By Jacqueline S. Homan, author of Divine Right and Classism For Dimwits
In the past 35 years’ onslaught on women’s basic human right to bodily autonomy (i.e. specifically to reproductive choice) under the “pro-life” banner, the anti-woman/pro-forced birth movement — 77% whom are male, 100% whom will never be pregnant — has never promoted any laws to protect women from unwanted pregnancies in the first place, thus eliminating about 90% of all early term abortions, which comprise 88% of all abortions according to the Alan Guttmacher Institute. As an aside, most early term abortions are due to birth control failure. The risk of death from pregnancy complications increases exponentially for women over age 35, and the time a woman spends vulnerable to pregnancy spans from menarche to menopause — about 40 years of her life.
The hazards, rigors, risks, side effects, pain and trauma of childbearing are rarely talked about in these abortion “debates.” Neither is the vulnerability of destitute and homeless pregnant women and the extra hazards that pregnancy imposes on them in their already precarious situation. The “pro-life” faction has never valued or protected the lives of vulnerable women, and for the most part, the majority of men never cared about women. Viagra is doled out like water at a marathon and is covered by almost all insurance plans, including Medicaid, to ensure that every selfish jerk who refuses to wear a condom can get it up but what about all the poor women that get pregnant as a result? Who takes care of them?
Reproductive abuse against women far out-ranks the number of women who get pregnant to “trap a man.” A study published by Dr. Elizabeth Miller in the September/October 2007 issue of Ambulatory Pediatrics confirms this — 25% of the young women surveyed reported incidents of abusive partners who tried to force them to get pregnant against their will by sabotaging their birth control and manipulating condom use.
The same mentality that thinks it’s perfectly OK to treat women as disposable reproductive chattel who should be forced to get/remain pregnant against our will with no concern for what permanent physical and psychological damage that such a traumatic thing poses for us — never mind care about how the reproductive “livestock” feels about it — is the same mentality that rationalizes that it’s OK “rent” a woman’s vagina for an hour and do whatever they want to that woman’s body since they “paid for it.”
Men as a class have all the money (because men get the lion’s share of all the good-paying jobs), sexual entitlements and political voice, and that gives them power as a class over women’s sexuality and reproduction. That power is tied to violence and force. When sugar-coating fails, violence in the form of misogynistic male-centric laws eliminating access to birth control and abortion clinic violence follows — it’s carrot-and-stick dominance. Men get to say who they fuck, when, and under what terms and conditions irrespective of how the woman feels about it or what it might do to her as a result (frequently couched in terms of “consequences” that only women “deserve”). Freedom and social justice for only half the citizenry is not freedom and social justice at all.
When men watch medical education videos of pregnancy complications and videos of live natural childbirths and they see the tremendous pain and trauma that women suffer trying to give birth, nearly ALL of them say “thank god I have a penis.” But what you will never hear any of them say is: “I don’t want my sister/niece/wife/girlfriend/daughter to be forced to go through that against her will just because she had sex.”
Newsflash: Having a uterus, ovaries, and a vagina is not a “lifestyle choice.”
Misogyny and the oppression of women as a class does not occur in a vacuum. The oppression of women happens because of consent through silence and indifference by those who have the most unearned privileges and who get to dictate all the rules, policies, customs, norms, and traditions in this society. The onus for dismantling oppression created in this system of unearned privileges rests on those who have privilege.
Since birth rates have jumped as a result of limited access to reliable contraception and abortion through “conscience clause” laws and “fetal personhood” laws enacted in many states, our maternal death and disability rates surpass those in some Third World countries — serving as grim reminders that women are the last to be taken care of in this society. People utterly disregard the pregnant woman as if anything she suffers as a result of being forced to give birth doesn’t matter, usually articulated as “you should have kept your legs shut” and “just have the baby and put it up for adoption” when it’s pregnancy and childbirth that are exactly what a woman seeking birth control and/or having an abortion wants to avoid — for very good reasons!
Since the passage of Roe v. Wade up until the recent Planned Parenthood clinic closings, 40 million women safely terminated unwanted pregnancies. During that same period, 21 million women died from pregnancy complications or during/shortly after giving birth. 400 million women have sustained debilitating permanent health problems, side effects, disabling childbirth injuries, and disfigurement which utterly destroyed their lives. A woman dies in childbirth every 90 seconds, according to WHO and Amnesty International. This is what male privilege costs women. Getting stuck in traffic is an inconvenience; being forced by law and public policy to go through pregnancy and childbirth against your will and having to suffer all the inherent risks and side effects is more than just a mere “inconvenience.”
According to obstetric specialist and colorectal surgeon Dr. Michele Thornton, about 40% of all Western women who have given birth sustain pelvic floor damage, leaving them with permanent fecal and urinary incontinence — undermining their confidence, wrecking their sex lives (which destroys marriages), and eliminating their ability to function in any job. Dr. Thornton also states that the problem is underreported because many women are too ashamed and embarrassed to tell their spouses and partners, let alone tell their doctors. Even when the surgical repair of fistulas caused by obstructed labors, episiotomies and tears is successful, the permanent physical limitations and compromised organ tissue’s integrity remain permanent, costing women everything from being able to participate in society to being able to have a normal sex life to being able to keep their jobs or get hired at new ones. Maureen Treadwell at the Birth Trauma Association confirms this devastation and frequent occurrence of this “silent epidemic.” The trauma from the emotional and physical fallout left many women unable to contemplate another baby.
As to the argument that pregnancy and childbirth — particularly childbirth without pain relief — are “natural” to the female condition and that biology is destiny, there’s nothing logical about equating “natural” to “safe” and fate. The natural course for appendicitis without medical remedy is 30% chance of death from peritonitis. Who in their right mind would deny a person remedy for that natural infliction on the human condition?
And if it’s “only natural” to force women to endure pregnancy and childbirth against our will when we don’t want to or can’t handle it for whatever reason, then why the need for unnatural man-made laws to forcibly deprive women of access to contraception and abortion? If this was all so natural with everyone “in their place”, women would only have sex when pregnancy was the goal.
Many women’s bodies don’t handle pregnancy well. Not all women suffer the worst results of pregnancy and childbirth, but there’s no way to accurately predict which women will and which won’t — it’s a real crap shoot even under the best of terms and conditions. Here is a short partial list of the permanent and often irreversible changes to a woman’s body caused by pregnancy and birth which really makes the shot-gun wedding or the 18 years of monthly child support checks (if she gets it), and inadequate, meager temporary welfare benefits look like a cheap kiss-off:
Normal or expectable side effects of pregnancy:
- gestational diabetes – can remain permanent as Type II diabetes
- heartburn and indigestion
- dizziness and light-headedness
- bloating, swelling, fluid retention
- hematoma (usually on the vulva but can be on the inside of the vagina)
- mild to severe backache and strain
- difficulty/discomfort with sleeping
- increased urination/incontinence
- gum disease (leading to premature tooth loss)
- breast pain and discharge
- swelling of joints, leg cramps, joint pain
- difficulty sitting/standing in later pregnancy
- inability to take regular medications
- hair loss (this is a permanent side effect)
- inability to participate in some sports and activities
- high susceptibility to infection (pregnant women have a much lower immunity to illness, infection and disease than non-pregnant women or men because the pregnant woman’s immune system has to literally shut down so her system’s antibodies don’t attack the implanted fertilized ovum)
- extreme pain during labor and delivery (which can last for several hours to several days)
- hormonal mood changes, including post-partum depression
- post-partum psychosis/birth related PTSD (caused by a birth that was traumatic for the woman)
- extended post-partum recovery period and exhaustion (a difficult vaginal birth or a C-section can take a year or more to fully recover)
Normal, expectable, and frequent permanent side effects of pregnancy and birth:
- permanent weight gain or redistribution
- permanent change to pelvic skeletal and ligament structure — it is not uncommon for a woman’s hips to be 4” wider than normal for the passage of the fetus during birth as her pelvic bone opens and ligaments stretch, and often this change is permanent, leaving many women unable to EVER get back into their pre-pregnancy clothes even if they lose ALL their pregnancy weight (leaving poor women who are unable to afford to go out and buy all new clothes with absolutely nothing to wear except a couple pairs of oversized sweatpants and maybe one or two donated used maternity outfits)
- abdominal and vaginal muscle weakness that Kegels won’t necessarily prevent or fix
- pelvic floor disorder (causing urinary and fecal incontinence and severely diminished quality of life, try re-entering the workforce with a problem like that!)
- difficulty resuming employment due to lifting restrictions imposed by permanent pelvic floor damage from pregnancy stress and/or childbirth injuries.
- changes to breasts (saggy and “deflated”)
- disfigurement/scarring from episiotomy or C-section
- other permanent aesthetic changes to the body (which can be devastating to a woman’s life chances for everything from finding a marriage partner to getting a good job in a culture that emphasizes women’s value on youth, thinness and beauty)
- loss of dental or bone calcium (tooth decay/loss and osteoporosis)
Occasional complications and side effects:
- domestic violence (pregnant women are more at risk for being murdered by boyfriends and husbands than non-pregnant women)
- hyperemesis gravidarum (kidney failure, requiring surgery and kidney stent)
- obstructed labor (caused by fetal malpresentation, large babies, fetal shoulder dystochia resulting in internal pelvic organ tissues to necrotize)
- permanent injury to back (late pregnancy and delivery)
- severe lacerations, tissue scarring requiring surgery (especially after additional pregnancies)
- prolapsed uterus/vagina (risk increases tremendously after additional pregnancies and pelvic floor weaknesses)
- pre-eclampsia (the most common pregnancy complication — edema and hypertension associated with 10% of all pregnancies, mostly among older pregnant women; a precursor to eclampsia, which is fatal)
- eclampsia (convulsions, seizures, coma during pregnancy or labor, fatal unless pregnancy is aborted)
- gestational diabetes which often remains permanent in the form of Adult Type II diabetes – resulting in permanent debilitating health condition requiring medication, often leading to blindness and limb amputations (aggravated by lack of ability to afford healthy food low in starches and sugars)
- placenta previa (causes laboring women to bleed to death during delivery)
- thrombocytopenic purpura (causing women to bleed to death during/immediately after birth)
- embolism (blood clots, air bubbles, amniotic fluid bubbles escaping into circulatory system causing stroke or massive heart attack; usually fatal)
- medical disability requiring total bed rest
- diastasis recti (abdominal muscle separation/tears)
- mitral valve stenosis (causes heart failure, stroke, and pulmonary edema)
- lack of resistance to highly infectious diseases
- hormonal imbalance (causes weight problems, depression, and breast and reproductive organ cancer)
- ectopic pregnancy (fatal unless medically aborted)
- broken bones (rib cage and lower spine from fetal pressure in late pregnancy and during delivery)
- refractory gastroesophegal reflux disease
- aggravation of pre-pregnancy conditions/diseases (epilepsy, diabetes, heart condition, high blood pressure, etc)
- permanently ruined sex life from injury to the nerves and tissues of the sexual organs (caused by 3rd and 4th degree vaginal tears, episiotomies, etc. during delivery often accompanied by permanent fecal and/or urinary incontinence)
- elevated risks for certain cancers
Serious complications causing permanent problems associated with pregnancy, labor and delivery:
- peripartum cardiomyopathy (weakened heart)
- cardiopulmonary arrest (fatal: irreversible brain damage and death occurs within 4 minutes)
- severe hypoxemia/acidosis
- increased inter-cranial pressure, brainstem infarction (An Alzheimer-like forgetfulness from brain matter shrinkage called “mommy brains”)
- molar pregnancy/ gestational trophoblastic disease (a mass of abnormal/malignant tissue growth from the placenta)
- malignant arrhythmia ( coronary artery spasms)
- obstetric fistula – (tear/hole due to tissue damage from pressure to the area separating the vagina from the rectum or the vagina from the bladder; causing urine and/or feces to pass through the vagina uncontrollably. Fistulas require surgery and are not always able to be repaired even after several subsequent surgeries)
- colostomy – caused by an irreparable obstetric fistula
More permanent side effects:
- autoimmune disease – caused by lingering Y-chromosomes from carrying a male fetus
- ovarian cancer – caused by elevated estrogen levels due to pregnancy
If pregnancy was a drug, the FDA would have banned it decades ago. Instead of enacting any measures that enable women and girls to defend themselves from unwanted pregnancies, every “pro-life” measure is backdoor sexual prohibition against women — from the Hyde Amendment to the “fetal personhood” laws and “conscience clause” laws to discriminatory clinic zoning regulations and unaffordable (and invasive) mandatory vaginal ultrasounds — restricting or eliminating access to birth control and abortion, deliberately targets women to punish them with pain, physical and economic encumbrance, trauma, debilitating health problems, risk of disability or death, and disfigurement for the “crime” of having sex.
The “pro-life” bloc refuses to admit this. They trivialize the harm to women and even justify it in terms that preserve unearned male privilege at the expense of women’s human rights by claiming that it’s “all about the baby” and that we should “punish rapists, not the unborn” — as if this somehow makes it perfectly OK to subject women to torture, cruelty, disfigurement, enslavement, permanent bodily damage and possible death against their will without any regard for how the reproductive “livestock” feels about it, or if we survive the ordeal. The only ones “pro-lifers” are interested in punishing are not rapists, but those whose bodies incur 100% of the risks and side effects of pregnancy and birth: women.
Griswold v. Connecticut (passed in 1965) framed the right to access contraception as a “marital privacy” right. Roe v. Wade (passed in 1973) quite specifically made the balance between a woman’s human rights to life and bodily autonomy and the fetus very reasonable and fair. But the predominantly white male rapists’ rights political bowel movement persisted under the “morality” banner and succeeded in chipping away at Roe v. Wade and Griswold v. Connecticut over the last 35 years to the point where a woman’s basic human right to have control over her own body exists in name only.
The pro-forced gestational enslavement movement never cared about “the unborn” except to use a fetus to shame and injure its “slutty” mother; otherwise an artificial stand-alone uterus would have been invented by now to facilitate the transplantation of a blastocyst/zygote from an unwilling female host with minimal risk to her, creating a win-win situation. But fascists rarely compromise.
Abstinence-only until marriage has been a major epic fail. A marriage license is not contraception and doesn’t prevent any pregnancy that a woman cannot handle/does not want to carry, and abstinence in a marriage is not conducive to nurturing and preserving marriages and families in a nation that already has a 50% divorce rate. Adoption is not the solution to unwanted pregnancy; it’s the solution for those who don’t want to parent the child after it’s born. When a woman does not want to be pregnant, the drive to become un-pregnant is as strong, if not stronger, than the natural forces that want her to stay pregnant. And then she will seek an abortion and do anything to get one, whether it is safe and legal or not. That is fact.
Those cloaking their misogyny in the habiliments of “morality” say that sex is for procreation only, and should only be engaged in when childbearing is the plan. But that flies in the face of reality. Humans, unlike many other mammals, do not have seasons for going into heat. We can reproduce at any time of the year. As a highly social species, we have sex for purely pleasurable reasons and emotional pair-bonding most of the time without wanting to have a pregnancy result with each encounter. There is nothing “sinful” or “slutty” about that. That is reality.
As a bipedal species with large brains, pregnancy and childbirth is exceptionally hazardous for women. When you see a mother, you’re looking at someone who suffered through a physically grueling experience with permanent battle scars that aren’t a pretty Norman Rockwell picture. Pregnancy is not a benign health condition — a cold hard fact that has been sanitized and romanticized with too much quackery. Not too long ago, pregnancy and childbirth killed about one fifth of American women.
A ruined body is the least of the hazards, although aesthetics should not be downplayed in a society where a woman’s life chances for everything from job opportunities to finding a life mate to gaining/keeping social acceptance hinges on being thin and “attractive looking” enough — whether we like to admit it or not. And not all women are able to “snap back” after childbirth, even if they did “all the right things” during pregnancy and after giving birth. Often, pregnancy fat never goes completely away. This is non-trivial considering the devastating emotional effects of poor body image suffered by women and girls as a direct result of the pornification of advertizing in which an unrealistic standard of beauty is upheld as “normal” and males drive this by making cruel and cutting comments about women’s bodies that fail to meet this unreasonable criteria.
In addition to these personal expectations, husbands, family members, friends, and media images add to the pressure, warning that having a baby is no excuse for “letting yourself go.” Yet few women are able to regain their pre- pregnancy figures. Childbearing and the passage of time change bodies in irrevocable ways. According to the Department of Health & Human Services, eating disorders among pregnant women has reached epidemic proportions. Incidences of bulimia have tripled since the 1980s and anorexia incidences have also risen, according to studies collected by the National Eating Disorders Association.
Forced childbirth is tantamount to FGM and sexual torture, considering that 85-90% of all women who give birth naturally suffer vaginal tears and/or episiotomies which are extremely painful and traumatizing, often resulting in long-term debilitating health conditions. Deprivation of my human rights would never be acceptable if I were a man. Who today would debate the “right” to own slaves?
Forced pregnancy and childbirth is no more moral than any other form of forced organ donation. No “pro-life” laws exist anywhere that force men to suffer trauma, pain, permanent damage to their bodies and risk of death from mandatory kidney donation surgery to save the life of another — even if the person in need of it is their own child who would otherwise die without it. No one has the right to the use of, or to coerce the use of, another’s body — in whole or in part — against their will.
Consent to sex is not consent to pregnancy. Medical ethics and philosophy professor David Boonin framed the argument supporting a woman’s right to choose based on consent. A woman has the right to refuse use of her body to support another potential human’s continued existence if:
- The cost is not trivial (even “good” pregnancies in healthy women of optimal childbearing age are non-trivial).
- The woman has not previously consented to the exact conditions of use, or the conditions which she consented to have changed.
- The woman does not owe the recipient (fetus) compensation for causing its worsened condition.
Boonin quite specifically excludes a woman who conceived following consensual sex from obligation to provide life support for that developing entity. The fetus would not have existed without this act and its accompanying male act, and is therefore better off — not worse off. The female host has not caused any harm to the fetus at all and is therefore not required to compensate it by being an incubator. The fetus on the other hand, is harming its host, and is therefore obligated to her. And the male that has caused the woman harm by impregnating her when she didn’t want to become pregnant is therefore obligated to compensate her.
Any woman who wants to gestate some “pump and dump” ungrateful prick’s genetic material for patriarchy’s benefit in almost a year of involuntary servitude is more than welcome to do so. But no woman owes such sacrifice and martyrdom to anyone — especially not to a society that has always treated women like garbage; a society that grants full personhood to 15 second old zygotes and corporations while denying that very status of personhood to the woman in whose body that zygote is being hosted.
Forcing women to get and remain pregnant against their will is a violation of human rights, period. The architects of the UN and Article 7(g) of the Rome Statute agree. The International Criminal Court (ICC) in addressing the “most serious crimes of concern to the international community as a whole” has provided an international legal definition of rape. The Rome Statute has acknowledged sexual assault as both a war crime and also as a crime against humanity. The Rome Statute was adopted and opened for signature on July 17th 1998 and was entered into force on July 1st 2002. There are 139 signatories and 89 state parties to the statute. The Rome Statute establishes a permanent ICC body with jurisdiction over individuals limited to the crimes within its jurisdiction to prosecute. The Rome Statute defines these serious crimes as the crime of “genocide; crimes against humanity; war crimes; and the crime of aggression.”
Article 7(g) of the Rome Statute states: “crimes against humanity means any of the following acts when committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population with knowledge of the attack: Rape, sexual slavery, forced prostitution, forced pregnancy, forced sterilization, or any other form of sexual violence of comparable gravity.” Article 7(g) also includes the “persecution against any identifiable group or collectively on gender…or other grounds that are universally recognized as impermissible under international law” as well as “other inhumane acts of similar character intentionally causing great suffering, or serious injury to body or to mental or physical health.”
Now, this War on Women did not occur out of the blue. It began with the concept of idolizing “invade and conquer” ideologies, male-centric cults of hero worship, and the promotion of wealth accumulation through deracination and turning everything (including women) in the natural world into disposable commodities for the sole purpose of converting them into dead capital.
What we have is a predator society based on misogyny, racism, and capitalistic competition and that predation fosters aggression and manifests itself in our “culture of rape.” That we lead the world in producing serial killers speaks truth to power about the casualties of male privilege, patriarchy and capitalism. It is not the perpetrators who are solely responsible for our inequality but also those who are sitting on the sidelines doing nothing about it except covering their own asses by excluding themselves from wrongdoing. Doing nothing in situations of injustice is the same as being an enabler. Silence is consent.