It's for your own good

There is one thing that is guaranteed to send me into a fit of righteous anger every time, and that is people (usually men) who try to restrict my behavior under the guise of "It’s for your own good." This is the strategy employed by the worst kinds of anti-choicers—the ones who truly believe that by telling women to submit to their role a breeder cows for the human race, they are actually doing us all a favor. Abortion-restricting legislation like 24-hour waiting periods and parental and/or spousal consent laws are the usual means by which the anti-choice crowd force women to conform to their way of thinking—if you’re going to slut around, you’ll need to be as inconvenienced and degraded as possible before you can assert your rights. These laws are infantilizing and patronizing, and serve only to further the belief that women are not fully-functioning adults; we must be coddled and have our hands held, all while being told that we are incapable of making important decisions without good, rational men to guide us.

The latest tactic is the abortion-depression link study that has been floating around. Seems some researchers have concluded that women who have had abortions have an increased risk of mental health disorders, and as a result, pro-life groups in the United States and New Zealand are seeking to require doctors to inform women of these findings prior to terminating a pregnancy. I’m all for informed consent, and believe that everyone should be apprised of the risks associated with any medical procedure, be it abortion or appendectomy. The problem I have is when anti-choice activism parades itself as academic research.

For the sake of argument, let’s pretend that the Fergusson study is correct—there is a correlation between abortion and depression (I refuse to accept a causal relationship—there are far too many other factors at work to make that assumption). Even if the Fergusson study proves an increased risk of depression for women who abort, there are two very important questions that it disregards: 1.) what is the risk of depression among women who go through with an unwanted pregnancy and 2.) what effect does social stigmatization of women who abort have on their continued mental health?

The first question is something the anti-choicers don’t want to consider. In their world, there are only two kinds of women: the evil sluts who fuck around and refuse to pay the consequences and the kind-hearted mothers who sacrifice all in the service of loving their children. While this dichotomy might be convenient, it’s hardly reality. A study conducted by Schmiege and Russo (abstract here) shows not only are claims of an abortion-depression link inconclusive, but the mental health effects of carrying an unwanted pregnancy to term outweigh any negative psychological effects of abortion. And it’s not only women that suffer from unwanted pregnancy; according to a study by the Transnational Family Research Institute, children who are the result of an unwanted pregnancy suffer serious physical and mental health risk as well:

Both unintended and unwanted childbearing can have negative health, social, and psychological consequences. Health problems include greater chances for illness and death for both mother and child. In addition, such childbearing has been linked with a variety of social problems, including divorce, poverty, child abuse, and juvenile delinquency. In one study, unwanted children were found less likely to have had a secure family life. As adults they were more likely to engage in criminal behavior, be on welfare, and receive psychiatric services. Another found that children who were unintended by their mothers had lower self-esteem than their intended peers 23 years later.

The adverse health consequences of teenagers' inability to control their childbearing can be particularly severe. Teenage mothers are more likely to suffer toxemia, anemia, birth complications, and death. Babies of teenage mothers are more likely to have low birth weight and suffer birth injury and neurological defects. Such babies are twice as likely to die in the first year of life as babies born to mothers who delay childbearing until after age 20.

It’s fun to pretend that the second a woman choose not to (or is prevented from) terminating a pregnancy she is suddenly transformed into Susie Homemaker and the World’s Greatest Mother, but this little fantasy simply has no basis in reality. The work of pregnancy (and it’s work, people, not the passive state the anti-choicers want you to think it is) and child rearing is severely trying for women who desperately want their children—imagine the consequences of being forced to do that work against your will.

But since I agreed to suspend reality and accept for a moment a correlation between abortion and depression, what could be the cause? Maybe it’s the social stigma that follows abortion, the belief that a woman who chooses to terminate a pregnancy has murdered her child for selfish and capricious reasons. Even those of us on the Left, people with pro-choice credentials make these assumptions. I’ve lost count of the number of people who’ve said something along the lines of “Well, one abortion I can understand, but two or more just shows that you’re irresponsible.” Why do we assume that women are allowed one get out of jail free card, and all subsequent pregnancies can be prevented by the simple fact that they’ve had an abortion in the past? Do we suddenly become infallible after an abortion, and if we have to go back to the clinic it’s obviously because we forgot to act like the sainted creatures that we are?

As long as society continues to shame women who choose abortion, disregarding their lives, ambitions and daily realities as inconsequential, these women will be at risk for depression. So the “pro-life” groups in the US and NZ are seriously interested in passing legislation to protect women’s post-abortion mental health, maybe that’s a good place to start.


annamaria at 11:19 AM

3 spoke


at Thursday, January 05, 2006 8:44:00 AM Anonymous Christy P said...

Well stated!

Where's Jen these days?

at Thursday, January 05, 2006 8:59:00 AM Blogger annamaria said...

I don't know where Jen is these days. I don't think she likes us anymore. Perhaps I should have a "Beg Jen to come back to us" open thread, and she can see how missed she is.

at Saturday, January 14, 2006 9:01:00 PM Anonymous Christy P said...

yea, do that!!!


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