Recognizing Female Personhood

by: Natasha Chart

Thu Mar 11, 2010 at 08:00

I'm delighted that Rep. Bart Stupak (D-USCCB) is getting a pro-choice primary challenger, Connie Saltonstall, to take him to task for shafting his constituents on health care in order to shaft the nation's entire female population on the question of their autonomy.

It's been a long time since the days when it was common for middle-class, adult white women in the US to die from desperate, illegal abortions, so the nation forgets how bad it used to be. Stupak has capitalized on that, on the acceptability of misogyny, in order to turn himself from 'Bart who?' to the man that's helping Catholic Bishops all over the country change the subject away from their decades-long tolerance of pedophilia and towards their attempt to impose theocracy.

Though if you were looking, you'd be able to tell that banning abortion was a cruel, abuse-enabling, sometimes deadly thing to do to women. Stupak doesn't care about that, nor does much of the rest of Congress. The president doesn't seem very bothered by it, either.

But hey, most of them can't get pregnant, so why should they give a damn?

Natasha Chart :: Recognizing Female Personhood

The recession has officially hit men harder, but single women with children, who faced a worse employment situation to begin with, have really been devastated.

To say it's hard to be a single mother glosses over the fact that aside from the reasons why single parenthood would be hard for anyone, even educated, middle class, married women haven't figured out how to avoid falling into mommy-track career purgatory and lowered salaries for the rest of their lives. For low-income women, whose jobs are likely less flexible than professional work, less likely to have paid leave or benefits, the struggle to make ends meet is enormous. In a country with as weak a safety net, and as great a need, as the US, it's entirely rational to be afraid of being poor, or becoming moreso.

Speaking of which, these are some of women's most common reasons for seeking an abortion, emphasis mine:

- The reasons women give for having an abortion underscore their understanding of the responsibilities of parenthood and family life. Three-fourths of women cite concern for or responsibility to other individuals; three-fourths say they cannot afford a child; three-fourths say that having a baby would interfere with work, school or the ability to care for dependents; and half say they do not want to be a single parent or are having problems with their husband or partner.

For black women, with a median wealth of $5 and alarmingly much of the black male population either incarcerated or part of the ex-felon under caste, the money concerns go double. It's therefore particularly insulting that anti-choice fanatics campaign as if black women were gullible victims of women's clinics and not deliberate seekers of care they believe they need.

Sixty percent of women who seek an abortion already have one or more children and know very well what it means to have a baby and be responsible for its care.

So I can only regard a recent spate of laws that seek to make even miscarriages a criminal matter on the basis of fetal personhood as an obscene failure to either empathize with the difficulty of women's lives or trust them to know best how to live those lives. Because if women are to be full persons under the law, we must own our bodies and the right to make decisions about what's to be done with them.

Enabling Abuse

This is a good synopsis of how partner abuse can pass under the radar due to the carefully cultivated charm of an abuser and the psychological manipulation that leaves their partner, stressed, worn down and feeling crappy about themselves. That same dynamic within a relationship can hide pressures to pregnancy that range from subtle bullying to deliberate, perhaps covert, interference with birth control.

Partner abuse can take many forms, including unwanted pregnancy:

... Sexual coercion and "reproductive control," including contraceptive sabotage, are a common, and devastating, facet of dating and domestic abuse. A growing number of studies, experts and young women themselves are testifying to boyfriends demanding unprotected sex, lying about "pulling out," hiding or destroying birth control - flushing pills down the toilet, say - and preventing (or, in some cases, forcing) abortion. ...

The study outlined at the links notes the influence of these more subtle forms of abuse in high teen pregnancy rates, but some adult women can face the same pressures.

When a woman is in an abusive relationship, whether it's outright illegal, or just some jerk of a teenager flushing his girlfriend's birth control pills, giving a woman no way out of an unwanted pregnancy hands all her rights to someone who has no respect for her at all.

We recognize this in the case of rape or incest, but not only isn't every situation as clear cut as that, we do live in a country where 'she was asking for it' can still win sympathy for rapists. Most rape victims will never tell their stories to law enforcement.

Bart Stupak doesn't have to be there personally to cover her mouth or flush the pills, but he and all his allies might as well be. From a distance, without knowing anything about an individual's situation, or their ability to meet a legal burden of proof in order to get needed care, Stupak would like to enable abusive men all over the country to more easily get the women in their lives pregnant and keep them that way.

If the excuse for that is not knowing any better, well, bull. Anyone so bloody ignorant about what it means to be a woman, that they don't know how common rape and abuse are in our lives, has just got no damn business making laws about women's health care.

I mean, some people talk about a rape 'exception' as though rape were rare and exceptional. Those people are dangerous f*cking idiots.

Sometimes Deadly

I mentioned up top about how the extension of abortion rights to adult white, middle class women who could afford it (well, and poorer women lucky enough to live near an inexpensive women's health clinic that hasn't been shut down by a mob,) had made the specter of how bad things were before legal abortion fade into the background.

But I don't have to speculate about how bad things would be for those women if abortion were made unavailable again. I just have to look at what happens to the other populations of women who've had it taken away from them because some guy who didn't know them decided that he knew better than they did.

For instance, I know candidate Obama mocked having a health exception for abortion in cases where the mother's mental health is at risk, but women can become suicidal when faced with an unwanted pregnancy or because they have a history of pregnancy-related depression. Suicide risks are taken seriously among the prison population, but women, eh, who cares.

What could possibly go wrong with forcing an unstable person to go through a painful, traumatic event and then committing them to an enormous amount of responsibility?

Women who take their own lives, or who suffer from severe postpartum depression and take their children's lives, are rare, unlike rape victims. Though in Andrea Yates' case, she was part of a fanatical, if small, subculture in the US that believed a woman's role was to have children, as many as she could. For Yates, who believed in her faith so strongly that the imminent threat of hell for her children was real to her, this can be regarded as not only a de facto restriction on abortion, but any form of birth control, and her partner insisted on sticking to this dogma even when her doctors told him that she was a suicide risk. It was deadly.

Poor women, a permanent favorite target of social conservatives, have long been denied abortions through the Hyde amendment. Because they can't afford private health care and the federal government refuses to pay for full reproductive health care, they comprise a class of women in the US for whom abortion might almost as well be illegal.

The Hyde amendment passed in 1976, it killed Rosie Jimenez in 1977, when she decided that she could neither afford a second child nor a legal abortion. She went to a back alley provider to try and terminate her pregnancy and died.

Parental consent laws take away the rights of women who can't vote yet in order to make parents who can vote feel better. Indiana's parental consent law killed Becky Bell in 1988, because she refused to tell her parents she was pregnant. Bell died of a severe infection and hemorrhaging from her botched, illegal abortion, and her parents started campaigning against such laws.

Maybe Bell's parents would have dealt with it fine, maybe they would have helped her get the abortion she wanted. But she should have been able to get the care she needed in confidentiality from a licensed physician, the sort of doctor-patient confidentiality even recovering drug addicts are allowed to expect, and if she'd gotten that basic respect, she might be alive today.

People aren't always good at estimating risk and we get embarrassed sometimes for very little cause, such that the embarrassment can seem worse than threats to our health. That's why your doctors aren't allowed to just tell anyone why you visit them, because the greater good is that people seek care and get or stay healthy, not sit at home too ashamed to talk to anyone. When it comes to pregnancy, a fraught and stigmatized condition, this can be deadly.

Last, let's take the most straightforward case, where a pregnancy directly threatens a woman's life.

The Catholic Church has successfully pushed the nation of Nicaragua to criminalize all abortion, and all medical treatment that could result in abortion. So no matter who you are in Nicaragua, if you can't afford to leave the country, you could be the next Rosie Jimenez or Becky Bell. Or, you could be a 27-year-old Amelia, mother of a 10-year-old girl who's been diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer. Amelia has been denied treatment for cancer because it might terminate her pregnancy, though the cancer is likely to kill both her and the fetus before the pregnancy comes to term.

Forced birth proponents like to pretend that nothing ever happens that threatens a woman's life during pregnancy or medically justifies an abortion, but it isn't true.

This same sectarian social movement that wants to ban abortion also pushes for restrictions on contraceptive access, pushes to have fetuses recognized as persons with rights superseding their worthless hosts, pushes to jail women for trying to end a pregnancy without permission and make miscarriages a matter for criminal investigation.

The Catholic Church, having gotten full abortion bans in Nicaragua and El Salvador, would surely like to add more countries to the list. No matter that in Kenya, complications from illegal abortions (and they're almost all illegal) are responsible for about a fifth of all maternal deaths. The Church seems happy to work with any and all allies that will let them continue their work to end the autonomy of women during their childbearing years.

Deaths would follow such bans, as well as many more numerous stories of private misery and hardship. Things only work out all right in the end every time in fairy tales, or the minds of people who believe that there's an afterlife that will make up for how crappy we treat each other in our time on earth. I waver about whether I believe in an afterlife, but I don't waver in the opinion that it's a stupid belief to base policy on.


There are just people in this world whose religious beliefs don't allow them to care whether or not women suffer or die because of pregnancy. Their motives, their 'real' feelings, are irrelevant. The fact is, preserving women's well-being doesn't matter to them, it's not actionable.

So I'd think they wouldn't be allowed to make policies about decisions that should only be made by people who really care about the outcome. That would be wrong though, because they seem to get extra clout, instead, by virtue precisely of not caring what happens to women.

Which is why I'm donating to Saltonstall next payday. I'm broke and I barely knew who Stupak was a few months ago, but I'm tired of having politicians say that my life, or that of other women, is worthless beyond having children.

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Thank you for this comprehensive outline of the issue. (4.00 / 4)
Less than human. Thats the equation that comes into effect that allows empathy to be eliminated.

Empathy, the ability to feel the pain of other people, is the central pillar of mental health. Without it a person is deeply crazy. Pathological.

Arranging for the devaluation of empathy through social systems has to be the social equivalent.

Fascists called the groups they wanted eliminated mud people, the jews, the socialists, gay people, gypsies were all headed to the ovens, while the camp civilians and military and spouses lived as if normal, had weekend parties, hat wearing bottle emptying parties, and took photos of their frivolity.

Because after being devalued, their victims then deserved their treatment, they were less than human.


The government has a defect: it's potentially democratic. Corporations have no defect: they're pure tyrannies. -Chomsky

I would just like to point out (4.00 / 7)
that many people who can't get pregnant care deeply about the issue of choice as well as the other issues you lay out.  Michelle Bachman can get pregnant and I can't, but I guarantee I am more on your side than she'll ever be and there are lots of other men like me.

Thanks, it's appreciated (4.00 / 4)
It really was gratifying to me, once this story managed to get itself on the radar, how many male progressives really did give a damn about it and considered it important enough to complain about without being told to. Got to have partners in the fight :)

[ Parent ]
Stupak needs to go. (0.00 / 0)
I remember watching a video recently hosted by the late Peter Jennings from 2000, about the power of the NRA.  Stupak voted for a gun control law with some mild restrictions, if I remember correctly, and the result was that the NRA threw everything it had at trying to unseat him.  How can someone brave enough to take on the National Rifle Association be such a coward that he cannot bring himself to support a woman's right to an abortion?  And what legislation has he supported, if any, that supports comprehensive sex education and the dissemination of information that would lead to reductions in unwanted pregnancies?  What is his record on support for prenatal health care for women, especially low-income women?

Stupak belongs to a class of subhumans that simply has no empathy for the suffering of others, suffering he helps cause and helps to continue.  They have no conscience, no sense of right or wrong or compassion like the rest of us do, that would force him to do what's right by those who are the least fortunate.  He needs to finally be voted out of office and replaced with a true progressive.

"Given the choice between a Republican and someone who acts like a Republican, people will vote for the real Republican all the time." -- Harry S. Truman

Well, Stupak's been phenomenally cowardly here. (4.00 / 2)
As Ezra Klein points out:
Stupak's feigned "moral" commitment all while very carefully failing to take on much more powerful middle class women, women who would have money and voice that the poor women impacted here do not.

[ Parent ]
It's not cowardice. (4.00 / 1)
He's not afraid to stand up for abortion rights because he doesn't believe in abortion rights. He's being courageous in standing up for what he believes; what he believes in just happens to be a world without choice.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not a fan. But it's not cowardice that's driving him here.  

[ Parent ]
Yes, Michael Moore Pointed This Out On Rachel Maddow (4.00 / 1)
Moore was exactly the opposite of his stereotype: very nuanced, gave Stupak credit for standing up the NRA, didn't say anything nasty about him, but simply said that he had to go, more in sorry than in anger.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
"most of them can't get pregnant" Hehehe, indeedy! (0.00 / 0)
But, seriously, there can't be any doubt that Congressmen would treat that issue totally differently if it could happen to them. Just imagine the bible would say something about prostate surgery (I guess you can find somehting in the Old Testimony that could be interpreted in that way). Would all those brave abortion opponents show the same determination in fighting those procedures, even though it would increase their own risk of a premature death ? Absolutely not likely.

Great points, good story, Natasha! But pls don't let all those atrocities drag you down so much. Always look on the bright sides of life...

When you're chewing on life's gristle... (4.00 / 1)
[ Parent ]
Btw, somewhat OT, but what has Kos ever done against Stupak? (4.00 / 1)
He caame out sswining aginst Kucinich, of all people, recently, but where is his even stronger attack on Stupak? I googled, but came up empty handed. Is it possible that Kos is another one of those liberals who are on the wrong side in the question about choice?

Glad Stupak has a challenger too (4.00 / 2)
Here's hoping she rams a pro-choice platform down his throat and wins.

It may not be just his catholicism (4.00 / 2)
After all, Stupak has resided for years at C Street, where "The Family" subscribes to the tenets of Doug Coe's version of "christianity" wherein women are intended only to serve men's pleasure... some of this might have rubbed off on him.

S'true (4.00 / 1)
While the USCCB has been point on this issue, there is the Family, there are many other groups actively pushing on the issue.

Thing is, Catholic groups have a lot more pull with Democrats than the Liberty University lunatics. What I've been told is that basically, over the last few decades, the US Catholic Church has stopped promoting socially liberal clerics to the rank of Bishop, which has made the Bishops far more conservative than either their congregations overall or even the clerical ranks.

[ Parent ]
The one place where issues can never be discussed (4.00 / 6)
Last night, at the meeting of a Democratic Party organization I belong to, we discussed helping our local OFA group in their phoning efforts for the health care bill. I expressed some reluctance. While at this late date, I said, I more or less agree that passing it, whatever it turns out to be, is marginally better than not passing it, I also said that the Stupak amendment, which, according to my sources, looks likely to remain in the final bill, would come close to being a deal breaker for me.

In response, another member (male) said, Well, statistically, hardly any women pay for abortions though their health insurance. We moved on.

I can't support a bill that would cause a return to back-alley abortions (4.00 / 4)
And until I am assured that that will not be the case for the healthcare "reform" bill, I will refuse to support it.  People who support this bill, without knowing the fate of abortion access for women, are obviously not all that concerned about it.  
As a women, this issue is not "close to being a deal breaker," it is.  The reason women's rights have been inexorably whittled away, is that women have bought into the belief that they should never stand in the way of legislation that takes away choice, if it can be sold as even slightly progressive.
See where that has gotten us.  I will be glad to do whatever I can do to scuttle "healthcare" legislation if it makes it harder for women to access it.
Call me stupid and stubborn, I don't care.

[ Parent ]
Talking to rocks (4.00 / 2)
If I had only myself to think about, what to do about this travesty of a health care package would be clear enough. Since it isn't reform in any meaningful sense, and is clearly far less concerned with health care than it is with lining the pockets of the usual criminals, I'd oppose it without a second thought.

Still, this isn't about me, about my own ideological purity, or even about my good sense in the face of the cobbled together, lowest-common-denominator bill of goods now being sold with something close to desperation by Democrats everywhere. It's about the possibility of helping at least some people who are now beyond help. In my view, such a possibility exists in the passage of any of the bills, partial bills, reconciliations, etc. with a current chance of passage. Even so, the way it adds insult to the injuries already being gleefully inflicted on women by our clueless ideologues leaves me with a persistent anger which is hard to suppress.

I wish my fellow Democrats were less focussed on winning than on the damage that they're helping to do to the country, but since all of the ones I know pretty much have their fingers in their ears anyway, I try to make my points without annoying them any more than necessary. That's why I said close to. None of my colleagues are particularly interested in what I really think. They've got congresscritters to elect, and the Democratic Partyu's sanctity to defend.

[ Parent ]
This Will Only Hurt A Little... (4.00 / 5)
How come it's always the same folks saying this, and the same ones being forced to listen?

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
One question: I would love to be able to put up a link to Connie (4.00 / 1)
Saltonstall's donation page on Facebook. Is this an option that Act Blue could look in to for the future? It seems like it would be an easily achieved measure that would have the potential to wrangle in a few more bucks.

there's a button for it (0.00 / 0)
big ol F on the page you see as confirmation

and you could just, you know, post the link...

not everything worth doing is profitable. not everything profitable is worth doing.

[ Parent ]
Oh, duh. Did not sleep so very well last pm. Gracias! n/t (0.00 / 0)

[ Parent ]
But, you know, I still tend to feel like it should be as dead easy as (0.00 / 0)
possible to promote and that a very visible, one-click social media option would make a lot of sense here. I don't see how it could hurt (although I'm certainly not an expert on such matters,) and I do see how it could help. Every corporate entity makes is dead effing easy to take money.

[ Parent ]
Not going to beat around the bush (0.00 / 0)
But abortion is not a healthcare issue. Its a people making bad decisions issue. In the majority of cases, pregnancies are the result of conscious decisions. People don't just get unlucky and get pregnant. The article you cite states nearly half of all pregnancies are unintended. There things today like contraceptives: condoms, morning after pill, etc. There's really no excuse.

That said, I don't care if you have an abortion. It should be legal and safe, and I think in most cases today, it probably is. Women should have the right to an abortion, just not funded by taxpayers through "health care", because its not healthcare (in most cases, but there are valid exceptions to this). If you want to have children, do it, if you don't then don't get pregnant; use a condom, use a morning after pill.

Abortion is healthcare (4.00 / 4)
because women are human beings. It's the simple truth.

Montani semper liberi

[ Parent ]
If you need a doctor to do it, it's health care (4.00 / 3)
Your mechanistic moralizing is beside the point.

People who are poor, who are in dire circumstances, have not lost the right to engage in normal human behavior. It isn't a bad decision to reach out to another person for comfort and companionship, and it's downright cruel to say otherwise when talking about a population whose social entertainment budget is likely very small.

Not everyone has the education, access to contraception or supportive relationships that enable every little thing in their lives to be a choice. And when you say it isn't health care, that you shouldn't have to pay for it like other health care, you might as well wave a big, middle finger in the face of every woman in the country who's too poor to access healthcare that isn't provided by the state.

You want people to suffer for 'bad' decisions, which could sound responsible, except it means you pretty much don't care if a woman who can't afford either a child or an abortion gets guaranteed 20 years of extra-grinding poverty or the 'choice' of putting a child she went to all the trouble to give birth to up for adoption. That's frankly monstrous and repulsive.

Most women who have an abortion already have a child and other responsibilities, many who have an abortion go on to have a child later, when they're better situated. Is that a bad decision, too, or is it responsible not to strain the resources of your family?

And, "people don't just get unlucky and get pregnant," criminy. You really don't know much about people, do you?

[ Parent ]
I gave Saltonstall (4.00 / 2)
$25 yesterday. It's all I can afford (I'm unemployed). But Stupak makes me mad, and I'm ashamed, because although I live in a very different district, we're both from Michigan. He does not stand for me, and I want him gone.


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