Who said it: anti-abortion activist or a breastfeeding advocate?

Austin, Texas Abortion Debate, July, 2013

Imagine if an anti-abortion protester wrote:

If you believed some you would think that for women choosing to terminate a pregnancy continuing it instead is bad for women’s mental health.

Both anti-abortion activists and breastfeeding advocates ignore the critical importance of the ability to choose unfettered by the “support” of those who want them to make different choices.

But pregnancy does not damage maternal mental health. In fact, pregnancy can do marvelous things for women’s well-being. Alongside reducing risk of reproductive cancers like ovarian cancer and breast cancer, it can help women feel empowered, confident, and heal childhood trauma, too. Childbirth hormones are even thought to help reduce the impact of stress and sleep deprivation upon the body. It’s no wonder that numerous studies have found that compared to women women who suffer miscarriages, those who continue a pregnancy have a lower risk of depression.

That’s why terminating a pregnancy is always the wrong choice. The problem is not pregnancy itself. Instead it is the lack of support and investment in helping women choose life. Most women who choose termination do so because they antipicate lack of support, hardship, or difficulty making ends meet. Those of us who give abortion counseling at our clinics offer women the support they need to continue pregnancy, not end it.

You might respond with several critical facts that the protester left out:

1. No one ever said the problem is pregnancy itself; the issue is that unwanted pregnancy can be devastating for women’s mental health and every other aspect of her wellbeing.

2. Yes, pregnancy has health benefits, but pregnancy itself is life threatening. Terminating a pregnancy is actually healthier for women than continuing it.

3. The fact that women are devastated by miscarriage of a wanted pregnancy tells us nothing about the impact of continuing an unwanted pregnancy.

4. The conviction that every woman who choose to terminate a pregnancy would continue it if she just got more support reflects deliberate obtuseness. It emphasizes short term drawbacks when the real issue may be very different.

Now consider that the claims above were not made by an anti-abortion protester. They are a nearly word for word adaptation of claims made by a professional lactivist. They come from a recent piece by Prof. Amy Brown, Breastfeeding is good for mothers’ mental health – but those who struggle need support.

Brown, too, displays deliberate obtuseness. She is certain — every bit as certain as anti-abortion protesters are certain — that every women who formula feeds would breastfeed if she just got more support. She, too, emphasizes short term issues when the real issues for women who choose formula may be very different.

Brown also deliberately misrepresents the situation in the exact same way as any abortion opponent.

1. No one has ever said the problem with aggressive breastfeeding promotion is breastfeeding. The problem is pressuring women who don’t want to breastfeed, find breastfeeding painful and frustrating or discover they cannot produce enough milk to fully nourish a baby.

2. Yes, breastfeeding has benefits, but it also has significant risks — risks that are routinely elided or denied in the same way that anti-choice advocates ignore the risks of pregnancy.

3. The fact that women are devastated by being unable to breastfeed if they had intended to do so tell us nothing about the mental health impact of not breastfeeding on women who don’t want to do so. Furthermore, it tells us nothing about the impact of pressure to breastfeed on the mental health of women who who prefer to formula feed.

4. Most importantly, the same people who exclaim over women devastated by failure to breastfeed fail to consider that THEY are responsible for that sense of failure. To my knowledge, there was very little if any angst about formula feeding UNTIL lactivists started pressure women to breastfeed. It seems particularly cruel for lactivists to berate women who don’t breastfeed as substandard mothers depriving babies of incredible health benefits and then offer sympathy for their feelings of “failure.”

Both anti-choice activists and breastfeeding advocates ignore the critical importance of the ability to choose unfettered by the “support” of those who want them to make different choices.

Anti-abortion activists insist that waiting periods for abortion, unwanted ultrasounds and mandated medical “counseling” are being offered to help women make informed decisions. Lactation professionals insist that locking up infant formula, forcing women to sign consent forms for formula and mandated medical “counseling” about the benefits of breastfeeding are being offered to help women make informed decisions. Both groups are lying to themselves and others. Such practices are forced on women to pressure them to make pre-approved decision.

Her baby, Her body, HER choice! Why is that so hard for activists of all kinds to understand?