify creating legislation to protect themselves. Yes, isn't it terrible that sometimes women make the best choice for them and their future children, despite potential negative consequences? And isn't it awful that university administrators sometimes try to protect their female staff and students from offensive and dishonest groups whose sole mandate is to take away their rights?

Most women will not be savagely beaten, stuffed in the trunk of a car and then dumped in a snow bank and left to die for refusing to have an abortion, as 24-year-old Roxanne Fernando was in February 2007. But the presence of a soft coercion toward abortion is the norm, not the exception.

Again, if by "soft coercion" Mrozek means a societal pressure towards abortion, I have to say, she is patently false. Our society still stigmatizes abortion, and even generally progressive people can sometimes be appalled by the idea that someone close to them is considering it as an option.

Take "Nadia" (not her real name), who at 22 was brought to the hospital emergency department by her brother. She had overdosed on 20 tranquillizer pills. The day before she'd had an abortion in a private clinic. She was deeply ambivalent about the abortion; her boyfriend was adamant it was the right thing to do.

Obviously if abortion was illegal, everything in this young woman's life would have been hunky-dory, right? Obviously there are no underlying issues here or anything. And if "coerced abortion" was illegal, I'm sure her boyfriend would be just lovely to her and never try to make her do anything she didn't want to. Obviously abortion is the problem here. /sarcasm

There are even those who report similar stories from the pro-choice side. Antichoice is anti-awesome is the blog of a volunteer co-ordinator at an abortion clinic in New Brunswick. In February 2010, she wrote about a woman who was being forced to abort by her parents. "The patient clearly did not want to have an abortion; while in to have her ultrasound she freaked out about the finger prick test, and then told the nurse, her mother and anyone who would listen that it was a blessing to be pregnant, a beautiful gift from God," she writes.

I really enjoy how she both name-checks and quotes me, but doesn't link to the blog or to the post in question. So there is no encouragement to read the whole thing and find out, for example, the context of the story, or my opinion on the situation or anything. No need to consider the fact that many women do not want to have abortions and are being coerced, or do want to have an abortion and then change their mind before the procedure, and that abortion providers and counsellors are well aware of this phenomenon. No need to acknowledge the fact that at any reputable abortion clinic, no woman would be undergoing an abortion unless she signed an informed consent form and the counsellor and/or doctor felt that she was making the choice herself, without coercion. That's just good medicine. We don't need a law protecting people from "coerced knee surgery" or "coerced tonsil removal".

It takes a special strength and courage to say no to abortion in face of pressure from a boyfriend, from parents and from society at large. (Our tax dollars fund Planned Parenthood, not crisis pregnancy centres.)

Yes it does. It also takes strength to say no to childbirth in the face of those same pressures. This is the annoying this about this bill and Mrozek's argument: pro-choicers are already there with you on this one, except we are anti-coerced abortion AND anti-coerced childbirth. We are anti-coercion in general (thus, pro-CHOICE). If the problem is the pressure, let's address that pressure. Let's admit the problem is that anyone is coercing women into doing anything. The problem is violence and abuse. When Bruinooge and his cronies are ready to deal with violence and abuse, pro-choicers are here to help.

Also, our tax dollars don't fund crisis pregnancy centres because CPCs are unnecessary. Planned Parenthood (and similar organizations) offer information on all choices without judgement, as well as offering a wide range of other sexual health services. PP meets a demand. When there is a demand from society for religious organizations that bully and lie in order to prevent women from accessing abortions, perhaps then our tax dollars can start funding CPCs.

New Democrat health critic Megan Leslie told the media over the weekend with regards to Bill C-510 that "if we can open that door even a crack to this idea of fetal rights -- which in my opinion promotes anti-choice ideas -- that has an impact on women's rights and freedoms when it comes to the very personal decision about abortion." What Leslie seems to want is a freeze on freedom of thought.

No, you are still free to think whatever you like. That is maybe the worst rebuttal to a logical objection I've ever read.

Meanwhile, the same Angus Reid poll cited above also shows that 81 per cent of women and 77 per cent of men think their provincial health authority should demand that all health-care workers offer information about alternatives to abortion, such as adoption and counselling for pregnant women.

Great! Most abortion providers are happy to offer whatever information women need - if you want your tax dollars to go towards helping health-care workers get information on all their options to women, I guess we should keep supporting Planned Parenthood, since that is exactly what they do!

Many women who experience an unplanned pregnancy would keep the child if they thought they had support -- physical, financial or emotional. And all too often that is absent. "It's your choice," is just another way of saying "I don't care."

The implication here being that allowing women to access all the options, to make choices about their own bodies, means that nobody cares about them. I assure you that if abortion were made illegal, women would still feel unsupported - physically, financially and emotionally - in their pregnancies. If women are lacking in support, the answer is not to take their choices away, it is to...wait for it...SUPPORT THEM. Let's talk about how we can do that, shall we? Better access to prenatal care, universal childcare, better parental leave policies, access to counselling (if needed), more support for women with alternative birth plans (props to doulas and midwives!), free and accessible birth control, better and more accessible resources and social services for new and expecting mothers, access to relationship counselling, violence prevention, comprehensive sex education in schools, dismantle the patriarchy (oh goodness, I got a little carried away there...), the list goes on and on. There are so many ways to support pregnant women. I bet that if we - pro-choice and pro-life - worked together, we could do that. And yes, we could decrease the demand for abortion, but more importantly, we could increase the proportion of women having happy, healthy, supported and WANTED babies.

No law can prevent the myriad soft coercions that push a woman toward abortion. But Roxanne's Law is a small voice empowering at least some women who, in the face of overwhelming odds and even violence, choose to say no. That's a choice we can all support.

The choice, yes, I can support it. But the bill, no. It is incredibly irritating to me that the people who are behind this bill and those supporting it are co-opting the language of choice, as if they can fool us into believing this is a pro-choice bill. But if you want to support and empower women, if you want them to feel confident exercising their bodily autonomy, you need to get out of the way, first of all, and stop introducing bullshit legislation that incrementally takes away one of their choices.

Second of all, you need to find a way to make real changes. I know I always say this every time one of these bullshit bills gets introduced, but PREVENTION! Let's educate people! Let's give them access to information and services! Instead of punitive laws that only deal with the aftermath of situations like Roxanne Fernando's, what about preventative laws and services that help make sure other young women don't find themselves in similar situations? Call me a cynic, but I feel the lack of focus on prevention points to the fact that Bruinooge and the rest of them don't actually care about women in abusive or violent situations, as much as they do about controlling women's choices.

Here's the real test: what if Roxanne Fernando had been beaten and left in a snowbank to die because she went ahead and HAD an abortion? What kind of bill would Bruinooge come up with then?

***If you are interested in writing your MP to protest this bill, here is a sample letter from ARCC***


Alicia said...

I wonder if the people who write these articles online realize that not linking the source damages their reputation. Of course, so does spewing bullshit, but I guess that's never stopped anyone either.

On a more cheerful note, welcome back!

anti-anti said...

"Many women who experience an unplanned pregnancy would keep the child if they thought they had support -- physical, financial or emotional. And all too often that is absent. 'It's your choice,' is just another way of saying 'I don't care.'"

This is the stupidest thing I've ever heard. Is this not just another form of "soft coercion"? "zomg you should totally have that baby cuz i'm here for you lol!" Also, how are we supposed to "care" for all these unwanted children? It's not possible to give physical/financial/emotional support to them all. ARGH!

Jane said...

Thanks for doing this. I really didn't have the stomach for it yesterday. Someone is certainly deaf here. Glad to see you back.

Anonymous said...

I heard it was supposed to have been voted on on Nov. 2nd. What were the results of the vote?

Anonymous said...

I saw the original article, and almost laughed at how blatantly she used your quote without context. This is a fantastic post - thanks for writing it.

Anonymous said...


Andrea Mrozek said...

One doesn't link in a print article for the simple reason that people are holding the paper in their hands, not reading it online. That's the nature of print. The point of leaving full information, as I did, is so that the reader can find the information through a simple Google search.

Also, I did not misquote. There was a woman in your clinic who didn't want to be there and kicked up a fuss, right? The fact that you were making fun of her or wished she would leave doesn't change the main point that she did not want to be there.

Andrea Mrozek

The Pedgehog said...

I'm not an idiot. I know you don't link in a print newspaper. I was referring to the online version (you know, the one I linked to). Although perhaps my beef there is more with the editor(s) than with you.

My problem is not that you misquoted me - I don't believe you did, and I never said that. My problem is that you quoted the blog out of context. You used that piece of my work to show what a big issue coerced abortion is, while conveniently ignoring the fact that the WHOLE BLOG is about the protesters outside the clinic who try to coerce women NOT to have abortions. There is no balance in your analysis.

Also, I wasn't making fun of the woman. We in abortion care don't generally ridicule women for their choices - that's kind of the whole point. I did want her to leave, because a) she didn't want an abortion, so there was no reason for her to be there, but mainly b) she was upsetting the other women in the waiting room, and the safety and comfort of our patients come first.

Yes, some women are coerced into having abortions. That's the REASON why we wouldn't give someone like that an abortion, or anyone who doesn't explicitly say that they want one, without prompting. It's also why COERCION IS ALREADY ILLEGAL. Because - and you maybe forgot to mention this in your piece? - women get coerced into continuing pregnancies as well.

Alicia said...

I'd actually say that there's more danger of a woman being coerced into getting pregnant or continuing a pregnancy that being coerced into abortion. Anecdotal evidence: Every woman I know under 30 who is in a relationship is being asked when they're going to have children. If they say they don't want children, they are pressured and berated for being cold, because every woman should want kids. I call that a form of coercion. Likewise, women who are pregnant but do not want to be pregnant are shamed by society, friends, family, lovers, religions and, dare I say it, protesters, to remain pregnant. The most recent case I've heard of "coerced" abortion recently was a woman in America whose boyfriend forced her into the clinic at gunpoint. Instead of the evil abortionists going along with his wishes and following through with the procedure, the receptionist alerted the police and the nurses and counselors afterwards comforted the woman. She left as pregnant as she had entered, with the full support of the staff to continue her pregnancy.

Dan said...

"When Bruinooge and his cronies are ready to deal with violence and abuse, pro-choicers are here to help."

But, Pedgehog, abortion *is* violence and abuse-- the cold-blooded murder of an innocent human being. I don't see how "pro-choicers" are capable of helping while they continue to deny the humanity of the unborn child.

Anonymous said...

So how can we protect women from coerced abortions? I feel this blog refuses to admit that coerced abortions happen. I am a mental health nurse who just last week talked with a women with bi-polar depression who felt she was coerced to have an abortion due to her illness. How can we protect women like her? It would be nice if we all lived in a world where every women had the confidence and voice to make her own choices but the reality is women are more often then not have choices forced on them.....like having abortions! I hope a law is made to protect these women. Lets not get so wrapped up with abortion rights that we turn a blind eye to the negative side of abortion.

The Pedgehog said...

No, I recognize that coerced abortions happen. I just don't think that in that particular circumstance, abortion is the problem. How do we protect women from coerced abortions? The same way we protect them from coerced childbirth. Get them out of the coercive situation - and in the long run, prevent those situations from happening in the first place.

I know my opinion on this might not be super popular because it is harder to change these situations than it is to slap a redundant law on top of them, but I challenge you to prove that anything would change for the better in the lives of women if Bill C-510 were passed. Coercion is already illegal. Women are still coerced.

We need real change in women's lives, from the roots. Young people need to be taught about healthy relationships and being respectful to each other. We need to have resources for women who are in doubt, and who are in trouble. We need to have comprehensive sex ed and free and accessible birth control. We need to give people options so that they aren't trapped in their pregnancies, in their relationships, and in their lives.

The Pedgehog said...

As for individual women who are in this situation now - a law is not going to help them. They need real resources, where they are. They need to be supported and listened to. They need the kind of programs the Conservatives have been gleefully slashing funding to since they came into power. That is one of the reasons why this proposed law is such a slap in the face.

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