Thursday, August 20, 2015

A word on Planned Parenthood

I have been in Planned Parenthood twice. First, as a  senior at Bible college getting married in a few months, I had been doing some research on types of birth control but didn't know where to go about actually getting these various forms of birth control. I hadn't been to a doctor in years and didn't know the US medical system. And so, on my way back from the local grocery store I walked into Planned Parenthood because it had been there through all my college years and I figured from the name they must offer birth control. I picked up some pamphlets, saw a full waiting room, and left. I didn't know the reputation they had until I mentioned it to my mom on the phone and she attempted to not freak out while telling me she advised against going there and booked me an appointment with a gynecologist.

The second time was when I was living in Dallas and volunteering as a mentor/friend for newly arrived refugee families. I acted as a translator for one family several times, at a dentist and at a surgery. They asked me to meet them in a strip mall for another appointment, and when I got there it turned out they were headed into Planned Parenthood to get an IUD inserted. Again, the waiting room was full of all sorts of women of all ages and apparently a wide variety of ethnicities and socio-economic groups. One woman who was waiting told me she'd come there for birth control since she was a teenager. It was obvious to me that the refugee community on Park Lane was going to this clinic for women's health because it was within walking distance and covered under the state program for the uninsured and  low-income. My friends told me that they really wanted the IUD inserted because they had one child and were afraid that if they had another the mother would lose her part-time job.

I think about those experiences as I follow the news about the Planned Parenthood videos. Perhaps you're not in the USA and don't know what I'm talking about? It's nigh impossible to find a summary of the situation that's not very clearly taking sides, but here's one that The Atlantic put out after the very first video, and another from CNN, and one from the Washington Post following the most recent video. A series of stealthily recorded videos are being released one at a time, giving an uncomfortable look at Planned Parenthood's procedures. The videos are clearly an attempt to turn the public against Planned Parenthood and to prove that they are acting unethically. The questions raised include, is Planned Parenthood using fetal tissue without the mother's permission? Is fetal tissue from abortions being sold for profit? Are abortions being modified illegally so fetuses are actually alive when removed, thereby increasing their value to those who buy fetal tissue? Is Planned Parenthood lying to the public about their finances  and work, skewing the numbers to remove attention from their abortion services?

So - I suppose this is a dialogue with "the other side", because I'm having trouble finding anywhere where this is a conversation rather than one side simply defaming the other. I have another post coming addressing my pro-life friends, but this is where I ask the other side, "What would you have me do?" I understand the complexity of the issue. I am absolutely sympathetic to those who walk into the door of  Planned Parenthood. But I'm frustrated by the creative dancing around the issue I see from Planned Parenthood and the media, who are deflecting attention from those questions I listed above. I've gone looking for a rational response to the videos often find silence, or else headlines talking about "the Planned Parenthood hoax" or "misleading and highly-edited videos". I don't understand this, when full-length videos were often released simultaneously. I am frustrated because look, those who are okay with abortion should still be able take a hard look at Planned Parenthood and be sure they are acting legally and ethically. How can we have a healthy conversation if actual legal and procedural questions like these are asked, and the response is avoidance? 

One result of all of this is a movement to try to remove US government funding from flowing to Planned Parenthood. This isn't really new, but it has gained new energy because of the videos. For me, I absolutely support the movement, not because of the videos but because Planned Parenthood is one of, if not the biggest abortion providers in the USA, as well as one of the biggest promoters/defenders of abortion in general. The USA is about evenly divided on being pro and against abortion. Of course those who are against abortion don't want to support abortions, but even for those that are pro-abortion, I can't believe that you want government funding drawn from our tax dollars supporting a practice that half the country morally opposes! If you want to support Planned Parenthood, fine, do so without the public's tax dollars. I absolutely care about all of the other services being provided to women, things that my refugee friends and I were seeking. I am all for public funding of any clinic that doesn't provide abortions, including Planned Parenthood if they were willing to do so.

I also recognize, though, that legal measures can do only so much to affect a social problem. I recognize that it's difficult to discuss when one side believes we are discussing tissue and the other side believes we are discussing babies. Can we give each other the benefit of the doubt for a minute? I understand that you may believe a fetus is not a live human being, and if you believe this it changes the discussion entirely. I am not here to emotionally manipulate or to heap guilt, and so I use the phrase "fetus" here, but I ask that you try to understand the other side too.

Would you grant me the benefit of the doubt that I care about the women like me and my refugee friend that walk into those clinics, the women who provide the services, and the unborn, all of them? But do you understand that if I have looked at the question of where human personhood begins and believe it's in the womb, then I have the moral obligation to protect that life, just the same as I have to fight for the poor five year old around the corner or the sick elderly person in the nursing home, or the lonely teenager without a family? Just to be philosophically consistent, let alone obedient to my faith, my God? I know my framework is different than yours, but do you see the moral responsibility that hinges on the belief that there is life there?

I understand those who are frustrated with some of the methods of the pro-life movement, but look, I am someone who doesn't care about the "movement" and wouldn't participate in a lot of the methods. But ideas have consequences, and if I believe this is life, then what sort of person would I be if I were convinced to be silent, to not care, to watch these videos and be okay with it?  Planned Parenthood has called the videomakers "extremists", and yet there is no violence or even standing with signs - it is videos of what is happening. I care, ya'll. I want it stopped. Please, I ask, can we find a way to go forward that does not contribute to actively supporting the termination of what I believe is life? Can we move towards decreasing abortions in a variety of ways that we might agree on, because a woman who gets an abortion is not really a woman with a choice but a woman who feels she has no other choice?

I echo Sarah Bessey, whose voice to women I absolutely love: 
I am a pro-life Christian feminist. Christians have a long history of valuing the undervalued, saving the discarded from society, and welcoming the differently abled as icons of Christ. Our Jesus came to bring us life and life more abundant. So to us, life is sacred, a gift from God, precious. Every person carries the breath of God. We are made in the image of God.

I carry no judgement, how could I? This is incredibly complex and I offer only my deep compassion to the women who find themselves here. I carry no easy solutions, there are none. I make no promises and I write no screeds or manifestos or declarations or accusations.

I want women to be safe and I want babies to be born. I want all of the reasons why women abort to cease, to be healed, to be legislated right out.  So I want equal pay and decent healthcare for low-income women that includes contraception and supportive partners and a wide availability of midwives and supportive birth environments and real material support for children who are differently abled in mind or body and at least a year of maternity leave and on and on and on.

I echo Rachel Held Evans, who is no conservative:
 I squirmed on the couch when, during the 2012 Democratic National Convention, cheers erupted upon every mention of a woman’s “right to choose.” A lot of pro-choice folks like to say that “no one is pro-abortion,” but when celebratory concert series and festivals are organized around the anniversary of Roe vs. Wade, I can’t help but question the degree to which we have desensitized ourselves to the reality that abortion means the termination of, at the very least, a potential life, something that should never be celebrated with balloons and rock concerts. 

What frustrates me about the pro-choice movement is the lengths to which advocates go to de-humanize unborn children and sanitize the abortion procedure, reducing life to nothing more than a cluster of cells and the implications of pregnancy to little more than a choice. The word “fetus” is used instead of “child.” Efforts to encourage women to receive counseling prior to an abortion are stubbornly opposed. The argument is framed around the woman’s body exclusively, as if the fetus is inconsequential, and pro-life advocates are characterized as being “against” women’s rights. (Frankly, as a woman, and a feminist, I don’t like people invoking my “rights” to unilaterally support abortion.)

I echo New York Time's Ross Douthat: 
If a publicly-funded institution does one set of things you really like, and another thing that makes you morally uncomfortable, why are you constantly attacking that organization’s critics and telling them that they just have to live with the combination, instead of urging the organization itself to refocus on the non-lethal, non-dismembering portions of its business?....

To concede that pro-lifers might be somewhat right to be troubled by abortion...and  then turn around and still demand the funding of an institution that actually does the quease-inducing killing on the grounds that what’s being funded will help stop that organization from having to crush quite so often... Spare me. Tell the allegedly “pro-life” institution you support to set down the forceps, put away the vacuum, and then we’ll talk about what kind of family planning programs deserve funding.

I echo Ann Voskamp:

How can we be Pro-Human — regardless of the environment of the human?  How do we forge a way forward, that is the most authentically human — for both the human in utero and the human in a hard place?  It might be far more difficult, incredibly time-intensive, and profoundly challenging, but being for all human beings — is what it means to be authentically human...

Realizing that our voice about women’s abortions —  lacks authenticity unless we speak of male promiscuity.
How male promiscuity is about power and pleasure and no presence.
How male promiscuity is about sensuality and fertility and no responsibility.
How male promiscuity is about cultural instability....

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