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abortion

Feminism

Gatekeeping vs. Coalition Building

The second I first heard about a possible march happening in DC the day after the inauguration, my reaction was where do I sign up. Marching will not be the only way I resist the incoming regimeadministration, but I will stand in the streets tomorrow and scream my rage and sorrow with my sisters. I know many of you can’t– having fibromyalgia means I will be paying for this all next week, so I understand not being able to make marching work for you. I also know not everyone feels that the Women’s March tomorrow either represents you well or is something you want to give your energy to, and I respect that.

However, since Wednesday, a large part of the conversation of can I, should I march on Saturday has revolved around abortion, and I feel that the conversation has been plagued with misrepresentations. We are talking about abortion after all so the fact that everything is being flagrantly misunderstood is unsurprising. Since I’m in seminary primarily to advocate for reproductive justice in my Christian context, this conversation is critical to me, and I want to try to push it in an honest and fact-based direction.

The discussion we’re having was sparked when the Women’s March leadership decided to partner with an organization called New Wave Feminists. I am frustrated with the people who made that decision because it’s clear that New Wave Feminists was not vetted at all. If they’d looked into this organization, they would have found out that the founder testified in favor of HB2 in Texas (the bill Wendy Davis filibustered)– the bill that would have removed abortion access from most women in Texas. New Wave Feminists also lie about hormonal contraception and their founder said that women shouldn’t be “full-service sluts.” The goal of this organization is to restrict abortion access, restrict access to birth control, and control women’s sexuality. It is not an organization that the Women’s March should support, and they were right to remove them as partners.

However, after removing them as partners, they faced some criticism. I heard about it because Rachel Held Evans– as y’all know, one of my heroes– tweeted “Progressives have a chance to build a broader coalition here, and they are blowing it” … which was incredibly disappointing because of the narrative that weaves. Over the past two days I’ve seen a ridiculous number of people claim that the Women’s March is forbidding any pro-life woman from participating, which is just ridiculous. Removing an anti-woman organization from partnership and being unwilling to partner with those who want to make abortion illegal does not mean that pro-life women can’t march, if they want to. They couldn’t have made that clearer.

Rachel’s tweet– and the widespread sentiment her tweet represents– was also incredibly frustrating on top of being disappointing because this situation is the result of a terrible amount of confusion. The New Wave Feminists are an organization pro-lifers like Karen Swallow Prior, Sarah Bessey, and Rachel Held Evans want to defend? People who lie to women, who lie about medicine, who shame us and demean us? Who call us “sluts” for having sex, who misrepresent themselves and their goals?

I have saidrepeatedly— that I want to work with the sort of pro-life women Rachel represents. I value their work, I value them, and I understand where they’re coming from. In the past I’ve respected their position because I saw it as realistic, loving, and consistent. I welcome their particular articulation of pro-life ethics into my feminist work with open arms. I may think that abortion is ethical, but I understand having reservations. This isn’t an easy issue– and, regardless of why any particular person may be having an abortion, it represents a failure somewhere. People who will fight with me to overcome those failures– who want to make birth control accessible, who want accurate and thorough sex education, who want to remove the cultural oppression that force women into these situations– I want you at my side.

After all, I’m pro-choice. If someone is having an abortion because they have no other option, I do not consider that acceptable. We should be able to choose whether or not we want to remain pregnant, and not have circumstances limit us or force us. We should be able to feed our babies, we should be able to get our children to the doctor, we should be able to keep our jobs, we should be able to recover after giving birth … and it’s wrong that those are the considerations pregnant people face.

So I’m all in favor of coalition building. I think feminism is a big tent and a lot of us should be able to squeeze together under here– even if we don’t always agree.

However.

There has to be a line somewhere.

If you’ve read me for a bit, you know I’m not a fan of shibboleths. I don’t like setting up a bunch of fences and boundaries to movements and I don’t, in general, like people who say “you’re in, you’re in, you’re not.” I like big, broad, encompassing tents. I like it when we don’t always get along, don’t always agree. I want serious discussions, not a bunch of people who preach to the choir all of the time.

But I think it is appropriate and good for feminists to say “being a feminist means you don’t support policies that lead to the suffering and death of women,” and unfortunately, that’s what being “pro-life” means for a not-insignificant part of the pro-life movement. If there’s going to be a line that keeps some people out of the feminist tent, the “you want women to die for no god-forsaken reason” is a damn good line. It’s the only line really worth enforcing. If Feminism weren’t The We Want Women to Not Die tent, it wouldn’t be good for anything.

I’m not apologizing for that being my price of admission. If you support policies and laws that lead to nothing else but suffering and death, I don’t want you in my tent and I don’t understand why you’d want to be in it. Banning abortion, criminalizing abortion, “making it illegal except in cases of life-threatening emergencies” leads to death and suffering. Those actions do not change the abortion rate— they result in the same number of abortions, but more life-threatening medical problems, more death, more abuse, more violence, more tragedies, and yes, women being sent to prison because they miscarried.

On this one issue– whether or not our nation’s laws result in women dying– I will be a gatekeeper. Kate Shellnutt and Hannah Anderson at Christianity Today want to tell me that ““If Dem[ocrats] could have entertained possibility of a pro-life women’s vote, they’d have won,” and it makes me scream inside because that “pro-life women’s vote” was a vote to overturn Roe v. Wade and make abortion illegal. It wasn’t a vote against rape or sexual assault. It wasn’t a vote to protect our jobs, our wages, our children, our healthcare, our autonomy, or our bodies in any way. It was one vote: to criminalize abortion. To condemn women to needless suffering, unnecessary physical torment, and death for many of us. No, I will not “entertain” that idea, and I don’t think feminism should.

These “pro-life women voters” like the New Wave Feminists have spent a massive amount of time telling us that our actions have consequences– and surprisingly, this is where I agree. Pro-life people who want to ban abortion apparently live in a land without consequences. They want to enforce their religious interpretation of when life begins onto everyone and pretend that nothing bad could ever come of that. That their actions, their choices, would not be the reason why more women would be thrown in prison or killed. They want to ban abortion– even though it would not even accomplish what they want. They want to prevent us from accessing birth control– even though that actively opposes what they want. They want to punish us for even daring to take control of our lives.

If that doesn’t describe you, welcome inside my big feminist tent.

If it does, stay out in the cold and shiver.

Feminism

personally pro-life, politically pro-choice

I’m about as pro-choice as it’s possible to be. I’m unflinchingly pro-choice, even. There are no ifs, ands, or buts  in my approach to abortion, no caveats, no disclaimers. I am completely opposed to “late-term” abortion bans, TRAP laws, and any other restrictions on a person’s ability to conduct their own medical affairs. I believe that abortion should be treated no differently from any other medical procedure: it is safe– far safer than childbirth— and it is private.

However, I didn’t always feel this way. In fact, this position is relatively recent– more recent, even, than where I was when I wrote the Ordeal of the Bitter Waters series over two years ago. My feminism is continuously evolving, and back when I wrote that series I was more uncomfortable with so-called “late-term” abortions than I am today. I’ve been evaluating and re-evaluating my stances on reproductive rights for almost eight years now, and I’ve arrived at a place that feels more drastic than a complete reversal should.

As an inexperienced and woefully uninformed young woman, I was fervently pro-life. I picketed clinics a handful of times; I canvassed neighborhoods trying to get TRAP laws put on my state’s ballot. I didn’t think there should be exceptions for rape and incest. Over time, however, circumstances forced me to confront what I believed about abortion, and I realized that my pro-life position was morally indefensible.

My theological and political background puts me in an interesting position, especially as I’ve been observing this election season– my first presidential election as a registered Democrat. My social media feeds are a sometimes-hilarious mix of extremes because some of my friends are Marxists, some are Libertarians, and at least two friends post almost nothing but pictures of guns. What’s becoming troubling to me is that we all seem to have forgotten the value– and governing necessity– of compromise, of embracing a spectrum of beliefs and positions in order to accomplish a good work.

I don’t think there’s anything that demonstrates how polarized we can be than abortion. This election season, it seems that tension has coalesced around Hillary Clinton’s vice presidential candidate, Tim Kaine. He, like other Democratic men like Joe Biden, embrace a complicated position toward reproductive rights: personally opposed to abortion (a somewhat ridiculous position for a man to hold, I’ll admit), but still in support of abortion remaining legal and accessible.

This is where my perspective can seem a little bit wonky to some of my pro-choice friends and colleagues: I don’t have a problem with Clinton choosing Kaine as her running mate. He wasn’t who I was hoping for, but I think the reasoning for choosing him is logical and practical– two of the things I admire most about Clinton’s approach to politics.

I do have a problem with Kaine’s history. He supported abstinence-only education because he felt it would lower the abortion rate in Virginia, which flies in the face of common sense and well-established fact. He banned “partial birth” abortions, a ridiculous position that speaks to a fundamental misunderstanding of medical procedures. He used state funds to support Crisis Pregnancy Centers, which use deceptive, manipulative, and unethical tactics. Even though he’s seemed to have evolved on these positions, I understand the hesitancy many of my pro-choice colleagues are feeling.

However, as fervently pro-choice as I am and as much as I will fight to protect our reproductive rights, I can support Kaine for vice president because he embodies one of my most valued positions:

I will work with anyone,  even someone who’s pro-life, to advance reproductive justice.

I am absolutely for what some call “abortion on demand.” I am vocally in support of bodily autonomy being seen as a fundamental right. However, I am troubled by certain unfortunate realities surrounding reproductive care in this country because I am pro-choice. The US has a much higher abortion rate than many other developed nations, and I think that’s indicative of larger problems.

For example, for teenage girls who gave birth by fifteen, 39% of their partners were older than twenty. For girls who gave birth by seventeen, 53% of their partners were older than 20. There’s some nuance there, of course, but that research indicates that up to half of all teenage pregnancies are a result of rape. That, to me, highlights the gross and horrifying failure in sex education. The abstinence-only “purity” approach leaves people, especially girls, vulnerable to violence and abuse.

In a survey from 2004, a huge number of the people who responded— 73%– said they’d had abortions because they couldn’t afford to have a baby. There’s other reasons to have an abortion, obviously, but when three quarters of the people having an abortion cite their finances as the most important reason they needed an abortion, it means that there’s a definite lack of choice involved in their decision. That’s unfortunate, and upsetting. Abortion should be available without limits– you shouldn’t have to prove you have a “good enough” reason– but if they would have preferred to keep their pregnancy but can’t afford to, that’s a problem.

There are so many avenues to provide real choices. Reducing child care costs. Making reliable contraception widely available. Offering comprehensive education on reproductive health and consensual sex. All of those things are proven in reducing the abortion rate (as well as just being good ideas on their own), and this abortion-on-demand feminist thinks that’s an important enough goal that I’ll even work with Tim Kaine to ensure that people are free to make a true, unbounded, personal choice.

I don’t need ideological purity in the people I work with. I don’t need to agree with you on everything to try to get something accomplished. I don’t like litmus tests, and I abhor movements that are unwilling to bend in order to get the work done. If you’re personally pro-life, but think that decision is a personal one best left to a person and their doctor, we can shake on it.

If you’d like to know more about these pro-choice positions, I recommend Generation Roe: Inside the Future of the Pro-Choice Movement by Sarah Erdreich.

Photo by Toshiyuki
Feminism

pro-life activist to pro-choice Christian

I know it’s been quiet around here for a bit– between period week and a fibromyalgia flare plus taking a college course (Hebrew, in case you’re wondering), it’s been just a little too much for me to manage blogging. I think I’m on the mend, but still trying to balance managing my illnesses on top of studying again, so the schedule might be a bit rough for a bit, especially with the Holidays coming up.

Anyway, it doesn’t mean I haven’t been writing! I’m working on an application for a Bitch Media fellowship, and I wrote an article for XOJane on “How I went from Being a Pro-Life Activist to a Pro-Choice Christian.” If you’ve read my Ordeal of the Bitter Waters series it’s stuff you’ve seen before, but I wrote it with the intention of creating something relatable and shareable. It might be a good resource for y’all in the future, since I’m hoping it can reach people who are currently pro-life without all of their walls going up. It also links to my Bitter Waters series, too.

Anyway, thanks for sticking with me! I’m excited about the posts I have planned for this week.

Photo by Women’s News
Feminism

“Lies Women Believe” review: 215-242

If there’s one thing that doing all these reviews have taught me about writing non-fiction books, it’s to avoid getting repetitive in the last two chapters. A lot of what Nancy covers in this last part of Lies Women Believe she’s already been over in different ways before. However she’s not completely unoriginal, so let’s dive in.

IF MY CIRCUMSTANCES WERE DIFFERENT, I WOULD BE DIFFERENT

That she thinks the above is a “lie” … all I could do was laugh– mirthlessly. Honestly, I’m even a little surprised she was able to write this section with a straight face, because it seems really obvious to me that if our circumstances are different, we would be different. If I hadn’t been abused, I wouldn’t have PTSD. If I’d been treated for anxiety as a child, I’d already have coping mechanisms for it as an adult. If I hadn’t been homeschooled … and it goes on.

Granted, that’s not the direction that Nancy’s thoughts went, but she’s ignoring a mighty big elephant to do so. She talks about things like frustrated parents who supposedly “wouldn’t have lost [their] cool if [their] child hadn’t filled the dryer with water and painted the living room furniture with butter!” (218), and what pops out to me is that these people aren’t really talking about how patient (or whatever) they are overall, but that they are acknowledging things like stress is real. They’re saying “these circumstances aren’t ideal for me.”

I agree that things like your kids trying your patience doesn’t give you the right to treat them or other people poorly. Being an adult means managing these feelings and responding appropriately. But, not all situations are created equal, and we’ll see that come out in a bit.

I SHOULDN’T HAVE TO SUFFER

She focuses on the rhetoric of “prosperity gospel” proponents in this section, and on this I agree with her without reservation. If you haven’t seen John Oliver take down the various televangelists who made the prosperity gospel A Thing, then you should.

However, Nancy makes one mistake: she confuses people think they should always be perfectly happy with people generally want to avoid suffering. She paints this picture of how good it is that we suffer, that it makes us holy. This is nothing new for Christian rhetoric– I imagine almost all of us have heard something similar before.

I certainly don’t have a monopoly on suffering. But, one thing my life has taught me is that dealing with suffering is complicated. If you asked if me if I’d go back in time and stop myself from entering an abusive relationship, I honestly don’t know what I’d say. I ended up at Liberty because of the need to take my life in a different direction, and I met Handsome because I was there. My life with Handsome is pretty damn amazing.

But is being a rape and abuse victim “worth” this? I don’t know. What I do know is that I will do everything I can to make sure other people aren’t rape victims, and I’m concerned with this “suffering is good because it’s what makes us holy!” rhetoric. I want to make the world a “better place,” and that means eliminating suffering.

MY CIRCUMSTANCES WILL NEVER CHANGE, THIS WILL GO ON FOREVER

And by that she means:

The Truth is, a moment or two from now (in the light of eternity), when we are in the presence of the Lord, everything that has taken place in this life will be just a breath– a comma. (224)

This is another consequence of dualism: she reduces the value of this earthly, physical life in favor of the “light of eternity.” It’s a blithe dismissal of people like me, offering us nothing more than a “cheer up buckaroo, the next fifty years don’t really mean anything!” Except that they do, and we know that they do.

But that’s not my biggest problem with this. My biggest problem is that it naturally leads her to advocate that people stay in violent, abusive, unhealthy situations because, after all, if this “comma” of an experience doesn’t matter when compared to eternity, then we can put up with pretty much anything, right? A woman in a “painful” marriage, after listening to Nancy speak, says that “time is short and eternity is long” (224) and decides that she’s not going to do anything about the pain in her life.

I JUST CAN’T TAKE ANY MORE

First off, this section completely ignores those who struggle with suicidal ideations; she dismisses people who have chronic and severe depression with “all of us have had seasons when we feel we just can’t keep going” (227).

I mentioned earlier that Nancy seems unaware that not all situations are created equal, and we see that here:

  • I can’t take one more sleepless night with this sick child.
  • I can’t continue in this marriage.
  • I can’t bear to be hurt one more time by my mother-in-law.
  • I can’t keep making it with three teenagers and a mother with Alzheimer’s living in our home.

Some of the things she’s described in this chapter are flexible, and some are not. Staying up with a sick child is a fact of life, and you push through it– but that doesn’t mean you can’t ask for help or do something to help yourself. My mom took care of her grandfather with dementia and it was hard; she made sacrifices of time and even health.

But a mother-in-law who hurts you? That, you do have choices about. You can set boundaries– there’s nothing written in the universe that says you must speak to any person, even your mother-in-law. You can leave a bad marriage.

Nancy, however, sees all these things as the same: all must be endured. This is the natural conclusion of her “suffering makes us holy!” thinking. Even wanting to escape an unhealthy or outright abusive situation makes us a sinner in her eyes.

IT’S ALL ABOUT ME

This is the most repetitive section– in a way, the entire book has been about this for Nancy. Two things lept out, though. The first one was when she was quoting Larry Crabb:

Helping people to feel loved and worthwhile has become the central mission of the church … Recovery from pain is absorbing an increasing share of the church’s energy. And that is alarming. (229)

I spat out my tea. Because what is this. It’s so theologically awful it compelled me to look up who Larry Crabb is– and oh, look, he’s the spiritual director for the American Association of Christian Counselors. A man whose entire profession is based on helping people said that about how “alarming” it is for the church to focus on the how Jesus said “they shall know you by how you love one another.” I’m sorry, if you have a problem with the church loving people then I don’t know what to tell you.

The second bit was this:

Over the next several years, her marriage and family life became increasingly rocky. There was a vicious cycle of abusive behavior and language … At one point, Cindy left her husband for two weeks, intending to divorce him; through a series of circumstances, God gave her a new compassion for him, and she returned home. (232)

She tells this woman’s story for three pages, and it is clear that her marriage never improves and her husband remains abusive– and her children refuse to have a relationship with either of them, unsurprisingly. Nancy also makes it clear that she thinks this woman’s actions are praiseworthy.

It fits perfectly into her permanence view of marriage, and it demonstrates how frustratingly clueless Nancy is. That “God gave her a new compassion for her abusive husband” is such bullshit, and it’s rage-inducing. Every abused woman thinks this. God had nothing to do with it. Women attempt to leave abusive relationships six or seven times on average because they have “compassion” for their abuser. Their abusers do everything possible to make absolutely certain their victims feel this way. We go back over and over because we’re convinced that our abusers need us.

This wasn’t compassion, and to refer to an expected result of being abused (seriously! This is Abusive Relationship 101-level shit right here) as something God did is just … it’s sick.

Thank God we only have one more week of this.

Feminism

do you have to be pro-choice to be feminist?

mother and baby

One of the reasons why I write here is to attempt to convince people that feminism isn’t the movement a lot of people think that it is– we’re not a bunch of bitter, vengeful, ugly hags. Being a feminist doesn’t mean you have to hate men, or burn your bra, or you can’t shave your legs, or you’ll never be able to wear makeup again. There’s a lot of stereotypes out there, stereotypes intentionally created by those who fought (and fight) against gender equality, but hopefully if you’ve been here long enough you’ll realize that I definitely don’t fit those molds.

I read a lot of feminist writers who are trying to do the same thing– we consider ourselves advocates and educators, and we put ourselves into that position of being the person willing to explain the obvious over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over . . . and something that we end up saying, ad nauseum, is:

“The definition of feminism is ‘a) the belief that all genders should be politically, economically, and socially equal, and b) the organized movement to bring this about.'”

Some of us have argued that this is all you need to be a feminist, that there’s nothing more to it than that. If you believe that men and women should be equal, than wham bam thank you ma’am you’re a feminist.

I’m not one of those people. I think there’s a whole lot more to feminism than that, and I think it’s far too easy for someone to claim that they believe in gender equality on paper and then be a patriarchal misogynist in real life. And while I hope that someday we’ll live in a world where everyone believes in the ideals of feminism, that world is a long way away, and in the mean time, there are a lot of people walking around calling themselves a feminist who are not and they’re able to do it because they/we think the above definition is all there is to it.

And it’s not as though feminism is a monolithic movement and every feminist thinks and believes and wants the same thing. I identify as an intersectional feminist because it seems obvious to me that every person can be both oppressed and privileged based on different parts of our identity. But there’s also trans-exclusionary radical feminism (as much as I’d prefer that they’d stop calling themselves feminists, I’m not going to start shouting “No True Scotsman!”); there’s also the problem of white feminism (which is one of the reasons why I don’t push the feminist label on those who don’t want to claim it. Feminists have a history of being racist as fuck, people); and then there’s all sorts of other disagreements– can porn be feminist? Can you be a sex worker and be feminist? Is lipstick feminism a thing?

But, probably one of the more divisive issues is reproductive rights.

Do you have to be pro-choice to be a feminist? I’ve explained, at length, why I am pro-choice. However, becoming pro-choice took me years and I don’t think it’s a position that a lot of people can adopt. So, do I want to put an insurmountable roadblock in place for those who can’t accept the pro-choice position? Can you be a pro-life feminist?

Well, in my opinion… yes and no.

It all depends on how you define pro-life.

If you want to make all abortion illegal (like it is in Ireland and some Latin American nations), then no. Absolutely not. If you think that “partial-birth abortion” is a medical term and want to ban any abortion after 20 weeks, then no. If you want to make it impossible for international aid organizations to offer women in developing nations hormonal contraception, then no. If you think that a company has the right to dictate to their employees what medicine they are allowed to use, then no. If you think that legalizing rape by use of a medical instrument in the context of a doctor’s office is ok, then no. If you think that women who don’t want to keep their babies should just give them up for adoption but you aren’t ever going to adopt a baby, then no. If you think that women who have abortions are just lazy sluts who have been brainwashed by money-hungry doctors, then no.

However, if you have personal moral and/or spiritual reservations about the life of the unborn and you don’t think you’d ever get an abortion no matter how desperate you were, but you are aware that all making abortion illegal does is kill women, then yes. If you believe that life is a beautiful, sacred mystery and deserves to be valued, but you also acknowledge that woman are people, too, then yes. If you want to do all you can to reduce the abortion rate through education, through access to effective contraception, through pursuing policies that will help working mothers keep their jobs (like subsidized day care, either through employers or government-sponsored programs), if you believe that life outside of the womb is just as important as life inside of it, then hell yes.

In short, if you believe that abortion should be illegal: I’m sorry, but no. I don’t think you should consider yourself a feminist. Keep on fighting for gender equality in whatever circumstances your find yourself in, absolutely, but I don’t think that it’s possible to pursue policies that would endanger the lives of countless women and be a feminist.

But, if you don’t want to make abortion illegal, but you’d like to see it become scarce (through pursuing realistic and proven-to-be-effective methods) and you’d never have an abortion yourself, then yes. I think you could be a feminist.

Feminism

pro-life fictions: Frank Peretti's "Prophet"

prophet

Today’s book review is from a guest writer, who has asked for his name to be withheld because his family is still staunchly pro-life.

In 1992, Peretti published Prophet, a novel about a mostly-agnostic news anchor who receives prophetic powers passed on from his fundamentalist religious father. The novel attempts to address a dizzying host of the usual conservative evangelical issues, such as environmentalism, gay rights, liberal media bias, consumerism, public education, medical malpractice, academic dishonesty, and even rock music. It’s also subtly racist. But the primary focus of the book is an assault on women’s rights in general, particularly abortion.

The protagonist, John Barrett, is a successful lead news anchor whose father embarrassingly insists on holding public protests against abortion. The story centers around the re-election campaign of pro-choice, pro-environmentalism, pro-education, pro-gay governor Hiram Slater, whose secret corruption and ties to unsavory characters make it clear that he is The Bad Guy. Following his father’s murder by the governor’s hencemen, Barrett receives his father’s prophetic gift and begins seeing visions and hearing voices.

As the story unfolds, it is revealed that multiple teenage girls have died from botched abortions at an “assembly-line” abortion clinic, and that numerous individuals are complicit in a wide cover-up. Barrett’s liberal supervisor tries to keep the story from breaking, but the truth comes out: Governor Slater’s own daughter Hillary was killed by the abortion clinic.

Gay rights advocates deface and vandalize a Catholic church, then hold a protest of the Church’s position on condom use the next day. The liberal media refuses to cover the vandalism, but happily covers the protest. The protesters are presumably “shown up” when Barrett receives a prophetic revelation that the leader of the gay rights group has hundreds of sexual partners and doesn’t use a condom… which apparently means that all criticisms of the Catholic position are baseless. It’s an appalling strawman of gay rights that fits very well with the extreme fundamentalism view: gay men are sex-obsessed, hypocritical, and willing to engage in violence in order to punish those who disapprove of their life choices.

The book constantly also goes to great lengths in trying to paint the media as corrupt, biased, and misleading. Inexplicably, Peretti devotes several large sections to arguing that basic broadcasting techniques like scripted questions, green screens, planned establishing shots, and talking into a teleprompter are somehow “liberal” and dishonest. Nearly every chapter contains a detailed description of one of Governor Slater’s re-election ads, painting liberal campaign advertising as manipulative and controlling. The television station receives revenue from the campaign ads and therefore skews its reporting in favor of Slater. It’s heavily implied that journalistic neutrality is impossible: that journalists are either “on the side of the truth” or otherwise liberal and biased and complicit in fraud.

But most egregious of all is the book’s portrayal of women’s health services. Pro-choice advocates are consistently shown taking every sort of immoral, unethical, and illegal steps in defense of their ideology. They pay off, intimidate, and threaten witnesses, provide tip offs to give other advocates the chance to destroy medical records, badger parents, obtain interviews under false pretenses, falsify records, start fights in order to smear pro-life protesters, and even hire hit men. They manipulate the facts and stonewall investigations. People searching for the truth are arrested, maligned, fired, and attacked. It is implied that women who have had abortions either find “forgiveness” and become fiercely pro-life, or they are consumed with guilt and shame and will go to any lengths to defend abortion from criticism.

The abortion clinics themselves are painted as dark, foreboding, unsavory places focused only on fast profit. Early in the story, a clinic worker lies to a patient and tells her that her pregnancy test came back positive in order to pressure her into having an abortion. Girls are badgered into signing consent forms they haven’t read and pushed through the process against their protests. Everyone who talks about the clinics mentions the screaming of terrified girls and the shouting of impatient doctors. It is stated repeatedly that the clinics try to do as many off-books abortions as possible to evade taxation and reporting requirements. Anyone who has had an abortion talks about how pressured they felt, how angry and bitter the staff seemed, and how much pain the procedure left them in. Clinic staff members are portrayed as uninformed, uncompassionate zealots who are only concerned with completing as many procedures as possible.

The following quotation, given by the “expert” Doctor Matthews who performed the autopsy on the governor’s daughter Hillary, very clearly demonstrates the book’s overall portrayal of abortion clinics.

You have to realize, abortion clinics aren’t like your typical family practice. They’re under tremendous pressure from two sources: money and fear.

On the one hand, abortions are lucrative; you can bring in a lot of money in a short time with minimum effort. The more abortions you do, the more money you make, so the natural inclination is to do them as quickly as possible and cut corners if you can. You get the procedure down to just a few minutes, you get an assembly line going, and you don’t hire RNs to help in the back rooms because they get too pick about procedure, sterilizing the equipment, sanitation. All that stuff takes time, and you can have some thirty girls waiting in line …

On the other hand, you’ve got the intense political pressure over this whole issue, which makes you circle the wagons all the tighter to protect yourself from intrusion, discovery, regulation, standardization. If you slip up, the last thing you want is for anyone to know about it, least of all your peers. There’s also an unwritten code out there: you don’t snitch—you don’t make trouble.

That’s the pro-life view of abortion clinics, of abortion doctors, of women’s health workers, and of women who get abortions.

I first read Prophet several years ago, and I believed all of this.

It’s easy to understand why rank-and-file members of the pro-life movement are so opposed to abortions when these fictions are taught and accepted as fact. Re-reading now, and recognizing what I’ve learned about women’s health in the past few years, I was incredibly appalled. More than that, I was saddened. All these lies provide the foundation for “conservative values” in the evangelical community. The amount of misinformation is staggering. It’s just a shame.

Like this novel.

Feminism

invasions of space: pro-life advocates and the buffer zone

benchby Farzi

One morning, during my second year in graduate school at Liberty University, the sun was bright, my hopes for the day optimistic and buoyant as I rounded the corner to the university’s main campus– and what I saw shook me. Even as I stood in line at Starbucks, then settled myself in the writing center, I couldn’t shake what I’d witnessed. My mind would flash back to that scorching-hot moment, and my breath would catch mid-sentence with the pain. People spent all day asking me what was wrong when I’d suddenly cut off, close my eyes, and try to cringe my way back into the moment.

The next morning, they were still there.

Picketers.

Holding signs.

With graphically violent, gut-wrenching, disturbing, horrifying, and vomit-inducing pictures.

Pictures of “abortion.”
(trigger warning)

I had to drive past them every day for a week. Every day they would scream at me in my car as I’d do my best to ignore them, to not look them in the eye. I would have to fight with myself for every single second of the rest of that day not to break– not to start weeping in front of a student, or in my office.

The first day they arrived, they tried to hold their demonstration on Liberty’s campus, but the university refused and then issued a very public statement that their presence was not approved by the college, and that the university disagreed with what they were doing. Instead, they stood just outside the private property– on a road that almost every single university student had to use in order to go to class and their jobs. I had to pass them every single day.

And, as the week wore on, as I had a panic attack every day from try to hold back the memories, as I thought what it would have been like to have needed to get to a clinic. What would it have been like to drive through a wall of people waving those signs and screaming at me, running in front of my car? What would it be like to try to get out of my car, with people taking pictures of me and shouting that they’ll find out who I am? What if they tracked me down and started calling me at my house? What if they made death threats? Threats that were serious– because some of them had actually carried it out?

The next week, when the pro-life group I was a part of asked me to drive them to the Richmond clinic, I said no. Even if I knew that this group didn’t do any of that, that all they did was sit in the car outside the clinic and pray and occasionally hold a sign saying “God loves you,” I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t be a part of a culture that even in its mildest forms is there to guilt and shame women.

~~~~~~~~~~

The Supreme Court is hearing a case from Massachusetts regarding buffer zones around women’s health clinics (I use that term instead of the more inflammatory “abortion clinic” because these clinics usually offer a host of free or cheap care for women who couldn’t otherwise afford it, things like breast exams). Since this process started, I’ve watched pro-choice and pro-life advocates on twitter and in comment sections rage at each other, and I can feel the same rage simmering inside of me.

I’ve seen what the people who want to eliminate any sort of buffer zone do, first-hand. I’ve heard, over the past few years, what seems like countless stories from escort volunteers and women visiting the clinic. They face a barrage of hate and vitriol, sometimes daily. Clinic workers and volunteers sometimes fear for their lives.

And it both breaks my heart and infuriates me because as well-intentioned as most of these picketers and protesters probably are, what they’re doing– it’s wrong. They lie and manipulate, they threaten and demean. Their tactics are not intended to demonstrate love, or compassion, but to intimidate and frighten, to guilt and shame. And while there are most likely many pro-life advocates who are just as repulsed as I am (after all, I was repulsed by it when I was still pro-life), there are whole organizations like Army for God and Operation Rescue who use bullhorns, loudspeakers, scaffolding, semi-trucks . . . and spend hours screaming at people that they are “worthy of nothing but disdain,” who upon the murder of a physician say things like  they are “mass muderders,” that their hands are “covered in blood,” and “We must continue to expose them in our communities . . . at their offices and homes, and yes, even their churches”– this, when Tiller was slaughtered the day before inside his own church.

This is not something that any Christian should be a part of. This should be a method, a culture of violence and rage and hate, that Christians loudly condemn. This should be universally decried, not something that many of us support.

EDIT: please read my comment policy before you comment. Personal attacks will mean you will be blocked.

Feminism, Social Issues

Ordeal of the Bitter Waters

mother and baby

I have gotten several comments and letters this week from readers who’ve indicated they would like to share my series on how I slowly changed my mind on the pro-life/pro-choice debate. I realize that sharing a series that’s six posts long can be difficult, so I’ve put links to them all in this post.

Thank you again for all the support you’ve shown me in the last couple of weeks.

Part One

Over the next few years, my views began developing. My perspective developed nuance. I accepted the confusion I felt about all these ideas as something I would struggle with; I decided I could live with the tension, the uncomfortable gray.

But, even through all of these subtle changes, I remained staunchly pro-life. I began thinking that maybe it wasn’t my place to campaign against what another woman wanted to do, but for me– well, I couldn’t budge on that. I believed that a zygote was a baby, and removing it was murder.

Part Two

But then I came staggering, bewildered, into the gray place. Because, at the time, I didn’t have the word rape for what had happened to me. The only thing I knew was that the thought of having my fiancé’s baby terrified me for reasons I couldn’t explain. I could not have his baby. I could not. And I didn’t understand why. But, in those weeks, before I either miscarried (most pregnancies fail in the first few weeks) or was merely late, I came to understand that there were probably thousands of girls who were so frightened they could barely breathe or eat or sleep, and I could no longer judge them– because I was one. It took me years to understand that one of the reasons why the thought of carrying my abuser’s baby frightened me beyond reason was that he was also my rapist.

And that’s when I understood that being pro-life and advocating for the rape exception was wrong.

Part Three

It bothered me that we could argue that conception was the moment of ensoulment, but that all these souls– all these billions and billions of fully human people– were dying in a matter of hours or days, and no one in the pro-life movement seemed to mind that it was happening. And it hit me: I didn’t value a zygote. I didn’t really see it as a person, with life. I believed that a zygote was a person in a rhetorical, philosophical sense– it was merely a logical place to draw the line.

Part Four

And none of these verses talked about identity, or personhood, or being-ness, but about what God knows. I realized that the fact David had chosen this metaphor was significant. He chose something so deeply mystery, a miracle beyond the comprehension of ancient civilization, to talk about what God understands, but he did not. The miracle of life being created in the womb has been one of the constant images in ancient religion; it was a process held as sacred and enshrined in idols, altars . . . He didn’t understand it anymore than I did, and that was why the metaphor was so poignant, why it mattered. It was beautiful, this metaphor, because of the not-knowing; David was trusting God with what he knew he couldn’t understand.

Part Five

But, as I read, something struck me. When they described the horrific plight of these women, they described these woman as surrounded by shame and ostracism– because their thighs are literally rotting away. For the women who survive, they are shunned by their families and communities because of this. It is not an image that I, as a modern American, am at all familiar with. I’m barely even aware of maternal mortality (although America’s rate is the same as Iran, Bahrain, and Hungary, and close to Saudi Arabia and Turkey)– but, it is an image that would have been common in the ancient middle East– and in 1611 England, when the translators chose the phrase “thigh to rot” for yarak naphal.

Part Six

In August, I finally came to terms with the concept of potential life, and that is when it finally, finally hit me: through most of my thoughts, my explorations, my research, I was almost exclusively focused on whether or not the zygote, the conceptus, and ultimately the fetus had fully endowed, inalienable human rights . . . and I realized that what I’d been reading from pro-choice women was absolutely, undeniably right in my own life– pro-life beliefs view women almost entirely as a vessel instead of as a person.

Feminism

ordeal of the bitter waters, part four

mother and baby

I stared at what I’d typed into Google. The blinking cursor was silent, patient, waiting for me to hit enter.

Verses in the Bible about abortion.

Blink. Blink. Blink.

I didn’t know what I was about to face. I knew I was about to wade chest-deep into pretty intense pro-life territory, a place where I would be jumping at shadows, wondering how much of what they said would be misrepresentations or merely misconceptions. But, I wasn’t looking for their argument– I only wanted to know where I needed to go looking. Finally, I hit enter, and started digging through the websites, writing down every single reference I could find. Eventually I closed out of the screen, shut down my computer, and started reading.

Over the next few days, I had sorted everything into patterns. First, the Bible seemed to be silent about abortion, which wasn’t initially a problem. The Bible isn’t comprehensive, and it’s not unusual for it not to talk about issues that seem vitally important today. Arguments were made from a variety of ideas:

Human beings are made in the image of God (Genesis 1, James 3, Acts 17). This is an important idea for the pro-life movement, because it’s the primary motivation for being pro-life. The imago dei is what makes human life sacred. The imago dei, not sentience, is what separates man from beast and makes humanity special. We are the children of God, made in his likeness. And while the doctrine of imago dei is one of the doctrines of Christianity that I cling to tenaciously– it is one of the most beautiful ideas in my entire religion– it doesn’t necessarily answer the question I had about conception.

Children are to be valued (Psalm 127, Matthew 18, Ephesians 6). I was familiar with this argument primarily from my research into Natural Family Planning; their stance toward anti-contraception is born in this concept. They value the lives of children and believe fervently, earnestly, that children are a gift, a blessing . . . but again, all of this is merely a rhetorical connection– and a fragile one at that. It doesn’t answer the question when does life begin?

There is life, even in the womb (Psalm 139, Psalm 22). These were the verses I was intimately familiar with. David, the psalmist, uses the image of himself in his mother’s womb in his poetry. But, as a student of literature, I had to ask the question: is a metaphor used in a poem enough? And what did these verses actually say? They were usually a testament to God’s fore-knowledge, in a similar sense that David also uses the metaphor of “the foundations of the earth.” And, again, I wasn’t denying that there is life, whatever it is, in the womb.

And none of these verses talked about identity, or personhood, or being-ness, but about what God knows. I realized that the fact David had chosen this metaphor was significant. He chose something so deeply mystery, a miracle beyond the comprehension of ancient civilization, to talk about what God understands, but he did not. The miracle of life being created in the womb has been one of the constant images in ancient religion; it was a process held as sacred and enshrined in idols, altars . . . He didn’t understand it anymore than I did, and that was why the metaphor was so poignant, why it mattered. It was beautiful, this metaphor, because of the not-knowing; David was trusting God with what he knew he couldn’t understand.

It took me a few days to grapple with all of these things, and I was left with just as much confusion as when I’d started. Months went by, and I was ready to give up entirely, when this showed up in my facebook feed in July:

In other words, this potion of “bitter water” will have no effect if the woman has been faithful, but if she’s cheated on her husband and gotten pregnant, it will rot her body and cause her to have a miscarriage. Whether or not you believe in this sort of black magic, the people who wrote it clearly did, and that tells us something about their worldview.

I couldn’t sleep that night.

At first, I didn’t even know what the hell the author, Adam Lee, was talking about. The concept that there was a passage in the Bible that not only allowed but mandated abortion was so utterly foreign to me I couldn’t- couldn’t— wrap my brain around it. And it wasn’t because I’d never read this passage before– I’ve read the Bible all the way through at least a dozen times, thanks to my fundamentalist upbringing. I’d never heard a sermon preached on Numbers 5, that was true, but I had to have been aware that this passage existed.

How did I miss this?

So, I went back and read the verse he cited in the version I would have read it in before:

And when he hath made her to drink the water, then it shall come to pass, that if she be defiled, and have done trespass against her husband, that the water that causeth the curse shall enter into her, and become bitter, and her belly shall swell, and her thigh shall rot: and the woman shall be a curse among her people.

That was a really big difference from the version Adam Lee had cited, which used the word “miscarry” instead of “thigh shall rot.”

So why did some versions translate this miscarry? How accurate of a translation was this? Was this passage talking about a woman becoming barren and diseased (which . . . still problematic), or was it talking about God– or the “bitter waters”– causing an abortion?

The first thing I did was write letters to all of the organizations that had decided to translate it miscarry, asking what their linguistic support was. The only organization that responded at all was Biblica, and they didn’t offer any evidence or support for their decision.

It was obvious I was going to have to look for answers on my own. But, I was going to have to do it with the handicap of knowing next to nothing about Hebrew (outside of a single semester in college and sleeping on Strong’s Concordance every night as a child). It didn’t take me long, however, to find that the words that were going to be my primary focus were יָרֵך נָפַל  (yarak naphal), שָׁכֹל (shakol), and יָצָא יֶלֶד (yeled yatsa). And the question I was going to have to answer was: Why did the man who wrote Numbers use yarak naphal in Numbers, when supposedly the same writer used yeled yatsa in Exodus? Or why hadn’t he used shakol, the word used in Hosea? Why yarak naphal? And what does yarak naphal actually mean? Does it mean “miscarriage”?

There was also a question I didn’t want to ask. But it was there, pressing, throbbing at the back of my mind, beating in my heart. If it does turns out that this passage is talking about God causing an abortion– what am I supposed to think about God? If an unborn baby is a fully human person, and God is willing to kill that baby just to prove a woman is adulterous . . .

I had a lot to lose.

Feminism

ordeal of the bitter waters, part three

mother and baby
This is simply my story of how I became pro-choice. I’m not writing this to convince anyone– it was a journey that took years, and what convinced me may not convince anyone else. I believe that writing my story for you is important; in all the reading I did during those years, I only found one person who was willing to explain what she had been through. Hearing her story helped me process what I was going through. I hope it does the same for someone else.

For over a year I existed in that place of tension– somewhere in-between pro-choice and pro-life, uncertain of some things, yet completely certain of others.

One of the things I was utterly certain of was that a fetus was a person. Another thing I was also completely certain of was that this was the only real question regarding the pro-choice/pro-life debate: Pro-choice people believe that a fetus was not a person, pro-life people believe that it is, and that was that.

The reason I believed that a fetus was a person, endowed with the same inalienable rights as all other persons, was, of course, my religion. I had been raised a Christian, and excepting a four-year period when I didn’t particularly care if God existed or not, Christianity’s principles regarding the sacredness of all life, including the lives of the unborn, was something I simply accepted. There were nebulous, unformed arguments I knew of– things about Elizabeth’s son, John the Baptist, leaping in her womb and being fearfully and wonderfully made. It was just a part of my faith. For me, life began at conception. It was the only way I knew how to think about this mystery, this miracle, in hard, concrete terms.

And then, in November 2012, when I was researching NFP versus hormonal contraception, I stumbled across this:

So let’s get this straight, taking birth control makes a woman’s body LESS likely to dispel fertilized eggs. If you believe that life begins at conception, shouldn’t it be your moral duty to reduce the number of zygote “abortions?” If you believe that a zygote is a human, you actually kill more babies by refusing to take birth control.

I . . . had never heard this before. It took me a while just to process what I’d read. A woman’s body naturally expels the vast majority of fertilized eggs? I was faced with a conundrum I had never encountered before: what is conception? Does it really happen when sperm meets egg? How can that be, when up to 80% of all zygotes are naturally aborted? I read the common arguments– that this is just a natural part of the reproductive process. However, I noticed a contradiction I couldn’t overcome. In discussions concerning hormonal contraception, what frequently came up was that if the body expels it naturally, it’s normal and acceptable, but if a woman swallows a pill, it’s . . . murder? That didn’t make any sense to me. If the “intention” of not wanting to become pregnant makes it murder, how is not doing everything within our power to save this fully endowed human life not at least medical neglect? No one seemed to be very bothered by the fact that perhaps 80% of the human population was being decimated by “natural processes.” If conception really happens when the egg is fertilized . . . how is that anything less than a horrific tragedy?

It bothered me that we could argue that conception was the moment of ensoulment, but that all these souls– all these billions and billions of fully human people– were dying in a matter of hours or days, and no one in the pro-life movement seemed to mind that it was happening. And it hit me: I didn’t value a zygote. I didn’t really see it as a person, with life. I believed that a zygote was a person in a rhetorical, philosophical sense– it was merely a logical place to draw the line.

My initial response was simply to bump it forward: oh, that must mean that conception happens when the egg implants on the uterine wall, which is how the medical community defines pregnancy. But . . . up to 70% of all pregnancies are also naturally aborted.

The confusion was overwhelming. I avoided thinking about it– really thinking about it– for months, simply because I couldn’t handle it. The closest word I have to describe my feelings when I tried to wrestle with this issue was panic. This was the first time I started reading about, and actually considering, the concept potential life. In the evangelical atmosphere I’d grown up in, there was no such thing as “potential life”– things are either alive, or they are not. It is a alive, or it is a rock. It is alive, or it is dead. There’s no such thing as some nebulous, murky, in-between life-but-not-alive state. That was simply a rhetorical invention of anti-life people who want the right to murder babies.

Which, I ironically discovered, is not really true. In fact, “potential life” is a very, very old concept:

And therefore the following question may be very carefully inquired into and discussed by learned men, though I do not know whether it is in man’s power to resolve it: At what time the infant begins to live in the womb: whether life exists in a latent form before it manifests itself in the motions of the living being.

St. Augustine, from If They have Ever Lived

St. Augustine wrote that. Augustine. And he wrote it sometime in the early 5th century. Christianity had been wrestling with the concept of potential life almost as long as it had existed. I knew that Augustine was influenced by the classical Greek authors who also all believed in some pre-life-yet-life-state, but he was not alone. The idea of potential life was one of the first that I discovered that I immediately latched on to; something inside of me resonated with this idea. Intuitively, it felt true. It made sense. It aligned with not only my experiences, but what I was starting to feel was a communal experience: somehow, as a pregnancy progresses from zygote to baby, we respond to that.

And pro-life people are not the only ones who feel this way:

It was when I [Noami Wolf] was four months pregnant, sick as a dog, and in the middle of an argument, that I realized I could no longer tolerate the fetus-is-nothing paradigm of the pro-choice movement. I was being interrogated by a conservative, and the subject of abortion rights came up. “You’re four months pregnant,” he said. “Are you going to tell me that’s not a baby you’re carrying?”

Had I not been so nauseated and so cranky and so weighed down with the physical gravity of what was going on inside me, I might not have told what is the truth for me. “Of course it’s a baby,” I snapped. And went rashly on: “And if I found myself in circumstances in which I had to make the terrible decision to end this life, then that would be between myself and God.”

But, even as I settled into this concept of potential life,  I realized that I was in serious trouble. Because, the only concrete thing I was clinging to had evaporated. The unshakable belief that conception is the beginning and conception is life was gone, and I couldn’t touch bottom. If there is no beginning, if there’s this slow, inexorable process of not-quite-life-becoming-life, then I had to ask myself the question: am I even pro-life at all?

So, in my twilight hour, when I had completely exhausted every other resource, when there was nothing left to research, no more perspectives left to read and understand, no other opinions to listen to, no more facts . . . I opened my Bible, hoping that it would be the place I could discover some kind of an answer. And, for what was probably the first time in my life, I turned to the Bible completely empty of what I believed it said. I didn’t know what it said at all.

What I found shocked me.