Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Pretending to be Crazy

"...and then if we want an abortion, we need to pretend to be crazy"
-Me, lots of times
I need to stop saying this. It's a product of frustration and anger, at the hoops we need to jump through, the disrespect for our bodies, our health, our minds and our autonomy, and the ridiculous mismatch between what the law says and what happens and what many people believe happens.

But we don't always need to pretend. 20% of the population have experienced a "mental disorder" within the past five years (source). Even though I don't really consider myself to have an active mental illness at this time (though I'm not sure I can confidently say I don't - it's... uh... complicated) I'd have no problems, without stretching the truth at all, at making a case for an abortion even under a reasonably strict interpretation of the law.

I'm not ignoring the impact this has on people with no experience of mental illness. Aside from the lack of autonomy and the practical and emotional effects of all the hoop jumping and the stigma and potential mistreatment of having a label attached to you whether accurate or not, having inaccurate information on your medical record can bring it's own set of challenges. But at the same time, I want to make a real effort to not frame this as normal people don't want to get labeled with icky mental illness - and of course everyone here is in the former category.

And far from giving those with mental health issues an easy/ier ride through the system, the current laws are just making things worse in the mental illness stigma department.

Firstly, they take legitimacy away from the many reasons people with mental illness may choose to have an abortion. This happens to everyone to an extent, but it's particularly hard for someone to say "I just said that to get the abortion" when the medical situation is actually true. I have a lot of really well thought out reasons for deciding not to have children, and whilst of course I have taken my health situation (in all areas) into account, it's actually not that high up the list. Of course some people will decide not to become parents because of their experience of mental illness - and they need to have that (often very difficult) choice respected, not dismissed as a mechanism to work the law in their favour.

And then, relatedly, is the effect on attitudes to mentally ill parents. If all these women are having abortions, not as a result of their own considered decisions, but because having a baby would damage their mental health, what does that say to someone who chooses to get pregnant and has a significant mental illness?

And then there are those who want an abortion now but children in the future. Pregnancy and birth may well exacerbate an existing mental illness - but mostly this is just not the right time. Five years down the track, the mental illness may still be the same, the risk of it being exacerbated just the same, but the pregnant person has appropriate support systems in place, worked out plans for the worst, and is ready to have children. But if the reasons she gave for the abortion are still the same, how does she justify going ahead with the pregnancy?

Our abortion laws suck pretty much all round. We need to acknowledge that.


Fey Hag said...

As long as there is an abortion law in any shape or form, women are the property of the tribe.
The elders of the tribe get to decide what is ok for her body.

Julie said...

Thanks for this post Anthea, you've put into (clear, concise, wise) words an unease I've been feeling too.

Frankieb said...

Congratulations on your first (not guest) post! Thankyou for saying what I have felt but have been unable to express :)

Moz said...

Fey Hag: Are you arguing that abortion should be the one medical procedure not covered by the law in any shape or form? Or is this some "government is inherently the province of old people, and that is bad" dig?

Personally I like the idea that abortion law exists, and think it should set abortion up as state-subsidised and available freely from state-run hospitals.