Monday, March 31, 2008

A Raisin in the Sun and feminist history

*Cross posted on Choice Words

I was really happy with the new version of A Raisin in the Sun that was on ABC in February. While I was disappointed that they left out one of my favorite lines from the play – a climactic moment in which the family matriarch Lena explains that in times of desperation there’s nothing a woman won’t do for her family, including getting an abortion – I was happy to see that they expanded the abortion plot line.

In the original play we only find out that Ruth is having an abortion when she lets slip that the doctor she saw about her pregnancy was a she. The play debuted in 1959, 14 years before Roe v. Wade, so abortion was illegal in the time of the play. During this time there weren’t female gynecologists, so "female doctor" referred to an abortion provider. In this case, that female doctor is a member of Jane.

Jane began as Abortion Counseling Service in 1969 with a phone number whose answering machine told the caller they’d reached “Jane.” Advertised entirely by word of mouth, the women of Jane counseled callers on their decision to have an abortion and gave referrals to abortion providers.

The women later learned to assist in abortion procedures and set up a midwife service so women facing complications wouldn’t have to go to a hospital and admit to having an illegal abortion.

Jane members saw that the high price of abortion at that time (about $500) was a financial burden and prohibitive for some women, and after finding out that not all the providers they knew were certified doctors, they decided to learn how to do abortions themselves. Over the years, the Jane network illegally performed more than 12,000 abortions. The women collected a $25 donation from patients who could afford to pay in full, which was added to an abortion fund to make the procedure accessible to all women.

In the original version of A Raisin in the Sun we never see Ruth meeting with the abortion provider, but in this new version we see Ruth enter a beauty parlor where, after a discrete conversation, she is led upstairs to the owner’s apartment for the abortion procedure. This might have just been an attempt to show characters outside house since the entire play takes place on one set, but I like that it tells more about this history of abortion during this period – that the only female doctors were abortion providers, that women learned to provide abortions outside of hospitals, and that abortion being illegal didn’t stop it from happening.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Egg + Sperm = Person? Um, no.

*Cross posted on Choice Words

This is a little late, but since the issue of protecting fertilized eggs (implanted or not) is an issue that doesn’t seem to be going away, I thought I’d add my proverbial two cents.

Rebecca posted a week ago about former (!) presidential candidate Mike Huckabee’s endorsement of a Colorado ballot initiative that would amend the state’s constitution to define a fertilized egg as a person.

Obviously, this bill is aimed at making abortion illegal, but that’s only one of the problems I have with the whole fertilized egg as a person idea.

First, this concept is based on the idea that life begins at conception, which is either impossible or tragic. Medically speaking, pregnancy begins at implantation – this is the point where fetal development begins and is required for a positive pregnancy test. Pregnancy cannot begin before implantation because not all fertilized eggs implant. Then there is the issue of ectopic pregnancies, which cannot be carried to term and have to be terminated or the fallopian tube in which the egg is implanted will burst. It would be a tragedy, then, if a life was lost each time a fertilized egg failed to implant, or implanted in the wrong location.

Next, how on earth are they going to enforce this? How will they know if an egg is fertilized and doesn’t implant? Will they be checking women’s discharge to make sure it doesn’t contain any fertilized eggs? Will the government monitor women’s cycles and the results of intercourse during ovulation?

Finally, what will the punishments be? Will women or their doctors be charged with murder for terminating ectopic pregnancies or will doctors have to wait for a woman’s fallopian tube to burst before they can operate? Will women be charged with manslaughter for miscarrying? What about women who don’t get pregnant when they’re trying or when their birth control fails? Could a woman be charged with murder if she has sex while fully aware that her uterus is hostile to implantation? Will the men involved in these fertilizations be charged along with the women?

These may sound like ridiculous questions but they are the very real implications of laws that define fertilized eggs as people. If law makers are serious about this issue, they could at least be practical and change the definition to an implanted fertilized egg, or perhaps a viable pregnancy since their ultimate goal here is to make abortion illegal.

It really irks me that anti-choice leaders write all these ridiculous laws and hide behind their claim of protecting women rather than admit that what they’re really trying to do is make abortion illegal, and in the mean time they’re trying to make legal abortion impossible.

For a slightly more humorous take on the issue, check out this awesome cartoon at The Boiling Point.