Spin Doctors: The One Thing Anti-Choice Politicians Don’t Want You To Know

Image credit: Taylor Marsh
Image credit: Taylor Marsh

[Ed. Note: Spin Doctors is a new column at AFCW, where we'll delve into the junk science behind anti-choice legislation. This week, Thomas Alberts debunks fetal pain laws.]

So-called fetal pain laws are the latest anti-choice craze — they’ve passed state legislatures throughout the nation,  most notably in Texas, where HB 2 has forced 16 abortion clinics to shut down since September. The claim behind these laws — that fetuses in utero begin feeling “pain” at 20 weeks’ gestation, and so abortion should be illegal after 20 weeks – might seem scientific. After all, if someone is running legislation based on this idea being true, it must be proven somewhere, right?

Well, not exactly. Much like the pseudo-scientific evidence and questionable studies discussed in last week’s post on Post-Abortion Syndrome, the evidence for fetal pain at 20 weeks is weak. Studies claiming to support it have been refuted by respected scientific authorities including the Journal of the American Medical Association. In fact, a fetus’s brain or nervous system cannot sense pain until 24 weeks – a full month later than what groups pushing these bans claim.

Fudging the facts for emotional appeal isn’t uncommon when it comes to extreme laws like HB 2. When I was a practicing fundamentalist Christian during my early years of college, I recall watching “pro-life” television programming hosted by the Catholic priest Father Frank Pavone. I remember watching alleged ultrasounds of abortions that anti-choice activists claimed showed a fetus physically reacting to the abortion procedure by backing away from medical probes and “flinching.” They even zeroed in on fuzzy stills from these ultrasounds and claimed that they showed “silent screaming.”

Rather than scientific evidence, the anti-choice community often relies on emotion based activism from their supporters. Courtesy of www.usatoday.com.

Rather than scientific evidence, anti-choice legislation often relies on debunked junk science for an emotional appeal. (Image via.)

However, medical research shows that the movements produced by fetuses on these ultrasounds (despite the frightening and emotion inducing descriptions given by anti-choice activists) are ‘reflexive, not experiential.’ The fetus doesn’t actually feel anything.The reaction I saw was similar to the reflex of a muscle when it is stimulated in a particular way. It was not actually “backing away in terror.” It had no ability to feel terror.

You’d thinking running legislation based on junk science would be a national scandal. But that hasn’t been the case. The fetal pain argument seems to be one of the anti-choice movement’s most compelling strategies. It hasn’t caused the same backlash that the laws mandating transvaginal ultrasounds did. In addition to HB 2, fetal pain legislation has also been introduced in Mississippi (which will soon be enacting it), Minnesota, and West Virginia (whose governor thankfully vetoed legislation passed there).

Courtesy of www.liberalamerica.org

Image via.

Another key fact to consider? 20-week abortion bans actually only affect little more than one percent of all abortions that take place in the United States. Supposing that your aim is to reduce abortions, and given how rare abortions after 20 weeks really are, why would you expend so much energy on 20-week bans? The answer is simple, and frightening. 20-week abortion bans aren’t really about reducing abortions or protecting the wellbeing of children. They’re about control, and just one step in a systemic agenda to chip away at reproductive rights. And that’s why we need to fight these bans. Because even one woman denied her fundamental right to abortion care when she needs it is too many.

From Daria to Buffy: Even More Feminist TV Characters

Daria -- just one character we can't believe we forgot. (Image credit: MTV)
Daria -- just one character we can't believe we forgot. (Image credit: MTV)

Two weeks ago,  we ran a post exploring our favorite feminist TV characters, and when we asked who we left out, our readers, members, and Facebook and Twitter friends delivered. Once more with feeling – we now present to you another roundup of female characters who broke the TV mold:

1. Daria Morgendorffer: Like Lisa Simpson, Daria Morgendorffer was a lone voice of reason in a world of (actual) cartoons, rising phoenixlike from the numbskull party that was Beavis and Butthead to take on suburban ennui, sexism, and Machiavelli’s The Prince in her own prime-time TV slot. Daria tempered everything she said with her legendary deadpan sarcasm, but there was always a grain of truth – and sometimes a feminist truth – in her ongoing commentary.


Julio Salgado and Mia McKenzie at Black Girl Dangerous created an amazing “Where Are They Now?” scenario where Lisa Simpson and Daria are feminist BFFs. As they should be. (Image Credit: Julio Salgado, Black Girl Dangerous)

2. Roseanne Connor: Some of us are a little too young to have watched Roseanne when it was on TV, but the show’s pop cultural significance is not lost on us. Not only did Roseanne depict a female-headed household, it featured a working family, empowered and funny women, and characters who didn’t physically fit the TV “ideal” mold, without apology.

Roseanne: Did you need evidence that women are funny? (Image Credit: CNN)

Roseanne: Did you need evidence that women are funny? (Image Credit: CNN)

3. Veronica Mars: We kind of can’t believe we initially forgot Veronica Mars on our first list. Strong, smart, clever girl detective who is still in high school? We’re not worthy! But there was more to Veronica Mars than that. Anita Sarkeesian at Feminist Frequency points out that her tech savvy itself is notable in a sad TV landscape that rarely showcases women with technical skills. “One of the things that drew me in immediately to the show was how technologically savvy Veronica Mars is,” writes Sarkeesian. “It’s a pretty rare representation to have young women shown as super knowledgeable about all different technologies, so you see her often using computers and having a really good understanding of how they work.”

Veronica Mars: We're not worthy! (Image Credit: Wired)

Veronica Mars: We’re not worthy! (Image Credit: Wired)

4. Buffy Summers and Willow Rosenberg: Buffy and Willow saved the world (a lot), and the final season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer was basically a metaphor for feminism – the solution to the apocalypse was female empowerment! Buffy and Willow’s friendship was also hugely refreshing and realistic compared to other shows – which were less likely to depict women as friends, or framed female friends as shallow frenemies. Buffy and Willow weren’t perfect, and didn’t even have much in common superficially, but they respected and cared about each other, and brought out the best in one another when it really mattered – re: demons (literal and otherwise) and all the Big Bads.

Buffy and Willow: lady best friends, for real. (Image Credit: FanPop)

Buffy and Willow: lady best friends, for real. (Image Credit: FanPop)

It’s great to have so many feminist TV characters to choose from that we can’t contain them all in one post. Who did we miss this time? Let us know in the comments.

Friday Femorandum: Why Feminist Killjoys?

“In some cases, the information provided would be of little or no relevance to patients.” At RH Reality Check, we weighed in on hospital policies released to the Department of Health last week and the one simple thing that would have made them easier to navigate for consumers.

Resigning: Kathleen Sebelius.

“There’s one definite good thing that’s likely to come out of this newly passed pointless exercise in stroking the Tea Party: It’s likely to make for some pretty good ads for Democrats this fall.” In an act of strange political symbolism, the House passed the Ryan Budget this week — which would repeal the Affordable Care Act, and is unlikely to pass the Senate — and Wonkette has a point.

“That kind of protesting is not appropriate in front of a school where children have to walk by they have to be inundated.” In Texas, extreme anti-choice activists are targeting students at a Fort Worth high school, prompting local parents to pressure the school board to consider a buffer zone.

Equal Pay Day was Tuesday. President Obama observed it by announcing two executive orders to bolster federal contractors’ existing equal pay protections. But not everyone felt like celebrating…

 “Are Republicans in the Senate so repulsed by equal pay for hard-working American women that they can’t even stomach the thought of debating the issue?” The embarrassing answer to Harry Reid’s sensible question, reports Roll Call, is yes.

“Does [Justice] Scalia Have a Conflict of Interest on Abortion Clinic Buffer Zones?” asks Robin Marty at Care2 this week. The answer? Oh, probably.

“The average length of stay for a pregnant detainee in the El Paso center was nearly 26 days, according to the data obtained.” Fusion reports that 40 pregnant women were detained in an El Paso US Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) processing center last year. ICE later retracted that number, and had earlier claimed to limit detaining pregnant women to “extraordinary circumstances.” Fusion’s go-to critic of detaining pregnant women? Our own US Senator Patty Murray.

“The panel said Tuesday that patients would most likely suffer irreparable harm if the rules took effect because they would lose access to a common abortion procedure.” Good news from the NY Times! A federal appeals court has upheld last week’s stay on Arizona’s medication abortion law, which would have baselessly outlawed medication abortions after only 7 weeks of pregnancy.

And: A murder charge against a Mississippi woman who delivered a stillborn baby — that would have set a dangerous precedent for criminalizing pregnant women — has also been thrown out.

In case you missed it: Here at A Few Choice Words, we wrote about last week’s heartbreaking case of a 10-year-old in Senegal who was raped and is now pregnant with twins, and cannot access abortion care because of Senegalese law. There’s more to the story than sensationalist headlines – here’s what it can tell us about arcane colonial laws, women’s rights, and similar cases closer to home.

Why Feminist Killjoys? A few Friday Femorandum subscribers have asked us why we celebrate a Feminist Killjoy every week. The term originated as an insult that operates on the silly premise that people who support gender equality are a bunch of feminist killjoys ruining the sexism party. Obviously, this isn’t true — a “sexism party” is no party at all.

We think it takes guts to be a feminist killjoy. And we think that bravery should be recognized. So every week, we highlight someone who has used their political power to advance gender equality, or spoken out against sexism, or done something that makes us want to stand up and applaud in the middle of the workday.

This week’s Feminist Killjoy is Dr. Caroline Heldman, the Occidental College politics professor and frequent political commentator who has led the charge to strengthen college sexual assault policies and enforcement following the news that Occidental was inadequately reporting and addressing sexual assault on campus. Dr. Heldman was among the professors who filed a Title IX complaint last April, stating that Occidental had violated Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which has led to a nationwide push for greater accountability on the way sexual assault is addressed on college campuses. She’s also a great speaker who said this in a TEDx talk on the politics and repercussions of self-objectification:

….and she’ll be in Seattle next month.

Have the best weekend.

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Throwback Thursday: The Radical Feminist Who Ran For President

Victoria Woodhull, Victorian radical. (Image credit: NNDB)
Victoria Woodhull, Victorian radical. (Image credit: NNDB)

Given that all US presidents have been men, it may be surprising to know that the push for a woman in the Oval Office dates back over a century. Victoria Woodhull, born September 23, 1838, was the first woman to run for U.S. Presidency. And she ran for president even before women had won the right to vote. Her radical political views, combined with her eclectic lifestyle, made her into one of the most controversial figures of her time. It’s no wonder then — though it is unfortunate — that some of her arguments for gender equality are still being debated today.

Woodhull was an early advocate for women’s rights, and saw gender equality as human rights issue, saying, “I come before you to declare that my sex are entitled to the inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

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Senegalese Abortion Law Sheds Light On Larger Access Issue

(Image credit: Public Health Watch)
(Image credit: Public Health Watch)

In maybe the most heartbreaking news story you’ll hear this week, a 10-year-old in Senegal who was raped and is now pregnant with twins cannot access abortion care because it is illegal in Senegal. Given its feminist prime minister, relative stability (it’s one of the few African countries that has never had a coup), and the presence of NGOs like Tostan, whose community empowerment programs provide public education on poor health outcomes associated with female genital cutting (FGC) and forced marriage, it may come as a surprise that Senegal has one of the most restrictive laws on abortion among African countries.

But while all of these things are true of Senegal, it is also a former French colony, and its anti-abortion law was written under colonial rule. And this archaic law only allows for abortion in life or death cases, and requires approval from three physicians. For women living in poverty, accessing initial medical care in the hopes of obtaining an abortion is already cost-prohibitive. And doctors who perform illegal abortions and women who obtain them face years of jail time.

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