Tag Archives: abortion

Medieval Medicine Used Against Pregnant Women Today

from Women En Large: Images of Fat Nudes copyright laurie toby edison

Laurie and Debbie say:

No matter how low you believe the anti-abortion zealots can sink, you find a lower bottom. As ProPublica (invaluable as always!) reports, doctors all over America are using the “lung float test” to determine if babies born at home were stillborn or alive at birth.

[Dr. Christopher] Milroy, [a forensic pathologist who teaches at the University of Ottawa], has studied the test and its history and has found references to its use in the 17th century, when witch trials were still occurring. But by the late 1700s, its reliability was questioned by doctors and lawyers.

The analogy to witch trials is both chilling and inescapable: we know that witches were tested by attempting to drown them: if they drowned, they were innocent but dead, if they didn’t drown, they were witches and killed otherwise. That was not a test; it was a mechanism to control and/or eliminate women, and that’s exactly what’s happening here.

The test’s reliability has been continuously questioned ever since, and consistently found wanting. Physicians for Human Rights says:

Despite its being deemed for decades by dozens of authoritative pathologists and forensic experts as wholly unreliable and inaccurate, the test is still being used as a part of routine practice. Reflecting the clear consensus among forensic medical experts that the test is highly inaccurate and should not be used — certainly never as the only test when performing a postmortem assessment of a deceased neonate — prosecutors and judges must refrain from relying on these tests as determinative in prosecuting crimes related to conduct in pregnancy.

So the only conclusion is that the people using it care far more about punishing women than about finding the “truth,” and they certainly don’t care about the pain of delivering a baby stillborn at home, or the pain of delivering a baby who takes two breaths before it dies.

Of course, the test — which should never be applied at all, and certainly not in legal cases — is not applied equitably.

Yveka Pierre, senior litigation counsel with the reproductive justice nonprofit If/When/How, said the people who are prosecuted for their pregnancy outcomes are typically from marginalized communities. They’re Black, like [Latice] Fisher; or they’re brown, like Purvi Patel, an Indiana woman who was sent to prison for feticide after self-inducing an abortion, a charge that was later vacated; or they face financial hurdles, like Akers.

“Some losses are tragedies, depending on your identity, and some losses are crimes, depending on your identity.” Pierre said. “That is not how we say the law should work.”

Fisher’s story is in the ProPublica article. She was convicted of second-degree murder, and served only a short part of her term before a coalition of attorneys and abortion advocates came to her defense, got her out of jail, and convinced the Mississippi district attorney to vacate the original grand jury. A second grand jury failed to indict her. The “positive” outcome here is insufficient: she should never have been charged or convicted in the first place, and it shouldn’t take an army of activists to change her story.

No agency currently tracks how often the lung float test is used in criminal cases. But the 11 cases ProPublica identified are likely an undercount because some cases weren’t covered in news reports, and plea deals and acquittals often create less of a public record.

This story–and this test–represent only a tiny margin of the ways the system attacks women, especially women of color. At the same time, this is simultaneously such an unconscionable approach to stillbirth, and so viscerally intense, that separating it out for examination feels right. And if even 11, or even 5, women are spared criminal charges and potential jail time because this test is eliminated from use, that counts.


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Abortion: Three Inspiring Essays and an Activism Guide

Debbie says:

Laurie and I have written about abortion fairly frequently in the many years of this blog, so our readers know that we stand unequivocally and unconditionally with pregnant people’s right to choose. That just means that we’re among the tens of millions of Americans who are appalled by the leaked draft opinion from two weeks ago.

Just about every smart progressive thinker has written about this, and we don’t have anything important to add, so we thought we’d share a few of the fine pieces we’ve seen. The excerpts after each link are just that; the full articles are better.

Mona Eltahawy, writing at her indispensable newsletter Feminist Giant, offers “The Seven Necessary Sins for Fighting Abortion Bans.”  One of her necessary sins is “Attention.”

The few abortion narratives that are considered “acceptable” are often prefaced with trauma and pain—as if they were the price to be exacted for bodily autonomy.

It is important to share abortion stories that say simply: I did not want to be pregnant. In my case, I was not raped. I was not sick. The pregnancies did not threaten my life. I did not already have children. I just did not want to be pregnant. I did not want to have a child. I am glad I had my abortions. They gave me the freedom to live the life I have chosen.

I had an “illegal” abortion in Egypt and a “legal” abortion in the U.S. I reject the power of the State, and Supreme Court, to declare what is “legal” or “illegal” when it comes to my abortions. The State, and the Supreme Court, can fuck off with their opinions and laws about what I can and can’t do with my uterus. That control belongs to me.

Rebecca Solnit wrote “Here’s how Americans can fight back to protect abortion rights” for The Guardian:

This time around – well, as I wrote when the news broke: “First they came for the reproductive rights (Roe v Wade, 1973) and it doesn’t matter if you don’t have a uterus in its ovulatory years, because then they want to come for the marriage rights of same-sex couples (Obergefell v Hodges, 2015), and then the rights of consenting adults of the same gender to have sex with each other (Lawrence v Texas, 2003), and then for the right to birth control (Griswold v Connecticut, 1965). It doesn’t really matter if they’re coming for you, because they’re coming for us.”

“Us” these days means pretty much everyone who’s not a straight white Christian man with rightwing politics. They’re building a broad constituency of opposition, and it is up to us to make that their fatal mistake.

Rafia Zakaria’s “Bodily Control and the Color Line” at African-American Policy Forum is another must-read:

… this racial dynamic is likely the deeper psychic rationale beyond Alito’s otherwise inexplicable detour, in the leaked draft opinion, into long-ago eugenicist theories of birth control as selectively racist population control; it’s hard to see this as anything other than a desperate bid to inoculate the Dobbs decision from charges of racialized policy-making from the bench as it translates on the ground into scarce, stigmatized, and prohibitively distant and expensive abortion access for a group of women who are disproportionately nonwhite and poor. And just as is the case with other deceptively packaged appeals to universal racial comity—the ritual invocation of Martin Luther King’s “content of our character” line alongside the rolling critical race theory bans across the states comes inevitably to mind—the careful deployment of superficial colorblind rhetoric ensures that the old measures of racial backlash can now proceed with a new impunity. This is clearly the disparate and unequal socio-sexual order that the high court’s new right-wing majority seeks to underwrite; it’s now up to the rest of us to stop the drift back into maniacal, death-defying control of women’s bodies at all cost.

And, finally, the Los Angeles Women’s Collective has produced a comprehensive and meticulous activism guide, from donation all the way to grassroots day-to-day work.

Don’t mourn; organize.


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