Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The misogynist post-abortion syndrome propaganda of Lori Ziganto

Fundraiser and blogger Lori Ziganto loves to say that liberal feminists are anti-women:
[W]e’ve all known for some time that while the left trots out the For The Women ™ meme constantly, they are anything but. The same way that self-avowed modern day feminists are anything but feminist. In fact, they are diametrically opposed to feminism, by it’s very definition, because their entire agenda is actually harmful to women. This is why I now call them Femogynists and I’m taking the term feminist back.
Ziganto calls liberal feminists "Femogynists" (surely intending a similarity to the word "misogynist") not only to distinguish between her view and liberal feminism but also to poison the well while she's at it.  I am a liberal feminist, so I was rather surprised to hear that I am also anti-women. Why does Ziganto make such a surprising, counter-intuitive claim?

Well, for one thing,
We are tired of femogynists claiming that they speak for us. We are tired of being sneered at as gender traitors for not toeing the faux feminist line and by daring to be pro-life. We are tired of the attempts to diminish Motherhood. We are tired of women being painted as perpetual victims by the left, in need of Big Daddy Government to save us.
And you know what? I can dig this. I really can. Motherhood and child-bearing is perfectly compatible with feminism, or at least with the kind of feminism I endorse. To say that I am a classical liberal feminist is probably roughly correct. I merely insist on the legal and moral equivalence of the sexes, except in those few possible cases in which sex is morally or legally relevant. I demand only that women have the same rights and privileges that men have.  For me, the key is that women who choose to be mothers have the opportunity to do so autonomously. So I naturally abhor certain right-wing pro-lifers who try to prevent women from having abortions by deceiving and coercing them.

And this brings me to another of Ziganto's reasons for bashing liberal feminism.

According to Ziganto, "an ad campaign aimed at helping women learn about post-abortion syndrome exposed the fact that modern day Feminists rejoice at abortion for convenience and that they are anything but 'pro-women.'" According to Ziganto, "It’s clear that [liberal feminists] don’t care about the dead babies, but they also need to stop insisting that they are For Women ™ , when they most obviously are not. You see, feminists, an unborn baby is not just a clump of cells. Many women who abort their babies, therefore, suffer intense pain and immense guilt. Their entire lives." The problem with liberal feminists, then, is that they "rejoice at the idea of abortion for convenience" with reckless disregard of the dangers of post-abortion syndrome.

Well, what reason does Ziganto give us for thinking that post-abortion syndrome is really something to worry about? "While feminists sneer at the idea of post-abortion syndrome, it does exist," writes Ziganto. And if you follow her link, you will be directed to Jill Stanek's blog—specifically, Stanek's entries on the topic of post-abortion syndrome. Roughly thirty entries. No, I did not read them all. But PajamaMama's attempt to draw parallels between abortion and the Milgram experiment is interesting, and a bit amusing.

So, what's wrong with this?  As many college students have been told, when justifying empirical claims, one ought to find objective, non-biased sources.  Take, for example, tips offered by the University of North Texas Libraries.  Students are advised to ask the following questions about a source, among others:
  • Does the author have expertise in the field?
  • Is the article intended for an academic or popular audience?
  • What point of view does the author present? You want to support your research with objective (non-biased) information that is based on research, not individual opinions.
  • If your research is on a controversial topic, is the content fair and balanced? Is more than one view represented?
While Stanek claims to be a nurse, her blog is not a satisfactory source.  It's intended for a popular audience, and it presents only the pro-life point of view.  And ask yourself this: what kind of evidence would support the view that post-abortion syndrome is a real danger?  Only one kind: some sort of scientific study.  Well, why didn't Ziganto cite scientific research in this area?  Because the scientific research does not support her point of view.

According to a 2008 Johns Hopkins University review of the scientific evidence,
[T]he highest quality studies had findings that were mostly neutral, suggesting few, if any, differences between women who had abortions and their respective comparison groups in terms of mental health sequelae. Conversely, studies with the most flawed methodology found negative mental health sequelae of abortion.
("Sequelae" is the plural of "sequela," which is defined as "an aftereffect of disease, condition, or injury.") According to Reuters,
A team at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore reviewed 21 studies involving more than 150,000 women and found the high-quality studies showed no significant differences in long-term mental health between women who choose to abort a pregnancy and others.

"The best research does not support the existence of a 'post-abortion syndrome' similar to post-traumatic stress disorder," Dr. Robert Blum, who led the study published in the journal Contraception, said in a statement.

"Based on the best available evidence, emotional harm should not be a factor in abortion policy. If the goal is to help women, program and policy decisions should not distort science to advance political agendas," added Vignetta Charles, a researcher and doctoral student at Johns Hopkins who worked on the study.
Now, I'm sure that Ziganto and Stanek find the stories of individual women who have been traumatized by their abortions compelling.  Anyone who attends to them would.  But to infer from such anecdotal evidence that post-abortion syndrome is a real possibility is to commit the "I know a person who" fallacy.  And don't we also find compelling the stories of people who had many other kinds of medical procedures that unexpectedly produced undesired outcomes? Are we to ban the practice of medicine altogether in order to prevent these outcomes?  Any medical procedure involves risk.  A patient must be given information about those risks so that they can decide for themselves, autonomously, whether to assume those risks.  Instead, conservatives would rather have the government regulate the flow of information from doctor to patient in order to manipulate a woman's choice. 

So, where does that leave us?
  1. Ziganto claims to be a real feminist.  
  2. Feminism surely includes the view that women ought not to be prevented from making autonomous decisions. 
  3. One way to prevent a person from making an autonomous decision is by deceiving them.  
  4. Ziganto's argument that post-abortion syndrome is a serious threat is deceptive, since it is based on biased sources and not sound science.  
  5. Therefore, Ziganto really isn't a feminist after all, and she should stop claiming that she is.  Rather, she is a responsbility-free blogger who uses any means necessary to raise money for her right-wing political causes.  

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It is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence. ---W.K. Clifford

Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blind-folded fear. ---Thomas Jefferson