If Texas were to keep its latest promise to secede, it would find itself dragging up the rear on the list of industrialized nations who have been successful at reducing the rates of maternal mortality. In a study to be published in The Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, the research publication for the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, new figures reveal that a woman’s chance of dying as a consequence of pregnancy in Texas are TEN times worse than they are in world leaders Iceland, Finland, Greece, and Poland, and 125 percent worse than the chance of dying in California.
According to the report, “[A]fter 2010, the reported maternal mortality rate for Texas doubled within a 2-year period to levels not seen in other U.S. states.” The report also shows how the data was checked and re-checked to try to account for the surge in numbers. The report was originally commissioned to track whether the United States was in compliance with U.N. goals of cutting worldwide maternal mortality rates by 75 percent by 2015. What was discovered is that most states did not report whether female deaths had occurred within a set period after pregnancy or childbirth — in other words, basic records omitted whether a woman had died as a consequence of giving birth — and when the additional questions regarding childbirth were added to state reports beginning in 2003, they reveal that in opposition to the worldwide trend of dropping maternal mortality rates, the rate in the United States should be cause for national outrage.
While liberals have attempted for decades to placate anti-choice zealots with the rhetoric that they support the idea of abortion being a right that is “safe, legal, and rare,” the fact that so many women are dying of pregnancy-related ailments shows how attempts to compromise have led to the deaths of women. For forty years, Democrats have allowed the punishing Hyde Amendment to stand. The Hyde Amendment, named for Illinois Republican Representative Henry Hyde, declared that no American should have to “participate” in another woman’s abortion decision by using tax funds to pay for abortions. Therefore, the Hyde Amendment prevents federal Medicaid funds from being used to pay for abortion services. The lack of moneys disproportionately affects poor women, who are also much less likely to have access to the kind of prenatal care that leads to more healthy outcomes for both women and infants. Not only can a low-income woman not get an abortion, she also cannot get access to basic maternal health care.
Hyde did not care that he was trampling on the rights of poor women. He claimed to be doing it for the fetuses: “I certainly would like to prevent, if I could legally, anybody having an abortion, a rich woman, a middle-class woman or a poor woman,” he told Congress in 1977. “Unfortunately, the only vehicle available is the (Medicaid) bill.” Some states do allocate funds to assist low-income women with money to help pay for abortions, but, coupled with the number of state legislatures that have passed arbitrary regulations the effect of which leads to the closing down of women’s health clinics, many low-income women are either unable to pay for, or unable to access abortion services. Which is exactly the way the anti-choice armies want it.
Anti-choice groups have been brilliant at co-opting the language of pseudo-science or of anti-discrimination in a constantly evolving rhetoric of opposition to abortion. Whereas early opposition to abortion was a sham issue organized around the idea that the “natural” order of the family was dependent upon a woman’s subjugation of her will to her husband’s, and therefore, the forfeiting of all autonomy over her body and becoming her husband’s brood mare, the newer arguments against abortion are manipulations of language that, on the surface, sound familiar to liberals.
For example, over at the “Concerned Women for America” site, a recent article refers to children with Down’s Syndrome as the “Special Needs” community. The article purports to be by a young woman whose mother had amniocentesis when pregnant with her. The mother was told that the fetus had Down Syndrome, but chose to continue with the pregnancy. The young woman writing the article claims the test was wrong — she is proof positive of that. But, she is arguing for a bill that is entitled the “Pain-Capable Unborn Child” act. This law, similar to those that other states have attempted to pass, points to bogus scientific studies (the silent scream) that claim that a fetus in the womb is capable of feeling pain after 20 weeks gestation. According to this “science,” abortion after 20 weeks should be banned. Since amniocentesis — one of the tests for Down Syndrome and other profound birth defects — cannot be performed until around 16 weeks, one of the purposes of the bill is to prevent the aborting of fetuses with Down Syndrome. Of course, there are no financial provisions made to assist parents with the special needs care that a baby will need — that is not the concern of the anti-abortion folks. And any right to privacy that a couple may have regarding this decision is buried under rhetoric that equates aborting fetuses with Down Syndrome with Nazi eugenics programs.
Liberals have not adjusted their language to fight against these new types of rhetorical strategies. In Texas, where maternal mortality rates are, well, mortifying, the Heidi Group, an anti-abortion group, received $1.6 million of limited state health funds despite providing nearly nothing of value to underserved women. But, in their rhetorical language, they are able to convince Texas legislators — who have already successfully defunded Planned Parenthood and are in the process of trying to close down every single women’s health clinic that is still left operating in Texas — that it will be “dol[ing] out the funds to … doctors and nurses who serve rural areas across 70 counties. ” In language that could have been stolen from a Planned Parenthood brochure, Carol Everett, the charlatan who runs the business, told the Austin Chronicle “My goal is to reach that little girl in a small county with no hope of having anybody explain her birth control options or have her blood pressure checked.”
Planned Parenthood, which the anti-abortion forces has managed to label as an “abortion group,” is a women’s health organization that provides the full spectrum of women’s health services to women who either cannot afford a private OB-GYN, or who might prefer the services at PP. At PP, a woman can get her blood pressure checked, a PAP smear, a breast exam, a physical, and reproductive services. PP treats the whole bodies of women, although to hear anti-abortion groups tell it, women only have one part of their bodies that ever require attention.
This is significant because women who die in childbirth are not dying of the “old” causes of death during childbirth. Women are dying in childbirth now because of high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and other health issues that are undetected or unattended to. In the past, women died in childbirth from such things as ruptures and other bleeding, and from puerperal fever — infection. But having a weakened heart, high blood pressure, or diabetes are conditions that would be detected if a woman were receiving real medical care, and not the crackpot care that she is likely to receive at a “crisis pregnancy center” where the only purpose is to show a woman photographs of aborted fetuses and convince her that she is going to hell for even considering prioritizing her own life over that of the potential life she carries within her.
Liberal rhetoric does not help the cause. By continuing to emphasize that abortion should be “rare,” liberals continue to attach shame and a need to hide having had an abortion. If more women were aware of how many other women had had abortions — that is, if more women were more upfront about having made that decision — than other women would not feel so alone or unwilling or unsure about their futures if they chose that option for their themselves.
Someone who has been out front about her abortion is British feminist and writer Caitlin Moran. . She thinks that one of the reasons that men do not understand abortion on a visceral level is that women just don’t talk about it. She compares the experience of an accidental pregnancy to the experience of a man who gets drunk one night and wakes up the next morning to find a 23-year old man named “Alan” sitting on his porch — whom he is now responsible for taking care of for the rest of his life — the consequences of making a single mistake while drunk. But she also argues that the reason that people like Todd Akin are able to say stupid things about women not getting pregnant from rape and therefore not needing an abortion is because the women in Todd Akin’s life are not talking to him.
“They must know women who’ve had abortions. They must know women who’ve been raped. They’re socializing with these people every day and presumably these women who’ve had abortions or been raped keep quiet. Then again, men just continue to be allowed to live in their own ignorance and it’s why women need to talk about these things.”
So, while it can be cathartic to point and laugh at the absolute fuckwaddery of the “pseudo-science” that comes out of Texas and other states where legislators refuse to believe that pregnancy continues to be a risky proposition, it’s also a deadly serious problem. We’re past the point of laughing. Anyone who argues that abortion or reproductive rights make for “single-issue voters” is missing the point. If a woman cannot control her own reproduction, she loses control over her economic status, over her ability to pick and choose where she is going to live, or who she is going to live with, how she is going to provide for the children she may already have, whether she is going to continue her education, whether she can continue to live with her parents — and as the statistics now show, whether she is going to stay alive.
One way to combat the stories that the right wing tells about women who have abortions or women who use Planned Parenthood’s services is for women and men to tell their stories. While I have not had a medically induced abortion, I have had a second-trimester spontaneous abortion. I have also given birth to two children. And, I have used Planned Parenthood’s services for everything from STD counseling to the Morning After pill. We cannot allow the right to embarrass into silence.
And, it is also time for us to be telling new stories in our culture. Again, to quote Moran,
Joseph Campbell says that Greek mythology is what most of Western stories and culture are based on. It’s based on physical power, mainly male physical power—war, dominance, finding a woman, getting her pregnant, continuing the family line, and the consummation of power—and the majority of Hollywood films are based on that stuff. I think we need a new mythology now, because culture has changed so much. We need to start acknowledging the things that happen to women, to gay men, to transgender people, to people of a different color living as an ethnic minority in a country. We don’t have any stories about these, really.