Joining over 40 other organizations concerned about maternal and child health and welfare, All Our Lives has signed onto an amicus curiae or “friend of the court” brief documenting the many evidence-based reasons why the State of Alabama should not criminalize substance using pregnant women.

One reason is that women will feel pressure to have abortions because substance abuse treatment is so difficult for them to access during pregnancy and they fear prosecution. Yet this criminalization is pushed in the name of establishing rights for unborn children! Punishing women and driving up the abortion rate doesn’t accomplish that in the real world.

We signed onto the brief after reaching out to National Advocates for Pregnant Women, in response to an RH Reality Check article by their attorneys Lynn Paltrow and Emma Ketteringham, Now It’s Clear: Pro-Life Means Pro-Imprisonment.

It doesn’t have to. And it won’t, if we can at all help it!

Thanks especially to Emma Ketteringham for her help.

There’s a scenario that’s gotten way past tiresome. (Example: here.)

To wit: Right-wing prolifer invokes early feminism. S/he produces problematic quotations in an utterly sloppy and yet oddly selective way to give the impression that early feminists did not simply oppose abortion; they were all exemplars of today’s misogynist “traditional family values.”

Prochoice critics rightfully point out the sloppiness and selectivity–thereby leaving their own impression that only an unscholarly, idiotic, deceptive person would argue that early feminists opposed abortion. Especially for any reasons that could matter today.

What *does* the historical record say?

Early feminists left plenty of solid material in their own words that expressed opposition to abortion–as prenatal lifetaking that resulted from the denial of women’s right to family planning and other substantive alternatives. Very often as part of a serious critique of “traditional family values”! For reasons that in many ways still apply today.

I have carefully researched and published on this material for over two decades and this is my well substantiated conclusion.

But who cares what *I* think, right? I’m just a family-destroying fake prolifer/antichoice woman-hating liar, right?

It wasn’t just the notorious antifeminist pundit Rush Limbaugh who said truly ugly things about the sexual character of Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke for her brave defense of women’s access to contraception.

While she did not take as nasty and perverted a turn as Limbaugh–not very hard to do, really–the actor Patricia Heaton tweeted a number of highly disrespectful, appalling things about Fluke. Heaton has since apologized. She apparently took down her Twitter feed for a while.

But All Our Lives still has some grave concerns about Heaton’s slutshaming of Sandra Fluke. After all, Heaton has long served as a celebrity spokesperson and honorary chair for Feminists for Life of America.

We hope Heaton is sincere in her apology.

We simultaneously wonder why such a public face of an organization that has feminism in its very name would go so quickly to insulting the sexual character of a woman who speaks up for affordable contraceptive coverage.

Especially an organization that names itself as feminist in its reasons for opposing abortion and creating postconception alternatives to it.

And it’s not just Heaton we are questioning. *Anyone* who identifies as pro both pregnant women’s and unborn children’s lives needs to speak up strongly, publicly, and unequivocally against slutshaming.

Many prochoicers have spoken up against slutshaming. Some abortion opponents, such as Abby Johnson, have spoken up–but where are the rest of the voices?

Slutshaming is a profound form of disrespect for women’s lives, in and of itself.

And it is a major cause of abortion in the US and worldwide, in history and in the present. Slutshaming heightens certain risk factors that female human beings and the children they conceive have for unintended pregnancies and abortions. It:

–Prevents girls and women from learning everything they need to know about their bodies and accepting and loving themselves as human beings with sexual and reproductive rights.
–Inhibits access to the full range of family planning methods and sabotages women’s ability to use their chosen contraception.
–Makes girls and women more vulnerable to all forms of gender-based violence.
–Puts intense pressure on those who have conceived in nonmarital relationships especially to have abortions rather than run the gauntlet of judgmentality, ostracism, and assault they will face if evidence of their sex lives becomes public.

If respect for life means anything: it doesn’t mean slutshaming. It means the very opposite!

I first read Our Bodies, Ourselves when visiting my brother and sister in law. My sister in law, who is pro choice, had it on her bookshelf. I found it to be a very comprehensive and informative resource on women’s health, despite not agreeing with its stance on abortion. I was thrilled, however, when I noticed discussion of the prenatal testing/disability rights issue, as well as disability and sexuality. Noticing my enjoyment of the book, my sister in law gave me the updated edition as a Christmas present.                                                                                              

Imagine my disappointment when I cracked the cover of the book and looked for those sections, only to find they had been removed. Issues related to race, religion, gender and sexual orientation remained, but discussions about disability had been relegated to a sidebar instructing anyone who wanted information on disability and prenatal testing to visit the OBO website. The section on disability and sexuality had been completely removed, without any mention of where that information could be found. As a woman with a disability, I felt ostracized. Here was a well-respected resource for women singling out disability as something so insignificant/controversial/whatever as to be segregated on the group’s website.  The book, to put it candidly, was subtly telling women with disabilities that we had no role in the discourse surrounding reproductive rights. I did bring this up on an OBO blog post in 2010 and was answered by an administrator:

“I’ve been part of the editorial team for the past several editions of OBOS, including the one currently in production, due out in October 2011. We faced a lot of space constraints in 2005, as that edition was quite a bit smaller than the 1998 edition, and some of the content you mention was cut. But our recent single topic book, Our Bodies, Ourselves: Pregnancy and Birth (2008) has an entire chapter on prenatal testing that addresses the complicated issues raised by testing and underlying assumptions about disability.”

I appreciate that OBO legitimized my concern with a response, which shows that they took it at least somewhat seriously. I’m glad that their book on planned childbirth includes a section on prenatal testing and disability. However, I continue to feel frustrated. Facing “space constraints” is not an excuse for segregating disability to the group’s website. The omission of the previously cited material from the 2006 edition, and the explanation that this omission was due to space constraints, indicates that the editorial board considered disability to be of lesser importance than issues impacting other minority groups. The omission sends the message that prenatal testing and disability is only worth knowing about if one is a nondisabled woman planning a family. The implication is that women in general don’t need or want this information, let alone let alone that pertaining to disability and sexuality.                                                                                 

I don’t know what happened between 1998 (the first edition I read) and 2006 (the newer edition) to make the editors decide that disability issues no longer merited use of the space provided for their book.  Was there someone on the 1998 committee with an interest in disability issues who was no longer on the committee when the 2006 version was compiled? Where people who experienced a termination for fetal disability offended that the book urged parents considering this decision to carefully consider their preconceptions regarding “quality of life,” and the editors felt their feelings trumped the concerns of disability advocates? The response I received indicates that the editorial board decided that something had to go and it might as well be disability issues. If so, did they appreciate how this decision contributed to the oppressive cultural zeitgeist that ignores the sexuality of people with disabilities, uses us as pawns in the abortion debate, and thrusts us outside the scope of human diversity? If not, why not? Why, in the very least, didn’t someone think that those with disabilities would complain about these changes? Did they just think we’re too powerless to say/do anything about them? Did the editors actually buy into the eugenic idea that people with disabilities shouldn’t/don’t have sex and hence didn’t deserve a place at the table when discussing issues related to sexuality and reproduction? I don’t know, but I feel these are all possibilities.                                                                                                                                       

My next statement will be somewhat controversial: I think that whoever was in charge of the 2006 OBO book felt that the book was automatically disability friendly because it extols a politically liberal worldview. This is, of course, crap. While most disability advocates believe in things strongly supported by the Democratic party (social security, Medicaid/care, a full range of family planning choices, LGBT rights, healthcare reform) we do have positions that deviate from mainstream liberalism, including critiques of selective abortion, efforts to eliminate institutions in favor of small group housing, and strong opposition to assisted suicide/euthanasia. We also support the social model of disability, something that people on both sides of the political aisle have struggled to accept or have resisted completely. People on the right shouldn’t expect our automatic support because they oppose selective abortion, and people on the left shouldn’t expect our automatic support simply because they support Medicaid/care. This is the result of both sides seeing us as “the least of these” who they, of course, want to support. If there is  no understanding of what that support entails, the so-called support becomes a very cynical form of tokenism. I hope that the 2011 edition reflects a reconsideration of whatever lead the editors to exclude disability issues in 2006.

In the debate over contraceptive coverage in the United States, many opponents have repeated the argument that they do not want to be forced to pay for "abortifacients," namely IUDs and hormonal contraceptives such as "the pill" and the emergency contraceptive Plan B.

But, as All Our Lives continually points out, this isn't what the scientific evidence says. Check out, for example, the references in our "Family Planning Freedom Is Prolife" slideshow.

In fact, these very methods are among the most effective reversible methods at preventing conception. So, they're not abortifacients. They are anti-abortifacients.

We have already discussed the grave real-life consequences of the misinformation here. Unfortunately, they go far beyond any blog post.

The Supreme Court of Honduras has just ruled that emergency contraception amounts to abortion and thus should be subjected to the same criminal penalties. Never mind that Honduran women's access to all kinds of family planning–pregnancy prevention–is severely restricted and the government.

If you appreciate the work of All Our Lives, please join us in challenging the rampant misinformation about how such methods of birth control work. Wherever you live, don't let it go unchallenged. Refer those who perpetuate it to our slide presentation, which lists specific scientific studies.

You will likely encounter complete resistance from some people, especially those who both categorically oppose birth control and want to interfere in others' right to make their own decisions about it.

But others will welcome the good news that these methods are anti-abortifacients. And if those of us who believe in family planning freedom say nothing, women will continue to suffer, and unborn babies to die.

MoveOn.org displayed a poster with a photo of an unborn child and a series of questions that All Our Lives has heard many times before.

"Will You Still Be 'Pro-Life' AFTER SHE'S BORN? Will you apply the same vigor to your work: against war, against hunger, against poverty, against homelessness, against our planet's degradation, against capital punishment, for human rights, for opportunities for education and jobs, that you do to your efforts to make abortion illegal? If not, please stop calling yourself 'pro-life.'"

So often these questions are accusingly rhetorical, with the expected answer-if the recipient has not been utterly shamed into speechlessness-of "Hell, no."

But that is not at all what All Our Lives has to say.

Our response?

Yes of course.Yes of course. Yes of course. Yes of course. Yes of course. Yes of course. Yes of course. Yes of course.Yes of course.

And by the way, it's all about making sure as few women and babies as humanly possible ever end up in situations where there appears to be no other choice.

Of course "pro-life" cannot mean anything less than this!

Those of us with disabilities have had experiences that may seem truly horrible to those without disabilities. Some of us are wheelchair users. Some of us grew up in special education. Some of us have had multiple surgeries or use a respirator. All of these experiences fall into the category of things society considers to be “undignified.” My involvement in Disability Studies circles has shown me that a unique, disability-rights centered, progressive ethic regarding imairment and disability exists.  For instance, during a presentation on scars and disability at the 2011 Disability Studies Conference, a presenter mused, "I'm an agnostic…but, if there is an afterlife, I can't imagine that Osama Bin Laden or Jack Kevorkian are enjoying it too much." 

Recently, Tim Shriver of the Special Olympics wrote a blog post entitled “Raise Your Voice for Dignity!” concerning the recent travesty experienced by Amelia Rivera and her parents at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. During a consultation at CHOP, Amelia’s mother was told that the hospital would not perform a kidney transplant because the three-year-old is mentally disabled by Wolf-Hirschhorn Syndrome. The same week brought another travesty concerning the plight of an unnamed woman with schizophrenia who was almost forced to undergo an abortion and sterilization (see these posts from the Boston Herald and Jezebel). These stories epitomize what it means to experience true indignity. (Psychological recovery from the knowledge of such inquity also merits about a gallon of Brain Bleach).

When I was growing up with a disability, it really didn’t feel like a “big deal” in and of itself-what made it problematic was other people’s attitudes. To put it another way, my disability entails deficits in spatial awareness and coordination. It is difficult to describe just how seriously this impacts my daily life, but it means that I get lost very easily. I trip, bump into things, etc and have always done so. Again, this is and was a nuisance, but I have always had a good sense of humor and self-respect, so I would let it go. I didn't know I was "disabled" and "different" until someone told me. Frustration, or even significant challenges, are not the same as “indignity.” I’ll never forget one teacher who blamed me for being bullied and tried to make me stay in at recess so this wouldn’t happen. When I went out to recess anyway and was bullied, she wrote home to my mother to tell her that it was my fault-for going outside during recess. THAT was indignity. I could provide copious examples of people in authority doing similar things while I was growing up. I watched as peers with disabilities experiencd the same tactics. Maybe the teachers and other adults who did this thought they were doing the right thing, but what they did was punish bullying victims instead of the bullies. Moreover, by doing this the bullies got what they wanted-the elimination of their targets. They were not forced to change-in fact, they were taught that their behavior is justified because there was something obviously wrong with their victims, who had been removed from activities that they, the tormentors, continuied to enjoy.

So it is when the adult world suggests abortion and euthanasia as a solution to human disability. This practice has the same effect as taking bullied students off the playground at recess. Instead of addressing social inequality and allowing disenfranchized people to experience the simple things we all enjoy, people who will find themselves in this category are removed from the playground of life, so to speak. In doing so, the original goals and perspectives of the eugenics movement are preserved.

Because of such experiences, people with disabilities often embrace a different concept of dignity than mainstream individuals. It seems to me that of late, the concept of dignity has been conflated with “propriety,” and “orderliness.” Conversely, indignity has been equated with “yucky” and “embarrassing.” These conceptions are wedded to current conceptions of autonomy, which is often defined by the ability to execute daily tasks without assistance (what disability advocates would refer to as accommodations) or any kind. In contrast, a disability rights centered concept of dignity centers primarily on the facilitation of autonomy and interpersonal respect. Accessable buildings, education and mediical care promote automomy, whereas inaccessibility creates indignity. A disability-conscious concept of dignity acknowledges that indignity is caused by social constraints upon the tools needed to facilitate personal decision-making. Dignity does not mean looking past someone’s disability, but accepting it as an integral part of who that person is and respecting that individual’s right to equality.

The editor and publisher of On the Issues Magazine, Merle Hoffman, has been involved in providing abortions for over 40 years. In Where the Reality of Abortion Resides: Intimate Wars, she bears witness to

…so much vulnerability: legs spread wide apart; the physician crouched between white, black, thin, heavy, but always trembling, thighs; the tube sucking the fetal life from their bodies.

A poignant thread runs through so many of her clients' stories.

"I would want to keep this pregnancy, if only…" I learned that it is in the "if only" that the reality of abortion resides…

If only I wasn't fourteen.

If only I was married.

If only my husband had another job.

If only I didn't give birth to a baby six months ago.

If only I didn't just get accepted to college.

If only I didn't have such difficult pregnancies.

If only I wasn't in this lousy marriage.

If only I wasn't forty-two.

If only my boyfriend wasn't on drugs.

If only I wasn't on drugs.

If only . . .


Yet Hoffman concludes:

The act of abortion positions women at their most powerful, and that is why it is so strongly opposed by many in society…the assumption — the myth — that women should not be trusted with this ultimate power.

But Hoffman's perspective does not leave any room for the very real motives for the stance that All Our Lives-takes against abortion. We trust women to exercise power-with, nonviolent power. Power-over, for people of any gender, is another matter. However, we don't agree to begin with that abortion "positions women at their most powerful."

I do not question Hoffman's intent to help women in difficult situations. But I hear in this claim a strange reminder of certain antiabortionists who also believe that abortion is women's "ultimate power."

Unlike Hoffman, they take this as the ultimate reason to oppose abortion. They harbor a virulent suspicion and hatred of women who dare to exercise any kind of power. Let alone any power over life and death of the sort that men have traditionally and territorially staked out for themselves. This is precisely why they can behave as if life begins at conception and ends at birth without becoming so ashamed of themselves, they crawl under a rock.

Even conceding (however briefly, for the sake of argument) that women are at their most powerful in the decision to have an abortion: what does this say about the severity and gravity of the constraints that still bind women's lives? If abortion is an exercise of women's "ultimate power"-isn't that a cause for weeping? And isn't that a cause for ensuring that no woman and child/as few women and children as possible ever end up in that position?

All Our Lives opposes abortion-and tries to build substantive alternatives-because we believe it is so often a sign and symptom of women's powerlessness.

Powerlessness to prevent unintended pregnancies, powerlessness to get through and beyond difficult pregnancies.

It is not fear or mistrust of women's power that moves us. It is sorrow and distress and outrage that women are so robbed of power, on such a massive scale, in such an intimate, painful, lifetaking way.