Abortion, Baaaabiiiieeezzzz, Feminism, Justify Your Existence

JUSTIFY MY GUT: Patriarchy and the burden of evidence

[TW: Patriarchal privilege, discussion of abortion]

I am still thinking about and working through the Fat Acceptance issues. Haven’t processed or formed enough coherent thought that synthesizes what I’ve learned to write about it. Education continues.

Moving on to something about which I have very definite opinions, I was spazzing to a male coworker last week about the dumb fucking abortion idiocy going on in our home country (we’re expats), and then moved into my personal feelings. If I got pregnant now, I strongly suspect I would feel as though I had been colonized by a parasite. His reaction to the word parasite was extreme and obvious discomfort, and he sent me this message later (through Facebook, the obvious medium of all important discussion?). So here is his message, and my analysis and response, which is fairly close to what I sent him. And yes, I use Pinky as an alias, as in “Pinky and the Brain.” Also, if you know better, more up-to-date statistics than those I found, please share!

One last note: I am using “woman/women” as if women are the only ones who have pregnancies/abortions. I apologize but it is faster than typing out “Uterus possessors” every time, and the majority of pregnancies are carried about by women.

Green is his letterpurple is my reply, and black are the blog special bits.


Dear [Pinky],
We might have to wait until our next conversation session, but I have to tell you somthing that’s been buggin me.

Perhaps I wasn’t articulating it well because I was predistracted with cleaning, but here we go.

I understand you point and what you’re saying, but your stance that babies are like paracites bugs me on a couple different levels.

Like I said; I understand what you’re getting at, but I would becareful using that metaphore.

So, “I understand” but it “bugs me” so “I” (meaning “YOU”) “would” (meaning “should”) “be careful” (meaning “NOT EVER SAY IT AGAIN”). Also the paternalistic attitude inherent in the “I think you’re too foolish to know that saying this is somewhat upsetting to some people, so I’m gonna be a gosh-darn stand-up guy and warn you so you don’t get hurt! Aw, how sweet. *VOM* Honestly, I can’t ever imagine a woman framing an objection to the fetus-as-parasite paradigm phrasing her discomfort as a desire to protect me from offending people…

For one, I think it feeds right into the pro-“life” stance that pro-choicers are baby haters. If a pro-“life”-er heard you say that they’d have a field day.

A core goal of the pro-life stance is to silence women and their experiences. I am not alone in my parasitical feelings. I polled 6 women I know this weekend, and while some of them said if they got pregnant, they might personally not feel that it was a parasite per se, not a single one of them had any problem with calling it that – they all seemed to feel that the analogy was apt. These people include [your good friend], my new coworker [whom you don’t know but is very much more female than you], [another friend of yours who is also female], and others. Yes, it might feed into anti-choice narratives of pro-choicers being baby-haters – but they are fucking crazy. I feel I’m under pretty much 0 obligation to deny the real experiences and thoughts of many women for the sake of crazy woman-hating assholes. Here are two good blogs by women about their abortions. One of them nicknamed her fetus “Tumor,” and the other describes how, even when she chose (later) to carry a pregnancy to term, “I did not enjoy being pregnant. I felt invaded by an alien life form. I had been invaded by an alien life form, albeit one who shared some of my genes. But I choose to bring it to term, and I was very lucky that he turned out to be healthy and beautiful and himself.”

Antichoicers have “field days” with much less than calling a fetus a parasite – and their views are not very much based in reality. Socially denying the validity of women’s feelings about their bodies and the fetuses that might be in them doesn’t take those feelings away, it tells some women that they are wrong, or broken, or bad, or evil. It takes away their ability to speak about what is happening to them, and their ability to find the support and validation of the other women out there who also feel the same way and also feel alone. That’s why these abortion bloggers and anyone who is sharing zer abortion story are so brave and so necessary and so fucking AWESOME – because they are telling the truth about their experiences so other people know they are not alone, and also know what they might expect to experience during an abortion.

Also, I think some people (especially mothers) might find it offensive. I was a bit shocked to hear it myself, but I knew what you were getting at and wasn’t offended by it.

God forbid I should offend a man (who will never be pregnant) with my silly female opinion about fetuses. The thing is, people are offended by STUFF. All kinds of stuff. And that offense is totally valid and should always be discussed. But someone else’s offense should not be used to SILENCE other people and deny their feelings validity, particularly when the people you are silencing are the marginalized group*. If you say I shouldn’t compare a fetus to a parasite because it offends you, or some moms, or the Pope, or whoever, you are saying that your/their offense is more valid/worthy/moral/important than my feelings on the matter. And silencing the very real feelings of women who actually go through the experiences of pregnancy, birth, abortion, etc. is Patriarchal Domination and Prolife-Hating 101.

Also please note the horrific attempt at gender positioning. “I am a man! But mothers are women! And some women might not like what you have to say, so you shouldn’t say that thing that makes me uncomfortable. THINK OF THE MOTHERS!!! ZOMGasjdhdfjshd!!” Ahem. Women are allowed to disagree with each other, you know. That doesn’t mean you get to project your discomfort onto certain groups of women and then use that to silence me. Any actual mothers I know want to comment on this?

*Of course it’s tricky in cases of marginalized/marginalizer dialogue – in some cases self-righteous fucktards SHOULD be silenced because they are spewing offensive bullshit. But if that person is at all willing to listen and self-examine (an unfortunately rare condition), merely shutting them down is not productive. Instead, asking them to examine why they are so uncomfortable questioning their own assumptions invites them to dive in to their offensive opinions and reevaluate them – in which case you must not silence them, because that only makes them shut down or hide those biases – it doesn’t encourage them to root them out. In some cases it can even reinforce prejudice – “God! All these black people! So touchy about slavery! How irrational!”A good non-white friend once told me that it was great that I am an ally for people of color (because apparently white (peach?) is not a color…), but what I really needed was a White Ally (another white person who is also an ally of people of color), someone of my race and privilege with whom to talk openly about the resistances we experience on our journey towards becoming openminded, for the precise reason that a person of color would likely be offended and unwilling to continue the dialogue, even though the goal of such a discussion would be to eradicate my prejudice. It’s totally valid for the marginalized not to want to hear that shit, and it’s not their jobs to educate us privileged fuckheads, but to deny that speaking about it is necessary for personal transformation is naive at best.

Still… I’d be very cautious to who you say it to. You don’t want to set your argument that. It’s an extreme thing to say and many people, when they hear something extreme like that, they start to discredit everything else you say.

Trust me, I like to say boneheaded things just to push peoples buttons, but because I do that nobody takes me seriously even when I have a brilliant idea!!.

Prolife people are going to discredit what I say *anyway* because I’m pro-choice, and I never argued that all women must feel that fetuses are parasites. I said that is how I would feel if I happened to be colonized by an embryo that would steal all my resources without so much as a by-your-leave. I can tell you have some gut resistance to the idea of fetus-as-parasite, but I would say the only reason that it’s not, by definition, is because some definitions of parasite include a clause about being of different species. The fact is, a fertilized egg burrows into the uterine lining and surrounds itself with my blood, takes my nutrients, and can severely endanger my life in order to preserve its own. I don’t have any say in how much of my resources the fetus co-opts, and the fetus doesn’t support my life or health in any way. It is a colonization. Just because you have warm fuzzy feelings about babies and our species doesn’t make it NOT a bodily takeover. It’s just welcome in some instances, and not in others. Yes, women are “designed” for this particular colonization, but that doesn’t change the fact that it makes you feel like shit and endangers your health. There are some women who would feel this is an extreme position, but I doubt the sane ones would deny me the right to feel the way I feel.

Also, After reading and doing some research on some of the stats you’ve been throwing my way I think I disagree with your belief that abortion is safer than child birth.

Care to share any of these sources that you’ve done such diligent research on? I notice you decline to provide them, which is usually not standard procedure when you’re trying to convince someone of your point of view. Did you perchance stumble on statistics provided by prolife websites?

The way I read the numbers is that abortion is outragiously dangerous, HOWEVER; we have the medical technology to make it safe and as of now, in the USA our technology makes the abortion option safer.

I’m not even sure how you managed to make this sentence. Abortion is dangerous, but it’s not because technology makes it safe…so it’s safe, then? Illegal abortions are unsafe because they’re not up to the professional standard of care that medical providers are held to – it’s the difference between any other home surgery and a surgery in a hospital. Duh it’s unsafe to give yourself a lobotomy in your bathroom.

And seriously, think about this for a second: you’re saying that getting a cluster of cells the size of a pinto bean sucked out through your cervix, or detached from the uterine lining in another way and passing out through the vagina is MORE DANGEROUS than shoving a giant baby through your pelvis? More dangerous, for that matter, than growing a giant mass in your abdomen that rearranges your internal organs, drastically alters your body chemistry, makes you puke every day for months, and steals your food? Seriously, do you think babies just sort of feed off the eggs’ yolk sacs?

The woman is providing all the substance that makes a freaking baby inside her. That is some complex shit. When you think about the sheer number of things that could go wrong in such an involved process, it’s amazing complications, miscarriages, and fetal abnormalities aren’t more common than they are! And to claim that abortion is more dangerous because it’s “unnatural” is to totally disregard the fairly straightforward nature of the intervention, and the extremely complex and totally mindblowingly awesome (in the original sense of full of AWE) process that is cooking up a baby!

But, because the states has one of the worst mother and infant mortality rates in developed countries I would emplore you to explore the stats of other countries that have lower M/I rates such as Korea, Cuba, and some European countries. Perhaps in other countries keeping the baby is the safer option. Just a thought!

(Below is a paste of my reply, but first: that “Just a thought!” bullshit made me lose my shit. “I’m not going to do any research or back my opinion up in any way, but you’re totally wrong and obviously haven’t thought about this at all! Just a thought! Lulz!”)

I feel a little angry that you’re putting the burden of backing up or undermining your gut instinct on me (“That’s where the truth lies, right down here in the gut. Do you know you have more nerve endings in your gut than you have in your head? You can look it up. Now, I know some of you are going to say, “I did look it up, and that’s not true.” That’s ’cause you looked it up in a book. Next time, look it up in your gut. I did. My gut tells me that’s how our nervous system works.” –Colbert).

You’re trying to convince me of your point of view. You should do some research and learn whether or not your instincts are founded. I understand the following comparison might be a little offensive to you, but this is what conservatives have been doing to liberals for YEARS. “We know we’re right! We are under no obligation to support our views! If you just did the proper reasearch, you will find that you are wrong! But I’m not going to do it, because I’m obviously right.” [liberal dutifully consults reality, presents facts] “Your facts must be wrong! My worldview says so!” I know you’re open-minded and willing to change your opinion based on actual information, but you have to realize that passing the burden of proof to the other party reflects a basic unwillingness to challenge your own assumptions. It’s definitely not a tactic that makes you look intelligent or open-minded. (You are both, and I think you could benefit from using conversation strategies that reflect that. Also, evidence makes your arguments a hell of a lot more convincing.) [notice me layering on “you’re not a bad person!” bullshit in hopes that the message will actually get through. fuuuuucking hell.]

That said, I did do some research, and since I went to all the trouble, I will share it with you.

According to the information I could find, Ireland has one of the lowest maternal mortality rates in the world. In the year 2000, it was 4 deaths per 100,000 live births. In the United States, the statistics I found for abortion-related deaths were 1/1,000,000 for surgical abortion, and 1/100,000 for medical abortion (source) Numerous organizations dedicated to accurate information about abortions have stated that abortion at all gestational ages is less risky to the health of the mother than carrying to term.

Here is an OBGYN commenting on the risks of medical abortion (pill): “Hence, the estimated case-fatality rate for mifepristone abortion is 0.8 deaths per 100,000 procedures (95% confidence interval, 0.2–2.4 by Poisson distribution). This risk is statistically indistinguishable from the risk of death from spontaneous abortion (0.7 per 100,000 miscarriages) [2]. The risk is also comparable to that associated with induced abortion overall (mostly surgical procedures) (0.7 deaths per 100,000 procedures) [3]. The risk of death from either spontaneous or induced abortion, including mifepristone medical abortion, is much lower than that associated with childbirth. In 1997, the pregnancy-related mortality ratio was 12.9 deaths per 100,000 live births” (source)

Here is a quote from a study from an OBGYN medical journal: “During 1972–1997, a total of 337 deaths determined to be causally related to legal induced abortions was identified by the Abortion Mortality Surveillance System for an overall legal induced abortion–related mortality rate of 1.1 deaths per 100,000 legal induced abortions” – a rate lower than even the maternal mortality rate in Ireland in 2000.

From the same source, in 1997, there were 0.6 deaths per 100,000 abortions performed in the USA. At 8 weeks or less gestation, the mortality rate for the entire period from 1988-1997 was 0.1 deaths per 100,000 legal abortion procedures. For more than 21 (just 8-9 weeks shy of “viability” – the time when a fetus has a decent chance of surviving outside the womb on its own) weeks gestation in the same period, it was 8.9 deaths per 100,000 legal abortion procedures – higher than the risk of maternal death in Ireland in 2000, but not higher than the maternal mortality rate in the USA. Further, going down to 16-20 weeks gestation, the 8.9 deaths/100,000 falls to 3.4/100,000 – STILL LESS than Ireland’s maternal mortality rate. (you can download the PDF of this source)

Also might I point out that abortions in countries where it is widespread, legal, and relatively unstigmatized, abortions are also safer than in America, where anti-choice objection to it obstructs research, development, and implementation of better techniques. (Okay, I just made that up – I have no statistical support. It’s one of those things that seems logically likely, and I wouldn’t assert it again until I have evidence.) Unfortunately, I couldn’t find statistics from the UK for abortion-related deaths. I did find that ALL abortion complications (sepsis, hemorrage, that kind of thing) in 2009 occured in 2 out of 1000 legal abortions.

In the US, getting recent abortion mortality statistics is difficult. This report from the CDC is the best I could do, and it can’t make a #/100,000 procedures because of insufficient reporting – another reason the debate around abortion is so poisonous – we can’t even get accurate numbers about a legal medical procedure! It states that in 2006, there were 6 deaths related to legal abortion procedures. 6 total.

One other thing, and I wonder if you agree with me or not, but…..

I’m starting to think in extreme cases (like the one you stated earlier) where a girl has 15 abortions in 15 years there should be some legislation. There’s obviously something going on there and I think it would be the clinics’ responisibility to report something like that. She could very well be in danger. I’m not sayin prevent her from getting it, but there’s obviously a bigger issue. When does the red-flag go up? What do you tink?

I think yes, a red flag should go up and any responsible physician should try to figure out what is going on with this woman and try to help her have fewer abortions, but she should never, ever, ever be forced to continue a pregnancy she doesn’t want. Women don’t get abortions for fun. Abortions are definitely not more convenient than other forms of birth-control, that viewpoint is absolutely ludicrous. That’s why, however, we need to get rid of the stigma surrounding abortion – so that we can get accurate reports and statistics, so women can have their normal health-care providers perform abortions so they have doctors they trust who give a shit about their well-being keeping track of this kind of shit. Period.

One last thing. I know dudes hate to be told they don’t know and can’t imagine what it’s like, but I think it’s true. I was talking to [your other friend] about abortion yesterday, and [friend 1] was arguing his point and telling me he had a perfectly adequate imagination up to the task of imagining pregnancy. Later on in the evening, he was talking about his allergies and how he used to dismiss people who complained about allergies as pussies because really, it couldn’t be that bad. He said prior to personally experiencing allergies, he couldn’t properly know what it was like and now he feels much more sympathy for allergy sufferers. And so I would ask you to think about a situation like that – where prior to your experience you thought your imagination sufficient, but subsequently realized the inadequacy of thought experiments, and apply that logic to pregnancy and abortion. Please don’t tell women how they should feel about their bodies and their inner workings based on your feelings and imaginings. Not only is it a completely different experience for women, all women are unique in their experiences of abortion, pregnancy, and birth, and can’t be lumped together meaningfully. Even my assertion that I would feel colonized by a parasite is only my best conjecture, given that I have never been pregnant. Maybe I would actually feel differently if it happened. I have no idea.

Keep thinking and researching. I know you’re a decent guy and you want to be a good lady-ally. Don’t make women do all the work, hey? You are a son and husband, and might be the dad of girl someday. I think you owe it to them to think deeply about and validate women’s experiences and how they are different from your own.

P.S. Doesn’t that “she could be in danger!” paternalism just make you grind your molars into nothing? If you’re uncomfortable with abortion, you’re uncomfortable with abortion, but the whole tone of this letter was just off the charts “I MUST VALIDATE MY DISCOMFORT! SMOKE MIRRORS SMOKE MIRRORS PATERNALISM SMOKE MIRRORS SMOKE MIRRORS!”


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