Monday, 15 September 2008


I endured a few days of the time that every sexually active woman who is not actively trying to conceive dreads, a late period. If there is one thing worse than your period showing up, it is not showing up for four whole days. Despite having two negative at-home pregnancy tests and being on the pill, I still spent many hours fretting about the ramifications of an unplanned pregnancy because even though I've had that uncomfortable conversation with my partner going from theoretical decisions to actual ones can throw up some unexpected surprises. And although this particular problem was resolved when my period came with a vengeance of cramps, nausea and vomiting, next month will be more of the same; waiting anxiously to see if that birth control did its thing for another month.


So yes perhaps all this angst is the reason I get a little pissy when politicians, no matter how insignificant, start talking about abortion laws in the context 'family' and why I get even more anxious when right to life groups seem all to vigilant to be naming names on the abortion supervisory committee. And perhaps why I get concerned when beat-ups about small number of underage abortions are reported in the context of 'parental rights' rather than asking why there was such a break down in family communication in the first place and why the wishes and concerns of the teenage girl are not even thought of as an after-thought rather than the central concern. So yes I find myself irrationally angry about this state of affairs because more often than not these people aren't the ones who are peeing on a stick hoping to hell that ugly blue cross sign doesn't show up three minutes later and perhaps they need to step back and ask 'how can I help?' rather than 'you should do this.'


Julie said...

It's a bit scary that Right to Life want so much to know who is on that sub-committee. Idiot/Savant wrote about it too, and came down in favour of keeping their names private:

stargazer said...

laila harre also mentioned this in her politics discussion on nine to noon this morning:

muerk said...

Well here's the pro-life/anti-abortion perspective...

When you choose sexual activity, you also choose the consequences of that - making a new person.

No contraception is perfect, even some forms of sterilization are imperfect, say tubal ligation.

From a personal perspective...

Healthy fertility shouldn't be something causing women anxiety. Sex should be 100% positive.

A woman on the pill isn't normally having a menstrual period, it's a withdrawal bleed from the high level of artificial oestrogen. Oestrogen causes tissue growth in the uterus, when the oestrogen is stopped by switching to the sugar pills, the endometrium isn't being sustained and sloughs off.

If you have been on the pill for years, then your chances of conceiving are pretty low. Being a NFP teacher I've seen women come off the pill and take over a year to have their fertility return. OTOH this does not hold for all women, some women come off the pill and are straight back to ovulating.

But if you are taking the pill every day, (best to take it at the same time every day), your chances of conceiving are _very_ low.

But honestly, not every woman who is sexually active and not actively trying to conceive dreads a late period. I know because that's my situation.

Don't get me wrong, a new baby would be difficult, I have high risk pregnancies, I don't live near a major hospital anymore. I want to get back into the workforce and we already have four kids. But that's my choice - when I have sex I accept that I might conceive.

I think all persons have the right to live, even if it makes their parents lives difficult. We're the adults, we're the ones with choices.

Lucyna Maria said...

The thing with the pill though, is it's not so much preventing ovulation and conception - it's preventing implantation. It takes a long time for a woman's lining to recover after taking the pill, that's why getting pregnant can be difficult.

I personally think if your partner (boyfriend or husband?) is not open to the possibility of a baby - don't have sex with him.

I've just been watching a You Tube video of abortion survivor Gianna Jensen. Abortion is more than just about the rights and desires of the "parents". Lives are at stake.

The ex-expat said...

I initially went on the Pill because my PMS had gotten so bad I was having to take days off work because I would get so sick. Now it is generally a mild discomfort as opposed to spending a day or two a month curled up with severe cramps and enduring bouts of vomiting and diarrhoea.

Pre-pill I had one failure of contraception and so tend to get a bit jittery about going down the abortion route again. However my reluctance to have children is outweighed by enjoying physical intimacy with my partner and the knowledge that contraception is highly effective.

muerk said...

Lucyna Maria:

The older generation pills were more likely to stop ovulation since they were quite high doses. The latest pills however are less likely to do so, and as you say, more likely to prevent the embryo from implanting.

This is one of the reasons that the Catholic Church is so anti the pill, not only is it contraceptive, it's abortificant, ending the embryo's existence.

The irony for me, is that we legalised abortion (in part) because of back alley horrors and it wasn't as though single women could go to their doctor and get contraception. Yet now we have reliable means of contraception, as well as welfare support for single mothers, and the stigma of getting pregnant and being unmarried has dried up. We also have comprehensive sexual education and sexual health that is easily accessible.

Women have every opportunity to avoid pregnancy, and to be supported if they do get pregnant, and it hasn't actually stemmed abortions.

Trouble said...

Lucyna, that's exactly not how the Pill works.

I know it's just wiki, but it's explained simply here. It's also explained in similar terms in the information sheets in the pack, but I can't link to that, and no doubt that's seen as biased by opponents. It prevents ovulation, full stop. It might also have secondary effects like making it harder to implant, but nobody knows for sure.

As for post-pill fertility, a quick survey of my own acquaintances doesn't correspond with Muerk's report. Human fertility isn't high regardless of efforts to avoid it - there will always be a proportion of women who take longer than others to conceive. If there's any actual evidence that longterm pill use has long term effects, I haven't seen it. Plenty of people get pregnant by missing just one.

It's misinformation like that which infuriates me the most about the pro-life movement. If they stuck to the non-falsifiable "every clump of cells has a soul line", I'd be fine with leaving people who believe in souls to it. But if you want to use science to back your position, you have to stick to the science rules.

If preventing abortion is the primary goal of the pro-life movement, they should surely support people using reliable means of preventing unwanted pregnancy. But if their goal is to ensure that sex always involves the risk of pregnancy, that's a whole other story. At least Muerk's open about that, but I don't see that argument having any broad appeal.

ms poinsettia said...

"I personally think if your partner (boyfriend or husband?) is not open to the possibility of a baby - don't have sex with him."

"When you choose sexual activity, you also choose the consequences of that - making a new person."

I find it frustrating to have a post which highlights how reproductive issues taken seriously by women are being used as political fodder hijacked by prolife rhetoric. To me, these statements in the comments are evidence of ignoring ex-expat's point that politicians are more interested in telling women what to do than helping, in order to say what women should be doing.

Azlemed said...

taking the pill for nearly 8 years continuously didnt affect my fertility at all, I got pregnant straight after coming off it, and pretty much the same the next time too.... we were trying to get pregnant so being late was good.

we should have a choice to choose what suits us, this is nz not the usa were abortion is a huge political field, we shouldnt have to justify why we are choosing to end or keep a pregnancy.

Each women should be able to choose what is right for her and her body,

re being late, its so awful, I have only been late once and we were trying for a baby so it was heartbreaking to get my period after 4 days. D

Trouble said...

When you think about the time and effort people expend either trying not to get pregnant or trying to get pregnant, the idea that we should all just give up and leave it to chance is not one that is likely to catch on.

The reality is, women have a choice on these things, and it's a choice that's broader than the choice of our ancestors' days, to either have a husband and a child every year, or to have neither. That choice is the most precious thing the last century has delivered us - it means we can have careers, a life expectancy beyond 50, a family size we can afford to support, the chance to explore sex before we make permanent decisions about who we do it with, and a whole range of options should nature not provide.

That choice frees us from so much anguish, it's worth fighting for with every last breath. The fact that it comes with a little hard decisionmaking from time to time is immaterial - that's always been the price of freedom.

muerk said...

"If preventing abortion is the primary goal of the pro-life movement, they should surely support people using reliable means of preventing unwanted pregnancy."

I've heard this argument a lot, but I don't think it holds for pro-life people.

For example, ex-expat has decided she doesn't want children and she uses contraception to achieve this, should her contraceptive fail, abortion is an open possibility.

From my anti-abortion stance, I make the decision to use NFP, and I accept the possibility of pregnancy.

Obviously, someone could contracept AND accept pregnancy, but it's less likely because contraception is already actively affecting the sexual act.

Whereas to avoid pregnancy on the Billings Ovulation Method requires abstaining during fertile times. It's just a different perspective on the reproductive possibilities.

Also I don't think I have given out any misinformation. I have seen women come off the pill and fail to ovulate up to a year later. Google the subject yourself and you will see that fertility returning over a period of 3 to 6 months is pretty standard medical advice.

Depo-provera, for example specifically states that fertility make take up to 2 years to return after cessation.

As for the political fodder, for me personally, and for those I know don't see it as political but as an ethical issue.

For us, an embryo or a fetus is human, a person, worthy of protection. A woman has the choice to engage in sexual activity, but to terminate the vulnerable discreet human entity conceived is wrong.

To me, abortion is a deeply intimate form of violence of a mother against her own child. The mother may or may not be culpable, but the act is intrinsically wrong.

Anonymous said...

You I am a bit shocked by some of the comments here. that may be because I beleive fertitlity and how they deal with it is every individual womans choice and all options shoudl be availavle. I stronbgly ebelieve "each to their own" and no one should condem another's choice no matter what their own beliefs - even those who take the "lives at stake" line.

I had a tubal ligation last year because I didn't want any more children. Yes my partner could have had a vasectomy but lets face it that wouldn't stop ME having babies even though I have no plans to be with anyone else. every now and again I worry about the chance of it not being 100% effective but overall I feel incredibly freed and have had no regrets.

The implication that if we don't want to have babies we shouldn't be having sex is crazy to me in these times of choice. So should I stop having sex because I definitely don't want more children even with the ligation? - Oh and I have NO IDEA what I'd do if I did get pregnant.

Trouble said...

Depo is long term contraception, completely different from the daily pill (which you have to take at the same time every day because otherwise, you might ovulate and get pregnant). One shot lasts months.

Fertility returning over 3-6 months - everything I've read suggests that getting pregnant within 3-6 months is what to expect when you start trying, regardless of what you've been doing to avoid getting pregnant beforehand. They say to use other contraceptive methods in your first cycle off the pill to give your body a chance to work out what its own rhythm is, and so you can work the dates out properly. It gives you a chance to take preventative folate supplements as well. Some sites I've read suggest you're more fertile just coming off the pill, than six months down the track. although I'm not sold on their logic - there's a lot of magical thinking on the subject. But I came into being because half my genes were first off the ovary the month after my mum went off the pill, back in the day when they were a lot stronger.

I realise many pro-life people don't buy the "contraception prevents abortion" line. If it were just about life, they might, but they don't. Which means it's about sex. If I follow your argument correctly, Muerk, people who don't want to have children shouldn't have sex. That's a view you're fully entitled to hold, but it's one that isn't going to appeal to anyone outside a handful of churches.

Spreading misinformation about the way contraception works harms people's ability to make important ethical decisions on a sound basis. The tactics of the pro-life movement strike me as being more designed to achieve the results they want than to help people make more moral decisions.

glosoli said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Julie said...

Well I'm another who got pregnant (twice) within a very short time after coming off the pill, having been on it for a long time. I had a friend at school whose Mum once showed her the pill that she forgot to take which resulted in the pregnancy that led to my friend (I hope that made sense), so there's another example. As Trouble said, if there was any proof that long term pill use caused fertility issues as claimed in this thread then it would be common knowledge. Not all pill takers are illiterate hicks who just take the magic medicine the doctor gives - most people do bother to find out what they are swallowing imho.

muerk said...

I realise depo and the pill are different, and I personally came off the pill (I was on it due to heavy periods) and became pregnant in my next cycle.

I did state that in my first paragraph you know...

"OTOH this does not hold for all women, some women come off the pill and are straight back to ovulating."

Now, back to a substantive argument. Trouble said,

"If it were just about life, they might, but they don't. Which means it's about sex."

It's not about controlling sex, it's about accepting pregnancy as a consequence of sex. It's not ethical to terminate an embryo or fetus - it's a human person with unique DNA, his or her life is precious. If people want to have sex, that's fine, but they don't have the ethical right to kill the person conceived.

Personally, I have no desire to outlaw contraception. I do think that the contraception mentality leads to abortions because it gives the impression of control. Besides, even though we have excellent methods of contraception, our abortion rates have increased.

The pro-life groups have been accused of mis-information, yet Statistics New Zealand makes the conclusion below in their 2001 article "Ethnic differentials in induced abortions in NZ".

"...the abortion rate in New Zealand is continuing its upward trend, despite a wide availability of modern contraceptive methods. Repeat abortions in particular are on the rise."

No one has the right to take a life (which is why I totally oppose the death penalty) even if that life is totally dependent on you.

No one has an absolute right over their body anyway. Recreational drugs are illegal, we make every attempt to stop suicides, and it is illegal to assist a suicide.

Trouble said...

Yes, there are ethnic differentials in abortion rates, which rose in recent years, and steadied off a bit. Not sure what the misinformation relating to that is. The recent peak and drop-off tracks closely with a rise and corresponding fall of young migrant students from Asia, who come from more conservative societies with less acceptance of contraceptive use, and suddenly have a whole lot of freedom without the information to deal with it. Fear of oral contraceptives appears to be a factor.

I think it would be worthwhile to do more studies into the relationship between unwanted pregnancy, contraceptive use and abortion. There's been some recent work on intermittent contraceptive use, which is interesting. I'm not sure whether anyone has studied the efficacy of the mid-90s move to heavily subsidise some kinds of the Pill, a policy which was motivated by reducing the cost of the DPB, but for which I've been very grateful during my years of student poverty. Understanding those issues better allows governments to provide reproductive healthcare in such a way that reduces abortions. There are good reasons to do this regardless of whether you think of them as a moral evil or a medical procedure you can reduce the cost of, in human and health dollar terms.

I don't have a firm view on the rightness or wrongness of abortion - it's an ethical minefield that there isn't a clear answer to. If abortion is wrong, then so are a number of other activities that increase the chances of miscarriage - breastfeeding (through the mechanism Lucyna attributes to the Pill) and having more than two cups of coffee a day being two of them. If it's equivalent to murder, why do even pro-lifers balk at the idea of applying 15 years no parole-style sentences for it?

Given the complexity, we should trust women to make that judgement for themselves rather than pick one of many competing philosophies and impose that on society as a whole. I think Muerk and Lucyna are fully entitled to their own opinions on the issue, but they are not entitled to use the power of the state to enforce them on other people, not for one second.

Julie said...

Sex is clearly not always about making a baby. Otherwise why would people continue to have sex when one partner is already pregnant? Or when a woman is having her period? Or indeed seek, enjoy and have sex with others of the same gender?

Forgive me if I'm reading too much into your arguments LM and muerk, but it seems to me that at the base of what you are writing is that pregnancy as a consequence of sex should always be in the mind of women, with little thought given to the reality that men rarely consider the possibility of pregnancy at all, with the exceptions of when they are actively trying to procreate.

Trouble said...

That's easy to explain, Julie. If it's not Eve's fault, it's some quasi-feminist nonsense about women's natures being more closely connected to nurturing and reproduction and any attempt to disconnect them from it hurts their very spirit. As far as justifications go, it's up there with "but my slaves like singing and working on my cotton fields."

I thought Outrageous Fortune traversed this issue in a very deft way, last night. That frantic speech of Loretta's, I'd like to have in quotes.

Hugh said...

I did think about asking 'should a man not have sex with a woman he doesn't want to have a baby with' but I thought that would be dangerously close to 'what about the manz' territory.

muerk said...

Sigh... men are just as much involved as fathers as women are as mothers, but it isn't men who make the decision to abort since they aren't carrying the baby.

Azlemed said...

fertility pisses me off... its our bodies and what we do with them is our business.

My gran had 8 children because she didnt have the choice to prevent having them... for them the choice to have sex was the choice to have children, but that was over 40 yrs ago. It is my choice to have as many or few children as I want, and my choice as to how I prevent that happening.

As for the rubbish about only having sex to have babies... get real... Sex isnt just about procreation,

I dont know anyone who thinks like that,

Even my sons godfather (who is catholic) planned his first child and his wife was on the pill before they started trying.. oh and their baby is a pill baby...

its christian fanaticism like that spouted here that makes me cringe and gives the rest of moderate christians a bad name

ms poinsettia said...

"It's not ethical to terminate an embryo or fetus - it's a human person with unique DNA, his or her life is precious."

What you mean is 'you don't think it's ethical'. And by putting these blanket statements out there like they're uncontested you are trying to lecture other women about what they should do with their bodies and their fertility.

It is by no means widely accepted that abortion is unethical. I personally think abortion is ethical. Doesn't mean I think it's not a complex issue or that getting abortion is not a difficult and painful experience, but since I don't believe an embryo or fetus is a human person, to me the decision to abort an embryo or fetus is an ethical decision.

ms poinsettia said...

I meant to add...

I respect that yoy feel very differently, but I don't think it's acceptable to pretend that the ethics of abortion are cut and dried.

muerk said...

I have never said that sex is merely for procreation, but that should conception happen the foetus should not be killed.

And sure, there are Catholics who use the pill, there are Catholics who go against other Church teachings as well, so what?

The nub of the issue is this...

"I don't believe an embryo or fetus is a human person."

I don't see any logical argument that justifies this position, given that our identity is fixed at conception. Besides, personhood is something inherent to us, not something conferred once we reach some arbitrary stage of development.

Likewise we can't lose our personhood through say a brain injury or other disability.

You were always you, whether born or not. And if you don't think so then ask Gianna Jensen.

Abortion might be convenient for people, but it is objectively killing a human being, whether you accept their personhood or not. Even Camille Paglia thinks so and she's pro-abortion.

"I have always frankly admitted that abortion is murder, the extermination of the powerless by the powerful. Liberals for the most part have shrunk from facing the ethical consequences of their embrace of abortion, which results in the annihilation of concrete individuals and not just clumps of insensate tissue."

Face it, for women to have the choice to not have children via abortion means that when they do get pregnant their offspring has to be stopped from living. A human entity is terminated.

muerk said...

It's fair to say that _for me_ the ethics of abortion are very much so cut and dried.

I accept that others feel differently, and if it there weren't actual lives at stake I'd be far more accommodating.

What a pro-lifer sees when we talk about abortion is the death of babies. Yes, it's emotive, and I have tried to not be emotive as I discuss this issue. But deep down, in my heart, it's a little baby being killed.

I'd be just as vocal about the death penalty.

Carol said...

Ah. But IMO it is not that cut and dried. There are many, many lives at stake if abortion and/or contraception are outlawed. And IMO the death penalty can’t be compared with abortion &/or contraception. The death penalty is used to manage human violence. Abortion and contraception are used to manage the very complex experience of human sexuality and desire. Abstinence from sex just doesn’t work for large numbers of people, no matter how you might want it to. Demanding abstinence creates as many problems as it solves.

When abortion was illegal, contraception difficult and extra-marital sex regarded as immoral, many women attempted their own abortions, often killing or maiming themselves and the child. Other children were born unwanted and badly cared for. Many more babies died young. Single mothers were mostly treated terribly. There was not only the human cost, but the social and economic cost to society of poorly brought up, delinquent, unhappy and unhealthy children (more than we have now). And now we have the problem of impending over-population of the globe: a very big threat to many living populations.

Every child a wanted child, otherwise you can be condemning a child to life: a terrible, and for some unbearable and painful life, with negative knock-on affects to many other lives.

Julie said...

Ok, if your argument is that now that women have better access to contraception than in the past then they should be able to avoid unwanted pregnancies and thus we don't need abortion, then that means you need to accept contraception in our lives. Yet last time I checked the Catholic Church didn't do that. I don't see how you can consistently argue "no abortions because of access to abortion" and "we'd like no access to contraception." Apologies if I am misrepresenting either of you there.

muerk said...

I have no desire to stop access to contraception. I personally don't use it, but others want it and I don't have a problem with that. I'd make access to contraception free.

I do worry about contraception that stops an embryo implanting because of the abortifacent aspect. My solution to that is informed consent - tell women that it's a possibility and provide condoms.

I'd also make it easier for women to be single parents. Increase the DPB, have access to quality state housing, make employment law take family needs into account, pay for study options, keep medical costs low, free quality childcare. Give single parents options for their lives and well being. I would also not punish women who refuse to name the father on the birth certificate.

There's also couples crying out to adopt, and perhaps there are women who can't keep their baby for whatever reasons.

Obviously in this situation, mothers need a huge amount of support to get through their pregnancy. We already have free medical care for mothers, but I would add in psychologists and social workers - make the support holistic.

I would also have an education campaign for men teaching them that when a woman gets pregnant, then he has to take responsibility too. Perhaps he will raise the baby and be a single dad.


Now from a Catholic perspective I think contraception is wrong. So for example, when my friend worked on the Salvation Army van that helped sex workers, she never handed out condoms, others did that.

I'd make sure that people knew about Natural Family Planning as an option. There's no reason that couples have to have large, unwanted families.

But our position on contraception is also based on the ideal that sex happens between a husband and wife who love each other and who don't mind having kids.

Obviously that's not what's happening for many people. And there's no reason why a non-Catholic NGO or the state shouldn't help people in those situations.