Saturday, October 14, 2006

FFL: "F" for "Fear"

"Feminists" for Life is a particularly problematic group. And they just bought Susan B. Anthony's historical house. If you visit their website, you'll find all sorts of questionable material. The first sign of trouble should be their ambiguous stance on contraception. You'd think that a group trying to empower women and to prevent abortions would be all over this *obvious* and *effective* way to do both at the same time. But not so much. Here's their FAQ page on contraception:

Feminists for Life's mission is to address the unmet needs of women who are pregnant or parenting. Preconception issues including abstinence and contraception are outside of our mission. Some FFL members and supporters support the use of non-abortifacient contraception while others oppose contraception for a variety of reasons. FFL is concerned that certain forms of contraception have had adverse health effects on women.

Our membership enjoys a broad spectrum of opinion that reflects the diversity of opinions among the American public.

In the time of the early American feminists, sex between married couples was not always consensual. Many women bore 20 or more children, of whom only half survived. In order to affirm women’s rights within marriage, most feminist foremothers promoted “voluntary motherhood,” whereby women would have the education and right to fully participate in the decision to have sexual relations. FFL likewise supports life planning by focusing on one's education and career plans coupled with mentoring and empowering programs for teens.

God, that's tricky, right? The reason it's so vague and side-stepping is because they aren't very well going to f-ing tell us anything. But let's, you know, try to decipher this.

First point: This is a group whose mission is to prevent abortion, and they're seriously saying that contraception and abstinence stances are outside of their focus??!! This should raise, oh, a few red flags. The purpose clearly isn't to help women NOT HAVE TO CHOOSE by never having an unwanted pregnancy in the first place, but to convince women that the only right choice is to carry the unwanted pregnancy.

Second point. They don't mention any specific "non abortifacient contraception" methods. Maybe because they aren't so sure what this means. According to the medical definition, this is a straight-up oxymoron. You can't contracept (prevent pregnancy) and abort (end pregnancy) at the same time. The only way you can even imagine this, is if you change the definition of pregnancy, which anti-choice activists have attempted to do (totally ignoring that the sperm-meets-egg moment, even under ideal conditions, still has only a 50% chance of implantation under the best of circumstances). Anyways. You would think that they could at least commit to condoms, right? This should raise more red flags. They're clearly pandering to a base that buys into the idea that a "contraception mentality" is bad.

Third point: So what's going on with this disclaimer that they're concerned about "adverse health effects" of contraception on women? This is pure baloney. What types of contraception exactly are they claiming has adverse effects? They don't say because they don't know. Contraception is far, far safer than either having an abortion or giving birth. There's also the side benefits (like the pill & clearing up acne). So unless we're never going to have sex (highly unlikely), we're probably going to opt to use contraception.

Fourth point: They do, however, seem to take some stance on what happens pre-pregnancy. But this is further shrouded in ambiguity. The rhetoric here is incredible. I've bolded it for your viewing pleasure. So first they take a look back at pre-modern contraception methods of advocating that women be able to choose whether or not to engage in sexual relations. This is a "duh" moment. Then they say "FFL likewise supports..." We might well be confused. So do they only really advocate abstinence from sexual relations? Are we never to have sexual relations unless we're trying to get pregnant? Should we therefore have sex around, oh, twice in our lifetimes?

The part that should be scary, is that they don't say otherwise.

Also scary, is the fact that you can't get to many straight answers on their website. And sometimes when you do, you wish you hadn't. Example is their "medical expert" on abortion. They try to paint it as a dangerous, scary procedure, with their "right to know" page detailing anything that could possibly go wrong. They oh so conveniently overlook the fact that an abortion is SAFER than giving birth. And that contraception is safer than either. And what really pisses me off is the blatant lies:

Finally, some of you may be aware that recently there have been reports that link breast cancer with abortion. Since abortion has been legal for over 20 years, and sometimes it takes 20 to 30 years for a cancer to develop, this link is just starting to surface. More research is needed, especially since so many women have abortions every year coupled with the fact that so many women also die from breast cancer.

More baloney. The medical establishment is more than clear on this, and these sorts of lies have actually gotten many abstinence-only sex ed. groups in trouble. Because it's a lie carefully crafted to play on women's fears of breast cancer, and because it ignores all the (better and more up-to-date) studies that show no link whatsoever between abortion and breast cancer. Actually, let's do what any intelligent-person-with-a-conscience-posting info.-on-health-concerns would do before dissemeninating said info. Let's look at what the National Cancer Institute has to say about it:

The relationship between induced and spontaneous abortion and breast cancer risk has been the subject of extensive research beginning in the late 1950s. Until the mid-1990s, the evidence was inconsistent. Findings from some studies suggested there was no increase in risk of breast cancer among women who had had an abortion, while findings from other studies suggested there was an increased risk. Most of these studies, however, were flawed in a number of ways that can lead to unreliable results. Only a small number of women were included in many of these studies, and for most, the data were collected only after breast cancer had been diagnosed, and women’s histories of miscarriage and abortion were based on their “self-report” rather than on their medical records. Since then, better-designed studies have been conducted. These newer studies examined large numbers of women, collected data before breast cancer was found, and gathered medical history information from medical records rather than simply from self-reports, thereby generating more reliable findings. The newer studies consistently showed no association between induced and spontaneous abortions and breast cancer risk.

Well, lookey here! Should we trust the National Cancer Institute, or the one "expert" over at "Feminists" for Life?

This has been brought to you as another demonstration on "The Rhetoric of Fear."


karuna said...

I love Feminists for Life!!! As a pro-life conservative, I was always so torn between women's issues and the abortion debate. FFL gave me an outlit to support women and at the same time support the pro-life cause.
I find it interesting that these are the topics you choose to pick on with regards to FFL. Next time an FFL speaker is in the California area, I urge you to go hear her talk because they are pretty amazing. I brought a bunch of Mohos to an FFL speaker in DC and they were blown away.

FFL does not take a stance on contraception because quite frankly it is out of their domain. Plus, as people in a group they approach that issue differently. They are focused on preventing abortion by changing the way society treats pregnancy. For example, they are responsible for a bill in congress to distribute money to unviersities around the country for housing and medical services for pregnant women. Their head attorney, Ms. Roberts (yes her husband is the chief justice of the Supreme Court) is prosecuting a catholic elementary school for firing a teacher because she is pregnant. Basically, you've missed some of the point of the organization. The idea is that women deserve better than to be told that they have to kill their children. And while you may say that it is their "choice." FFL would disagree with you because of how many anit-pregnancy, anti-single motherhood messages exist in our society. See, this isn't really about contraception as much as changing the ground rules.
FFL isn't necessarily like other pro-life orgs because it is really geared toward changing society (what I would refer to as changing the patriarchy) so that a woman can be pregnant and go to school and have a that we don't have to change our reproductive systems to be accepted in a male dominated society.

With regards to the breast cancer thing, I understand that some of those claims are dubious. However, I would encourage you to check out the stats on women who are killed by abotions on a daily basis. Frankly, I think organizations like NARAL have made us all believe that abortions are a lot safer than they actually are.

Also, I think you should leave the abortificient thing alone. In all honesty, if someone believes life begins at conception, then anything that kills that fertilized egg is seen as a semi-abortion becaues *shocker* it is killing a life. Some contraceptions (plan b) do this in some cases. Essentially this means that the egg is fertilized but not allowed to bury in the uterus. Regular birth control does not allow you to ovulate, so the egg is not fertilized. However, Plan B does not always prevent ovulation. You may not believe this matters but FFL does.

I will forward you a couple FFL pieces that I found particuarly powerful. I'm not saying it will change your mind. But I think even you can come to appreciate what FFL does in terms of making society a more acceptable place for unwed, pregnant women.

Becky said...


I'd heard about many of their projects. And while I appreciate the urge to make it possible for women to do work/school/life in the public sphere while having children, I find their approach extremely questionable.

First, it's both absurd and disingenuous to pretend that contraception is "outside of their domain." They want to prevent the mindset in which an unplanned pregnancy is a crisis: then why not prevent the unwanted pregnancy in the first place? Wouldn't most women be far more appreciative of an organization that makes sure teenagers know what contraception is and how to use it, and has programs to provide contraception to low-income women? It's great that they want to give women more choices post-pregnancy, but I think any group trying to genuinely help women prevent unwanted pregnancies need look no further than the condom.

And I don't think we can pretend that we can ever change society so drastically that every woman is going to actually CHOOSE to carry an unwanted pregnancy. Some women don't want to be mothers or pregnant, ever.

As to the safety of abortions: Everything I've read indicates they're safer than the risk of complications with a normal pregnancy. It's obviously better and safest in the first trimester (I won't get into the resulting problems with wait-periods and hundred mile drives to clinics and requisite "counseling" visits).

And I would leave the abortificient thing alone if people were at least consistent in their views. Plan B works the same way as the pill, and frankly the pill is more likely to cause a fertilized egg not to implant than Plan B. Plan B, as far as we can document, does not cause "abortions" in that sense, because it doesn't have the chance to change the environment of the uterus. Its primary function is to prevent ovulation, just like the pill. And I don't think that public policy should be based on speculations that maybe .5% of the time Plan B might prevent implantation. I mean at that point, I'm wondering if jumping up and down could be considered an "abortion." If a pregnancy is under way, Plan B does nothing. In fact, you might have heard about a woman in the blogosphere (Biting Beaver) who got Plan B too late (due to pharmacists refusing to give it to anyone but married women) and she's now pregnant.

Anyway, even if FFL has qualms about the pill, Plan B, IUDs, etc., I still think they should at least take a stance on contraception. Even if it's only a vague "we support women's right to use the contraception they feel is best for them and prevent pregnancy."

But you're right -- I was highlighting some of my main issues with the way in which FFL presents itself. They have some projects I'm totally on board with, even though we're looking at the same issues from different points. The lack of a clear stance on many issues on their website really upsets me. I looked at some of their PDF brochures, and found them equally vague. My worry is that they're working off the mistaken premise that every woman would want to have every unwanted pregnancy if only we could change society. And I just don't believe that. Any organization like this, in my mind, needs to recognize that on average women are going to want maybe two kids each in this country. How the organization chooses to confront the fact that women are therefore going to need contraception (or never again have sex, which I find a horrible idea on many levels), is perhaps the most important point.

karuna said...

I really don't think they have to deal with the contraception issue at all. They aren't trying to make decisions for women concerning sex or safe sex. They also don't consider it their domain to educate people so that they do or don't have sex. Their main concern is society in general regarding how we treat pregnant women. Therefore, I don't see it as much of their concern to approach the birth control issue.FFL does not have qualms with the pill or whatever other birthcontrol. They simply do not take a stance on that.

A lot of what FFL is concerned with is changing the perspective on pregnancy in general. Frankly I don't know if every woman would want a baby if we changed society and I don't think you do either because we don't know what a society that accepts life as a gift would look like. I'm sure some women would want to not have children, but I also think most women who have abortions because they want to stay in school or because they don't want to face the financial issues associated with a baby, would actually have the baby if society actually gave them a fair choice. And who are we to say that society can't change that much. I think it's changing like that day by day. You can look at top companies coming out with telecommuting plans for their employees so moms can stay home with their kids and universities like Georgetown building on campus housing and daycare centers for pregnant students and moms. Things are changing because organizations like FFL are pushing for change.

See becky, you are missing the whole goal of FFL. It isn't to help prevent pregnancy. It's to change society so that being pregnant isn't seen as some sort of tragedy equivalent to cancer. It's to reach out to pregnant women and understand the situations they are coming from. For too long the pro-life movement has said to women that they are irresponsible for getting pregnant. And the pro-abort movement has told women that the baby inside of them doesn't count for much. FFL puts out women's stories about the type of pain they felt, giving up the life inside them. And FFL seeks to change society so women actually have a choice to have a baby or not. I would contend that in today's society, women do not have an equal choice.

I think this is a powerful quote that summarizes the issue in our society associated with abortion and exactly what FFL tries to change: "When a man steals to satisfy hunger, we may safely conclude that there is something wrong in society- so when a woman destroys the life of her unborn child, it is an evidence that either by education or circumstances she has been greatly wronged." - Mattie Brinkerhoff, The Revolution, September 2, 1869

Becky said...

I actually really like that quote. But whereas FFL wants to treat the effects (the unwanted pregnancies), pro-choice orgs want to treat the causes (the need to prevent the unwanted pregnancies). We could argue all day about what's inside of whose domain, but (at the end of the day, so to speak) it's incredibly telling that there are no anti-choice organizations that actively and explicitly support contraception. This is a HUGE problem! The anti-sex attitude that is involved with believing teenagers shouldn't know about contraception (as if they aren't going to need to know when they eventually DO get married?!) hurts young women who do end up pregnant, and it contributes to the anti-pregnancy attitudes that you say FFL is trying to combat.

You're right that I shouldn't say such a society that welcomes every single unintentional pregnancy isn't possible. It's just more utopian than communism. I'm imagining all sorts of welfare programs and gov-subsidized child care just to make it economically possible, let alone changing mindsets. And if such organizations as FFL DON'T support contraception of some sort, then it's a frankly unsupportable world view in the long run. Because out-of-control population growth is just not compatible with the limited space of the planet, or with the needs of people who are already here. And if we don't support contraception, and we want every pregnancy to be developed, then we're really looking at a world in which women again have 10-20 children each.

I assume that this is not the FFL's goal, but that's why I think they need to be more explicit and more supportive of helping women to not have unintended pregnancies in the first place. I find it really hard to fathom why orgs like FFL can't combine goals with the many pro-choice groups trying to prevent unintended pregnancies in the first place. I think women deserve a world in which every pregnancy is intentional.