"Women deserve better. Women deserve better."
Serrin Foster repeats that refrain as often as she can-and has for some nine years at Feminists for Life of America, where she has served as executive director and now as president. The message is simple, but
The message is that abortion hurts women. Of course, this comes as no surprise to women who know abortion-either firsthand or through painful observation and education-but they don't often talk about it. That's why some women (and men) in the pro-life movement are now sponsoring a "Women Deserve Better" advertising campaign designed to make women think about what they are doing to themselves, as well as to their unborn child, when they choose to have an abortion.
Tending to both victims of abortion is not entirely without precedent.
Groups like Project Rachel have ministered to women for years, with a
decidedly and devotedly pro-life (re: anti-abortion) message. The Caring Foundation has run woman-centered television commercials in several states over the last decade. But now, 30 years after Roe v. Wade, this woman-centered message is at the heart of a big new advertising effort made possible by an unprecedented coordination of groups who oppose abortion…
The campaign…takes the feminist position that abortion "empowers" women and turns it on its head. Here, for example, is an ad produced by Feminists for Life, who developed the "Women Deserve Better" slogan (with no focus grouping!); the ad features television star Patricia Heaton, honorary chairwoman of Feminists for Life:
"Every 38 seconds in America a woman lays her body down, feeling forced to choose abortion out of a lack of practical resources and emotional support.
Abortion is a reflection that society has failed women.
There is a better way."
Another Feminists for Life ad would answer any concerns that their woman-centered focus is not wholeheartedly just as much about unborn children as it is about women and motherhood. In it a beautiful young woman named Rebecca speaks:
"Did I deserve the death penalty?
My 'crime' was being conceived through rape. So the next time you hear people talking about 'exceptions' to abortion for rape and incest, think of me.
My name is Rebecca. I am that exception. Question abortion."
The goal of the "Women Deserve Better" program and the Feminist for Life efforts, more generally, is to refocus the debate about abortion – by challenging feminists to tell the truth.
"We need a comprehensive review of the reasons that drive women to abortion in order to holistically solve this national tragedy," Serrin Foster wrote in the Summer 2001 issue of The American Feminist, the Feminists for Life's quarterly.
As Cathy Cleaver…says, "For thirty years the abortion experiment has been dominated by a public debate that embraces an utterly false dichotomy: women versus children. Pro-lifers are seen as those who fight for unborn children; pro-choicers as those who fight for women. Women and children are of course natural allies, not enemies, and pro-lifers fight for women every day, but the terms of the debate have been set, and they have held…the other side of the abortion debate has offered up the false assumption that abortion is good for women, and the culture has swallowed it. It is time to challenge this assumption head-on."
It's a significant challenge to those who call themselves feminists.
Dead babies aside — pro-abortion feminists have long made clear those lives are not a compelling interest as far as they are concerned-for more than 30 years, abortion advocates (among whom feminists are the most vocal) have ignored the dangers of abortion. They have, in fact, often gone out of their way to ensure that questions are not raised, and information is nowhere to be found when women consider their so-called choice.
WOMEN DESERVE BETTER by Kathryn Jean Lopez
The "Women Deserve Better" message-whether it be on TV, in a magazine ad, on a billboard, or incorporated into a magazine article or lecture-is one women don't hear often if at all. A case in point (one of countless candidates): In its Roe anniversary issue this year, Glamour magazine quoted a Minnesota ob-gyn, saying, "abortion is such an easy, safe way to terminate pregnancies, yet women were dying for lack of safe abortions," recalling life before Roe v. Wade ostensibly "liberated" women. Here was a medical professional instilling fear in the hearts and minds of the magazine's young readers. The Right wants your only choice to be a coat hanger, she implied, as she began reciting a litany of pre-Roe horror stories. Roe-loving ob-gyns and "women's magazines" rarely, if ever, recount the post-Roe horror stories-women who've died, or suffered serious physical and/or emotional injury from abortion.
Typical was the Red River incident in Fargo, N.C.
The Red River Women's Clinic was distributing a pamphlet to potential
customers that said, "Anti-abortion activists claim that having an
abortion increases the risk of developing breast cancer and endangers
future childbearing. None of these claims are [sic] supported by medical research or established medical organizations." (Emphasis in original.)
Amy Jo Mattson, a sidewalk counselor, obtained a copy of the pamphlet and subsequently filed suit against the clinic for false advertising. Ultimately, she lost the case. The judge ruled that since a sufficient number of legitimate authorities have determined that there is no abortion-breast cancer link, the clinic was in the clear.
The jury, however, is still out on the possible relationship between cancer and abortion.
Indeed, the latest National Cancer Institute fact sheet-the one the Red River Women's Clinic cited in their brochure-says the evidence to date is "inconclusive." When a panel convened by the NCI recently reached the conclusion that there was no link, a New York Times editorial was typically gleeful in its dismissal of any and all concerns about abortion and women's healt
h. For the likes of the Times, any convenient study is one more propaganda tool for fooling women and bashing the pro-life movement. However, despite protests from the media that anyone looking into the linkage between abortion and breast cancer is perpetrating a "war against women," scientific question-raising is making a facing-of-the-facts unavoidable-as readers of the Human Life Review well know (e.g., see "Women's Health After Abortion," Fall 2002).
The woman-focused philosophy that undergirds the "Women Deserve Better" campaign-along with the miracles of modern technology that allow women and men to see the wonder of human life in its earliest stages-is the most compelling the pro-life movement has taken up, possibly since Roe v. Wade.
As Serrin Foster-who regularly travels to college campuses as well as to Capitol Hill-explains the guiding principle of her group: The mission is "to be a red carpet so that people can reconsider abortion."
Just recently she was approached by a medical student after delivering a college lecture. The young woman claimed to be not just pro-choice, but an activist, and an activist who wanted to be an abortion provider-something very rare among medical students who mostly want to avoid the controversy associated with the issue and practice. But, she said, Foster's hour-long lecture had been a catalyst for a change of heart. The young woman had never heard anyone talk about abortion like Foster did. Foster, and other women who share her message, hear that a lot.
As abortion-advocacy groups bend over backward to pretend they are not for abortion-most recently by changing their names (the National Abortion Rights Action League is now NARAL Pro-Choice America and the Center for Reproductive Law and Policy is now the Center for Reproductive Rights)-they're eventually going to have to face women-and their own hypocrisy-when it comes to abortion.
The idea of post-abortion syndrome, that women suffer emotionally after abortion, despite feminist claims to the contrary, is gradually beginning to penetrate the mainstream, in part thanks to star power.
Former model Jennifer O'Neill was a guest on The View, a women's coffee-clatch-style daytime talk show, earlier this year. In a subsequent interview with a reporter for Focus on the Family's Citizen magazine, O'Neill described her television appearance, in which she'd talked about the pain she suffered from having an abortion, as being in "a den of iniquity."
She said: "It was just very difficult; I couldn't get a word in edgewise. Once you're in the midst of pro-choice individuals, sometimes it is hard to get your message across, especially if they become protective, in terms of making any moves to change [abortion] by legislation.
"I was merely there trying to be the voice of those who have had abortions, since I've written two books and have been traveling in the last five years, with the amazing opportunity to speak to thousands and thousands of individuals who have the same cry I did. We quite often feel that we're alone in that pain and don't even understand the devastating aftermath of abortion.
"How do we change that perception? Thirty-year-olds today have never known anything in their lifetime other than abortion-on-demand. I think there is a misconception of the connection between "pro-child" and "pro-woman." They are one and the same. Women who have an abortion under duress, under stress, or [from] buying into the concept that they are sold-are usually uninformed. They do not know the truth, the facts, their risks. They've been sold a bill of goods that is so anti-woman."
At a recent Roe v. Wade anniversary event, O'Neill, a spokeswoman for the "Silent No More" campaign of Episcopalians for Life, said: "I have suffered an abortion, so I know firsthand the years of emotional, physical, mental and spiritual pain of that experience. Of course, our lost children are the cornerstone of our concern, but we would be remiss to forget those left behind." The "Silent No More" campaign seeks to encourage women to speak out about their abortions. Says O'Neill, "to have the opportunity to encourage and comfort hearts of women who have suffered is humbling."
Getting Hollywood on board is no small feat, and it's a focus the folks involved in the campaign intend to continue to foster, knowing the power of Hollywood's widely encompassing influence. Hearing former "Cover Girl" model Jennifer O'Neill-who many Congressmen probably remember from the 1971 movie Summer of '42-talk about the agony of her reluctant decision to abort-which led to nine subsequent miscarriages-is a jolting experience they are unlikely to forget.
Patricia Heaton, Emmy-award winning star of CBS's Everybody Loves Raymond, is also someone people pay attention to. The married mother of four boys, Heaton, primary spokeswoman for the "Women Deserve Better" campaign, views abortion as a "human-rights issue."
During a book tour last fall, she told Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly: "The early feminists were pro-life. And really abortion is a huge disservice to women, and it hasn't been presented that way." She continued: "As Feminists for Life, what we're trying to do is support women, and so what we want to do is . . . reach women on campus-college campuses-so that, when they get pregnant, they can find housing. They can find money they need to stay in school." Heaton is an articulate, passionate voice and a perfect fit for Feminists for Life. A classic Heaton moment came when she won her first Emmy in 2000. "First I just want to thank God for thinking me up," she said, "and my mother for letting me come out, because life is really amazing."
Actress Margaret Colin, best known for her role in the film Independence Day, is also publicly pro-life. Speaking on Capitol Hill this summer, Colin addressed a pro-life gathering sponsored by Feminists for Life: "While many will remember the 40 million American children that were never born, I want us to also remember the 25 million women and girls in America today who have personally experienced an abortion."
"I want you to remember a 13-year-old African-American named Dawn Ravenell, who skipped junior high one January day in 1985 to have an abortion. She died 3 weeks later having never regained consciousness from this legal procedure. Which part of safe, legal, and rare would this be?
"I want you to put yourself in the shoes of Marion Syverson, who was raised in a very abusive environment. At age 15, she sought assistance from a local church when she found herself pregnant. Instead o
f help, Marion was handed $150, so she thought that God wanted her to have an abortion. She wanted to have her baby-where were the resources to rescue her from that abusive family? We let her down. We didn't give her a place to go, a phone number to call, a safe haven. We could have saved her from the abusive situation and helped her to make choices about her pregnancy. Is abortion the best we could do for her?
"I want you to remember Guadalupe Negron, who sought an abortion at age 33 because she thought her husband would not be able to afford another child. After infection set in, one limb after another was amputated until she died, leaving her husband and 4 children motherless. Didn't she have a right to know assistance is available for women in exactly this situation?"
Colin told the gathering: "This is violence against women. This is the
failure of medicine to help and heal. This is the failure of our American
society to help and protect women. We need to address the reasons that women seek abortions and help them find the resources that are available to ease their situations, to coordinate the resources nationwide."
Fortunately women-especially the most vulnerable-increasingly see through the disingenuousness of the abortion-advocacy groups. The Internet has helped make that possible. Websites like the PASS Support Site (www.afterabortion.com), run by volunteers since 1998, provide an anonymous connection for women who need to talk about their post-abortion pain and guilt but don't know anyone they feel comfortable talking about it with, or don't think anyone they know will "get it" (See "Virtual Healing" in the Spring 1999 Human Life Review).
The following post, which appeared on an "after abortion" blogsite on National Appreciation Day for Abortion Providers earlier this year, is typical of many on the Internet on such websites (the typos are typical, too):
your post was very descriptive and i feel for you and know EXACTLY what you are going through, i too feel this deep deep sadness inside of me that is wrecking every aspect of my life, my hubby is sick of hearing about it, i try to FUNCTION but is getting harder when i feel so griefstricken, i too know about putting on a brave face and then dying inside, i too know about being two people, one who looks happy, helps others and then the other who cries, doesn't want to get up in the morning, hides away, is full of a deep self loathing, who can't bear to be touched because somehow it hurts, it hurts not physically but mentally, it's weird i don't like sex as i assoixate it with my ab, but at the same time i need that closeness with my hubby, sexwise, sleeping together, it isn't healthy for our relationship, i don't want to lose him, but i am pushing him and people away, like i don't deserve love and happpiness etc etc, i derserve to be sat alone in my house all day not seeing anyone but my hubby when he gets home, it isn't healthy for me, anyway i am going off on a tangent, have you thought of meds? councelling etc, i am taking meds again as i have been very very low, i think they may be helping somewhat too just cope and function with everyday life. i am seeing a councellor this week
also, what that will achieve i don't know, all i know is i have to try to think about . . .
Makes you appreciate not abortion providers and their enablers but truthtellers.
It's about time so-called feminists be forced to face the facts, that without the truth about what they are getting themselves into, many women are among the abortion casualties in a real war against women. It's a holistic approach-to femininity, motherhood, and the dignity of human life, at every stage.
This reckoning is happening at a time when more young women than not appear to be questioning abortion.
(It's no accident, and perhaps the recent decline no coincidence, that Feminists for Life, for instance, has focused attention on college outreach.)
Because college women are most likely to have abortions, this is a remarkably significant audience and an important success. A recent article in the New York Times ("Surprise, Mom: I'm Against Abortion," March 30) noted, "A study of American college freshmen shows that support for abortion rights has been dropping since the early 1990's: 54 percent of 282,549 students polled at 437 schools last fall by the University of California at Los Angeles agreed that abortion should be legal. The figure was down from 67 percent a decade earlier.
A New York Times/CBS News poll in January found that among people 18 to 29, the share who agree that abortion should be generally available to those who want it was 39 percent, down from 48 percent in 1993.
Mercifully, it looks like the time for feminist silence and spin is running out.
For the most innocent-the unborn-it couldn't come soon enough.
[Originally appeared in "The Human Life Review", The Human Life Foundation, Inc. 215 Lexington Avenue, New York, New York 10016]