Monday, October 24, 2005

Abortions, Abstinence-Only, and The Debate over "Need."

In conversation with my usual Friday crowd, justme noted that I write alot about abortion. His objection to the posts on abortions is that any of us would refer to abortion as a need. While he is willing to grant that some abortions are needs, I take his point to be that most abortions are wanted because to have a child would be inconvenient. I hear this sentiment quite a lot. And, I find it really hard to easily refute. To convince someone that his default view of abortion--that women get them because it is more convenient--when in reality the choice and then carrying out of that choice to get an abortion is unbelieveably difficult--is no fun. I am not sure that there is a similar or correlate experience that men have to go through (although, I am willing to entertain some ideas). To be able to understand why women will talk about abortions as needs, you need to more sympathetically listen to and understand their stories. You need to get the whole picture of what it is like to grow up, even in this small county, as female. You need to begin the discussion free of these preconceptions that women get abortions because being pregnant is an inconvenience.

A few months ago, I wrote about an early 2oth country doctor from Grove, OK who performed a great deal of abortions in his town during his 30 + years of providing medical care. I have been fortunate enough to get to read William Jennings Bryan Henrie's unpublished manuscript and some of his prision notebooks. What is compelling about his writings (which I am in the process of getting grants to make them public) is how moral, deeply moral was his practice to help these women. He writes his manuscripts to tell the stories of the women who had to suffer the moralistic, religious fanatical condemnation---none of those who condemned these women actually tried to hear their stories. So, Dr. Henrie sets out to tell the stories of the women whom others have tried to malign, judge, or "air their dirty laundry."

I just came across an excellent diary by moiv at Kos. I recommend you read her account of the countless women, now evacuees in Texas, who need to get abortions. She includes the stories of Tracy, Charlene, and Louise. I ask that those of you who still believe that abortion is fundamentally abused or misused try to read the stories of the women who seek out abortions. Hear what they have to say before making your mind up. Better yet, go volunteer for a day at the local Planned Parenthood and see who comes in and asks for an abortion. She how many of these women are smiling and jumping with glee because they can get on with their lives. See how many women are just callous.

You might see young women, like those I teach, who were irresponsible. They didn't bring contraception with them when they headed out for the party. Those same women, however, may not have known how to say no. They were worried that they guy would be mean to them or would never talk to them again. If the latter situation is going on, then what we have here is a shocking situation of low, low self-esteem. Young women think that by giving in and sleeping with guys (without birth control handy) that they are going to be loved or admired.

Of course, these women could've been given date rape drugs and men could've refused to use birth control too. It is so astounding to me that the entire issue of abortion becomes a judgment on irresponsible females. The man never has to face or endure that kind of scrutiny for his behavior. How regularly are men humiliated and have their lives ruined (either by reputation or by having to drop out of school etc.) for irresponsibly having unprotected sex?

Do you solve that problem--the irresponsible and low self-esteem girls--by shutting down all avenues for getting good, compassionate, and comprehensive care? NO. But this is what the local high school has chosen to do, thanks to the current administration's funding of Christian social service agencies.

Just yesterday, I had the opportunity to ride to Harrisburg with a teenager from the local High School. She told me that the young women are required to take abstinence only education classes from Real Commitment. My teenager friend told me that the 4 years of these courses have left her with an absolutely low self esteem and body image. Not to mention that she has no idea how to get access to birth control or a gynecological exam. But, this program uses tactics like singling out a young woman to chew a piece of gum throughout a brief presentation. After a few minutes, the Real Commitment facilitator says to the young girls that if they have sex they will be like this chewed up piece of gum. NICE!

I asked her if the boys are given these same degrading messages. She told me that the method with the boys is to convince them that they will have a more fulfilling partnership if they wait for one woman. The girls, on the other hand, are warned "why take the cow if you can get the milk for free"? What era are we in?

I should also add that the teenage pregnancy rate has not dropped as a result of Real Commitment. What has gone on the rise is women having very little self-esteem and poor body images (feeling themselves to be utterly vile and unholy if they have a normal sexuality). Being a women and having to fulfill these traditional biblical gender roles, btw, are among the risk factors for intimate partner violence (see this CDC report). Also, what is on the rise is "blow job" parties, wherein the women are giving all the pleasure to the men, since it is not "having sex." Anal sex is on the rise too. I find these "loopholes"("it's not real sex") to be utterly demeaning to the young girls.

According to U.S. News and World Report, the percentage of teens having anal sex because of abstinence groups has risen to 15 percent. Author Marty Beckerman who is publishing his second book Generation SLUT around Christmas, teens who subscribe to the True Love Waits philosophy and other abstinence groups have a warped view of sex.

"The percentage of teens having anal sex has gone into the stratosphere," Beckerman said. "Statistics show the average True Love Waits pledgee only waits six months longer than other teens.... This is a generation for which there are only one-night stands, nothing meaningful or lasting. I'm not advocating no sex, just better informed."

Maybe the real epidemic to be worried about is not kids having sex or getting pregnant or transferring STDs, but growing up ignorant. That's something that can be cured.

This moralizing and cruel behavior among the girls "ooh, she got birth control" or "so and so had sex with her boyfriend" makes me want to vomit. This witch hunt that so-called Christian groups set up in highschools is a breeding ground, if you ask me. Any young girl who maturely chooses to get birth control is ostracized and punished. While the holier-than-thou kids having anal and oral sex are spreading STDs and making most of their "girl" partners feel like crap. The responsible, mature girl who honors her sexuality is a slut or whore. Her entire self-worth becomes bound to these moralizing and downright mean-spirited descriptions of women who choose to have sex.

I want to know of some examples where men who have sex are treated in this same, degrading and moralistic way. When do men feel ashamed of their bodies and their whole identities if they have sex in this culture? Do the men getting tons of free blowjobs feel like a chewed up piece of gum?

Anyway, I want to end with a plea to my readers to donate to the Lillith Fund and Texas Equal Access to help these Katrina evacuees get their abortions. Getting an affordable abortion when you are poor is hard enough, but when you add a total criss like Katrina on top of that it is nearly impossible.