How would feminists feel about a Baby Friendly Abortion Initiative?

Abortion is a Personal Decision

Imagine if hospitals invited a Baby Friendly Abortion Initiative organization (BFAI) to implement abortion policy.

This might be the BFAI Mission Statement:

Abortion stops a beating heart and therefore is not optimal for any baby; every mother should be informed about the risks of abortion and the benefits to the baby of continuing her pregnancy to term.

The Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative uses coercive tactics to deprive women of choice and violates their bodily autonomy.

These might be their Ten Steps to successful pregnancy continuation:

  • Have a written anti-abortion policy that is routinely communicated to all health care staff.
  • Train all health care staff in the skills necessary to implement this policy.
  • Inform all pregnant women about the benefits of pregnancy continuation
  • Help each mother to initiate the baby friendly abortion policy within one hour of learning she is pregnant.
  • Show mothers how to continue their pregnancy even if they don’t want a baby.
  • Give no information about pregnancy termination, unless medically indicated.
  • Practice rooming in – force women who are continuing unwanted pregnancies to live together away from society to hide their shame.
  • Encourage pregnancy continuation.
  • Give no information about pregnancy termination or testing for anomalies.
  • Foster the establishment of anti-abortion support groups and refer mothers to them on discharge from the hospital or birth center.

How would feminists feel about a Baby Friendly Abortion Initiative?

I suspect they would be outraged.

They would immediately recognize that such an initiative uses coercive tactics meant to deprive women of choice and violates women’s bodily autonomy.

So why don’t they recognize that the Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative, designed to promote breastfeeding, also uses coercive tactics meant to deprive women of choice? Why don’t they decry the fact that the BFHI violates women’s bodily autonomy?

They don’t recognize the similarities between a policy designed to prevent abortion to the BFHI policy designed to prevent formula use because they’ve fallen prey to the same sexist myths about motherhood that have captured the larger society.

1. They romanticize motherhood.

It’s a curious failing when you consider that feminists don’t romanticize pregnancy. Pregnancy is the “natural” result of sexual intercourse and pregnancy is “what women’s bodies were meant to do,” but feminists have no trouble understanding that a woman might not want to be pregnant and might not want to take on physical labor and responsibility that inevitably ensues from pregnancy.

It’s even more surprising considering that feminists have become deeply involved in preventing the coercion of pregnant women into giving birth in whatever way is “best” for babies. They are front and center (as they should be) in legal cases involving forced Cesareans and resisting (as they should) efforts to criminalize addiction to drugs during pregnancy. They understand that babies have no recourse in those situations, yet they promote maternal choice despite the potential harm or even death of the unborn child.

It should be obvious to feminists that a woman’s right to control her own body even at the expense of the unborn baby who has no recourse seamlessly extends to her right to control her own breasts after birth, especially considering that babies have recourse to formula — an excellent alternative method of nutrition. Instead they blithely accept the romantic notion that mothers can and should endure anything — violation of bodily autonomy, pain, and mental anguish — so their babies can receive breastmilk.

2. They romanticize nature.

Feminists have no problem promoting the right of women to breastfeed in public. Babies need to eat and breastfeeding is the “natural” way feed them. Hence women have unrestricted rights to expose their breasts in public regardless of whom they offend. Feminists react with shock and horror when women are shamed for public breastfeeding but utterly ignore the ongoing shaming of women who don’t want to breastfeed.

Even worse, they (like the general public) ignore the injuries and deaths of babies caused by aggressive breastfeeding promotion. Breastfeeding nearly doubles the risk of newborn hospital readmission; it is the leading cause of kernicterus (jaundice-induced brain injury) and it is responsible for literally hundreds of cases of newborn babies being smothered in their mothers’ hospital beds or fracturing their skulls from falling out of those beds. It’s as if feminists don’t understand, or refuse to acknowledge that just because something is natural doesn’t make it best or even safe.

3. They have no interest or energy for anything beyond abortion rights.

Many feminists appear to believe that abortion rights are the sum total of reproductive rights. They argue against coerced C-sections because it is but a short step to coerced pregnancy continuation. They argue against criminalizing addiction in pregnancy because it is but a short step to criminalizing abortion. But they are unable to connect a woman’s right to control her own breasts with the fight to maintain abortion rights, so they simply ignore it.

It doesn’t really matter, though, why feminists have ignored the misogyny of breastfeeding promotion efforts. It’s time they recognize their mistake. Feminists should view the Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative to promote breastfeeding the same way they would view a Baby Friendly Abortion Initiatve: as a coercive attempt to deprive women of choice and a violation of their bodily autonomy. Anything else is hypocritical.

  • Amy

    I have to push back a little here. I think extreme breastfeeding advocacy draws its supporters from across the political spectrum– indeed, I know far more anti-feminists and right-wing women who advocate not only breastfeeding but all of the trappings of “natural family living.” The only “feminist” argument I ever hear in favor of breastfeeding is the BS line that formula marketing is telling us our bodies aren’t good enough.

    Women on the right will look at this meant-to-be-satire piece and take it literally as proof that we should make bottle feeding as difficult as they’re trying (and have succeeded in many places) to make abortion.

  • Empress of the Iguana People

    well, that’s a disturbing bit of satire.

  • CSN0116

    I’ve told you all about my epidemiology course I run every year, in which I use Jung to highlight failed public health policy (BFHI). Well, this past semester the class “final” was for students to use what they had learned and re-write BFHI. One student, who is so freaking brilliant (and even EBF her own two children 😉 did a particularly good job with it. I won’t do it justice but the foundation of her argument was to remove “breast feeding” and “formula feeding” from all literature and replace it with the inclusive term — “baby feeding.” Moms would still get help for issues specific to their desired feeding method, but no more hierarchy or moralizing. Think about it:

    Baby Feeding is Best! (i.e. Fed is Best)

    Have a written baby feeding policy that is routinely communicated to all health care staff.
    Train all health care staff in the skills necessary to implement this policy.
    Inform all new moms about the benefits of a well-fed baby.
    Help each mother to initiate the baby feeding policy within one hour of giving birth.
    Continue baby feeding even if baby shows apprehension, instruct on different baby milks and feeding devices.
    Give no information about not feeding a baby, unless medically indicated (pre surgical).
    Practice rooming in – make sure mom has access to ample amounts of all the baby feeding supplies she will need if choosing to room in.
    Encourage baby feeding continuation.
    Give no information about not baby feeding, or intentionally starving a baby.
    Foster the establishment of a variety of baby feeding support groups and refer mothers to them on discharge from the hospital or birth center.

    • Roadstergal

      “Give no information about not feeding a baby”

      Isn’t it crazy that this would represent a _change of policy_?

      • CSN0116

        You got that right.

      • Yeah, that part just jumps out at you, doesn’t it?

  • fiftyfifty1

    “Many feminists appear to believe that abortion rights are the sum total of reproductive rights.”

    I would strongly disagree. It’s not all about abortion for feminists. Feminists also have been the force behind reproductive rights in the form of access to birth control, access to comprehensive sex ed, and the movement to change how we view consent in sexual relationships.

    What I do think, however, is that the postpartum period and its issues are getting “lost in the middle.” Young, college age, feminists fight for what matters to them–rights regarding sex and preventing involuntary childbearing. Older feminists fight for what matters to them–work opportunities, the glass ceiling etc. The postpartum year is but a brief moment in time in comparison, so breastfeeding (and also AP) are relatively overlooked. Sure they are part of the online “mommy wars”, but they don’t receive a ton of formal thought or academic attention. So college age feminists, without lived experience, can mistakenly believe (if they think about it at all) that breastfeeding is more feminist in reaction to stories they hear of public harassment of breastfeeding women. For older women, the newborn days are over, and they have moved on.

    • The Kids Aren’t AltRight

      That doesn’t really explain why a lot of the most vicious breastfeeding proponents describe themselves as feminists though. It’s not that feminists are simply overlooking the sexism inherit in “natural” motherhood promotion, so-called feminists are often the ones arguing that the pain and sacrifice of such mothering practice is secretly empowering.

      • fiftyfifty1

        Lactivists describe themselves as feminists because they are looking to manipulate women. Plenty of anti-feminists do this. Even anti-choice crisis pregnancy centers and abstinence-only proponents claim they are feminists. This doesn’t mean that feminists on average or mainstream feminist thought agrees with them.

        • Roadstergal

          I actually agree with both of you, and I think the key are the words ‘many’ and ‘appears’ – I think most feminists, and mainstream feminist thought, agree with what 5051 notes. But too many self-described feminists – even though they are a small minority – think in very narrow terms for their own ends, rather than the broad context of bodily autonomy.

          I dunno, that’s how I took it…

      • ukay

        Because feminism, like lactivism, can act as a class marker. It
        is educated, enlightened us vs. the backwards formula feeders (read working class). Lactivists love to pose as educated and forward thinking. So they go backwards, full circle. The irony.

        • fiftyfifty1

          Lately there has been a lot of criticism of feminism for being “classist.” And certainly overt feminism IS correlated with class (e.g. as education and income increase the likelihood of self-identifying as a feminist increases.) But I find the criticism interesting. We don’t criticize men for advocating for their own interests. When professional/college educated/wealthy men advocate in their own interest, they aren’t shamed with “what about the working class.” I mean, I’m all for intersectionality, but why is it only the job of women? Another way to discredit feminists I suppose. A version more subtle than the old manhating, ugly, and humorless.

          • LaMont

            Literally every time a white woman talks about feminism she is also accused of being racist, too as well as classist. It’s a GREAT way to discredit women’s issues as less important than other issues, even though they do intersect and particularly affect women with other disadvantages. I was told that marching this/last year is a sign that I’m a “white feminist” unless I marched for other things too (I have), but that if I show up at other protests then I’m posturing and unfairly taking space away from WOC/LGBT/immigrants/etc.

          • CSN0116

            Can a protest ever get too big and too effective that there is not space for all those who share in its effort? I think not. Those are bizarre comments people have made to you.

          • LaMont

            This is *not* the vast majority of the response, for sure, but it is there. Then there’s the FAR LESS HELPFUL stuff to the effect of “if you don’t let in anti-choicers, you’re not inclusive of ALL women” which is like, just get out.

          • TheArtistFormerlyKnownAsYoya

            If we allow any group of women to be singled out and shamed, no matter how “privileged” as a group they may be, any group of women will be fair game. This is a disturbing trend and it’s disturbing how many feminists find it acceptable.

          • StephanieJR

            What always gets me is that women are literally half of the world’s population. There’s even been years where there’s been more women than men. I just don’t get how half the world can be so dismissed.

          • Who?

            Because until 50 years ago a good chunk of that half were at the mercy of their fertility, and old habits die hard.

            Access to control of fertility is huge for all women.

          • ukay

            That is a good point. The criticism is not irrelevant just because there is a certain lack of self- reflection in male counterparts though. By all means, college educated women who advocate for themselves is a goot thing. Not though if they do it by steamrollering or denigrate women with less privilege or resources. Showing class awareness is not detrimental to being feminist. Using this as an argument to shut confident women down is not okay, I agree.

          • Sarah

            One generally finds that most liberation movements, with a few shining exceptions, see liberating women and ending sexism within their own ranks and wider society as something that can be done the day after everything else gets sorted.

          • TheArtistFormerlyKnownAsYoya

            If you can get women to busy themselves by fighting with each other, they won’t be much of a force to be reckoned with. Couple that with the female socialization that tells women to always be “nice” and make sure everyone else is taken care of…”inclusivity” is one of the worst things to happen to feminism.

  • I think a lot of them (us) don’t know about BFHI. Outside of a very specific subset of people, hospital policies aren’t something that people pay attention to. I’m not saying it isn’t worth paying attention to, because it is, but it isn’t fair to call people out for not condemning something they don’t know exists.