Here’s the Worst Health Advice a Woman Could Ever Get

Let’s say you’re pregnant, and you’re not certain what you want to do or even what all of your options are. Your parents would be shocked, your boyfriend isn’t around, and your friends aren’t helpful. So you go to something called a crisis pregnancy center (or CPC) where they tell you that the morning-after pill can make you hemorrhage and abortion can cause breast cancer. On Tuesday, Irin Carmon wrote about such crisis pregnancy centers in Salon, centering her article around a video that pro-choice activist Katie Stack secretly filmed when she pretended to be pregnant on a visit to a center. The video is damning to the specific CPC, but more to the point, it is indicative of the ways in which anti-choice institutions combine an opposition to abortion with a larger theory of sex negativity.

Of course, some people wouldn’t call it sex negativity. The idea that sex is exclusively for marriage — and that, conversely, sex results in some kind of permanent connection — is common, and on it's own, it's not necessarily harmful. As a staple of the religious Right, however, it is not a personal belief but a tool used to police women's bodies. It’s no coincidence that many of the same politicians who believe sex is only okay within marriage also believe that abortion is wrong. A woman who has sex for fun and outside of marriage deserves to face the consequences ... by having a baby. She made a mistake, and abortion gives her an easy out. We can’t have that, right?

The thing is, I respect people who are anti-choice because they believe life starts at conception. I wish there weren’t so many of them, and I think they’re wrong, but if you truly believe that a baby is formed upon the moment of conception, decrying abortion is the only option. I can't fault that opinion, no matter how much I disagree. For so many anti-choice people, however, it’s not all about that. It’s also about punishing the woman for her sin. Never mind the actions of the man — in this same mythos, man is an uncontrollable sexual being against which a woman can either defend her body or yield it. The woman messed up. It’s her fault. She needs to pay.

But making a woman face the consequences of her actions by forcing her to have a baby is the worst possible answer. Abortion today is safe and legal. It is a viable option for a woman who doesn’t want to go through the physical and emotional stress of pregnancy. Crisis pregnancy centers make it seem like it is such a dangerous and morally wrong choice that it is barely a choice at all. That’s not just because they think having an abortion is equivalent to having a baby. It’s because they think that women having sex for fun is wrong.

At one point during the video, the woman at the CPC asks Katie why she’s having sex, if she isn’t married. “Sex is a responsibility,” she says after telling Katie that sex is something two people share for their entire lives. Watching it, I was reminded of the “sex education” seminar we had in our theatre in eleventh grade, when the speaker informed us that if you sleep with someone, you’re “married in your heart” to the person forever.

Even then, as a nerdy high school junior who had never taken off a guy’s shirt, I knew it was bullshit. The desire to keep sex within marriage, or with only one person, is valid and reasonable. I may even believe it myself. But using that belief to police the bodies of all women, in the bedroom and the doctor’s office, is impressively condescending. And it is exactly what these crisis pregnancy centers are about.

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Sarah Van Name

Sarah Van Name is a recent graduate of Duke University currently working in the RTP area. She spends the rest of her time reading feminist blogs and mystery novels, running very slowly, and trying out new bread recipes.

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