Abortion

The Horror of 160 Million Missing Girls – and Of the Attacks on Abortion Rights An answer to Ross Douthat

Sunsara Taylor

On June 26, the New York Times ran an op-ed from Ross Douthat which highlighted the horror of there being 160 million girls missing in the world today, largely owing to sex-selective abortions.  However, rather than indicting this as a horrible outgrowth of deeply entrenched male-supremacy and patriarchy, Douthat places the blame for this on women’s right to abortion and the few hard-won advances that have been made in some spheres for some women.  As such, he ends up arguing for the very male supremacy and traditional values that lead to this kind of thing in the first place.

On June 26, the New York Times ran an op-ed from Ross Douthat which highlighted the horror of there being 160 million girls missing in the world today, largely owing to sex-selective abortions.  However, rather than indicting this as a horrible outgrowth of deeply entrenched male-supremacy and patriarchy, Douthat places the blame for this on women’s right to abortion and the few hard-won advances that have been made in some spheres for some women.  As such, he ends up arguing for the very male supremacy and traditional values that lead to this kind of thing in the first place. 

Douthat’s argument rest on three key assertions.

First, Douthat makes the outrageous claim that the widespread practice of sex-selected abortions is not due to patriarchy, but to female “empowerment” and to abortion technology itself.  Second, Douthat distorts and discounts the very liberating aims and actual impact of the fight for women’s ability to control their own reproduction due to the fact that there were some very reactionary forces that overlapped at times with some of their program.  And, finally, Douthat insists that only the anti-abortion movement can legitimately and fully critique this horror.

On all accounts, as I will show, Douthat is dead wrong.

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Let’s begin with his first major argument.

Douthat disputes the notion that sex-selective abortion is caused by patriarchy and misogyny, because, “Thus far, female empowerment often seems to have led to more sex selection, not less.”  He cites Mara Hvistendahl’s new book, “Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls, and the Consequences of a World Full of Men,” to argue, “In many communities… ‘women use their increased autonomy to select for sons,’ because male offspring bring higher social status.”

Excuse me?  There is a huge difference between “women’s empowerment” and increased “autonomy” within a world of patriarchy and male-supremacy and the full liberation and equal participation of women together with men in every sphere through the achievement of a world without patriarchy and male supremacy!  And lest anyone be confused: a world where “male offspring bring higher social status” is a world in which women are still, a) valued not as full human beings but as the breeders of children, and b) boys are valued more than girls.  That is a world of patriarchy.

Further, it is extremely widespread for women in the countries where the practice of sex-selected abortions is most widespread to be severely beaten, set on fire, or burned with acid if they fail to produce a male child.  In this context, the fact that some of these women themselves “choose” to selectively abort female fetuses – and even the fact that often this brutality is carried out with the participation of women (most often the mother-in-law) – does not change the fact that this violence, the valuing of women only in terms of the offspring they produce, and the subsequent selection for male fetuses are ALL the result of deeply entrenched male supremacy and patriarchy.

Next, let’s take apart Douthat’s attempts to obscure and bury any discussion of the real interest of women beneath a game of guilt by association.

Douthat cites Hvistendahl in identifying “an unlikely alliance between Republican cold warriors worried that population growth would fuel the spread of Communism and left-wing scientists and activists who believed that abortion was necessary for both ‘the needs of women’ and ‘the future prosperity – or many survival – of mankind.’”  He continues, “For many of these antipopulation campaigners, sex selection was a feature rather than a bug, since a society with fewer girls was guaranteed to reproduce itself at lower rates.”

Notice first that there is zero discussion from Douthat as to whether or not “abortion [is] necessary for the ‘needs of women.’”  In fact, it is.  A world without abortion is a world in which women are forced to bear children against their will.  It is a world that enslaves women to their biology.  It is a world in which women have little more freedom than slaves.

But, Douthat side-steps this basic and fundamental truth by instead “revealing” that there were some reactionary forces whose agendas overlapped in some ways with those fighting for women’s reproductive freedom.  Big fucking deal!  I spoke to a fanatical End Times fundamentalist not long ago who was eager to seize on recent scientific findings pointing to the tremendous extremes of recent weather patterns, but that doesn’t mean he had anything in common with those fighting to recognize – and put an end to – the manmade causes of climate change!

But to go even further, the fact that some in the movement for women’s reproductive rights have at times been influenced by racism and chauvinism that is so common in an imperialist country like the U.S., does not negate the fact that the right to decide for herself when and whether to have a child is necessary for women to be free.

Finally, Douthat implies that Hvistendahl and others who uphold women’s right to abortion don’t really have firm ground to stand on in condemning the situation that has led to – or the harm caused by – the 160 million missing girls.  Instead, Douthat offers the simplistic and wrong-headed claim that “the anti-abortion side has it easier” because it can say outright that, “The tragedy of the world’s 160 million missing girls isn’t that they’re ‘missing.’  The tragedy is that they’re dead.”

Only they aren’t dead, they really are missing.  While a fetus has the potential to become a human being, it is not a human being until it is born.  Ever notice how we count how long we’ve been alive since the date of our births?  Until then – no matter how much the anti-abortion movement romanticizes it and no matter how many “pro-choice” people capitulate to their bullshit – a fetus is a subordinate part of a woman’s body.  As such, those girls really are missing because they never came into being as independent biological or social beings. 

On the other hand, the women in whose body fetuses grow are fully formed human beings.  And each year, 70,000 of those fully formed human beings die due to lack of access to reproductive health and safe abortions.  They are not “missing” — those women are dead!  And the lives of the millions upon millions of women worldwide who are forced to have children they do not want, their lives are significantly disfigured.  And the lives of all women who live in a world that fails to recognize the full humanity and equality of women in every sphere – and instead reduces them to either breeders or sex objects, and quite often both – is horribly diminished.

We do not need the horrors that Douthat is peddling – even greater burden on that half of humanity that has the misfortune in this world of male-supremacy of being born female, the retrenching the very patriarchy that leads to female children being valued less than males, and the further restriction of women’s ability to control their own bodies and their own destinies.  We need the kind of thorough-going, world-wide revolution that can, once and for all lift these burdens off of women as a core and driving force in the emancipation of all of humanity – from the lack of access to birth control and abortion to the life-time of restrictions, insults, violence and degradation that comes from being born female.

To find out more about that revolution, here is a good place to start.

News Politics

Republican’s ‘Personhood’ Embrace Could Cost GOP Control of Colorado Senate

Jason Salzman

State Sen. Laura Woods was a sponsor of a so-called personhood bill that would give legal rights to a fetus, effectively outlawing abortion in Colorado.

A Colorado state senator, whose re-election race in November will likely determine whether Republicans retain control of the chamber, is sponsoring anti-choice legislation that could very well harm her bid in a swing district, state observers say.

State Sen. Laura Woods (R-Westminster) was a sponsor of a so-called personhood bill that would give legal rights to a fetus. The bill aimed to ban abortion in much the same way as three failed “personhood” ballot initiatives in Colorado would have outlawed it.

The legislation, referred to as the “Protect Life at Conception Act,” was nixed by Democrats in the Colorado house last week.

Woods is also among the sponsors of a bill requiring doctors to offer pregnant patients an ultrasound before they can have an abortion and to wait 24 hours before performing an abortion.

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The bill, which is awaiting committee action and is referred to as “A Woman’s Right to Accurate Health Care Info Act,” ensures “women have the opportunity to see or forego [sic] the opportunity to see the ultrasound.”

Woods sponsored similar so-called personhood and ultrasound bills last year, and both went down in committee.

Colorado has a Democratic governor, and the state house is likely to remain under Democratic control, state observers say. Losing Woods’ state senate seat would leave the GOP a minority in that chamber, with Democrats controlling 18 of 34 seats if Woods can’t secure re-election.[

Professor Robert D. Loevy, professor emeritus of political science at Colorado College, told Rewire that Woods’ anti-choice positions could hurt her in the upcoming general election—if she sticks with them.

“Her anti-abortion actions will make her popular among the Republicans who tend to go to caucuses and vote in primaries and who tend to be very conservative and anti-abortion,” Loevy said. “But when you get to the general election, being anti-abortion can be detrimental to you, particularly in a swing district.”

Woods took strong anti-choice positions during her primary run in 2014, and she has not moved away from them.

During her 2014 primary, Woods shared a Facebook post comparing her Republican opponent, Lang Sias, to Kermit Gosnell, a rogue abortion provider serving a life sentence. Woods apologized for sharing the post.

After defeating Sias, Woods moved on to the general election, where she won her seat by about 650 votes—a 1 percent margin—against then-state Sen. Rachel Zenzinger (D), who is running against Woods again this year.

Woods, during her 2014 general election campaign, didn’t back away from her staunch anti-choice stances, hiring a campaign consultant with ties to Colorado’s failed “personhood” amendments.

Her support of a “personhood” abortion ban on Colorado’s 2014 ballot caused one local libertarian blogger, who normally supports conservative candidates, to write that he would not vote for her.

Asked to comment on whether Woods has backed away from her anti-choice positions during her time in office, Karen Middleton, director of NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado, points to a Facebook post shared by Woods with the comment “interesting,” two days after three people were killed at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs.

Woods’ post depicted Guy Fawkes, who tried to blow up the House of Lords in England in the name of enhancing religious freedom for Catholics in the 1600s. Under a drawing of Fawkes was the quotation, “The mind of a slave asks is it legal? The mind of a free man asks is it right?” The post has since been deleted.

“Senator Woods has held extreme anti-choice views for a long time, but she really put them into words when she blamed Planned Parenthood for the domestic terrorism attack at the clinic in Colorado Springs,” Middleton told Rewire, referring to the Fawkes post. “Between advocating violence against doctors and patients and her sponsorship of both personhood and mandatory transvaginal ultrasound bills, we’re sure voters will hold her accountable in the next election. As will we.”

Denver Post analysis of her voting record revealed Woods to be one of the eight most conservative lawmakers in the Colorado legislature, despite representing a district that’s evenly divided among Democrats, Republicans, and unaffiliated voters. The Post described the group of eight as “essentially a Colorado version of the congressional ‘Freedom Caucus,’” a group stacked with legislators hostile to abortion rights.

Woods, who used to comment on conservative talk radio under the name “Laura Waters,” did not return a call from Rewire seeking comment on how she thinks her anti-choice stances will be received in her district in November. She told the Denver Post last year that she thinks she’s “representing all Coloradans well.”

“If you’ve looked at my voting record at all, what you will know is I’m an independent thinker,” Woods told Denver Post reporter John Frank in January. “I bucked my leadership, I bucked the party, I bucked the caucus … if it didn’t line up with my principles or my district.”

Commentary Abortion

The Institutionalization of Abortion Stigma: What Care at an Ambulatory Surgical Center Can Look Like

Annika Mukherjee

Under HB 2, Texas' omnibus anti-abortion law, doctors must fulfill medically unnecessary requirements just to stay open, forgoing a patient’s comfort.

It only takes a visit to one community clinic and one ambulatory surgical center to see how HB 2, Texas’ omnibus anti-abortion law, is taking its toll on patient care. Doctors must now fulfill medically unnecessary requirements just to stay open, forgoing a patient’s comfort.

This situation will only get worse if the Supreme Court lets HB 2 stand. The Court, when its term begins October 5, could take up a challenge from reproductive rights advocates to “determine whether Texas can force more than 75 percent of the State’s abortion clinics to close.” While we wait to hear from the Court, I’d like to share my experience of touring two clinics—one that was constructed before HB 2 and one that was built to comply with the restrictive law.

Whole Woman’s Health (WWH) is a feminist organization that offers comprehensive gynecology services for people, including abortion care. During my internship at NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, Marva Sadler, WWH’s director of Clinical Services, gave us a tour of the organization’s San Antonio clinic. Sadler led us around the facilities, as if we were patients, so we could get a sense of the experience, from sitting in the waiting room to recovering in the Aftercare room. WWH San Antonio creates a unique and individualized experience for people obtaining abortions, actively fighting shame and honoring their individual experiences through soothing purple walls and lighting, empowering artwork, rooms named after powerful women, and a comforting atmosphere.

The clinic visit starts with counseling and then a one-on-one consultation with the doctor who would be performing the abortion, to answer any questions and to provide total awareness of the patient’s various options. Family members and escorts are welcome to accompany the patient throughout the process, although the patient is also given confidential time alone with the clinic staff, who are well-trained to identify issues like coercion, domestic abuse, and human trafficking. The patient also watches the Whole Woman’s Health video, which leads the patient through the entire process of getting an abortion “from the moment a patient walks through the door to when she leaves from recovery.” The patient has many opportunities to ask questions, discuss their options, and think through what is best for them.

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Whole Woman’s Health Director of Clinical Services Marva Sadler stands in the operating room at Whole Woman’s Health of San Antonio. If House Bill 2 were to go into effect, this type of room wouldn’t be able to be used for abortion procedures

Whole Woman’s Health Director of Clinical Services Marva Sadler stands in the operating room at Whole Woman’s Health of San Antonio. If HB 2 were to go into effect, this type of room wouldn’t be able to be used for abortion procedures

The operating room at the regular, non-ambulatory clinic is a small, intimate space with a lamp and two medical devices, an ultrasound system and a suction machine. The room is comforting and supportive, especially because an escort can act as a hand-holder throughout the process. The doctor’s patient-centered practice contributes to the warm atmosphere, as the patient and doctor have already been acquainted through counseling, and the doctor talks the patient through the procedure, explaining what is happening along the way. At WWH, they call this “verbicaine.” As Sadler described it: “Nine times out of ten, without any sedation, we talk patients through their procedures. We start a totally different conversation about something totally different, and then when they realize that the conversation is over, the procedure is over.”

The procedure is usually over within eight to ten minutes.

At the end, patients enter the Aftercare room: a space lit by lamps with purple blankets and lush reclining chairs. They can have “tranquili-tea”—a WWH-exclusive, specially brewed tea to help with cramping—use heating pads, and talk to staff and their escort(s).

“This is where the emotion happens,” says Sadler. Aftercare is where Whole Woman’s Health staff “really [get] to put their special touch in with patients, and this is where the difference happens. This is where they’re individualizing, and they get to make a difference in a life.”

Whole Woman’s Health erases stigma from the abortion process and transforms it into a wholesome experience centered on the patient’s needs. WWH’s staff are trained to break down the walls of abortion stigma in a safe, comforting and nonjudgmental environment, making sure they’re caring for the patient holistically from the time they walk into the clinic until after the procedure and follow-up appointment.

Unfortunately, restrictions like those in HB 2 have completely compromised WWH’s methods.

HB 2, among other things, requires that all abortion clinics meet the building standards of an ambulatory surgical center (ASC). Should this provision of HB 2 go into effect, only nine clinics would be able to serve all of Texas (see a comparison of the requirements here). After the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled to uphold HB 2’s provisions, Whole Woman’s Health, along with other Texas abortion providers and led by the Center for Reproductive Rights, took the law to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court then granted a stay, blocking that provision of the law from going into effect while the Court decides whether or not to hear the case.

To comply with the state’s new restrictive abortion legislation, WWH constructed an ambulatory surgical center in 2010 that provides a vastly different patient experience. We toured that clinic, which is located across the parking lot from WWH’s regularly licensed abortion clinic, as well.

First entering the ASC clinic’s waiting room, we saw the same purple walls, but throughout the rest of the facility, it was stark white, an official ASC regulation. The atmosphere immediately transitioned into that of a shameful “asylum,” as Sadler put it. Notices and warnings were posted everywhere, where artwork might be if it were allowed. Alarm systems (or, as staff call it, “money hanging on the walls”) are plastered throughout the facility, rarely, if ever, used. There are internal alarm systems, hospital-grade fire alarm systems with sprinklers, a guest monitor, a generator monitor, and an emergency generatorall of which need to be tested and documented every day. These are extra obligations and extra money that are only a requirement of an ASC, adding nothing beneficial to the abortion procedure or to patient health and safety.

A gas line pipes through the wall in Whole Woman’s Health’s ambulatory surgical center. This is among the many pieces of medical equipment required for an ambulatory surgical center, but is never used during an abortion procedure.

A gas line pipes through the wall in Whole Woman’s Health’s ambulatory surgical center. This is among the many pieces of medical equipment required for an ambulatory surgical center, but is never used during an abortion procedure.

The preoperative room has bright, blinding overhead lighting that makes you feel like you’re being interrogated. Many different contraptions and systems are wired across and through the walls, including different gases, chemicals, and canisters.

In the five years that WWH has had this ASC, Sadler says, they haven’t needed to use this equipment once.

In spite of this, the canisters have to be replaced when they get old, the cords to the equipment have to be checked everyday, and IV access has to be maintained, whether the patient wants sedation or not.

Another requirement that jeopardizes the patient’s comfort is that they have to get completely undressed and put on a hospital gown, surgical booties, and a surgical bonnet. Patients aren’t allowed to walk around like they would in a regular clinic, but have to lay on a gurney, wheeled to and from the operating room. When abortion is treated like a dangerous surgery, it takes away the independence and strength of the decision to have one. Obviously, these provisions are necessary for facilities that provide intensive, invasive procedures, but for abortion care, this is absolute overkill and a waste of money, not to mention an uncomfortable experience for the patient. It serves to do nothing but further stigmatize one of the safest procedures available in health care.

The halls of the ASC clinic at Whole Woman’s Health of San Antonio consisted of other specific requirements that don’t seem to have any real use: a pharmacy with required medication that doctors there have never used and do not need to provide abortions (“When these meds expire, we just throw them away and order more,” says Sadler), crash carts stocked with medication that can be $200 a bottle, male and female locker rooms, two color-coded janitor’s closets, and a blanket warmer. ASC requirements even took away WWH’s special touch of providing purple blankets; the blankets have to be white.

The operating room at Whole Woman’s Health of San Antonio’s ambulatory surgical center, which meets all of the requirements of House Bill 2, even if they aren’t needed for an abortion procedure.

The operating room at Whole Woman’s Health of San Antonio’s ambulatory surgical center, which meets all of the requirements of HB 2, even if they aren’t needed for an abortion procedure.

In the ASC clinic, the process is much more intimidating. It was massive, with bright “alien eyes” staring down at us, filled with complex machines, even though abortion care only requires the ultrasound and suction machines. According to Sadler, the patient is strapped down onto the table—nude in a 60-degree facility—arms restricted with straps on both sides of the table that keep her from moving. The only people allowed in the room are the doctor, registered nurses, and surgical techs. Because the patient is not allowed to have an escort in the room, no one is there to hold her hand. As the doctors are maintaining all of the different equipment, that verbal connection and emotional touch found across the street at the non-ASC clinic is lost here.

“[The patient] is absolutely alone because there is no one there to hold her hand throughout the whole thing. It’s horrible,” says Sadler, staring down at the ASC clinic’s emotionless surgical table. “It’s really hard to watch. It’s night and day between this and the [other] clinic.”

Because the doctor can’t reasonably talk the patient through the procedure because of the masks on her face and the loud air pressure system, Sadler says, “there’s no conversation at all. It’s just surgery.” Doctors at Whole Woman’s Health still attempt to stop at the table before performing the surgery to let the patient know that “it’s not some stranger coming in with a mask on her face, taking over,” says Sadler. “Just to remind the patient of who [the doctor] is, and that everything will be OK.”

The recovery room requires patients to lie on cage-like beds, to be hooked up to three-lead monitors, with disturbing beeping and clashing noises, behind a curtain that closes them off from the rest of the room. They are still undressed and not allowed any sort of company. They can’t even drink tea because of ASC requirements mandating such clinics serve only pre-packaged food, so patients are given only Capri Sun and Goldfish, as if they’re children.

Sterile gurneys like these are required to be in an ambulatory surgical center’s recovery room, as opposed to the comfortable recliners and purple blankets of Whole Woman’s Health’s other locations

Sterile gurneys like these are required to be in an ambulatory surgical center’s recovery room, as opposed to the comfortable recliners and purple blankets of Whole Woman’s Health’s other locations.

“A lot of times a woman has put on their strong face, until it’s over, and this is where the emotion happens. There’s no room for emotions in this room,” says Sadler. “Because of the limited staff and lack of escort, there are times when she is left alone, and that’s really hard for us because that’s not who we are.”

In the recovery area, there are still mechanisms like suction machines, oxygen piping, or positive pressure systems that never get used but need to be tested every day. WWH is forced to pay about $5,000 to $7,000 a month for outside companies to test all of its equipment, even though the equipment will never actually be used.

Maintaining extra financial obligations while attempting to maintain WWH’s philosophy of quality care results in professional sacrifices from the staff. Sadler explained, “The money that we were using for staff development and staff wellness, we’re now pushing that in other places. So now we’re having to pick and grab and figure out how to keep up who and what we are, without losing that, but still staying compliant with all of the rest of this ridiculousness. We’ve managed, but I’m telling you we’ve been tired at the end of the day, and it would definitely be great to take a breath.”

The entrance to a men’s locker room at Whole Woman’s Health of San Antonio’s ambulatory surgical center. ASCs require both women’s and men’s locker rooms on site, another requirement of House Bill 2 that is absolutely not needed in abortion care.

The entrance to a men’s locker room at Whole Woman’s Health of San Antonio’s ambulatory surgical center. ASC requirements mandate both women’s and men’s locker rooms on site.

Sadler says that patients often ask why their families can’t accompany them into surgery or recovery or why the clinic has to comply with the ridiculous restrictions that the state requires.

“It didn’t used to be this way. Unfortunately for staff, it’s hard to explain something that makes no sense.”

If the Supreme Court rules in favor of HB 2, the state will force all abortionsboth the surgical procedure and medical abortions (with pills)—to be performed only in a clinic that meets ASC standards. This clearly represents the institutionalization of stigma.

When it comes to Whole Woman’s Health, in the non-ASC clinic, the patient is allowed to take ownership of their own body; they’re allowed to be comforted and allowed to walk away with a comfortable experience. In the ASC clinic, the process is intimidating and terrifying. HB 2 makes the abortion process more about compliance with a law intended to shut down abortion clinics than the care and safety of patients. Texans are hoping that the Supreme Court will agree.