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August 20, 2012 2:26 AM   Subscribe

Can the Government Require Doctors to Provide Misleading Information to Patients Seeking Abortions? A Federal Appeals Court Says No, but Means Yes.

"Last month, in Planned Parenthood of Minnesota, South Dakota, and North Dakota v. Rounds (pdf) the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit upheld a provision of a South Dakota law that requires physicians, as part of obtaining a woman’s informed consent to an abortion, to inform her that one of the “known medical risks of the procedure and statistically significant risk factors” is an “increased risk of suicide ideation and suicide.” The court sustained the provision even while acknowledging that the medical literature shows only a correlation, not a causal relation, between abortion and suicide—a correlation that very likely results entirely from the underlying factors that lead women to seek an abortion in the first place. There is, in other words, no real evidence that abortion causes suicide."
posted by three blind mice (52 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
As writers of laws, things that requires words, shouldn't they know the difference between the words 'causative' and 'correlative'?
posted by ZaneJ. at 2:32 AM on August 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


To summarize, in subsection (ii), the legislature expressly required the disclosure of an “increased risk,” not a causal link. Based on the accepted usage of the term “increased risk” in the relevant medical field, the usage of that term in the context of § 34-23A-10.1(1)(e)(ii) does not imply a disclosure of a causal relationship. Instead, subsection (ii) requires a disclosure simply that the risk of suicide and suicide ideation is higher among women who abort compared to women in other relevant groups, such as women who give birth or do not become pregnant.

The ruling also contains several quotes from reputable research papers where the statute language was used, with the authors confirming that it did not imply causality.

Personally I think that's a weak dodge by the court. Language often has specific stylistic meanings in scientific papers and claiming that the average person is going to know of or favor that reading over the common vernacular reading seems disingenuous to me.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 3:05 AM on August 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


ZaneJ : As writers of laws, things that requires words, shouldn't they know the difference between the words 'causative' and 'correlative'?

Public office in the US, with very few exceptions (PUSA=natural citizen, for example), has no qualifications whatsoever required. The same guys you make fun of at the office for having no skills beyond their hair? Yep. Our "leaders".

On the actual topic, though, I wonder - The law requires doctors to "say" it - Does it require them to not frame it in the context of "our jackass congress requires me to lie to you and say that [...], a totally unproven conjecture about which the religious right fantasizes"?

Funny thing about compelled speech - However many things you try to make people say, they will find just as many ways to pervert your intended message.
posted by pla at 3:45 AM on August 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


Judges are pretty consistent in their refusal to get into the nitty gritty about what scientific papers say and mean. This comes up most frequently in the context of the admissibility of a "expert" testimony. As a lawyer with a passing interest in the history and philosophy of science, the sorts of "expert" testimony that are routinely admitted by the courts infuriates me. It's gotten to the point that if a plaintiff doesn't have any evidence that the defendant did anything wrong, they can just bring in some whore of a professional expert* who will testify that they did, in fact, do something wrong. As long as said expert has an advanced degree in an even remotely relevant discipline--doesn't need to be a scientific or even engineering discipline--you're in business.

The relevant standard is called the Daubert standard, after Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, a 1993 Supreme Court case. The Federal Rules of Evidence were amended to reflect the holding of this case, and we're now looking at Rule 702. I can tell you from experience that getting anything excluded under the third prong of the Rule, "reliable principles and methods," is exceptionally difficult. Most judges don't know jack about science or the philosophy of science--must lawyers and jurors don't either--and the default position is basically to let anyone testify that a party wants to testify. You've got to get way farther into the weeds than this for a court to consider excluding expert testimony on that basis. You have a lot better luck with the first and fourth prongs, which roughly speaking have to do with relevance.

We're not talking precisely about expert testimony here, but we are talking about how a court is going to deal with scientific evidence. The plaintiffs are basically asking the court to determine that, as a matter of law, the scientific evidence for the legislature's position is inadequate. This is asking the court to do not one, but two things that courts really don't like doing. The first is handing down some definitive ruling on the legitimacy or meaning of scientific research. Good freaking luck with that. A court is basically going to say "Yep, there's some science there. Y'all deal with it."

The second is overruling the legislature. Abortion rights are evaluated under the rational basis test, i.e., if the court can describe any rational reason for a law, it will be upheld. So far, the courts have held that you can't completely outlaw abortions--no rational reason for it--but restrictions that have anything do with health tend to be okay. So we've got a situation where there's some scientific research on point which might have something to do with the safety of abortions. Requiring physicians to warn about the health risks of abortions is absolutely permissible. The question is whether the proffered evidence counts. A finding of "No" would involve a holding that there was absolutely no rational basis for a legislature wanting women to be told about it.

This is a losing proposition, but it's just one part of the larger problem of scientific evidence in the legal system.

*There are firms that do nothing but expert testimony, and they're almost always shills for the plaintiffs' bar. There are a few exceptions, but that's the majority of it. You can make more money writing expert opinions than you can practicing whatever your discipline happens to be.
posted by valkyryn at 3:48 AM on August 20, 2012 [50 favorites]


Public office in the US, with very few exceptions (PUSA=natural citizen, for example), has no qualifications whatsoever required.

That's technically true of federal judges, but in practice, they're highly qualified people. The vetting process is ridiculous. If you're in a federal courtroom, the odds that the judge isn't the smartest person in the room are pretty low.
posted by valkyryn at 3:49 AM on August 20, 2012 [6 favorites]


So the basic message is, as it always has been, "Women: fuck you".
posted by Old'n'Busted at 4:13 AM on August 20, 2012 [6 favorites]


Serious question: regardless of whether this is a correlation or causative, isn't it good information to have? It seems like it might even be good to offer counseling afterwards, just to try to figure out if the client is someone who is at risk.

I know that South Dakota passed the law to talk women out of abortions, but that doesn't mean that Planned Parenthood can't reframe it as a pro-woman institutional practice.

It's hard to see the problem with 'more care,' though perhaps my perspective is skewed by the Tony Scott suicide post. Let's get people the help they need.
posted by anotherpanacea at 4:24 AM on August 20, 2012


So the basic message is, as it always has been, "Women: fuck you".

More like, "The courts aren't very good at handling scientific research, and they know this, so they really, really don't like being asked to make pronouncements as to the truth or falsity of scientific allegations."
posted by valkyryn at 4:52 AM on August 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


So, is there anything in this law that would preclude a doctor from prefacing the "warning" with a stern "The state requires that I tell you this, but none of it is true"?
posted by Thorzdad at 5:01 AM on August 20, 2012


Serious question: regardless of whether this is a correlation or causative, isn't it good information to have? It seems like it might even be good to offer counseling afterwards, just to try to figure out if the client is someone who is at risk.

This is so far off the topic it isn't worth exploring.
posted by odinsdream at 5:19 AM on August 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is so far off the topic it isn't worth exploring.

Actually, given the decision, trying to find a way to make lemonade out of the lemons is precisely on-topic.

The courts aren't going to overturn this, and unless you move to South Dakota and start voting for better state legislators, your opinion on the matter doesn't count.
posted by anotherpanacea at 5:49 AM on August 20, 2012


> Our "leaders".

Elected by you, the people.
posted by jfuller at 5:53 AM on August 20, 2012


[A couple of comments deleted. I agree, the title pushes this post in the direction of delete-land, but I made a judgment call and let it stay... perhaps wrongly. But further discussion on this should go to Metatalk.]
posted by taz at 5:55 AM on August 20, 2012


Serious question: regardless of whether this is a correlation or causative, isn't it good information to have? It seems like it might even be good to offer counseling afterwards, just to try to figure out if the client is someone who is at risk.

My understanding is that (most; Planned Parenthood for example) abortion providers already do this sort of initial counseling and make referrals as necessary. Many states already have laws requiring some (more neutral/less pushy) counseling for women seeking abortions, and everything I've read indicates that it's generally accepted as good medical practice anyways. I believe it should be entirely the woman's choice what to do with a pregnancy, but it's a fairly big decision for many women, no matter what choice they make. If anything, new laws like this will limit the type of counseling that clinics are allowed to provide, thereby worsening current standards of care.
posted by eviemath at 6:01 AM on August 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


I read this decision and thought about it a lot. It is frustrating in several way, not least because the court clearly does understand, in broad terms, the difference between correlation and causation. I don't have time right now to write a long comment, but I'll just say this: the decision concedes that there is no reason to think that having an abortion makes an individual more likely to commit suicide, but says that because the phrase "increased risk" is a scientific term of art used in the medical literature to denote correlation, it is not untrue to tell women that abortion places them at "increased risk" of suicide. They don't think that statement is likely to lead people to think that having an abortion increases the chance they'll later commit suicide.

Whereas I do think the statement is likely to lead people to think that, and moreover I think the statement is intended to lead people into thinking that.

The court's claim here is that leading people to believe X is not constitutionally misleading unless plaintiffs (Planned Parenthood here) can prove without doubt that X is false. Unless I misread them, compelling doctors to say X when the preponderance of evidence is against X, or for that matter when there is no evidence concerning X whatever, cannot be unconstitutionally misleading "simply because of some degree of “medical and scientific uncertainty,”"

If that's the law, that's the law, and I understand the importance of deference to legislation, but it still seems a weird to me.
posted by escabeche at 6:02 AM on August 20, 2012


Also, the title of the post seems fine. The decision makes it clear that the question before the court is not whether the information being disbursed is misleading, but whether it is misleading in the very strong legal sense necessary to throw out the law on constitutional grounds. They conclude it is not. They make it clear that it's constitutional to require an assertion which is very likely to be interpreted as Y, where Y is any statement that cannot be proven false. Lots of assertions which meet the plain-English definition of "misleading" fall under that category, obviously.
posted by escabeche at 6:13 AM on August 20, 2012


N.B. The title comes from the last paragraph of the headlined link.
posted by three blind mice at 6:33 AM on August 20, 2012


Is this the only law requiring professionals to lie to their clients? Is there anything we can compare this to? Are there any similar court cases involving something other than Conservatives/Republicans forcing people to lie about sex related topics?

Or is this one of those lovely Conservative/Republican court decisions (like Bush v Gore) that gives Conservatives/Republicans a win and will never, ever, be applied to anything else ever again?

Thought experiment time: Let's suppose that the law in question were one requiring doctors to advise pregnant women that childbirth is 14 times more likely to result in maternal death than abortion (which is completely true, unlike the lies the law requires doctors to spread). Do you suppose the 8th Circuit would have upheld that law? I'm betting no.
posted by sotonohito at 7:10 AM on August 20, 2012 [9 favorites]


"Most judges don't know jack about science or the philosophy of science--must lawyers and jurors don't either--and the default position is basically to let anyone testify that a party wants to testify. You've got to get way farther into the weeds than this for a court to consider excluding expert testimony on that basis."

I just want to drop in here that the Australian method of dealing with duelling experts is known as "hottubbing." (Essentially experts testify at the same time, and take questions from judges, parties, each other.)

But really we need this in the U.S. because talking about "hottubbing" in court is delightful.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:25 AM on August 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


Funny thing about compelled speech - However many things you try to make people say, they will find just as many ways to pervert your intended message.

I recommend the following script:

"By law, I am required to make the following statement, which is completely unfounded by any evidence. This is a sad consequence of the continued perversion of science for political reasons, but here we go, and I wish to communicate my deep regret at having to tell you that... [insert drivel]

Now, if you'd like to know which of your elected officials made me say that to you during this highly sensitive moment in your life, here is a list of their names and contact information..."
posted by snottydick at 7:47 AM on August 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


Want this to go away quickest? Somebody pass a law that requires army recruiters to make a similar statement.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 7:54 AM on August 20, 2012 [17 favorites]


Kid Charlemagne: "Somebody pass a law that requires army recruiters to make a similar statement."

Someone even conveniently did the research for them already.
posted by zarq at 8:05 AM on August 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


“known medical risks of the procedure and statistically significant risk factors” is an “increased risk of suicide ideation and suicide.”

Well, let's be fair here - the next laws South Dakota passes will probably encourage suicide for women who receive an abortion, so it's not like the warning is inaccurate.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 8:38 AM on August 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


2nding eviemath. When I went to PP for my abortion, it went like this: Check in. Wait in waiting room. Get called in (spouse was specifically told to wait in waiting room). The PP staffer asked, "How do you feel about doing this?" "Is anybody pressuring you to have an abortion?" " How do you think you'll feel afterwards?" ("Fine." "No." "Relieved." There was more chitchat, but those were the important bits. All low-key, mild tones, no pressure in any direction. Just seeking info on how I felt.)

She brought me back to the waiting room. We had earlier been chatting with a patient and her friend about the shitty behaviour of the protestors outside. I told them PP had done an info-gathering preliminary. The friend said to my husband, "Why wouldn't they let you go with her?" "Because I could be pressuring her to have an abortion," he said.

Ironic how forced-birthers don't see a connection between post-abortion suicidal ideation and suicide, and the guilt they expect from and the shame they inculcate in women for doing it.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 9:17 AM on August 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


we are talking about how a court is going to deal with scientific evidence. The plaintiffs are basically asking the court to determine that, as a matter of law, the scientific evidence for the legislature's position is inadequate. This is asking the court to do not one, but two things that courts really don't like doing. The first is handing down some definitive ruling on the legitimacy or meaning of scientific research. Good freaking luck with that. A court is basically going to say "Yep, there's some science there. Y'all deal with it."

valkyryn-

I agree that courts are loathe to make decisions about medical or scientific evidence. Here's what I find interesting about this case, though: the district court had already done this and a panel of the Eighth Circuit had already affirmed that ruling. So in order for this opinion to happen, enough Eighth Circuit judges had to get together and decide they wanted to hear it en banc. Which really runs counter to the sort of "Scientific evidence? No, y'all deal with it" dynamic that I'd agree is typical.

I think what could be called the "Ewww! Scientific evidence? No thanks!" explanation for a decision like this would have made a lot more sense if the trial court had reached the conclusion that the Eighth Circuit eventually did. Had the trial court upheld the statute's constituationality, I can see the Eighth Circuit throwing up its hands and avoiding taking up the issue. But for the Eighth Circuit to affirmatively reach out and embrace the issue--which they did in this instance, suggests to me that they weren't troubled that there was a scientific evidence type issue central to this case.
posted by MoonOrb at 9:35 AM on August 20, 2012


Actually, given the decision, trying to find a way to make lemonade out of the lemons is precisely on-topic.

We disagree. Our legislative process is so far out of the scope of "protecting women" that I think to somehow try and find a silver lining is highly misguided. We are in a very dangerous position right now, and I think it's imperative that we recognize these pieces of legislation as what they are: Not misguided attempts to do the best thing for women, but actively hostile and dangerous, slyly constructed by hateful, misogynistic, ignorant people with the end goal of removing rights. Any benefit to women is included as a ploy to push through the legislation, not for the sake of the benefits themselves.
posted by odinsdream at 9:39 AM on August 20, 2012 [6 favorites]


for the Eighth Circuit to affirmatively reach out and embrace the issue--which they did in this instance, suggests to me that they weren't troubled that there was a scientific evidence type issue central to this case.

Except that I don't think that's what happened. The state petitioned for a rehearing, and the Eighth Circuit accepted the petition. There isn't a rehearing of right, so there was a little more "affirmative" action than there might have been, but the thing would have died if the state had just let it go. It's pretty common to petition for a rehearing after you lose an appeal, and while it's not terribly common for such petitions to be granted, it's far from unheard of.

Why did the Eighth Circuit agree to rehear the case en banc? Probably because it was a hot-button political issue. Rehearing in such cases borders on the routine.

And the court did actually talk about expert scientific evidence in their opinion. The basic conclusion was "Look, there are, in fact, these studies out there. PP's own expert admitted this. If the state wants to mandate their disclosure, they're allowed to do that."
posted by valkyryn at 10:05 AM on August 20, 2012


Question: do we have research on the number of women who make appointments, show up for said appointments, and then "back out" if an abortion procedure? Especially in states with ultra-sound or heartbeat requirements? I ask bc, I'm curious how much these bars to entry actually affect numbers. Not bc we shouldn't fight them on principle, though
posted by atomicstone at 10:12 AM on August 20, 2012


I think to somehow try and find a silver lining is highly misguided.

We disagree. Simply protesting is not going to change the law, we must take the meliorist position: "How can we make this least-harmful?" South Dakota does not have to change its law unless the courts make it do so. The 8th Circuit has now stated that it is not going to constrain South Dakota on this matter, and the Supreme Court probably won't either. Therefore, this will be the law in South Dakota.

We've got lemons: now what? How about we work on lemonade?
posted by anotherpanacea at 10:31 AM on August 20, 2012


We've got lemons: now what? How about we work on lemonade?

I think snottydick's approach is extremely reasonable.
posted by odinsdream at 10:53 AM on August 20, 2012




Why did the Eighth Circuit agree to rehear the case en banc? Probably because it was a hot-button political issue. Rehearing in such cases borders on the routine.

Check the judges involved and the history of the case (which goes back to 2005).

The three judge panel whose decision was just reversed consisted of Murphy (the only woman on the Eighth Circuit, appointed by Clinton), Melloy (an older judge appointed to the Circuit by George W. Bush but who was originally made a federal judge by George H.W. Bush), and Gruender (appointed by GWB and who is one of the most conservative circuit judges in the country). In an empirical study, Gruender was ranked the 6th most conservative circuit judge out of 143. Corey Yung, Judged by the Company You Keep: An Empirical Study of the Ideologies of Judges on the United States Courts of Appeals, 51 B.C. L. Rev. 1132 (2010).

Now, the history. In 2006 the Eighth Circuit heard an appeal regarding a preliminary injunction. The panel was Murphy, Melloy, and Gruender. Murphy and Melloy formed the majority, and Gruender dissented. Planned Parenthood Minnesota v. Rounds, 467 F.3d 716 (8th Cir. 2006). Rehearing en banc was granted with a majority written by Gruender. Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota v. Rounds, 530 F.3d 724 (8th Cir. 2008) (en banc).

At the district court the case proceded on to summary judgment, which was appealed. The panel was once again Murphy, Melloy, and Gruender, with Gruender dissenting. Planned Parenthood Minn. v. Rounds, 653 F.3d 662 (8th Cir. 2011). This led to the most recent en banc rehearing where once again Gruender wrote the majority opinion.

This case is another example of an empirically observed trend in the very conservative Eighth Circuit: conservative judges use en banc review to overturn liberal panels. Robert Oliphant, En Banc Polarization in the Eighth Circuit, 17 Wm. Mitchell L. Rev. 701 (1991). This is about a conservative judge getting other conservative judges to rehear a case so that he could rewrite the decision to his own liking, and he did it twice in the same case. If you want to talk about "activist judges," look no further than this case.
posted by jedicus at 12:42 PM on August 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


extremely reasonable

I always find this phrase amusing.

Definition of REASONABLE
b : not extreme or excessive
posted by snottydick at 12:47 PM on August 20, 2012




We disagree. Our legislative process is so far out of the scope of "protecting women" that I think to somehow try and find a silver lining is highly misguided. We are in a very dangerous position right now, and I think it's imperative that we recognize these pieces of legislation as what they are: Not misguided attempts to do the best thing for women, but actively hostile and dangerous, slyly constructed by hateful, misogynistic, ignorant people with the end goal of removing rights. Any benefit to women is included as a ploy to push through the legislation, not for the sake of the benefits themselves.

I am continually gobsmacked by some people's conviction that refusing to understand why people take positions different from yours is somehow evidence of your virtue. As the above Mother Jones link makes clear, a great many of these laws are pushed by women. They are quite convinced that they are the ones looking out for women, and those who oppose them are hedonists who think men should be able to get women pregnant and damn the consequences. I feel very strongly about the importance of abortion on demand as a fundamental right, but anyone who thinks anti-abortion people are simply anti-women is as stupid as a Creationist.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 4:00 PM on August 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


I fail to see how the gender or sex of the lawmakers is relevant to whether the laws are, in fact, just as I stated.
posted by odinsdream at 4:41 PM on August 20, 2012


I'm pretty sure one doesn't have to be a man to be anti-woman.
posted by NoraReed at 5:41 PM on August 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


If a woman insists that her opposition to abortion is in the best interests of women, will you believe that she, at the very least, sincerely believes that? Or do you just assume that anyone who claims to believes things you don't is lying?
Certainly, this isn't the only reason abortion rights are being rolled back across the country. But it's a big factor. When you keep yelling that the only reason to oppose abortion rights is misogyny, and people look at the people opposing abortion rights and they don't seem to hate women---they might even be women!---they're going to assume that you are either a liar or ignorant. And they'll be right! Because you refuse to actually have a discussion on the merits of the case.
A lot of people sincerely believe that abortion on demand has been disastrous for women, and for people in general. I think they're wrong, and I'll tell 'em why. But the argument needs to be openly had, rather than short-circuited with bullshit name-calling. If you cannot have an argument that at least acknowledges the reality of other people's subjectivity, you're doomed to irrelevance.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 6:13 PM on August 20, 2012


ThatFuzzyBastard wrote: If a woman insists that her opposition to abortion is in the best interests of women, will you believe that she, at the very least, sincerely believes that?

I don't know why sincerity of belief should be a factor in discussing public policy. People can be sincerely wrong.

Or do you just assume that anyone who claims to believes things you don't is lying? ... A lot of people sincerely believe that abortion on demand has been disastrous for women, and for people in general.

The argument in this case was that the law isn't about restricting abortion, it is about informing women about a health risk. But you're saying no, "a lot of people" are just against abortion. If they're the ones behind this law (and I think they are) then they are liars! They're making pious statements about being concerned for women's health, but their real motive is control of women's bodies! So I don't know whether opponents of abortion in general are liars, but there's a very good chance that these opponents are liars and corrupters of the political process.
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:26 PM on August 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Because you refuse to actually have a discussion on the merits of the case.

I'm not sure where this comes from. I'm here in the thread. I've stated my position clearly. Supporting these kinds of laws is hateful and damaging, and rooted in misogyny. At best, supporters are misguided because they believe their personal feelings about abortion (which I have absolutely no reason to challenge) should inform public policy. Enacting these policies is demonstrably harmful to women.
posted by odinsdream at 8:55 AM on August 21, 2012


Enacting these policies is demonstrably harmful to women.

Until we've got a mutually agreed-upon definition of "harmful," you might find that to be something of a tough sell.
posted by valkyryn at 10:16 AM on August 21, 2012




ThatFuzzyBastard I can sort of see your point. I'm not a mind reader so obviously I can't truly know another person's motives.

On the gripping hand, I'm also a competent, intelligent, person and I'm not so trusting that I assume people are always telling the truth, especially when there's evidence indicating that they aren't.

If, for example, I come home and find a person wearing a mask, a suit with broad black and white horizontal stripes, carrying a bag marked "LOOT" putting my valuables into said bag, and that person says that they're out to help me by relieving me of the suffering that Buddhism promises comes from possessions, I'm going to doubt their honesty.

Similarly, when a person protests against birth control, takes measures to assure sexual ignorance among the youth, supports measures that will decrease availability of birth control, and then tells us that their opposition to abortion is rooted in a sincere concern for fetal life and the wellbeing of women, I'm going to doubt their honesty.

If they were truly concerned about preventing fetal deaths they'd be staunch supporters of broad, indeed free, access to birth control and sex education.

If they were truly concerned about the wellbeing of women they'd support things like the ERA and the Lilly Ledbetter Act, and the Justice for Rape Victims act, etc.

Yet the anti-choice crowd is pretty much universally opposed to birth control, sex ed, the ERA, Lilly Ledbetter, etc.

So I'm pretty suspicious of their motives.

Worse, there's a lot of deep misogyny when such people discuss birth control, abortion, and sexually active women (see, for example, the constant refrain of "she had her choice when she spread her legs" and variations on that theme). This also makes me suspicious of their motives.

I'm also generally suspicious of the motives of people who say that society must limit the freedom of group X in order to protect the members of that group from themselves. I'm not completely opposed to such legal measures, but I do think they must be undertaken only with great trepidation after careful and dispassionate consideration [1]. I tend to think most people claiming that they want to deny people freedom for their own good are probably not being honest about their motives. I tend to think that control for its own sake is their true motive.

I doubt very much that most people supporting anti-choice legislation have any overt hatred of women or that they are motivated by any desire specifically to harm women. I do think they have a general contempt of women, and a disdain for the intellectual abilities of women, and a general belief that women are simply incapable of truly being independent adults. And I think they're willing to dismiss the harm to women that their proposals entail as acceptable collateral damage in pursuit of their other goals.

We need only to look to the Dominican Republic, where Rosa Hernandez has died as a direct result of anti-abortion laws, or to Nicaragua and the death of Olga Reyes died because of the anti-abortion laws of her nation, or to any of the other hundreds of women who die as the direct result of anti-abortion laws, to see that it is preposterous to claim that opposition to abortion is in any way good for women.

Thus I must conclude that the anti-abortion crowd is either delusional, too stupid to think things through, lying, or simply misinformed. I'd like to hope the last, but unfortunately in my conversations, both online and in the real world, no anti-abortion person I've spoken to has even acknowledged that the points I've mentioned here have any validity, much less that their position is weakened by those points. In fact, they generally respond with yet more variants on the misogynist idea that once a woman has sex anything that happens after that is her just punishment for having sex. Very rarely stated quite so bluntly, again usually we see variants on the phrase "should have kept her legs shut", but the implication is quite plain: women who have sex deserve punishment.

Why do you think, in light of all that, I should simply take the anti-choice people at their word?

[1] For example I support laws that make any contracts of indentured servitude, or even outright voluntary entry into slavery, non-binding and invalid even though such laws are passed explicitly to limit people's freedom in order to protect them from themselves.
posted by sotonohito at 2:32 PM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm a pretty extreme pro-choice feminist. I think pro-lifers are deeply metaphysically, theologically, and biologically confused. Even their philosophers are confused.

Still, it doesn't make much sense to ascribe misogynistic motivations to grass roots members of the movement, for one simple reason:

A little less than half of all fetuses are female. More than half of all aborted fetuses are female.
posted by anotherpanacea at 8:47 PM on August 21, 2012


Anotherpanacea, this post is about abortion in the USA. Your link is to the proportion of aborted female fetuses in China. I expect grass roots members of the pro-life movement in the USA are almost certainly primarily concerned about abortion in the USA, not outside it, and they probably don't think that banning abortion in the USA will magically protect female fetuses in China - a country with a tradition of valuing male children over females, and with stern punishments for second and later births.
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:41 AM on August 22, 2012


Still, it doesn't make much sense to ascribe misogynistic motivations to grass roots members of the movement

I disagree. When you speak to the grassroots members of the movement and their fallback position when you press them on hard cases is "she should have kept her legs shut" then it makes a lot of sense to ascribe misogynistic motivations.

Especially since "pro-life" women have been demonstrated to have an abortion rate **IDENTICAL** to that of the general population. See: the only moral abortion is my abortion for some quotes. Note the naked misogyny involved in the condemnation of all those other women seeking abortion. The "pro-life" women seeking abortions are each convinced that they represent a special case, that they are examples of good women, while every other abortion seeker is a slut who deserves to be punished with an unwanted pregnancy.

Misogyny seems like the only explanation that makes sense.
posted by sotonohito at 6:00 AM on August 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


Joe, it's true those numbers are for Asia. In the US, pro-lifers tends to focus on the over-representation of African-American fetuses among those aborted. Still, even if only a little less than half of the fetuses aborted are female and there is absolutely no sex-selection, that still means that, to a pro-lifer, more women die from abortion than from outlawing abortion.

sotonohito, I don't know grass roots members of the pro-life movement who fall back on statements like "she should have kept her legs shut." I know grass roots members of the movement who are deeply saddened and compassionate towards those considering abortions, but horrified that what they see as an innocent human being, half of whom are female, will be murdered. Perhaps we know different members. Anyone who says "she should have kept her legs shut" is clearly a misogynist, but I do not believe that hateful view predominates or relevantly entails or is entailed by the pro-life position.

To be clear, I don't agree with pro-life positions and I want to keep abortion legal and safe. I *do* think it's important to properly ascribe motivations to those we disagree with, and not to depend upon strawmen and weakmen when arguing with or about them.

Think of it as a political extension of our site policy: "Help maintain a healthy, respectful discussion by focusing comments on the issues, topics, and facts at hand—not at other members citizens of the site Republic."
posted by anotherpanacea at 10:10 AM on August 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


Here's a link to Amanda Marcotte talking about abortion, and giving two very good examples of the "pro-life" crowd exposing blatant misogyny.

So clearly there are at least **SOME** members of the "pro-life" movement who are very much motivated by pure, unadulterated, misogyny and a desire to punish women for daring to have sex.

The proper question, I think, is not whether misogyny is important to "pro-lifers" and rather more a question of what percentage actually care about fetuses, and which are all about punishing sluts.

Or, since humans are complex and rarely have a single motive for anything, which of those motives is dominant in most of the "pro-life" people. I'm willing to stipulate that some squick over abortion qua abortion and the end of a fetal life is involved. I'm just not willing to concede that concern for fetuses and squick are sufficient to explain the actions of "pro-life" people. A degree of misogyny is involved, and I'd argue that the misogyny looks a lot more important than the squick in my experience with "pro-life" people.

Perhaps its a geographic thing? Both Marcotte and I are from Texas (which is extremely conservative), while your profile says you're in DC (one of the most liberal places in the USA). I'd wager that being surrounded by pro-choice type liberals all the time tends to result in "pro-lifers" who are a lot less willing to display their misogyny as they know it would alienate the people around them.

In any event, I suppose my question is how do you think we should deal with the pretty undeniable fact that misogyny is a component in at least some of the "pro-life" thinking, while at the same time that misogyny universally denied by all "pro-lifers". Self evidently some of them are lying.

I don't see how there can be any real dialog, much less effective and persuasive discussion, if we don't address the underlying misogyny. And we can't address it if we don't acknowledge it.

What is your proposed course of action?
posted by sotonohito at 5:37 PM on August 22, 2012


Perhaps it is location. Perhaps, too, it is that the pro-lifers I know tend to be well-educated Catholics rather than Protestants.

I think you call out the misogyny when you see it, but if you insist on calling it "underlying misogyny" then you're just begging the question. You seem to believe that because some pro-lifers are misogynistic, then all are. This just isn't sound reasoning: it's a hasty generalization. Worse, you've got noisy data: from the implicit association/bias literature, we know that most people are misogynistic, so in that sense, of course, most pro-lifers are misogynists. The problem, however, is that most pro-choicers are misogynists, too.

Your link depends an awful lot on "helpful translations" that turn some pretty stupid pro-life rhetoric into explicit misogyny. Most of the things in quotation marks aren't actually quotes. Pretending that all pro-lifers are motivated by misogyny is akin to pretending that all progressives are motivated by laziness and jealousy of the rich. It's fine if your goal is to rile the base, but don't mistake it for a true account of the world.

What is your proposed course of action?

There's a perfectly valid argument against abortion (that happens to depend on false premises.) It seems best to keep pointing out the error, fighting the political and legal fights, and of course calling out misogyny where and when we find it. But let's not add extra with spurious FTFY "quotes."
posted by anotherpanacea at 8:28 PM on August 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


Let's consider the best-case scenario: a pro-lifer who arrives at their position because gosh, they just hate the idea of killing little babies, so we should definitely stop doing that.

Okay, if we're granting that position, then we're necessarily saying that people capable of becoming pregnant cannot exercise control over their bodies once impregnated. Do you have some other understanding? This is pretty basic.
posted by odinsdream at 7:28 AM on August 23, 2012


You're right, it is pretty basic, which is why Judith Jarvis Thompson resolved these issues pretty definitively in 1971.
posted by anotherpanacea at 8:44 AM on August 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Judith Jarvis Thompson's piece is probably the smartest thing ever written about abortion. Thanks, anotherpanacea, for big-upping it.

And let me note that "how do you think we should deal with the pretty undeniable fact that misogyny is a component in at least some of the "pro-life" thinking," is perhaps the least smart thing ever written about abortion. Anti-Semitism is undeniably a component of *some* opponents of aid to Israel. Does that mean that opposition to aid to Israel is anti-Semitic? (hint: No)

Some anti-abortion people are going to fight it no matter what. Some are going to fight it as a cloak for their own thinly-veiled misogyny. But lots aren't. And they are much more likely to be convinced by appeals to reason and facts rather than shrieking insistence that whatever they claim to believe is really a lie disguising their burning hatred of women. Especially considering that an awful lot of them *are* women; education is more determinative of one's pro-choice or anti-abortion position than gender, making the whole "this is about men controlling women" argument particularly unconvincing..
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 1:18 PM on August 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


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