Tuesday, January 22, 2008

technology's Janus face

Turning off Dora today after getting Clare to the Children's Garden, caught a bit of C-Span's retrospective/re-enaction on abortion debate. The National Right to Life Committee Congregational Liaison and NOW President were going at it. And apparently on the agenda for the Right to life Committee is to push for legislation requiring women to view an ultrasound before granting access to an abortion: the Ultrasound Informed Consent Act.

I've blogged about this proposal before. What strikes me today, however, is how useful technology is rhetorically. Technology is often demonized--in fact, I heard it demonized (abortions are murder, they have the technology to dismember the baby in the womb, you can see it happen on the Internet) right before Technology became the Moral Savior of Misguided Women Seeking Abortions...through the ultrasound.

I've read some stuff here and there about how the introduction of the ultrasound changed how women experience pregnancy and the reality of their baby. Women didn't use to rely on this technology to make their baby seem real to them. It used to be the result of the cues of their body: the subtle changes, the obvious changes, and of course, quickening. But now technology mediates this experience for us, not just in an additional way, but (it seems) in an increasingly definitive way...so much so that right to life advocates are banking on the moral impact of an image on a screen. Morality Check, brought to you by technology.

Or, as the NOW pres pointed out, requiring a woman to view an ultrasound hikes the price of the procedure to double or more...making abortions out of reach for those who are most desperate.


Indie Pereira said...

I looked at several abortion clinic websites in various cities and I couldn't find any that were not already including an ultrasound to confirm pregnancy and determine gestation. So I think the statement that it would double the cost is inaccurate, probably purposely so. The only clinic site that I found that listed prices included an ultrasound in their global fee for an abortion, but they also listed ultrasound separately as $100. Since the abortions were listed as $400 to $600, the cost of the ultrasound was obviously not doubling the price. It seems to me that we need more truly informed consent across the board, especially with procedures that happen to a woman during pregnancy and childbirth. I'm wondering how you would force a woman to look at the screen if she didn't want to though.

While I'm still anti-abortion, my own experience with pregnancy which included worse than normal morning sickness, especially the first time, has made it easier to understand why a woman might choose abortion. My third (accidental) pregnancy came at a really bad time financially. I can only imagine how afraid a woman in a much worse situation would be. Its this perspective that makes me want to focus on the root causes of abortion in order to eradicate it rather than just stopping it but leaving a hopeless woman and baby behind. But that's much harder work, I guess, and not as politically popular.

I think it is true that ultrasound has changed how we experience pregnancy. I didn't have an ultrasound at all during my third pregnancy and during my second pregnancy I only had one the day she was born. In fact, with my third pregnancy I didn't use the Doppler for the heartbeat. My midwife used a fetoscope and once I was able to listen with a stethoscope. With the stethoscope, I was actually listening to the heartbeat instead of a machine created sound representing the heartbeat. It is interesting that with both of the commonly used technologies we are not actually seeing or hearing the baby but instead are experiencing a machine created representation of our babies.

Anonymous said...

It is worth pointing out that it is not only pregnancy, but conception itself that is mediated by technology, particularly for those who (are wealthy and) experience infertility.

kel said...

i used to work with pregnant women with "unplanned pregnancies". so much info comes from activists on both extremes of the issues (like most political issues). i just want to say a couple things from my experience. first, it's very difficult for anyone to speak accurately about the topic, because it's hard to get a handle on the information. for one thing, every state's laws are different. in colorado, doctors who perform abortions don't have to keep records or report the number of abortions they perform to anyone (unless something i don't know about has changed). how can we talk about a national health issue without having information and statistics? how would we decide what to do about heart disease if doctors didn't report how many people have a heart attack?

second, again in colorado, adoption agencies are required to provide information about all options, including abortion. we had to have the birth mother sign something saying we presented her with all her options. we were required by law to provide free and unbiased counseling for as long as she wanted it. she was required to appear in court and convince the judge that she really did want to place her baby for adoption. on the other hand, legislation was dramatically defeated that would have required doctors performing abortions to provide information (http://www.state.co.us/gov_dir/leg_dir/lcsstaff/2000/ballot/200ainformedconsent.PDF). i understand that people had other conflicts with that proposal, but the bottom line is that people considering adoption are guaranteed that information will be presented to them while people considering abortion are left to their own devises or chance. maybe you get a helpful doctor, maybe you don't. laws are in place to protect a woman's right to privacy when choosing to have an abortion or choosing to place a baby for adoption, but there aren't laws requiring that information be made available to women considering abortion. what if you had to appear in court if you wanted an abortion? there is a burden on choosing adoption that isn't there with the choice for abortion. after seeing how miserably that vote went in denver, i don't think anything will pass anytime soon that requires anything from a woman who wants an abortion, ultrasound or anything else. the precedent is set to not require anything of a woman who wants an abortion (other than several hundred dollars--which makes the option cost prohibitive for many of our country's poorer and less educated people).

from my experience, i want to ask people, "what do you want? do you want less abortions or do you want to make abortion illegal?" i don't think our country can make abortion illegal. i don't think our country can place limits or requirements on women choosing abortion. however, i do think our country could provide free birth control to women and lower the number of abortions, along with a lot of suffering all around.

JTB said...

sorry for the blog absence the last few days, esp. since there are so many interesting and helpful comments here...

So first, thanks for the concrete figures and research--it is so helpful to be able to evaluate politicized statements with actual details. And it's saddening to realize (yet again) that like everything else political, it's impossibly naive to assume that anyone plays fair.

But I really appreciate the statements that we need to focus on root causes rather than crusade for illegality, if we want to have a prayer of making any real positive difference in the lives of women and their babies on this. That's exactly how I feel about it, which is a far cry from "condoning" abortion in any moral sense.

Finally...ran across the essay that was in my mind re the technology thing, and wouldn't you know--it's Donna Haraway, "the virtual speculum."