Commentary Abortion

Using Aikido to Change the Abortion Conversation

Valerie Tarico

Aikido is a Japanese martial art that makes use of the attacker’s own momentum as a defensive strategy. I suggest pro-choicers take the disgust, found on posters with anti-abortion messages or pictures of fetal remains, and in a non-confrontational, nonviolent way, amplify and redirect it.

Picture this: A group of abortion opponents stand outside a women’s clinic holding pictures of fetal remains. As they stand there, calling and offering pamphlets to people entering the clinic, a trickle of pro-choice activists also arrive. Instead of lining up on the opposite side of the sidewalk, they position themselves beside the first group in silence, holding posters of their own.

The signs have words—not their own words but words from texts that inspire the anti-choice movement. Some quotes are from modern church leaders or ancient patriarchs. Others are from the Bible itself. They read:

  • I fail to see what use woman can be to man, if one excludes the function of bearing children. –Saint Augustine
  • In sorrow thou shalt bring forth children and thy desire shall be to thy husband and he shall rule over thee.  –Genesis 3:16
  • Women will be saved through childbearing. –1 Timothy 2:15
  • The word and works of God is quite clear, that women were made either to be wives or prostitutes. –Martin Luther
  • If a woman grows weary and at last dies from childbearing, it matters not. Let her only die from bearing; she is there to do it.  –Martin Luther
  • If no proof of the bride’s virginity can be found, she shall be brought to the door of her father’s house and there the men of her town shall stone her to death.  –Deuteronomy 22:20-21
  • Her feelings drive woman toward every evil, just as reason impels man toward all good. –Saint Albertus Magnus
  • When life begins with that horrible situation of rape, that is something that God intended to happen. –Senate candidate Richard Mourdock
  • Women will be saved by going back to that role that God has chosen for them. –Pastor Mark Driscoll, Mars Hill Church, Seattle

The anti-abortion protesters are confused—Are these new people on our team or not? They lean and shuffle so that they can read the signs more clearly. A couple even ask, “Who are you?But the sign bearers just smile politely and decline to engage. Patients, staff, and passersby who read the words are offended. In fact, they are even more offended by the quotes than they are by the dead fetus pictures. And that is the point.

Aikido is a Japanese martial art that makes use of the attacker’s own momentum as a defensive strategy. Rather than trying to oppose force head-on, an Aikido practitioner—who may be small and weak—leverages her opponent’s own strength and energy, nudging the attacker’s move in one direction or another, or exaggerating it slightly, rendering the assault harmless.

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The above scenario describing a clinic protest is an Aikido move. The abortion opponents hold up signs of fetal remains in an attempt to elicit disgust; the counter-protesters simply take that disgust and in a non-confrontational, nonviolent way, amplify and redirect it.

Why do words from the Bible and Christian authorities have Aikido potential? Because they are the driving force behind the dead fetus signs that have plagued patients and providers for two generations, and they are morally repugnant.  Abortion opponents may talk about babies and medical science; they may say falsely that abortion causes cancer or induces a psychological trauma syndrome, and that contraceptives render women infertile or that birth control pills turn your blood serum green. They may fight in court using legalese or pose as medical caregivers themselves, but behind and beneath it all lies the relentless drive of Bible belief and powerful religious traditions that lend the weight of absolute divine authority to gendered scripts.

As futurist Sara Robinson has said, in a century that included both the first automobile and the first man on the moon, the pill may well have been the most disruptive technology of them all. Every prior cultural or religious system, including Judeo-Christianity was scripted around one immutable biological fact: Women had no control over their fertility. This was the defining reality around which whole civilizations structured roles and obligations. It is why early legal codes, like that in the Bible, treated women as chattel—literally, the property of men. In cultures obsessed with patriarchal inheritance and sacred bloodlines, the only way to get around “mama’s baby, papa’s maybe” was for men to control the sexual behavior of their daughters, wives, and slaves.

One of the functions of religion is to elevate the status of cultural scripts, making them more durable, less subject to question and revision. “Why?” asks the curious or frustrated child. “Because I said so!” answers her parent, as if that answered the question. Later in life, faced with contradictions, frustrations, suffering, or self-doubt, the child (now grown) calls upon an introjected parent of divine proportions, and the answer echoes, “Because God said so!”

Many abortion protesters, though deeply religious, honestly believe that they are saving babies. They honestly believe that family planning hurts women. They have no idea they have been manipulated and are spending their days on the picket line in the service of an archaic script that served our Iron Age ancestors. Such is the power of rationalization.

Some do know that the secular arguments against abortion are philosophically tenuous or that family planning has tremendous power to lift families out of poverty. They know that the fight really is all about theology, but they would still prefer to make their case in universal terms. “Because my God said so” has less and less weight in modern society.

Globally, secularism is on the rise thanks in part to the Internet, and the United States is experiencing an unparalleled shift toward secularism. The New Scientist magazine recently took stock of the trend lines:

A decade ago, more than three-quarters of the world’s population identified themselves as religious. Today, less than 60 per cent do, and in about a quarter of countries the nones are now a majority. … Even in the US – a deeply Christian country – the number of people expressing “no religious affiliation” has risen from 5 per cent in 1972 to 20 per cent today; among people under 30, that number is closer to a third.

In Christian-dominant cultures, the violent and inconsistent passages of the Bible are becoming more known, as are the roots of Abrahamic religion in the earlier cultures of the Ancient Near East. Exposed to sunlight, ancient idols crumble, both literally and metaphorically, especially when they are held aloft by religious fanatics who are seen as judgmental and out of touch. Each of these is a trend-line that provides reproductive rights advocates with an Aikido opportunity.

Recently deceased Baptist pastor Fred Phelps was master of what I now call “The Phelps Effect,” in which a person makes his own position so repugnant that he moves public opinion in the opposite direction. Caught in the tangle of biblical literalism, Phelps quoted chapter and verse to back up his conviction that “God hates fags.” He became the face of homophobia, and he helped to make it repulsive. In doing so, he also undermined the authority of the particularly noxious scriptures he claimed as his own.

Like Phelps, most abortion opponents perceive themselves to be on a divinely appointed mission. Unlike Phelps, they may seek to downplay the biblical imperative that drives them, to deflect the debate onto topics like when life begins or fetal pain. They may use prenatal photography selectively to activate our protective instinct toward anything that looks big-eyed or remotely human. They may labor to blur the distinction between a fertilized egg and a baby or child. What they try to avoid is exposing the deep seated misogyny of their worldview. This year, the Republican Party has held trainings for national candidates on how to talk about women. Their goal is to try and avoid a repeat of the “rape Tourette’s” phenomenon that plagued the party two years ago. You can think horrible things about women, but just don’t say them.

This is where Aikido comes in.

Abortion opponents, on their own, may not go far enough to trigger the Phelps Effect. But we can. The clinic scenario that opens this article is one hypothetical example, but the opportunity is broader. I recently wrote about five religious leaders who are prone to saying awful things about women and LGBTQ people. I could have written about 50, each of whom provides ample opportunity to expose the long legacy of misogyny behind the man.

When we spotlight what drives the anti-choice movement, we expose a set of archaic imperatives that demand female submission and that tell young women they will be saved though childbearing. And ordinary Americans don’t like what they see.

News Abortion

Study: Telemedicine Abortion Care a Boon for Rural Patients

Nicole Knight

Despite the benefits of abortion care via telemedicine, 18 states have effectively banned the practice by requiring a doctor to be physically present.

Patients are seen sooner and closer to home in clinics where medication abortion is offered through a videoconferencing system, according to a new survey of Alaskan providers.

The results, which will be published in the Journal of Telemedicine and Telecare, suggest that the secure and private technology, known as telemedicine, gives patients—including those in rural areas with limited access—greater choices in abortion care.

The qualitative survey builds on research that found administering medication abortion via telemedicine was as safe and effective as when a doctor administers the abortion-inducing medicine in person, study researchers said.

“This study reinforces that medication abortion provided via telemedicine is an important option for women, particularly in rural areas,” said Dr. Daniel Grossman, one of the authors of the study and professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive sciences at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF). “In Iowa, its introduction was associated with a reduction in second-trimester abortion.”

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Maine and Minnesota also provide medication abortion via telemedicine. Clinics in four states—New York, Hawaii, Oregon, and Washington—are running pilot studies, as the Guardian reported. Despite the benefits of abortion care via telemedicine, 18 states have effectively banned the practice by requiring a doctor to be physically present.

The researchers noted that even “greater gains could be made by providing [medication abortion] directly to women in their homes,” which U.S. product labeling doesn’t allow.

In late 2013, researchers with Ibis Reproductive Health and Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health interviewed providers, such as doctors, nurses, and counselors, in clinics run by Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and the Hawaiian Islands that were using telemedicine to provide medication abortion. Providers reported telemedicine’s greatest benefit was to pregnant people. Clinics could schedule more appointments and at better hours for patients, allowing more to be seen earlier in pregnancy.

Nearly twenty-one percent of patients nationwide end their pregnancies with medication abortion, a safe and effective two-pill regime, according to the most recent figures from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Alaska began offering the abortion-inducing drugs through telemedicine in 2011. Patients arrive at a clinic, where they go through a health screening, have an ultrasound, and undergo informed consent procedures. A doctor then remotely reviews the patients records and answers questions via a videoconferencing link, before instructing the patient on how to take the medication.

Before 2011, patients wanting abortion care had to fly to Anchorage or Seattle, or wait for a doctor who flew into Fairbanks twice a month, according to the study’s authors.

Beyond a shortage of doctors, patients in Alaska must contend with vast geography and extreme weather, as one physician told researchers:

“It’s negative seven outside right now. So in a setting like that, [telemedicine is] just absolutely the best possible thing that you could do for a patient. … Access to providers is just so limited. And … just because you’re in a state like that doesn’t mean that women aren’t still as much needing access to these services.”

“Our results were in line with other research that has shown that this service can be easily integrated into other health care offered at a clinic, can help women access the services they want and need closer to home, and allows providers to offer high-level care to women from a distance,” Kate Grindlay, lead author on the study and associate at Ibis Reproductive Health, said in a statement.

News Abortion

How Long Does It Take to Receive Abortion Care in the United States?

Nicole Knight

The national findings come amid state-level research in Texas indicating that its abortion restrictions forced patients to drive farther and spend more to end their pregnancies.

The first nationwide study exploring the average wait time between an abortion care appointment and the procedure found most patients are waiting one week.

Seventy-six percent of patients were able to access abortion care within 7.6 days of making an appointment, with 7 percent of patients reporting delays of more than two weeks between setting an appointment and having the procedure.

In cases where care was delayed more than 14 days, patients cited three main factors: personal challenges, such as losing a job or falling behind on rent; needing a second-trimester procedure, which is less available than earlier abortion services; or living in a state with a mandatory waiting period.

The study, “Time to Appointment and Delays in Accessing Care Among U.S. Abortion Patients,” was published online Thursday by the Guttmacher Institute.

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The national findings come amid state-level research in Texas indicating that its abortion restrictions forced patients to drive farther and spend more to end their pregnancies. A recent Rewire analysis found states bordering Texas had reported a surge in the number of out-of-state patients seeking abortion care.

“What we tend to hear about are the two-week or longer cases, or the women who can’t get in [for an appointment] because the wait is long and they’re beyond the gestational stage,” said Rachel K. Jones, lead author and principal research scientist with the Guttmacher Institute.

“So this is a little bit of a reality check,” she told Rewire in a phone interview. “For the women who do make it to a facility, providers are doing a good job of accommodating these women.”

Jones said the survey was the first asking patients about the time lapse between an appointment and procedure, so it’s impossible to gauge whether wait times have risen or fallen. The findings suggest that eliminating state-mandated waiting periods would permit patients to obtain abortion care sooner, Jones said.

Patients in 87 U.S. abortion facilities took the surveys between April 2014 and June 2015. Patients answered various questions, including how far they had traveled, why they chose the facility, and how long ago they’d called to make their appointment.

The study doesn’t capture those who might want abortion care, but didn’t make it to a clinic.

“If women [weren’t] able to get to a facility because there are too few of them or they’re too far way, then they’re not going to be in our study,” Jones said.

Fifty-four percent of respondents came from states without a forced abortion care waiting period. Twenty-two percent were from states with mandatory waits, and 24 percent lived in states with both a mandatory waiting period and forced counseling—common policies pushed by Republican-held state legislatures.

Most respondents lived at or below the poverty level, had experienced at least one personal challenge, such as a job loss in the past year, and had one or more children. Ninety percent were in the first trimester of pregnancy, and 46 percent paid cash for the procedure.

The findings echo research indicating that three quarters of abortion patients live below or around the poverty line, and 53 percent pay out of pocket for abortion care, likely causing further delays.

Jones noted that delays—such as needing to raise money—can push patients later into pregnancy, which further increases the cost and eliminates medication abortion, an early-stage option.

Recent research on Utah’s 72-hour forced waiting period showed the GOP-backed law didn’t dissuade the vast majority of patients, but made abortion care more costly and difficult to obtain.


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