Stuff that I think about. Mostly books.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Why the Pro-Life Movement Is So Very, Very Full of Fail

I was recently involved in a Facebook debate (I believe that link will be viewable to anyone with Facebook, but let me know if not) with a young activist over the abortion/breast cancer link. Spurred by the whole "let's talk about my hot lingerie to raise awareness about breasts, I mean, breast cancer!" meme that swung around FB over the past few days, she had posted a website arguing that having an abortion raises the risk of breast cancer.

Let's just put this to rest immediately: the largest and most reliable studies ever conducted on this subject make it very clear that there is no reason to believe a link exists between abortion and breast cancer. As puts it: "The newer studies consistently showed no association between induced and spontaneous abortions and breast cancer risk." (Store away that whole "spontaneous abortion" thing for future reference.) The evidence that there is a link, meanwhile, is pretty lame: Eight medical organizations (at least five of which are obviously and admittedly pro-life-slanted) recognize the link as part of their platforms. Eight, of course, is not that many, and it bears mentioning that most of those eight also believe that the world is 6,000 years old; so you'll forgive me if I don't take their scientific know-how too seriously.

There is no link between abortion and breast cancer. Should that have any bearing on the strength of the pro-life argument? No. Of course not. They already have one solid fact on their side - abortion ends a life - and that they consistently feel the need to supplement that fact with bullshit (PAS, breast cancer, the whole "God" thing) makes me wonder how seriously they even take themselves.

I pointed out to this young PLer that she was, in fact, full of grade A horseshit. Naturally, when presented with objective evidence that she is wrong, a pro-lifer's first reaction is to declare a conspiracy. The reason it's so easy to find large, reliable studies debunking the abortion/breast cancer link is that the medical system doesn't want you to know about it. So all those studies and doctors saying in no uncertain terms that abortion does not increase your risk of breast cancer? They're lying to us. Because abortion is a huge fucking cash cow.

It probably goes without saying that this is pure lunacy. Remember that episode of the Simpsons, where Homer saves Lenny's life by throwing his egg sandwich on the floor?

Homer: Saved your life! That egg sandwich would have killed you by cholesterol!
Lenny: Pfft, forget it, Homer. While it has been established that eggs contain cholesterol, it has not yet been proven conclusively that they actually raise the level of serum cholesterol in the human blood stream.
Homer: So one of those Egg Council creeps got to you too, huh?
Lenny: Aw, you've got it all wrong, Homer. It's not like that.
[a man in an egg costume creeps, then runs, away]
Homer: You'd better run, egg!

This is also the same tactic 9/11 conspirators use. It's easy for crazy people to ignore evidence, because to them, the whole world profits off of making them look crazy. This strategy, while insane, also has the advantage of making it impossible to win an argument with them.

Let's look at the facts here. No one is getting rich off of providing abortions. If anything, it's exactly the opposite: there are enormous industries supported entirely by pregnancy, childbirth, and child-rearing. That a simple, safe, legal medical procedure that takes less than an hour and costs less than $600 could possibly make anyone more money than nine months of pregnancy and 18 years of raising a child makes no fucking sense. The PLer cited Planned Parenthood as bringing in $1 billion last year; while this may be true, only around 2% of that money came from abortion. PP provides tons of medical services in addition to abortion, as well as education and outreach to underprivileged members of the community.

Those monsters!

If the medical industry was heavily invested in women having abortions, you'd think they would be less dedicated to education about birth control. For reasons unrelated to abortion, I had to go to my local 'hood last week. You know what they have all over the damn place? Condoms. WTF? If they want people to keep having abortions, why do they give out free pregnancy prevention?

But instead, it's the pro-lifers who are discouraging people from using birth control, even though that's the only thing that's ever been empirically proven to reduce abortion rates. (Then again, empirical proof? Not their fave.)

The scientific theory behind the breast cancer/abortion link has something to do with cells; apparently when you get up the sprog, your breasts produce more cells, but they don't become cancer-resistant until the third trimester. So take the baby away, and all these cells are just waiting to become tumorous.

Makes a lot of sense, in theory. The problem, which becomes evident if you think about it for more than five minutes, is that if this theory is true, there should be no difference in risk between induced abortions and spontaneous abortions (aka miscarriages). But the medical establishment shouldn't have any reason to keep the risk of miscarriage under wraps; they're certainly not making any money off of it. What's the deal?

Finally, the theory here is that if women knew about this risk of abortion, they would have less abortions. That's a pretty shaky theory. Exposing the risks of cigarette smoking helped reduce smoking, but abortion isn't like smoking. There are no negative consequences to not smoking. There are lots of negative consequences to being pregnant, at least if you're a woman who doesn't want to be pregnant. And for a woman who doesn't want to be pregnant, I doubt the threat of a slightly increased risk of breast cancer is going to erase her concerns. Even if there is a link between abortion and breast cancer (which there isn't); and even if there are lots of people making lots of money from abortions (which there aren't); it still does not follow that there's any advantage in keeping this information quiet. For the conspiracy theory to make sense, you first have to prove that there'd be a significant decrease in abortions if people knew it might cause breast cancer. And you can't do that, because the only thing that's been shown to decrease abortion rates is birth control. Well, that, and legalized abortion.

I didn't really take the debate very seriously, as should be clear from my use of phrases like "all about the Benjamins" and my mockery of her website's font choice (I don't care what you believe, typography is IMPORTANT), but arguing from a losing position is a difficult thing to do, and the anti-choice movement is nothing if not losing. So my pro-life friend closed by advising me to have the human life inside me ripped violently away, while she would have a baby, and then we'd see who had health problems down the road.

This delicious diatribe is pretty much exactly why the pro-life movement is full of fail. It's being represented by people who just plain don't know how to argue. Conspiracy theorists who end debates by saying "GO KILL YOUR BABY THEN, FINE, I DON'T CARE" don't exactly help discourage the belief that conservatives are wackos.

And it's a damn shame, because the pro-life movement doesn't have to be wacky. The fact that abortion ends a life is a powerful one to use, and while God knows I'm more pro-choice than the average pro-choicer, even I get a bit stumped when presented with that argument. But relying on easily discredited bullshit and Big Brother conspiracies doesn't make the pro-life movement look like a threat. It just makes it really, really easy to make fun of them.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to take the $50 I just earned from the National Association of Abortions Are Awesome (NAAAA) and put it in my Baby Killin' Jar. You never know when I might need it.


  1. Jessie: I am Cailin's friend Rachel. Cailin just told me to check out your blog. Being a crazed Feminist, I enjoyed this rant (serious lolz). I personally really appreciate when people comment on my blog posts.

    Currently I am working on strengthening my debating skills on the topic of abortion, but now I wonder if this project is basically a waste of my time since pro-lifers are so one-dimensional in their arguments. In reality I will hopefully be able to discuss the topic with people who are less decided on the issue.

  2. Hey Rachel! get a lot out of debating the really hard-core pro-lifers (which this one definitely is...I didn't want to get personal in my post, but I think it's fair to let you know that she's married at 21 and has a quote from the Pope or somebody deriding birth control on her Facebook), in the same way that you get a lot of debating a brick wall.

    I will look at your blog! And comment!