abortion/reproduction

Cross-posted at Scientopia.

As demonstrated by some figures posted at Family Inequality, the U.S. birthrate has dropped during the recession:

But the birth rate hasn’t dropped for all American women equally.  Women who’ve already had two children were most likely to skip having a child during this period, and women who already had one child were more likely to delay or end childbearing than women with no children.   But women who already had three children were relatively ready to plow forward with a fourth, even more ready than childless women.

To make an even stronger case that the recession inhibited childbearing, Philip Cohen correlated birth data by state and state unemployment rates (both from the Bureau of Labor Statistics).  His figure shows that “fertility fell more where the recession hit harder”:

Great stuff, as always, from Family Inequality.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.


One thing I like about Anita Sarkeesian’s series, Tropes vs. Women, is that she doesn’t go for the obvious. Instead, she draws our attention to insidious and ubiquitous tropes that many of us have, nonetheless, never quite noticed before, exactly because they’ve simply become the water we swim in (e.g., the Manic Pixie Dreamgirl).

In this episode she reveals the Mystical Pregnancy trope, common in science fiction, in which women are involuntarily impregnated by aliens and monsters for nefarious and frightening purposes.  Following Laura Shapiro, she calls out writers and directors for using pregnancy as a form of “torture porn” and using women’s biological capacity as a plot device, meanwhile ignoring the real, non-fiction threats to women’s reproductive rights.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Cross-posted at Family Inequality.

I have criticized sloppy statistical work by some international feminist organizations, so I’m glad to have a chance to point out a useful new report and website.

The Progress of the World’s Women is from the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women. The full-blown site has an executive summary, a long report, and a statistics index page with a download of the complete spreadsheet. I selected a few of the interesting graphics.

Skewed sex ratios (which I’ve written about here and here) are in the news, with the publication of Unnatural Selection, by Mara Hvistendahl. The report shows some of the countries with the most skewed sex ratios, reflecting the practice of parents aborting female fetuses (Vietnam and Taiwan should  be in there, too). With the exception of Korea, they’ve all gotten more skewed since the 1990s, when ultrasounds became more widely available, allowing parents to find out the sex of the fetus early in the pregnancy.

The most egregious inequality between women of the world is probably in maternal mortality. This chart shows, for example, that the chance of a woman dying during pregnancy or birth is about 100- 39-times higher in Africa than Europe. The chart also shows how many of those deaths are from unsafe abortions.

Finally, I made this one myself, showing women as a percentage of parliament in most of the world’s rich countries (the spreadsheet has the whole list). The USA, with 90 women out of 535 members of Congress, comes in at 17%.

The report focuses on law and justice issues, including rape and violence against women, as well as reparations, property rights, and judicial reform. They boil down their conclusions to: “Ten proven approaches to make justice systems work for women“:

1. Support women’s legal organizations

2. Support one-stop shops and specialized services to reduce attrition in the justice chain [that refers to rape cases, for example, not making their way from charge to conviction -pnc]

3. Implement gender-sensitive law reform

4. Use quotas to boost the number of women legislators

5. Put women on the front line of law enforcement

6. Train judges and monitor decisions

7. Increase women’s access to courts and truth commissions in conflict and post-conflict contexts.

8. Implement gender-responsive reparations programmes

9. Invest in women’s access to justice

10. Put gender equality at the heart of the Millennium Development Goals

Cross-posted at Family Inequality.

It’s been a big week for stories of families denied and disrupted by the state.  Family denial came up in the form of bodily intervention (as in North Carolina’s eugenics program), border control (as when Jose Antonio Vargas‘s mother put him on a one-way plane for the U.S.), parents’ incarceration, or legal denial of family rights (the refusal to recognize gay marriage, or what I suggest we call homogamous marriage).

(1)  North Carolina’s eugenics program was the subject of hearings this week, dragging on with no compensation for the 7,600 people who were involuntarily sterilized between 1929 and 1977. A collection of literature at the State Library of North Carolina includes this 1950 propaganda pamphlet:

(2) Jose Antonio Vargas, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, recounted his life as an undocumented immigrant. His mother put him on a plane for the U.S. with false papers, maybe never to see him again.

(3) While a judge declared the federal law against recognizing gay marriage unconstitutional, the New York legislature maybe moved toward legal recognition, and President Obama’s support of gay marriage apparently stalled.

(4) The 40th anniversary of the drug war was a bleak reminder of the millions of U.S. families separated by incarceration during that time.

The text says, “more women and mothers are behind bars than at any time in U.S. history,” from (www.usprisonculture.com).

(My graph from data in an article by Wildeman and Western in The Future of Children)

Philip N. Cohen is a professor of sociology at the University of Maryland, College Park, and writes the blog Family Inequality. You can follow him on Twitter or Facebook.

A few months ago Lisa wrote about bulletin boards posted in New York City that racialize the abortion debate by presenting it as a particular danger to African American children. The new anti-abortion film Gates of Hell takes this racialization a step further, presenting a future world in which the Black Power movement has begun a domestic terrorist movement against providers of abortion services for what they see as genocide against African Americans. Here’s the trailer, sent in by Dolores R.:

Partial transcript available at Feministing.

The official description, from the film’s website:

Black power. Abortion. Terrorism. “Prophetic fiction”. Three years in the making, “Gates of Hell” is a documentary from the year 2016 that chronicles the crimes of a band of domestic terrorists known as the Zulu 9. Finnish filmmaker Ani Juva travels to the United States to better understand the mysterious black power assassins, the bizarre eugenics conspiracy theory that drove them to commit extreme acts of violence and how America’s political landscape was transformed forever. Blending real history and real public figures with a fictitious (yet plausible) future, it is safe to say that you have never seen a film like “Gates of Hell”.

As yet, the film doesn’t have a distributor; they have an online call for funding to help screen the film. The production company behind it, Illuminati Pictures, is headed by Molotov Mitchell, a contributor to popular conservative website World Net Daily, which posted a promotional video about the movie.

In her earlier post, Lisa questions the apparent concern for African Americans expressed in this framing of the abortion debate, pointing out that in some cases they seem to blame Black women for having abortions and totally ignore the structural factors at play. In a similar vein, this anti-abortion film, while ostensibly sympathetic to the idea of African Americans fighting what they see as genocide, draws on the stereotype of African American men as particularly violent and willing to kill, even while presenting them as possibly justified in this case.

And over at Feministing, Vanessa pointed out that we might question Molotov Mitchell’s genuine concern for oppressed groups given a video he appeared in back in 2009 supported Uganda’s anti-gay bill, which allowed the death penalty for repeat offenders:

As Lisa pointed out, there are very good reasons to be concerned about African American women’s reproductive freedom and the structural inequalities that might push them into making decisions about whether or not to end a pregnancy regardless of their personal preferences. But some of these anti-abortion messages presenting abortion as genocide seem to use racialization as a convenient tool that has little to do with more widespread concern about racial (or other forms of) inequality, discrimination, and even violence more broadly.

Earlier this month, The New York Times and Foreign Policy both reported on the United Nations population forecast for the next 100 years. According to the report, rather than hitting 9 billion at mid-century and then leveling off, the world’s population is likely to climb to 10 million and keep going. The cause: a fertility boom in the global south –– Africa, Asia, Latin America. Such growth, according to the report, if unchecked, will have dire consequences on a world already facing shortages of food, available water and other life-giving resources.

In reporting the story, both the Times and Foreign Policy used pictures of women and their children, but the way they used the pictures was somewhat chilling. For example, the Times ran a photo of several women of color under the heading: “Coming to a Planet Near You: 3 Billion More Mouths to Feed.”

Additionally, Foreign Policy ran a photo under the sub-headline: “Why ignoring family planning overseas was the worst foreign-policy mistake of the century.” It featured a picture of dark-skinned women with a child.

These photos, paired with the headlines and the dire predictions in the stories of what’s to come should the global south’s fertility boom remain unchecked, tap into anxieties about women’s bodies and link the coming doom and gloom directly to them. The Times headline, warning of “3 billion more mouths to feed,” is combined with seven new mothers in Manila; positioned in a long row, they crowd the frame of the photograph as they are imagined to crowd the planet.  While the Foreign Policy sub-headline inspires fear, saying that allowing the burgeoning birth rate was  the “worst… mistake of the century.”  Its photo features two women and a child in the foreground.  In both cases the focus on women makes it seem as if men have no role in reproduction at all.

Whether they meant it or not, such a juxtaposition does little more than demonize women –– particularly poor women from developing countries –– as directly responsible for the problem of overpopulation and its solution. While the commentaries herald funding for family planning and education –- both great ideas –– they contain no conversation about economic systems that create or maintain poverty in certain parts of the world; how patriarchy and systems of male-centered power prevent women from being able to control their own reproduction; and how international development money too often comes with strings attached that restrict government resources for education and health care, especially for women, who too often are the ones who bear the hardest brunt of poverty and the greatest social opprobrium.

Here’s what an alternative might look like:  GOOD Magazine discussed the U.N. report and the coming population boom. Its focus: How responsible living in the United States and other wealthy countries can help ensure food for all. The photo that ran with the commentary: a photo of the planet Earth.

Barbara Yuki Schwartz is a doctoral student in the Theology, History and Ethics program at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, Ill.  She studies postcolonial and poststruturalist theory, political theory and theology, trauma studies, and is interested in how body, community and psychic life intersect and influence theology and liturgy. She blogs regularly at Dialogic Magazine.

Cross-posted at Jezebel.

According to The Guttmacher institute, 90% of all abortions occur in the first trimester. According to WebMD, a 12-week old fetus is 2.5 inches long and the typical woman will have gained three to five pounds. Most of these women’s pregnancies are essentially undetectable to an observer.

Most news stories about abortion, however, illustrate their article with an image of a woman with an unambiguously pregnant belly.  The disconnect between the reality (90% of abortions occur in the 1st trimester) and the imagery (of women who are in their 3rd) implies that many abortions are occurring much later than they are.

A reader, Richard, brought our attention to a tumblr blog highlighting this mis-illustration. Preggobelly collects screenshots of abortion stories illustrated by heavily pregnant bellies. Here is a sample:

For another fascinating post on imagery and abortion, see our post on the initiation of fetus imagery.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

In the wake of two rounds of racially-charged anti-abortion campaigns: “Black Children are an Endangered Species” and “The Most Dangerous Place for an African-American is in the Womb.” These campaigns are built around the fact that pregnant black women are more likely to have abortions than pregnant white women.  The one getting attention at the moment, sent in by Laura E., is a set of billboards from That’s Abortion in the South Side of Chicago:

I’ve said this before, and it’s being said elsewhere, but I think it deserves to be said again, and strongly.

Many women have abortions because they cannot afford to raise a(nother) child.  They would bring the fetus to term if only they weren’t all-but-crushed under the burdens of under-served neighborhoods, shitty public education, a dearth of jobs that pay a living wage, a criminal justice system that strips inner cities of husbands and fathers, a lack of health care, and stingy, penalizing, and humiliating social services (when they can get them).  So telling black women that they are bad; telling them that they are killing their race alongside their babies, is twisting a knife that already penetrates deep in the black community.

Not to mention the fact that as soon as those poor women have children, they’re demonized for irresponsibly bringing babies into the world that they cannot support.  It’s called a double bind; damned if you do, damned if you don’t.  And no they cannot “wait until they’re in a better place financially” or “not have sex until they can afford to raise a child” because many, many women will never be in such a place in their entire lives.  And they can’t just “practice responsible contraception” because half of all pregnancies are unintended, at least a third among even the most well-educated and resource-rich women.  So pregnancies will and do happen, even to people who don’t want or can’t have a child.

If pro-life groups want to stop abortion, they need to stop accusing black women of moral bankruptcy and start putting those billboards up across from the Capital Building.  What black women need isn’t an ethics lesson, they need resources.  They need those very same people who tsk tsk them to stand up for them, to fight for a living wage, investments in their schools and communities, protection instead of criminalization, more available and better subsidized child care, and guaranteed parental leave benefits for all (it’s not a fantasy).  If black women had those things, then they might feel like that had a choice to keep their baby, just as they have a choice to abort their fetus.

It’s not the parents who fail to care-about-the-children in America, it’s a government and it’s citizens that allow 1 in 5 to languish in poverty.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.