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Saturday, January 29, 2011

Abortion and Mental Health

A new study out of Denmark, where abortion is legal until twelve weeks, finds there is no link between abortion and mental health issues. The study is in the New England Journal of Medicine. Here is an article from the LA times about it for those who just want the big picture, and here is the actual study, for those of you who like to go to the source. (You'll have to pay to see the whole thing or be subscriber.)
The conclusion as stated in the abstract is "The finding that the incidence rate of psychiatric contact was similar before and after a first-trimester abortion does not support the hypothesis that there is an increased risk of mental disorders after a first-trimester induced abortion." This finding is of particular importance to our friends in the US, whose legislators are increasingly demanding women seek counselling prior to abortions during which they are informed that they will suffer from "post abortion syndrome" and experience trauma, depression and perhaps, suicidal tendencies. It's baloney, bunk, hokum, twaddle, hooey, nonsense, and worst of all, scientifically unfounded.

For more on this, see my June 2010 post, "How do women feel after an abortion? Relieved."

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Prime Minister is Not Talking About Abortion

The Prime Minister is not talking about abortion. Look at the recent articles about what he says he is doing and not doing. The first one in the Globe and Mail notes he WILL try to end the gun registry, he WILL NOT open up a debate on capital punishment, although he believes in it and he WILL NOT talk about abortion, although he is against it. Citing an interview with Peter Mansbridge, the article notes that Mr. Harper "describes abortion as an issue he’s spent his political career trying to 'stay out of' and insists he wants no debate on abortion law. 'What I say to people, if you want to diminish the number of abortions, you’ve got to change hearts and not laws,' he said." Some of you who are fond of the inconsistency of people being both for capital punishment and "pro-life" must have been enjoying this immensely, as I have. I chuckle at the idea of Mr. Harper trying to change hearts. Perhaps he will play piano, sing sappy songs from his youth and wear blue sweaters.

A similar article in The Toronto Star takes a more direct tone with a headline saying Mr. Harper can't be trusted on abortion or capital punishment. There seems to be some evidence for this, especially on the abortion side, with three  private member's bills being raised by Conservatives since the minority government came into power five years ago. Compared to the number of private member's bills on say, the environment, or other areas of national and international significance, this is a notable number of bills.

Anyway, should we be worried? Good question. Look at this other article from the NYT, and my answer is yes. The slippery slope approach to abortion restriction is on south of the border and we have to watch carefully. That approach is well into the testing phase here too. What do you think all those private member's bills are about?

Let's be clear. Explicitly not talking about abortion, talking about not talking about abortion, is talking about abortion. Letting private member's bills about abortion come forward is talking about abortion. Excluding abortion from the G8 Maternal Health Initiative is talking about abortion. I'm on side with the Toronto Star on this one. What I'm pretty certain Mr. Harper will actually never talk about is a woman's right to control her own body.

Pundits say there is an election coming. Let's make the politicians talk about abortion. Explicitly.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Words Have Consequences

The shooting of Representative Gabrielle Giffords is already spawning an industry of commentary, some more thoughtful than others. I agree with blogger Richard Kim from The Nation that this terrible act is an attack on democracy and on the very idea that we can speak to each other about public matters in public places. But sad as it is, it is nothing new.

Many are saying the shooting is a clear result of the terrible vitriol that has infected politics in recent years. They lay blame rightly or wrongly on the extreme right or the extreme left, on partisanship generally, on Sarah Palin and her infamous "cross-hairs" visual aid, her follow up instruction to fellow conservatives not to retreat but to reload and others who have also used gun imagery and metaphors to rouse the populace against their chosen political enemies. In The Nation, John Nichols reports that colleagues of Ms. Giffords are saying that Sarah Palin needs to take a long look at her behaviour here. The Huffington Post reports that she and her camp have come out to say that their innocent little graphic had nothing to do with the shooting of Representative Giffords.

As a writer, I know words have power. In fact, I depend on this. If I didn't know it to be true, I wouldn't write. So, if someone says they are putting someone or something "in their crosshairs," I know what this means, both metaphorically and literally. I wouldn't write this without thinking about it carefully. It's kind of like when you see a child point a toy gun at a person. The inclination for many of us would be to urge them to stop. At this point, a line is crossed from play to implied violence. (And it begs the question, why do they have a toy gun in the first place, but that's another issue.)

If you characterize someone as the epitome of evil simply because they disagree with your political opinion, if you suggest Armageddon is coming as a result of changes in health care legislation, there is an implied call to action there. Why are we surprised then when someone acts on the call to action?

Matt Bai calls this kind of vitriolic language "rhetorical recklessness" in his piece in the New York Times today. I think this is an excellent phrase.This kind of careless language and reckless rhetoric has plagued the abortion discourse too - another discourse with two sides so far apart, so seemingly irreconcilable, that it seems every day there is an anti-choice person accusing a pro-choice person of being a Nazi, of "genocide," or worse, if there is anything worse than genocide. Again, there is an implied call to action in this kind of language. We should not be surprised when someone acts.

Ultimately, the discourse is framed as a battle of good versus evil. There is no grey area to explore. This absence of middle ground should be our first clue that we've lost our way. There's always grey, isn't there? I read somewhere once that seeing everything as either black or white with no middle ground is a sign of depression. Perhaps we are a culture that is profoundly depressed. 

We already see in this incident how anyone who has actually made a gun reference, joked about "getting rid of" the opposition or anything similar is distancing their individual comments from this terrible crime. Similarly, when an abortion doctor is killed, members of the broader anti-choice movement distance themselves. The murderer is a "lone gunman," a zealot, a nut, and certainly unaffiliated with any "legitimate" organization. He or she is allegedly unconnected to the broader group who create the context and use language that supports the violence. None of us are free from social context. This is why articles like Jane Kirby's "Freedom of (Hate) Speech" in Briarpatch (mentioned in this blog before) are so important for us to consider thoughtfully.

It is vital that we confront the people who use this language and make these excessive comparisons and illogical metaphors and use language whose sole purpose is to incense and not to educate or inform. We cannot leave this kind of reckless rhetoric unchallenged, no matter what side it comes from.

As always, the most destabilizing and destructive aspects of what is often misnamed the "abortion debate" has something to teach us about wider discourses. Let's look to the examples of those who have promoted a healthy approach to this topic, and see what we can learn from their efforts in broader politics. We must be able to speak to each other about public issues in public places. This matters. But we have to be mindful of how we do it. We can't employ shocking language to gain attention and think for a minute that this doesn't have consequences.

Words have consequences. We all have to remember that.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Pharmacy Morals

There is an interesting article from LifeSite News indicating that a pharmacist in Toronto has been convinced to stop selling emergency contraception by an anti-choice customer. The pharmacy is the Medicine Shoppe at 515 St. Claire Ave. West. The LifeSite article has the address wrong, but I want you to have it right, so you can specifically avoid this place.

This issue is a troublesome one indeed. The pharmacist, one Allan Rothman, indicates that although he has agreed to stop selling Plan B, he is obliged to direct women to a place where they can access the medication. Apparently, in the moral world of Mr. Rothman, it's okay to tell them about it, but not to sell it. I find this kind of quibbling irksome. But whatever. (Anyone who wants to think more about Moral Quibbling, please refer to Sam Harris's book, The Moral Landscape. An interesting read.) Of course, any attempt to deter a woman from accessing emergency medication is fraught. Time is of the essence. That is the very definition of emergency.  But luckily a quick google search indicates there are several other pharmacies within a stone's throw of Mr. Rothman's Medicine Shoppe. (Maybe the old time spelling is a good indicator for it's out of date ethos.)  For example, there is a Shopper's Drug Mart at 523 St. Claire Ave. West you might consider shopping at instead. There are many other choices too. I haven't checked, but I imagine one or more of these pharmacies would be happy to dispense your medicine without dispensing morality at the same time.

Just for fun, here is a quote from the article:

"Pavlick [the anti-choice customer] told LifeSiteNews that as she entered Rothman’s store, she saw a single box of Plan B behind the counter, and a manual on the desk called 'Emergency Contraception.' She told Rothman that she was switching from Shopper’s because they were selling Plan B, and she explained that the drug is an abortifacient. According to Pavlick, Rothman agreed.

Noting that he was Jewish, she compared his situation with guards in the Nazi death camps. At the Nuremberg trials the concentration camp guards had argued that they were not guilty in the murder of Jews and others because they were simply following orders, she said. Nevertheless the court found them complicit because they had not actively opposed the murders.

'We are facing the same verdict if we don’t refuse cooperation here too,' she said.

Clearly moved by the comparison, Rothman walked over to the shelf and removed the Plan B box, she said.

'Merry Christmas,' he told her.

'Merry Christmas and God bless you,' she responded. 'I’ll be back - faithfully. ... There are a lot more like me who’ll be thankful too.'"

I particularly love how they frame the whole event as a Christmas Miracle. Indeed, God Bless Us Every One. And don't get me started on the Nazi thing.

Rothman, however, suggests in another part of the article that his decision is economic. So, please do consider boycotting this store, and perhaps other Medicine Shoppes as well. Go to a pharmacy that respects your right to access emergency contraception.

For context, pharmacists have often been in the forefront of the struggles for reproductive freedom. It was the arrest of pharmacist Harold Fine in 1960 that spurred George and Barbara Cadbury to create Planned Parenthood. Fine was arrested in Toronto for distributing information about contraception. Yes, even giving information about contraception was against the law then. Hard to believe. The Cadburys then went on to lead a massive campaign that resulted in legalized contraception in Canada in 1969. In Calgary, local legend has it that the pharmacist at the former Telstar Drugs risked everything to sell condoms before they were legal. That is why it was my pharmacy of choice until it closed. So Mr. Rothman, like other pharmacists before him, has placed himself in the middle of the culture wars. Too bad for him he is on the wrong side.

By the way, LifeSite news recently issued a call for donations. Apparently, they are struggling financially. Two interesting things here if you read the link. First, the relationship between LifeSite in Canada and their parent in the US could not be clearer. Those who think the anti-choice movement in Canada is not directed by American interests should read this. Second, they have a lot of money compared to the pro-choice movement, yet still are losing big time in the battle for public opinion. I can't help but be cheered by this.

I'd hate to see LifeSite go down. It's a great source of information for pro-choice activists. But you won't find me making a donation.

Meanwhile, the article on the pharmacy does include all of their contact information. Do with it what you will.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Kichener/Waterloo Production Upcoming

A production of The Abortion Monologues is happening in the Kitchener/Waterloo region March 25 and 26, 2011. More details and ticket information will follow.