Commentary Abortion

The Abortion Blog – A Lifetime in the Conceiving

Erin Riley

My dear politicians: I will not ask you to give me my rights. I already have my rights. I know my rights. You do not tell me what they are. I tell YOU. You will NOT deny me or my sisters the right to a medical procedure.

Earlier this month, South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard (R) signed a law requiring women to wait three days after meeting with a doctor to have an abortion, the longest waiting period in the nation.

“I think everyone agrees with the goal of reducing abortion by encouraging consideration of other alternatives,” the Republican governor said in the statement. “I hope that women who are considering an abortion will use this three-day period to make good choices.”

I don’t believe elected officials are put in office to tell me to “make good choices.” How about I tell them what a good choice is for me and they, representing ME, go to bat for my choice. And my choice is for legal and open health care for all women, including the right to an abortion.

In regards to the waiting period: an unplanned pregnancy, an unwanted pregnancy is a CRISIS. You do not send a woman home to worry and stress and be unable to work and live her life because YOU hope a waiting period will make her change her mind. If her mind is made up (and women are quite capable of making rational decisions for themselves), she should be able to get one as soon as a doctor says she can. This is between a doctor and a woman. Every woman, like every man, has the right to make any and all decisions about their own bodies, and that bars any possible exception known to us now and in the future.

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

We, as women, have all the freedoms a man has and some of our own. Because just having the same freedoms a man has is not good enough.

There are freedoms that are inalienably a woman’s. These freedoms include the right to terminate a pregnancy.

Our bodies are not your bodies. Our female bodies do different things. There are different consequences. A man is not the first sex. A man is not the main sex. A man is not the default sex. Women did not spring from men. There are two sexes: female and male. There’s no species without both of them. And they work different. They come with different responsibilities. They come with different outcomes. They’re very fucking different. 

Women learn early about the responsibilities that sit on their shoulders. To bleed is to be able to become pregnant. (And to bleed is to not be pregnant — all-girl sigh of relief.)

Birth control is our domain. If I don’t want to get pregnant, I’d better get some. If you are lucky, you learn early it’s too important to leave in someone else’s hands. And if I do get pregnant, that’s my domain too. The whole thing. I mean, that’s what women are made for. The egg is in us. We carry children in our uterus, they eat our food, share our blood. Our breasts feed them. The ultimate responsibility is ours. All ours.

To those who would think to limit my rights, to doubt my ability to make rational decisions, to know my own mind, to not understand the awesomeness of the impact of my decisions…think again. NO ONE UNDERSTANDS LIKE A WOMAN DOES. When you get pregnant, when you have this incredible experience, you understand in a way that surpasses understanding, you IMBIBE that you as a woman hold life and death in your hands. Or in your uterus. 

This being that you have never met is so bonded to you, you are so in love with it, its importance more severe than you can imagine that you compulsively count movements, you dream horrible nightmares where your unborn child is in mortal danger, your unconscious trying to face even the faintest part of your comprehension that this being you love more than life itself COULD be harmed and even die. 

This is a knowledge that lives in every woman. Maybe in the egg, maybe it’s planted like a seed, maybe it’s passed down, from the first moment someone sits a baby on your lap, you understand. You know the pulsing heart of what it means to be a woman, to be a potential mother.

Once you become a mother, you have to face this life and death reality. You stare down the possibility that you could walk into that doctor or midwife office and not hear the heartbeat. What would you do? What does that kind of devastation feel like? How would I even LIVE through that, you ask yourself.

But women do live through it.

All the time.

Women have miscarriages. Lots. Women lose babies at birth. Their babies have birth defects. Sometimes their babies die shortly after birth. Women lose children at every age. Women lose children to adoption. Women lose children to abortion. Women lose children to war and catastrophe. Women understand. This is every woman’s story. 

They know how to face it. To love is to lose.

We live and die with our children. Their cells, buried deep within the uterine wall, are set free and float inside us for eternity.

What I’m saying is women know the GRAVITY of the situation they are in from the moment they can pro-create. And if they don’t, they should. It is the language we speak. It is the fabric of our duty and role as women.

A story about the impact of the politicalization of abortion on a woman’s health:
My mom told me this story. She’s been a GYN nurse for over 40 years. Suffice to say, when it comes to birth, she’s seen it all. At the time of this story she was the high-risk birth manager for a large doctor’s office. This story is slightly graphic so hang in there.

A woman, in her second trimester, was sent to my mom. It was found through an ultrasound that the woman’s baby had massive birth defects. The worst my mom and the docs had ever seen. The umbilical cord had grown tightly wrapped around the baby’s body and the baby’s limbs were mis-formed and sort of shredded, and even the baby’s torso was twisted. That the heart was beating was surprising but clearly the child would not survive for long. The docs wanted to perform a D&C immediately. The woman and her husband were told and were obviously destroyed but of course agreed. Here’s the catch: the woman’s insurance company would not allow the D&C because the patient’s life was not (yet) at risk and so the “abortion” would not be covered. This mom had to go home and try to live her life knowing her child would soon be dead and that she would be carrying it. Also she had to wait for her own health to deteriorate before she could get a medical procedure that would prevent her from getting sick in the first place.

The thing is this woman could get very sick, very fast and DIE. And an insurance company’s political take on abortion was putting her life at risk unnecessarily. And actually, interestingly, it was the teacher’s union behind her insurance company who had requested this policy.

This woman had to do this. Go home and wait to get sick. Which is what she did and thank God, she survived.

The point is THIS is women’s healthcare. This is women’s healthcare while abortion is legal! Can you imagine what it would be like if abortion were illegal? Or are we already there?

Changing gears. 

Most of us I think are born pro-life.

I should say right out that I’m adopted and therefore, personally, I’m really glad that my birth mother actually HAD me. That’s convenient for me. And she could have not, but she did. And so for that, I say thank you Mom and I’m all for not killing unwanted kids. Go unwanted kids, go!

When I was younger, in my twenties, I was roaringly pro-life. I would argue anyone you sat in front of me. Women, especially, I would take on with my “it’s murder” approach. I was callous and I apologize now for the things I said then.

I was also raised Catholic and still am. I was certainly fed a pro-life argument which I don’t think is un-sound. Abortion ends life. But no one knows when conception starts. Come on. No one. But I’m also not going to argue with the fact that someone who had the possibility of being alive will now not have that possibilty. 

I think honesty is the best abortion policy. You don’t need to agree with me. The concepts, our opinions don’t really matter. We can argue all night and let’s do it, but the law bats last. We humans have rights. Period. That’s the law. But back to the argument for a moment and me as a young attractive Catholic girl…

So I was pretty damn comfortable with how I felt about not supporting abortion. (I was then and always will be all for birth control btw.) Then at 26, a friend asked me to take her to an abortion clinic. She was pregnant and wanted to end it and would I take her. She was crying, shaking, begging, pleading. I was totally thrown. My first instinct, believe it or not, was to say no. Of course not. I couldn’t. Ever. Go. To. An abortion clinic.

But this was my friend. She needed me. My friend who was right in front of me. My friend who was in real trouble. My friend who had been there for me in a hundred ways.

So I took her. I made her listen to my really convincing, finely tuned abortion argument first (what an asshole) but she said she still wanted to, so alright.
We went. It was in a small office building. You wouldn’t have really noticed it. The lobby was nice, like a doctor’s office waiting room. My friend filled out forms. I sat with her. She cried, her head hard and bony on my shoulder. I prayed. They called her name and I walked her to the door. They wouldn’t let me go in with her. I can still see her face as she walked away from me. She was totally thoroughly terrified. And utterly alone.

I sat in the lobby unable to not think about what was happening in there. There were two other couples who held hands and whispered to each other. And a woman alone. Crying.

I went up to her. She did not speak much English. She mostly cried quietly, nodding, bobbing her head up and down. She was thin with dark hair and bags under her eyes. She said she had four children. Her husband didn’t want anymore. He had dropped her off and was going to pick her up. They didn’t have anyone to watch the kids. She wanted to keep the baby. When they called her name, I walked her to the door. She cried the entire way and did not turn around towards me as she walked down the hallway as I hoped she would. 

I sat in the waiting room and weeped.

A while later, a nurse told me my friend was ready. My friend leaned on me as we walked to the car. She was in terrible pain. I got her to my house as quickly as possible. I walked her inside. Put her in my bed. I made her soup but she wouldn’t eat. She was in agony. She bled a lot. She cried straight for 48 hours.

And my mind was changed forever. This is life. This is blood and snot and horrible choices and reality and women know this. 

We handle this.

There are a lot of great men out there but there are a lot of men who walk away. Lots of men leave checks on kitchen tables before they disappear forever. A lot of men don’t see their kids. A lot of men hope the girl they knocked up will say that magic word to them: abortion.

I am not in any way interested in railing on your sex. I love your sex and I mean that. But women handle this shit every damn day under incredibly trying circumstances.
It means something to us. It is etched in the reality of our bodies and what they do. Women do not need rose-colored glasses. We’ve seen our moms go through it. We’ve seen our sisters go through it. We’ve seen our girlfriends go through it.
My friend was a woman standing there in front of me and needing me and needing to take care of a situation. My obligation was to her.

I would like to dispel some myths here so I’m going to tell you this.

This was my friend’s third abortion.

My friend was not a slut. She was not someone who “used abortion as birth control.” She was a woman who got pregnant very, very easily (and had a lot of bad luck). When I took her for the abortion, she already had a child and would later marry and have two more children. Women are different. Some women can have unprotected sex hundreds of times and not get pregnant. Some women seem to get pregnant every time. There is no correlation between the number of abortions a woman gets and her sexual promiscuity.

I will make my own confession now.

I have had unprotected sex. I have had lots of unprotected sex. I am very, very, very lucky. One, I’m clean. Two, I’ve never had an unplanned pregnancy. I’m two for two pregnancy/child-wise. So…I’ve never had an abortion. That is not because I was super careful. That is because I was lucky. That’s not because I’m a good person. It’s because I was lucky.

Had I gotten pregnant, I don’t know what I would have done. And I think that’s the only truly honest answer any of us can give.

My dear politicians: I will not ask you to give me my rights. I already have my rights. I know my rights. You do not tell me what they are. I tell YOU. You will NOT deny me or my sisters the right to a medical procedure. I will consult with my doctor and midwife about my medical choices, not with my political representation.

My right as a woman is to make my own choices about my pregnancies.

If you don’t believe in abortion, don’t get one. Make your own informed choice. You are the one who has to live with the consequences. 

But I will be here to both make you soup and babysit. 

I’m behind you.

We watch with joy and pride when other country’s citizenship fight to win their basic human rights and all the while ours are being stripped away. Pay attention.

Talk about it ladies. It’s the only way. I’m all kinds of behind ya. 

News Politics

Clinton Campaign Announces Tim Kaine as Pick for Vice President

Ally Boguhn

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

The Clinton campaign announced Friday that Sen. Tim Kaine (R-VA) has been selected to join Hillary Clinton’s ticket as her vice presidential candidate.

“I’m thrilled to announce my running mate, @TimKaine, a man who’s devoted his life to fighting for others,” said Clinton in a tweet.

“.@TimKaine is a relentless optimist who believes no problem is unsolvable if you put in the work to solve it,” she added.

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

Kaine signed two letters this week calling for the regulations on banks to be eased, according to a Wednesday report published by the Huffington Post, thereby ”setting himself up as a figure willing to do battle with the progressive wing of the party.”

Charles Chamberlain, executive director of the progressive political action committee Democracy for America, told the New York Times that Kaine’s selection “could be disastrous for our efforts to defeat Donald Trump in the fall” given the senator’s apparent support of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Just before Clinton’s campaign made the official announcement that Kaine had been selected, the senator praised the TPP during an interview with the Intercept, though he signaled he had ultimately not decided how he would vote on the matter.

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

Kaine’s record on reproductive rights has also generated controversy as news began to circulate that he was being considered to join Clinton’s ticket. Though Kaine recently argued in favor of providing Planned Parenthood with access to funding to fight the Zika virus and signed on as a co-sponsor of the Women’s Health Protection Act—which would prohibit states and the federal government from enacting restrictions on abortion that aren’t applied to comparable medical services—he has also been vocal about his personal opposition to abortion.

In a June interview on NBC’s Meet the Press, Kaine told host Chuck Todd he was “personally” opposed to abortion. He went on, however, to affirm that he still believed “not just as a matter of politics, but even as a matter of morality, that matters about reproduction and intimacy and relationships and contraception are in the personal realm. They’re moral decisions for individuals to make for themselves. And the last thing we need is government intruding into those personal decisions.”

As Rewire has previously reported, though Kaine may have a 100 percent rating for his time in the Senate from Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the campaign website for his 2005 run for governor of Virginia promised he would “work in good faith to reduce abortions” by enforcing Virginia’s “restrictions on abortion and passing an enforceable ban on partial birth abortion that protects the life and health of the mother.”

As governor, Kaine did support some existing restrictions on abortion, including Virginia’s parental consent law and a so-called informed consent law. He also signed a 2009 measure that created “Choose Life” license plates in the state, and gave a percentage of the proceeds to a crisis pregnancy network.

Regardless of Clinton’s vice president pick, the “center of gravity in the Democratic Party has shifted in a bold, populist, progressive direction,” said Stephanie Taylor, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, in an emailed statement. “It’s now more important than ever that Hillary Clinton run an aggressive campaign on core economic ideas like expanding Social Security, debt-free college, Wall Street reform, and yes, stopping the TPP. It’s the best way to unite the Democratic Party, and stop Republicans from winning over swing voters on bread-and-butter issues.”

Roundups Sexual Health

This Week in Sex: The Sexually Transmitted Infections Edition

Martha Kempner

A new Zika case suggests the virus can be transmitted from an infected woman to a male partner. And, in other news, HPV-related cancers are on the rise, and an experimental chlamydia vaccine shows signs of promise.

This Week in Sex is a weekly summary of news and research related to sexual behavior, sexuality education, contraception, STIs, and more.

Zika May Have Been Sexually Transmitted From a Woman to Her Male Partner

A new case suggests that males may be infected with the Zika virus through unprotected sex with female partners. Researchers have known for a while that men can infect their partners through penetrative sexual intercourse, but this is the first suspected case of sexual transmission from a woman.

The case involves a New York City woman who is in her early 20s and traveled to a country with high rates of the mosquito-borne virus (her name and the specific country where she traveled have not been released). The woman, who experienced stomach cramps and a headache while waiting for her flight back to New York, reported one act of sexual intercourse without a condom the day she returned from her trip. The following day, her symptoms became worse and included fever, fatigue, a rash, and tingling in her hands and feet. Two days later, she visited her primary-care provider and tests confirmed she had the Zika virus.

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

A few days after that (seven days after intercourse), her male partner, also in his 20s, began feeling similar symptoms. He had a rash, a fever, and also conjunctivitis (pink eye). He, too, was diagnosed with Zika. After meeting with him, public health officials in the New York City confirmed that he had not traveled out of the country nor had he been recently bit by a mosquito. This leaves sexual transmission from his partner as the most likely cause of his infection, though further tests are being done.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s recommendations for preventing Zika have been based on the assumption that virus was spread from a male to a receptive partner. Therefore the recommendations had been that pregnant women whose male partners had traveled or lived in a place where Zika virus is spreading use condoms or abstain from sex during the pregnancy. For those couples for whom pregnancy is not an issue, the CDC recommended that men who had traveled to countries with Zika outbreaks and had symptoms of the virus, use condoms or abstain from sex for six months after their trip. It also suggested that men who traveled but don’t have symptoms use condoms for at least eight weeks.

Based on this case—the first to suggest female-to-male transmission—the CDC may extend these recommendations to couples in which a female traveled to a country with an outbreak.

More Signs of Gonorrhea’s Growing Antibiotic Resistance

Last week, the CDC released new data on gonorrhea and warned once again that the bacteria that causes this common sexually transmitted infection (STI) is becoming resistant to the antibiotics used to treat it.

There are about 350,000 cases of gonorrhea reported each year, but it is estimated that 800,000 cases really occur with many going undiagnosed and untreated. Once easily treatable with antibiotics, the bacteria Neisseria gonorrhoeae has steadily gained resistance to whole classes of antibiotics over the decades. By the 1980s, penicillin no longer worked to treat it, and in 2007 the CDC stopped recommending the use of fluoroquinolones. Now, cephalosporins are the only class of drugs that work. The recommended treatment involves a combination of ceftriaxone (an injectable cephalosporin) and azithromycin (an oral antibiotic).

Unfortunately, the data released last week—which comes from analysis of more than 5,000 samples of gonorrhea (called isolates) collected from STI clinics across the country—shows that the bacteria is developing resistance to these drugs as well. In fact, the percentage of gonorrhea isolates with decreased susceptibility to azithromycin increased more than 300 percent between 2013 and 2014 (from 0.6 percent to 2.5 percent).

Though no cases of treatment failure has been reported in the United States, this is a troubling sign of what may be coming. Dr. Gail Bolan, director of CDC’s Division of STD Prevention, said in a press release: “It is unclear how long the combination therapy of azithromycin and ceftriaxone will be effective if the increases in resistance persists. We need to push forward on multiple fronts to ensure we can continue offering successful treatment to those who need it.”

HPV-Related Cancers Up Despite Vaccine 

The CDC also released new data this month showing an increase in HPV-associated cancers between 2008 and 2012 compared with the previous five-year period. HPV or human papillomavirus is an extremely common sexually transmitted infection. In fact, HPV is so common that the CDC believes most sexually active adults will get it at some point in their lives. Many cases of HPV clear spontaneously with no medical intervention, but certain types of the virus cause cancer of the cervix, vulva, penis, anus, mouth, and neck.

The CDC’s new data suggests that an average of 38,793 HPV-associated cancers were diagnosed each year between 2008 and 2012. This is a 17 percent increase from about 33,000 each year between 2004 and 2008. This is a particularly unfortunate trend given that the newest available vaccine—Gardasil 9—can prevent the types of HPV most often linked to cancer. In fact, researchers estimated that the majority of cancers found in the recent data (about 28,000 each year) were caused by types of the virus that could be prevented by the vaccine.

Unfortunately, as Rewire has reported, the vaccine is often mired in controversy and far fewer young people have received it than get most other recommended vaccines. In 2014, only 40 percent of girls and 22 percent of boys ages 13 to 17 had received all three recommended doses of the vaccine. In comparison, nearly 80 percent of young people in this age group had received the vaccine that protects against meningitis.

In response to the newest data, Dr. Electra Paskett, co-director of the Cancer Control Research Program at the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center, told HealthDay:

In order to increase HPV vaccination rates, we must change the perception of the HPV vaccine from something that prevents a sexually transmitted disease to a vaccine that prevents cancer. Every parent should ask the question: If there was a vaccine I could give my child that would prevent them from developing six different cancers, would I give it to them? The answer would be a resounding yes—and we would have a dramatic decrease in HPV-related cancers across the globe.

Making Inroads Toward a Chlamydia Vaccine

An article published in the journal Vaccine shows that researchers have made progress with a new vaccine to prevent chlamydia. According to lead researcher David Bulir of the M. G. DeGroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research at Canada’s McMaster University, efforts to create a vaccine have been underway for decades, but this is the first formulation to show success.

In 2014, there were 1.4 million reported cases of chlamydia in the United States. While this bacterial infection can be easily treated with antibiotics, it often goes undiagnosed because many people show no symptoms. Untreated chlamydia can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease, which can leave scar tissue in the fallopian tubes or uterus and ultimately result in infertility.

The experimental vaccine was created by Canadian researchers who used pieces of the bacteria that causes chlamydia to form an antigen they called BD584. The hope was that the antigen could prompt the body’s immune system to fight the chlamydia bacteria if exposed to it.

Researchers gave BD584 to mice using a nasal spray, and then exposed them to chlamydia. The results were very promising. The mice who received the spray cleared the infection faster than the mice who did not. Moreover, the mice given the nasal spray were less likely to show symptoms of infection, such as bacterial shedding from the vagina or fluid blockages of the fallopian tubes.

There are many steps to go before this vaccine could become available. The researchers need to test it on other strains of the bacteria and in other animals before testing it in humans. And, of course, experience with the HPV vaccine shows that there’s work to be done to make sure people get vaccines that prevent STIs even after they’re invented. Nonetheless, a vaccine to prevent chlamydia would be a great victory in our ongoing fight against STIs and their health consequences, and we here at This Week in Sex are happy to end on a bit of a positive note.