Thursday, January 6, 2005

Dang that wandering uterus

Now forgive me if I begin to sound a little hysterical but I did notice two pieces of news this week that made my ovaries twitch a tad.

The first was some research showing that the contraceptive pill may permanently diminish the libido. The second looked at women who have had abortions, concluding that a large number will experience mental problems as a result.

Fortunately I was half asleep when I heard both pieces being broadcast otherwise I might have taken them at face value. But just like stars in the sky, you sometimes see things more clearly when you’re not looking directly at them.

Googling both stories later, I noted the tone of the Melbourne Herald Sun headline Pill may kill women’s libido followed by the sentence “Women taking the pill could spoil their sex lives forever…” and was immediately struck by the language. “Kill?”, “Spoil?”, “Forever?”. Forceful words. Evocative. If I didn’t know any better, I’d guess they were referring to virginity. Or the Crusades. Really.

Instead they were referring to research showing that women on the Pill had higher than average levels of a testosterone-suppressing hormone even a year after they’d stopped taking it. Yet all the women (125) in the sample were already visiting a “sexual dysfunction clinic” in the first place – even the ones in the study who presumably had “normal” levels of the hormone. So I felt confused. What about the control group? If their libido was so healthy and uncontaminated by the controversial contraceptive that launched the second wave of feminism, what were they doing at a sexual dysfunction clinic? Why only 125 women? Who sponsored the research?

Whatever the research was showing (and I’m still not clear on that), it was clear that the media was taking the opportunity to sensationalise the outcome. So the underlying message seemed (to me, at least) to be that we might be risking our sexual happiness unless we have more babies and/or return to 1950’s contraceptive practices. Which is exactly what our government seems to be encouraging too given its wish for a baby boom. So if it turns out that God talks to our leaders, just like those lucky Americans, it might be a good idea to look up the words kinder, k├╝che, kirche before you go any further...

Fortunately the Herald Sun article did also quote a gynaecologist who reminded us that “libido is an incredibly complex and complicated emotion”, and that while it was possible that the Pill reduced a woman’s drive, a number of factors are involved including health, psyche and relationship dynamics. (Like working long hours at a shitty job. Or struggling financially. Or feeling insecure because you’re not airbrushed or an accomplished pole dancer). In fact, from what I’m told, if there’s anything that’s widely reputed to reduce libido, it’s having too many children. Which brings me to the second story.

Put simply “Abortion hurts women”. And I do mean “put simply”. (In an “uncharitable” tone, just in case you were still wondering…).

In essence a long term study involving 500 women now in their twenties has found thatyoung women who have had an abortion may be at increased risk of developing mental health problems".
By the age of 25, the study found, 42 per cent of those who had had an abortion had also experienced major depression during the previous four years.

This was nearly double the rate of those who had never been pregnant and 35 per cent higher than those who had chosen to continue a pregnancy.
What surprises me here is the high depression rates for the young women who “had chosen to continue a pregnancy” for presumably all the usual happy and wonderful reasons. Which leads me to think that becoming pregnant is a significant and life changing matter whatever the context or outcome.

It also occurs to me is that none of these women could have had their abortions too long ago given that they’re still only 25, so I’m not surprised that the emotional aftermath would be fairly fresh for them – Julia Baird takes a similar angle in her article in the Sydney Morning Herald today. And given that depression rates in the general population are 1 in 4 (or 25% of people in a lifetime), I am even less surprised at the statistics being reported. I would have guessed that they would be higher.

Another thing that strikes me is the lack of information about the context of the depressed women’s lives – the environment they were in, relationships, reasons for aborting, other factors that are contributing to their difficulties. The whole thing seems way more complex than a simple numbers game. Because the numbers themselves are meaningless. Do the numbers support the assertion that “women who are forced to keep or adopt their babies, or find illegal methods of aborting, will have a better mental health outlook as a result?”. Er, probably not. I'd say it's a bit more complex than that. Just like always. In fact, it'd be just as "scientific" to posit that modern life predisposes young women to choose abortions because it's so alienating and crazy-making. (Which doesn't sound that crazy, now that I type the words...)

Mostly, however, I’m confused about what the so-called “pro-lifers” are after. First they complain that women have abortions willy-nilly with no thought for the consequences or implications (calling it a 'lifestyle choice' and other disparaging terms that suggest that women don't suffer enough). Yet, when it turns out half the women undergoing abortions suffer terribly, the anti-choice lobby still isn’t satisfied. Women now need to be “protected” from this suffering. And the anti-choice lobby and other groups seem to always know exactly what’s best for everybody. Just ask them. Actually – don’t. Cos they’re gonna tell you anyway.

I’ve never been pregnant. I have no wish to fall unexpectedly pregnant. And I’d find it incredibly distressing to find myself in that predicament because I honestly don’t know what I would do. Either way I am unreservedly supportive of the absolute right of each woman to be given the privacy, opportunity, information and support needed to reach her own conclusions and important decisions about such a personal matter. I abhor the hypocrisy of groups who will murder and harass adult people in the name of 2 dimensional images of a foetus on cardboard placards in a world where child prostitution is rife and millions more live in abject poverty. They should come preach to me after they’ve solved the problem of clean water in Africa.

Now while Doctor Fergusson, who conducted the research, does sound legitimate in his claim to be pro-choice and impeccable in his methodologies, I was a bit surprised to learn of the general focus of his work including:
One group even provides "special offers" at the end of their articles championing his work, such as a copy of "the definitive handbook for battling 'pro-choicers'. " As they say "Be ready with the perfect answers to the abortion issue's toughest questions".

And in a piece called "Early intervention the answer" we read that "A Christchurch researcher has found that badly behaved seven-year-olds are often headed for a life of crime, drugs, teen parenthood and mental illness...
...Professor David Fergusson released his findings to the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists, pointing to early intervention as the only way to deal with social problems that have experts "wringing their hands"."
Which would still be OK I guess if we knew what he means by "early intervention" and wasn’t followed by an incomprehensible sound byte from a New Zealand politician who intimates that 'what Dr Fergusson's saying squares with what I'm talking about' but doesn't provide any evidence to back this up. Quotes from this politician’s book on "justice" include:
"If our society is to craft a social covenant that results in low crime, and a climate of openness, innovation and opportunity for all, we must prioritise and reward the needs of the lawful with a freedom that does not exist under an abundance of legislation, but in the reality of a just and civil society."
Yeah. Read it again.

And again.

No, it's not you. You’ve just been served some word salad, gentle reader, and elsewhere the writer seems to think that incarcerating little kids will solve later "criminality". But I can't be sure. 'Cos I didn't understand much of what I read. What's more disturbing is that he thinks he has scientific backing for his garblings. (That he's a politician is no surprise at all :-)).

So it starts to look like one should be careful before one believes everything one hears or reads in the paper. Even if it sounds feasible or well intentioned. And especially if it's based on "research". Especially in these days of renaissance snake oil and shameless spin.


Aloha to bbaltimore for the fine photo

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