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The Anti-Choice Suffering Agenda

February 9, 2011

[Trigger Warning: discussion of women dying for deliberate withholding of medical care]

The stories about the Pitts bill, HR 358, broke last week.  (See TPM, Kos diary, Feministe.)  Bearing the Orwellian name “Protect Life Act”, and bill literally allows hospital personnel to stand idly by while a woman dies.  The supporters believe that medical personnel should be allowed to let women die — and I couldn’t make this up if I tried — for reasons of conscience.

In the last week, plenty has been written about the bill and I won’t try to summarize or repeat.  I just want to drill down on one aspect, which is that this bill and many of the other proposals that have become popular are most consistent with an agenda to make sure that women who are sexual in unapproved says suffer.  That’s the common thread that binds these things together.

Here’s one scenario where the Pitts Bill would come into play:  a woman gets rushed to a hospital with abdominal pain.  She doesn’t know what it is, it could be a lot of things.  A pregnancy test is almost the first thing the hospital would run, and it comes back positive, but examination reveals that the pregnancy is ectopic:  the zygote attached in the wrong place.  It’s in the fallopian tube.

There’s nothing that can be done except terminate the pregnancy.  There’s no technology that would allow the zygote to grow to term and survive; it’s going to die.  Further, letting it expand until the fallopian tube bursts merely delays the inevitable: the fetus will still end up dead before birth, before it is ever independent of the woman’s bodily organs.  But the pregnant woman would then also suffer a severe abdominal injury that could kill her and that, even if it doesn’t, would leave her with organ damage, affecting her fertility and her long-term health.

Who could possibly look at that situation and think, “what we really ought to do here is wait until the fallopian tube bursts!”  The fact is, that’s precisely what this bill allows.  Indeed, in some pretty similar circumstances, waiting until the pregnant patient has already suffered serious damage or died is Catholic doctrine.   (The nun involved was excommunicated.)  I’m not saying it’s specific to Catholics, there are other folks who profess a religious reason to withhold lifesaving treatment.  I won’t play theologian — no amount of explaining that sort of a view will make it make any sense to someone who doesn’t take the underlying precepts on faith anyway. 

There are countries where such unbending  doctrines holds sway over law.  In much of the Americas, abortion is completely outlawed or severely restricted, and the result is that women die in these situations, and in the situations that prevailed in the pre-Roe era in the US, where back-alley abortions were dangerous and killed women, but where the reality of women’s lives were that some needed to terminate so badly that they took that risk.

The bill isn’t really about an individual doctor’s or nurse’s morality, either.  One practitioner can often step aside and let another do a procedure.  This bill, however, allows the whole hospital to refuse to treat.  And worse, it allows the whole hospital to refuse to refer to someone who will.  A woman in such a circumstance probably can’t simply walk out and hail a cab to another hospital, even if there is another one nearby.  She might be on a stretcher, dazed and in pain, wearing a paper gown, while doctors and nurses dispassionately discuss the hospital’s rule that they can’t do anything to save her until in might be too late, and they can’t ship her to someone who will. 

 The name implies and its supporters state that the goal is to protect lives.  The bill actually provides, however, to protect a hospital that refuses to terminate a pregnancy, even when necessary to protect the life of the pregnant patient.  If the goal were to maximize the number of lives saved, and assuming that a fetus is a separate life (which I don’t), then the bill would simply say that a hospital was permitted to refuse care that would be more likely to result in more deaths than refusing treatment.  That would solve the problem of refusing care when such refusal would result in at least the loss of the fetus and possibly also the patient.  (That leaves aside what we know empirically, which is that sex education and free contraception reduces the abortion rate).

Since the stated goal is at odds with what the bill actually does, the real purpose must be something else.  The real purpose is to forward the tacit punishment agenda, the agenda that is consistent across the spectrum of anti-contraception, anti-choice, even rape apologist ideology, which is that women should be punished for having a sexuality of their own. 

That’s a consistent explanation for bills to limit employers’ ability to provide abortion coverage with their health insurance benefits, and even to bar women from using tax advantaged health savings accounts to pay for abortions: if women abort, the anti-choicers seek to make the women suffer, financially in other ways.

That is a consistent explanation for the bills that require women to view ultrasounds of fetuses before terminating: there isn’t actual evidence that women who set up a termination change their minds after seeing the ultrasound, but it gives the antichoicers warm fuzzies that they’re at least guilt-tripping the patients.  The Onion’s joke about a law requiring women to paint a nursery before an abortion is right on the money.  (In fact, the anti-choicers are so attached to the idea that women who abort suffer emotionally that they’ve convinced themselves that it’s true when the evidence shows it isn’t.  I think they tell themselves that women suffer from abortion because it makes them feel good to believe that.  That would also provide an explanation for why anti-choicers believe that women who terminate get breast cancer or some other such shit, for which there is no evidence.  It makes them feel good to believe that women who do a thing they disapprove of suffer.)  And it is consistent with crowing that the safest procedures have been limited, subjecting women to procedures with greater likelyhood of painful and damaging complications.

The anti-choice agenda is driven, “morally”, by a belief in punishment.  This bill is designed to punish women for needing an abortion.  When someone says that they need to watch someone suffer and die for reasons of “conscience,” we call that bloodlust, and dismiss such a person as evil.

13 Comments leave one →
  1. LeftSidePositive permalink
    February 9, 2011 7:55 pm

    So eloquent. So powerful. So true.

  2. February 9, 2011 9:06 pm

    OMG – that is the sickest thing I have ever heard! Shall we go back in time now? Do I need a man to sign a lease for me? Gee – let’s allow every freak out there to create hell for any and every woman!

  3. February 10, 2011 11:29 am

    I have a suggestion.

    If you are anti-choice and have problems with the treatment of ectopic pregnancies, or with the termination of other pregnancies that are a threat to the life of the gestating woman, don’t work in an emergency room.

    If you are anti-choice and have problems with dispensing certain prescriptions (like birth control pills), don’t get a career as a pharmacist.

    But some of these people are so INSANE that they purposefully seek out such positions so they can make a martyr of themselves. “Oh look, poor me, I was fired because I wouldn’t do my job”.

    If I am hiring a job for someone to work Friday – Sunday, an Orthodox Jew wouldn’t apply. Why? Because he/she would know that part of the requirements of the job would be a violation of his/her religious beliefs. If that person applied anyway and then complained that he/she was being forced to work on the Sabbath, that person would be look at as an idiot because that person applied for a job that would require work on the Sabbath. So we should be looking at any ER staff member or pharmacist as idiots if they took jobs where they knew it is possible that a customer/patient would come in that would require them to violate their personal moral code.

    • LeftSidePositive permalink
      February 10, 2011 11:11 pm

      I agree wholeheartedly. Here’s what I posted at TigerBeatdown on roughly the same subject:

      Could we all start organizing for a counter-bill that in effect says:

      1) Doctors may not maintain their licenses nor hospitals their accreditation if they refuse to perform to the standard of care set by their peers.
      2) Patients have the inalienable right to receive comprehensive health care and education that respects their personal goals and bodily autonomy without regard to real or perceived race, age, physical/chromosomal/social gender identity, sexual orientation, sexual activity, pregnancy status, religion, nationality, language, education level, or disability.
      3) Doctors or hospitals who withhold care, referrals, or medically accurate information from their patients are criminally liable, regardless of the doctor’s personal feelings or the hospital’s institutional attitude regarding standard of care.
      4) Hospitals that refuse to facilitate, or doctors who refuse to perform to, the standard of care for personal, religious, or economic reasons may be held financially and criminally liable for all damages related to the delay of care to the patient even if the doctor or hospital seeks to have the patient transferred to another provider.
      5) It is the responsibility of the physician who refuses to provide the standard of care to avoid situations wherein their refusal would cause any physical, financial, or emotional trauma to a patient.
      6) A hospital may not be accredited if it refuses to provide the standard of care for which it is equipped. This shall not be construed that a secondary care center would be liable for its inability to provide the resources of a tertiary care center, but a secondary care center must provide ALL procedures that fall under the heading of the fields in which said hospital is a secondary care center.
      7) Hospitals are responsible, and may be liable for financial or criminal repercussions, if their wards are staffed such that a refuser of the standard of care is in a position to deny or delay care to a patient in need of it.
      8) Hospitals may take refusal to perform the standard of care in one or many procedures into consideration for hiring, scheduling, and remuneration purposes.
      9)Inherent to the patient’s right of refusal of care is that the patient may not be coerced through withholding of desired care by doctors, hospitals, or legislation, if the patient wishes to refuse a given procedure, medical opinion, or test result, except in the event that providing desired care in the absence of the unwanted entity would make that desired care acutely dangerous for that particular patient, or beyond the hospital’s resources to provide.

      What do you all think? Let’s call it the “Put Patients’ Human Rights First” Act.

      And I say this as a medical student–it just makes me sick to think this is the kind of behavior they’re enabling with laws like these!! It undermines the most fundamental values of our profession to neglect the suffering of our patients in this manner. It is also grossly unfair to those of us who DO treat our patients with basic human dignity, and have to pick up after these abusive, manipulative, self-entitled charlatans.

      • LeftSidePositive permalink
        February 10, 2011 11:12 pm

        Yet again, point 8 ) becomes Mr.Cool…oh, well! 8)

  4. February 10, 2011 11:42 am

    Thank you for this post. It’s ridiculous to say that there’s any conscience to refusing to save a woman’s life. If you go into the kind of work where you might have to perform abortions in emergency situations, don’t figure you can refuse because you don’t approve of abortion. You’re not saving a life.

  5. Quinc permalink
    February 11, 2011 1:33 pm

    I took a philosophy class on modern issues, which of course had a week on abortion. The book had an explanation on natural law, and if I’m remembering correctly, in addition to the parts about sex they also mentioned a way it applies to abortion.

    Apparently it only counts as killing if that is the primary goal of your action. At least in terms of fetuses, if death is technically only a side effect it is morally permissible. The example given was if a pregnant woman with cancer was given chemotherapy that would be acceptable even if it was gurateed to kill the fetus. Why? Because the purpose if curing cancer, not abortion.

    Of course what bugged me then, and probably bugs anyone reading this, is that makes the morality of “Thou shalt not kill” into largerly a matter of semantics. Either I’m mis-remembering in a major way, the philosophy textbook writer completely misinterpreted natural law, or the Catholic church became morally bankrupt a while back, and loves to get ‘lawyerish’ with God’s will and morality. Actually I think that is why there was a protestant movement in the first place. It smacks of “Just as long as you don’t break Daddy’s rules!” I realize that isn’t why God is referred to as ‘the father’ but maybe there is something about the image of a divine lawgiver that makes them want to forget that maybe there is more to morality than “Well what do the rules say?”

    On second thought, if that was really the case, a doctor could always claim that that fetal death was a mere side affect of a procedure meant to remove that which threatens the mother’s life. Unless of course in the course of all this debate pro-lifers had convinced themselves that abortion was a special kind of wrong, or if there was a strain of misogyny.

    But obviously those who claim it’s better to let mother and fetus die, than to kill just the fetus, or embryo, are thinking of a more rule based morality than anything that considers the consequences. Which still leads back to the problematic, “It doesn’t matter how many people die or suffer, as long as we uphold (our interpretation of) God’s will!”

    • February 11, 2011 2:53 pm

      The original Hebrew is “murder” and not “kill”.

      The Catholic Doctrine of “The Double Effect” basically says that the target cannot be the embryo/fetus and has to be the woman. As such, removing a cancerous uterus is ok even if it terminates the pregnancy. So you can treat an ectopic pregnancy either after the tube ruptures or you can remove the segment of the tube that contains the embryo but you cannot treat it with drugs nor can you specifically remove the embryo.

      Of course, Jewish law requires an abortion to be performed to save a womans life and the Catholic church forbids it. So much for the term “judeau-Christian”.

  6. February 16, 2011 2:33 pm

    Very nicely said. Bravo!

    Also, I have to agree with Daniel Z here: If you can’t perform the duties of your job on religious grounds, don’t take that job. It’s really not that hard.


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