Waldman: Still Not Getting It…


Or: Common Ground as a competitive team sport.

In a post on adoption today, Steve Waldman talks about adoption as a common ground position to which "pro-choice and pro-life" people can agree.  He also says:

And I disagree with the apparent inclination of some on the pro-choice
side to minimize the adoption question entirely. "The real common
ground is preventing unintended pregnancy, and it is logically
incorrect not to start with that framework," writes Jodi Jacobson of RH
Reality Check.

He then contests my assertion that the best way of preventing unintended pregnancy is through better access to reproductive health services, including contraception, by stating:

Actually, that would be called "our team winning," not "common ground."  

And as I have said earlier, herein lies the problem.

Steve: It’s not a competition.  Maybe Steve sees himself this way, but I am not on a "team" seeking to score points against "the other side."  This is not a competition, and if there are those in this debate who see it as such, they ought to step aside.  I find it really, deeply, troubling that there are people in organizations, in interest groups, and among the cult of male pontificators who see themselves as "winning" or "losing" because they are engaged in a discussion that will determine how real people now and in the future get to exercise basic human rights in their daily lives now and in the future. 

We are not compromising on how much more one state might get to spend on road projects than another.

This is about people’s lives.  Real people. And their ability to excercise choices.

It is about women in a multitidue of different life circumstances finding themselves facing a pregnancy they did not plan.  Some will carry to term and bear and raise a child.  Great.  Some will want to terminate their pregnancy as early as possible.  Great.  Some will want to give their child up adopt for adoption.  Great.  All choices are up to the woman in question.

Pro-choice people support women in any and all of these choices (because….they are pro-choice–the individual woman’s individual choice in her individual circumstances).  The pro-choice movement supports all options being available to women.

But by twisting my own argument, and avoiding the central argument, Waldman tries to take his foot out of his mouth regarding his "let’s give them $1000.00 a piece if they can hold their breath for 9 months," statement on Blogging Heads by changing the subject or refusing to clarify what he sees as the end goal, and he has as yet still refused to state what the end goals are for all the proposals he throws out there.

So let me state mine:

End goals: Reducing the number of unintended (truly unintended) pregnancies and by extension reducing the need for abortion.  Expanding prevention.  Providing as many voluntary, non-directed options as possible to the individual women (and any partners, families, etc involved) facing unintended pregnancies and truly supporting women in their choices. Not predetermining their choices, not limiting their choices, not telling them what the best choice is, and not stigmatizing any of their choices.

Q: How do you reduce unintended pregnancies?

Fact: Two ways to avoid an unintended pregnancy (in a relationship where that is in question).  Never have sex.  Have protected sex.  The vast majority of people in the world, as evidence clearly shows, are not down with the "never have sex" option.

Fact: People like sex.  Sex is natural.  Sex should be conducted responsibly.  Using prevention is responsible.

Fact: The highest rates of unintended or unplanned or unwanted pregnancies are among sexually active people who do not have secure access to contraceptive methods (and I have offered the evidence on this elsewhere) or among those who use it incorrectly or inconsistently (for whatever reasons, including those within violent relationships unable to control consistent contraceptive use or those who do not have access to consistent supplies).  I am not including here those who do not use contraception at all as a matter of personal
philosophy or religious belief (in which case the term "unintended
pregnancy" is inapplicable).

Back to the goal.  If our goal is to reduce unintended pregnancies and hence the need/demand for abortion and if our commitment is to truly voluntary means of doing so that do not coerce women into choices they would otherwise not make (by for example either directly through pressure or indirectly by making services so scarce they can not gain access to contraception or early, safe abortion services), then it is a simple fact that increased knowledge of and access to contraceptive services will do that.

A fact. Not a "belief," "theory," "ideology," or team strategy.  Not a "reason for having a job so I can blog."  But fact.  Proven by data and evidence.

Adoption services and supports may marginally increase the number of children available for adoption–though there are plenty now available awaitin’.  Increased
access to and support for adoption services is a good thing in and of itself and will increase women’s choices overall, but I maintain it will not dramatically affect the rate of abortions.  The majority of women facing an unintended pregnancy who do not want to bear a child also do not want to bear a child to give it up for adoption and will not change their mind even given some marginal cost financial contribution. (And as
other analysts, commentators such as Amanda Marcotte at Pandagon have pointed out, the "can’t afford a child right now," refrain was created out of creative reading of data).

So there may in fact be a higher number of women facing unintended pregnancies who give up children for adoption, but that is a different point than what we were originally engaged in discussing.  It will not reduce the need for or eventually the rate of abortion.

Memo # 25 to Steve: I do not need to "stomach" support for adoption.

I support making adoption available as an option for all women who need this option.  (Is that clear enough????)  I support high-quality non-stigmatized adoption services.  I support giving what birth parents and adoptive families who choose this option need to ensure that the children in question have safe, secure homes.  I think this option should be available to all women.

I think adoption efforts should be a focus irrespective of the issue of abortion.  I also think we should be paying attention to the needs of all the children now languishing in foster care right now.  I think we should be making sure that child protective services agencies are fully funded and staff are fully trained so that no children are found dead in freezers.  I think that post-partum depression ought to be something for which mothers are screened and that immediate support be available so that young children are not drowned in bathtubs by mothers who are left alone to suffer through devastating depression and with delusional  thoughts.  I think we ought to be putting a huge amount more effort, as today’s feature by Jane Fonda argues, in supporting parenting teens.

But the question on the table is: How to reduce, ultimately, the need for abortion. 
Again….trying to connect the strategy with the stated goal, so happy to hear your suggestions, Steve. 

I simply do not believe this is the way, and I think not engaging the issue of preventing unintended pregnancies is based on ideology, not fact, and I think facts should govern public health policy and human rights practice.

Reducing unintended pregnancies?  I repeat.  Only one way to do that: Provide universal access to reproductive and sexual health education backed up by universal access to reproductive and sexual health services including contraceptive information, training and supplies.  And get over ourselves with listening to ideologues about what women should do.

Pay attention to facts.  They can be more powerful than beliefs.

So Steve: What is your end goal?  Reducing the need for abortions?

Or ensuring fewer women have access to abortion so your team can win?

Please advise. I am confused.

 

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  • invalid-0

    Hi, Jodi.

    Looking beyond whether they’re intended or not, I think it’s fair to say that pregnancies can be scary and responses to them can shift from week to week as they proceed. Some weeks the response might be happiness and other weeks panic. Some weeks it may even be that women are of mixed minds about how they feel about their pregnancy.

    Accordingly, wouldn’t it be useful for women to know that policies are in place to provide support for any child they might bear? Likewise, to also know that policies are in place to offset any medical costs or other exigencies related to birth? Wouldn’t Steve Waldman’s idea be particularly reassuring for women who want to bring children into the world—even if not for themselves—but find themselves worried about the impact of the their pregnancy on their abilitiy to pay for things?

    Perhaps Waldman’s idea actually expands the range of choice available and might well be a comfort to some number of women. It’s hard to see a downside, unless we’re worried about federal spending. We might have stumbled onto some interesting common ground. Win-win is good.

  • jodi-jacobson

    Thanks, Stephen, for your comment and questions.

    The simplest answer to your question is that yes, women should have all the information needed to make their decision.  The premise however is that they do not.  I simply am not sure that is the case in the broadest sense.  This again is a different question than what to do about adoption policy writ large.

     

    You suggest that (the majority?) of women may have several weeks of indecision about their unintended pregnancy.  The evidence indicates otherwise.

    Facts:

    • The trends are toward fewer abortions overall, and earlier abortions.  In the United States, nearly nine in 10 abortions (90 percent of all abortions) occur in the first 12
      weeks of pregnancy and 56% occur in the first eight weeks.  
    • New techniques and expanded access to medical abortion has increased access to earlier methods.  According to Guttmacher, in 2000,
      more providers were offering both medical and surgical abortion early
      in pregnancy than had previously. A majority of nonhospital providers
      now offer abortion services beginning at five weeks from the last
      menstrual period (about three weeks after fertilization), and some even
      earlier.

     

    I do not think the evidence squares with this notion that the majority of women are undecided for very long.  And I think it is not only presumptuous but a bit arrogant and demeaning for us to suggest that these women have not considered their various options: bringing a pregnancy to term and raising a child, giving a child up for adoption or terminating a pregnancy they do not want to continue.  I give these women–and myself–more credit than that.

    Obviously, there are other factors at play for women who choose to terminate pregnancies later than the first trimester, and those have to do with affordability and accessiblity of abortion care, with the results of tests that only come later in pregnancy, and with serious complications of pregnancy.  I have no doubt that there are women who are considering at that point carrying to term and who might op for adoption or abortion at that point.  I am not sure it is clear they don’t know about the option.

    Moreover, the majority of women who opt to terminate a pregnancy are already mothers so they know the economic and social costs that are being weighed in their own personal circumstances.

    From Guttmacher:

    In 2004, 60% of women having abortions already had children, up from
    50% in 1989 and 46% in 1974. Part of the reason for this shift is that
    fewer teenagers and young women are having abortions than did in
    previous years. Previous Guttmacher analysis has found that women who
    are already mothers cite responsibility for their children and families
    as one of the primary reasons for obtaining an abortion.

    You ask:

    Accordingly, wouldn’t it be useful for women to know that policies are
    in place to provide support for any child they might bear? Likewise, to
    also know that policies are in place to offset any medical costs or
    other exigencies related to birth? Wouldn’t Steve Waldman’s idea be
    particularly reassuring for women who want to bring children into the
    world—even if not for themselves—but find themselves worried about
    the impact of the their pregnancy on their abilitiy to pay for things?

    Not meaning to sound facetious, but truly….

    What kind of supports are we talking about here?

    It is not the "costs related to birth."  It is the economic, social, physical, and mental costs associated with the lifelong rearing of a child.

    And it is not, I believe, and have argued elsewhere, a marginal cost issue of …gee, if i can get six months worth of diapers and formula.

     I fail to understand the logic behind not addressing the root cause of the problem….the unintended pregnancy and all the factors that lead to it.  If a woman has two or three children already, are we providing support to those children?  or is the next one, the "possible abortion" child going to get support….and for how long?  a year?  two years?  special priveleges?  are we talking about "whole family" support?

    I am at once a very idealistic and also practical person.  The practical side of me says that there is extraordinarily little political will–as evidenced by recent budget battles–for meaningful social spending because if that was not an obstacle, why are so many children in this country without proper nutrition?  without healthcare?  without proper education?

    Why are we so fixated on children not yet born when we can’t take care of the ones we have?

    And who will provide this information?  Crisis pregnancy centers?  Will we require women to "wait 36, 48 72 hours after an adoption video" to get an abortion so we’re convinced she knows what she is doing?  These are real issues and real practical details.

     

    And finally….I think that any woman who is facing an unintended pregnancy should recieve unbiased, whole-information counseling from an unbiased source about every option open to her.  She should recieve all the support she needs in regard to her choice, whatever that choice is.  All the slash and burn rhetoric aside, the pro-choice movement has been there to provide these services for as long as they have been in existence.  If more is needed to ensure that  the quality of care in counseling and other services in this regard needs to be improved then let’s do some good social science research to find out how to strengthen services, not search for some legislative fix to a problem that does not exist.

    I still have never recieved an answer to two questions:

    What is the ultimate goal?  And why is everyone ignoring the fact that abortions are in fact declining except among those who have least access to basic sexual and reproductive health care.

    I would rather talk about the real things real women need than engage in intellectual debates that are divorced from reality.

     

    Thanks, Jodi

  • invalid-0

    Why are we so fixated on children not yet born when we can’t take care of the ones we have?

    Jodi, thank you thank you thank you for maintaining a laser-like focus on this very point, and for this line that wraps up the conundrum so tidily.

    I would like to take all these conservative pro-life activists who pledge “support” for women considering abortion, and introduce them to all the conservative Republican politicians who see spending on social programs as so much budgetary chaff. I think they would have a very long and interesting conversation—and when it’s all over, we’ll know whether the pro-life political wing cares more about dollars or the unborn.

  • steven-waldman

    When RH Reality Check asked me to contribute to its new common ground site, it didn’t occur to me that RH Reality Check’s political director would then respond to my submissions by declaring that I am:

     

     “sensationalist, sexist, fickle and moralistic,”

     

     “oblivious or uncaring,” 

     

    “demeaning”

     

    Full of “individual and collective smugness”

     

    A member of “the cult of male pontificators” who views the abortion issue primarily as a “reason for having a job so I can blog”

     

    And –my favorite – a supporter of the “war waged by ultra-conservative religious and political forces for which Waldman serves as a paid flacky.”

     

    Who knew searching for common ground could be so much fun?

     

    After all your thoughtful criticisms,  you ask, “So Steve: What is your end goal?  Reducing the need for abortions? Or ensuring fewer women have access to abortion so your team can win? Please advise. I am confused.”

     

    First, my (somewhat idiosyncratic) view is that public policy would better reflect public opinion if it focused on making abortion  “safe, legal and early.”  This approach would focus less on the number of abortions than the gestational age of the fetus/baby being aborted. Here’s my article on the subject: http://blog.beliefnet.com/stevenwaldman/2009/04/safe-legal-early—-a-new-way.html    In truth, this paradigm is mostly irrelevant to the current common ground discussions but it does not envision  “ensuring fewer women have access to abortion so your team  can win.”

     

    Second, I’m a journalist. I sometimes challenge activists on both sides, highlight information that’s useful to the debate and clarify issues so people can make informed judgments on the issue.  Not everything I write is about advancing a particular policy agenda; sometimes I try to stimulate thought, correct errors, tease out hidden agendas – and find common ground.

     

    One of the most amusing aspects of your post is that you actually mostly agree with me about the particulars of adoption. You wrote: 

     

    “I support making adoption available as an option for all women who need this option.  (Is that clear enough????)  I support high-quality non-stigmatized adoption services.  I support giving what birth parents and adoptive families who choose this option need to ensure that the children in question have safe, secure homes.  I think this option should be available to all women.”

     

    The main difference between your position and mine:  I believe that one reason for adoption reform is that some women would choose that option instead of having an abortion. You believe that adoption reform “is a good thing in and of itself” but wouldn’t affect the abortion rate and shouldn’t be connected to the abortion discussion.

     

    But we agree on the substance. 

     

    I know you’d rather not say you’re agreeing with me – what with me being  sensationalist, sexist, fickle, moralistic, oblivious, uncaring, demeaning and smug – but it seems to me that we may be guilty of finding some common ground.

  • invalid-0

    When RH Reality Check asked me to contribute to its new common ground site

    If the person who asked you had put the matter up for a vote I’m pretty sure that you, with your condescending snark and shallow attempts at insight would have been voted down and by wide margins along with several other individuals and organizations.

  • invalid-0

    I dunno, Anonymous. The jury is still out. Right now, I’m compelled to give Steven the benefit of the doubt. Online communication can be a dicey proposition, and I think it does the cause a disservice to attribute arrogance where none is intended. That said, I think we’re all on board with making adoption a more viable option, but once again, the hippo in the corner is…”choice” versus “duty.” I’ve listened to others speak of “adoption reform” as some sort of magic solution to the issues surrounding abortion. Such is not the case.