Thursday, March 22, 2012

Susan Faludi, Backlash 21

In my latest reading of Susan Faludi's 1991 book Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women, Faludi talks about how the anti-abortion movement----along with its sympathizers among individuals, politicians, and judges----has created an environment in which it is very difficult for women in the United States to get a safe and legal abortion. But the demand for abortion has not gone down, and so women are driven to the back-alley, where abortions have a greater potential to be unsafe for the mother. Faludi also discusses a growing tendency to obsess over the health of the fetus----to go after pregnant women who are smoking, drinking alcohol, or eating unhealthily.

My reading of Faludi was making me mad. I could see her point that there is a trend to prioritize the unborn baby (or, according to Faludi, the "fetus") over the mother. Many women who have abortions do not make the decisions lightly, for there is a physical, emotional, financial, and vocational toll that accompanies pregnancy and having children. But, at first, I felt that Faludi was going to the opposite extreme, in that she was devaluing the unborn baby in favor of the mother.

But I thought that Faludi then went on to make a decent case that current trends are not helping the unborn babies, either. As Faludi states on page 426: "At the same time that legislators were assailing low-income mothers for failing to take care of their fetuses, they were making devastating cuts in the very services that poor pregnant women need to meet the lawmakers' demands. How was an impoverished woman supposed to deliver a healthy fetus when she was denied prenatal care, nutrition supplements, welfare payments, and housing assistance?" According to Faludi, "severe rollbacks in health insurance and available medical care in the early '80s"----including the reductions in Medicaid----slowed the decline in infant mortality, for "The leading causes of early infant deaths in the '80s weren't drug related; they were ailments like influenza, infections, and pneumonia, all easily prevented or treated by basic health care" (page 428). And even treatment for low-income pregnant drug addicts was declining, Faludi documents. Moreover, with all of the alleged concern for the well-being of the fetus, putting pregnant women in jail certainly did not help their unborn child, as Faludi notes (even though she does not call him or her the unborn child).

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