Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Reproductive decisions skewed by anti-choice rhetoric

*This is a cross-post with ChoiceUSA*

I'm usually not one to follow entertainment news. I am, however, known to log onto now and then, just to see if there's anything huge going on. I rarely view the articles from People Magazine linked from CNN's website, but one article in the "popular news" category caught my eye:

Kourtney Kardishian agonized over whether to keep baby

I don't know who Kourtney Kardiashian is or why her unplanned pregnancy warrants a story in People Magazine. I gathered from the article that she is a reality TV star, and I know from previous knowledge that she is only one of the millions of women who will face an unplanned pregnancy this year. The difference between Kardishian and most other women, I gather, is that she is a celebrity. Additionally, she has apparently reunited with her boyfriend and is most likely not terribly strapped for cash. These can be powerful factors in a woman's decision; in fact, 73% of women who have abortions say they could not afford to care for a baby, and 48% cite single status or relationship problems as a reason they chose abortion.

Let me first say this: I'm happy that Kardashian, whoever she is, seems to have made peace with her decision, and that she feels well-supported enough to rise to the challenge of motherhood. What truly bothers me is the constant misrepresentation of unintended pregnancies by the mainstream media. We read articles about Jaimie Lynn Spears, Bristol Palin, and other young yet well-supported, financially-secure women who, in the face of less-than-ideal circumstances, choose motherhood. And we all say, "Awe, isn't that great!" We read updates about their bumps, their baby showers, whether it's a boy or a girl, the name, etc with dough eyes and pleasant smiles. From what we see in the media, you'd think the U.S. was full of a bunch of happy, sexually-autonomous moms-to-be. But as is usually the case, what isn't being said is far more telling than what we find on the newsstands.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, nearly half of all pregnancies in the U.S. are unintended, and about 40% of these (around 22% of all pregnancies) will end in abortion. Additionally, an estimated one in three American women will have an abortion by age 45. I can't say the unplanned pregnancy tales of woe we read in People reflect that statistic; in fact, the stories generally break after the woman has decided to carry to term. She recounts her confusion, her inner-battles, her weighing of pros and cons for each option, and comes out looking like a saint.

Now to be fair, Kardashian did openly say she actively considered abortion. She even went so far as to throw us choice folks a bone: "I do think every woman should have the right to do what they want [with an unplanned pregnancy]." But the article is explicit in outlining what very well could have swayed her opinion:

Confused and concerned Kardashian says, "I called my best friend crying, and I was like, 'I don't know what to do.' She said, 'Call your doctor, and at least find out the risks and stuff.' " So Kardashian discussed abortion with her physician, and then headed to the Internet to do further research.

"I looked online, and I was sitting on bed hysterically crying, reading these stories of people who felt so guilty from having an abortion," she recalls. "I was reading these things of how many people are traumatized by it afterwards."

Oh internet research, how unnerving your effects can be! I know from experience what happens when you type "abortion" into a Google search field. Okay, the first thing you see is an informational page from Planned Parenthood, but what's next?, one of the most dangerous, ill-informed resources on abortion you can find. Not only does cite bunk science in "proving" that there is a connection between abortion and breast cancer or infertility (there's not), it also claims that abortion causes a condition known as "post abortion syndrome" or "post abortion stress syndrome," a claim that has been refuted over, and over, and over, and over again by legitimate medical research and psychological evaluation. The pages of (as well as many of the other "abortion stories" you find out there) are tales of horror from women who were perhaps uninformed about their options, felt pressured into having an abortion, were perhaps treated badly by a clinician, or lacked decent support networks following an abortion. A friend of mine submitted her (very positive) abortion story to a "share your abortion story" website, but it never appeared on their pages.

Now, I do believe positive support networks for women having some grief following an abortion are important (and they exist). But I also believe the amount of grief or guilt a woman may feel following abortion is at least partially the result of the anti-choice movement's repeated message that abortion is something you should be ashamed of, and the "post-abortion counseling" anti-choice crisis pregnancy centers offer only serves to legitimize that.

This being said, it's no surprise to me that Kourtney Kardashian was, it seems, literally scared away from abortion when she made her final decision. This is not to say she would definitely have had an abortion had she been given access to unbiased information about the procedure, but like many women, her mindset was skewed from the start by anti-choice rhetoric. (Important to mention here is that many desperate women still pursue abortion even after being convinced of its "evils," which of course can create huge moral crises and an even greater need for post-abortion healing.) There is simply no way to claim a woman is fully autonomous in her reproductive decisions when there is so much false information out there.

I know abortion is a private decision for most, and I understand, especially given the stigma that's become attached to the procedure, why an actress wouldn't necessarily issue a press release following an abortion. But what if she did? I'm sure her career would take a hit. Who knows, she may even lose jobs the way Olympic athletes lose sponsorships following a positive drug test. I don't necessarily think we need more TV stars going public about their plight with unintended pregnancy; after all, their economic bracket is statistically far less likely to choose abortion anyway. Still, statistically speaking, we shouldn't only be hearing about positive outcomes with parenting and negative ones with abortion. Perhaps if more women were open, honest, and candid about the experiences we don't always hear about, this discrepancy would disappear, and we could reframe the abortion debate using information from the most unbiased sources out there: the women who have had them.

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