Juno Redux

iVillage Member
Registered: 06-03-2007
Juno Redux
Sun, 01-27-2008 - 12:08pm

A thoughtful response to the recent Guttmacher data, the movie Juno, and the media treatment of both. Food for thought.

John Seery
"The Juno Effect"

I'd like to elaborate a bit on an ABC News report last week that quoted me (correctly) as proffering a theory about something called "the Juno effect" as a way of thinking about recent abortion trends and abortion politics.

Last Thursday morning I found myself in the middle of a Roe v. Wade media firestorm of sorts. A Los Angeles Times reporter had contacted me about the newly released Guttmacher Institute report that indicates, among other things, a dramatic decline in the rate and number of abortions performed in the United States (25% fewer abortions per year since peaking in 1990).

I found myself quoted briefly toward the end of the LA Times article. By the time I reached my office that morning, there were requests on my desk for interviews from two radio shows (KCBS out of San Francisco and KPCC out of Los Angeles), from two national broadcast networks (ABC News and CBN News), and another major daily newspaper, Dziennik, out of Poland.

The reporters all wanted to know the possible political implications of the abortion decline.

I found myself hemming and hawing, because the Guttmacher data reveals some complicated trends that don't altogether admit of a tidy or easy explanation for this overall decrease. For instance, more than 30 states now feature laws that require mandatory counseling sessions before a woman undergoes an abortion, and yet some of the biggest drops in the abortion rate occurred in states that do not have these restrictions.

Also, the report reveals a few countervailing trends in terms of access: The number of U.S. abortion (surgical) providers continues to decline, yet the number of providers that provide only medication abortion services has increased pretty significantly. By 2005 (the last year covered by the report), such non-surgical medication abortions accounted for 13% of all abortions in the U.S.

What does it all mean? My longwinded explanation (left on the ABC News cutting room floor, understandably and thankfully) was this: absent any clear-cut exogenous variable or variables accounting for the decline, it behooves us to attribute, as an operational hypothesis, a good part of the drop-off to women's individual and aggregate choice, plain and simple. Greater numbers of women are, presumably, attending to contraceptive and preventative measures, and/or a greater number of impregnated women seem to be choosing to forgo abortion and carry to term. (Of course, all of those comparative speculations assume that the number of impregnated women would have remained steady otherwise--a big if). I teased those loose inferences and extrapolations out of data cited in the Guttmacher report showing that abortions are occurring earlier in the pregnancy: while nearly 90% of abortions in the U.S. take place in the first trimester, women are having abortions earlier and earlier in that period. 60% of all abortions occur within the first 8 weeks of pregnancy, and 30% take place at 6 weeks or earlier. To put my inferential leap or supposition more baldly: I see evidence in those numbers of women's deliberateness, intentionality, and agency--call that, choice. More women seem to be choosing, for whatever reasons, to undertake abortion at an earlier stage in their pregnancies. By parity of reason, one is tempted to discern similar acts of decisiveness in the abortion drop-off numbers.

(Of course, the study's other bleak data on access--nationwide, 87% of all counties have no abortion services--militates against my hypothesis about choice and voluntarism.)

The movie Juno--perhaps a sign-of-the-times flick--depicts a sixteen-year old girl who gets pregnant. She goes to an abortion clinic, first encounters outside a classmate who is a clinic protester, enters the clinic anyway, declines the receptionist's offer of a flavored condom, surveys the rest of the setting, and then turns away. She decides from there on to carry to term and to seek an acceptable way to put the baby up for adoption.

I want to say that we spectators aren't sure exactly why Juno decides against abortion. But in the terms of the film presented to us, the decision, deeply personal as well as socially implicated, is foremost and finally hers, precariously drawn though it may be. It isn't the protester who changes her view (though an incidental comment about fingernails factors in). It isn't some counseling session or parental notification mandate that accounts for her change of heart. It isn't a sonogram of a third tri-mester fetus. Access isn't an issue in the film. We are left, I dare say, with a sense of Juno's own resolve and agency, a maturity and perspective seemingly beyond her girlish years. Her decision could conceivably have gone, however, the other way. And the film doesn't continue onward nor end as a happy-ever-after, feel-good triumph, though we do leave impressed with something more than Juno's pluckishness.

My own view is that right-to-lifers should read the recent Guttmacher numbers (along with the recent Harris poll numbers showing 56% nationwide support for Roe v. Wade) and realize that entrusting and empowering women with their own reproductive decisions might be a more auspicious strategy for reducing overall abortion numbers than seeking to impose draconian and patronizing juridical and legislative bans and bars to abortion. After 35 years, they have failed to overturn Roe v. Wade; and in light of that failure, maybe they should change their outlook and approach. In short, appealing to women's "choice" could increasingly become the common ground--as well as the site of contestation (as opposed to the largely male courts and congresses)--between the otherwise antagonistic pro-choice and pro-life camps. How else to explain that such bitter adversaries are finding themselves in recent days sitting in the same theater applauding the same off-beat indie film that addresses the very topic about which they disagree so vehemently?

iVillage Member
Registered: 01-11-2008
In reply to: wobitnobby
Sun, 01-27-2008 - 3:45pm

So, you and this article are trying to say, that by making abortion available, afordable and acceptable, it decreases abortion?

Let me throw this at you.

 "Pascal's Wager," which states that believing in God costs you nothing if you're wrong, and wins you everything if you're right.

iVillage Member
Registered: 06-03-2007
In reply to: wobitnobby
Sun, 01-27-2008 - 4:13pm

These things all indeed could be.

And though this time I do pretty much agree with this article, I do often post things as food for thought that I don't agree with - it's not always safe to assume that I support the author! Notice I wrote - "interesting food for thought" at the top, which doesn't mean "this is what I believe".

A part of that article I found to be striking is that the individual states with the greatest decreases in abortion are not the states with restrictive consent laws. One big discussion you missed on a few months ago had to do with worldwide abortion incidence when compared to worldwide abortion law. Abortion is overall not rarer where it is criminalized.

Let's consider a woman desperate for an abortion (say she was raped, or has a serious epileptic disorder and can't go off her medication) in two settings.
In the setting of legal, safe abortion, she goes to her gyn, gets her options counseling and makes her decision. Within a week or two she is able to make an appointment for a termination. A standard part of every interaction with these medical professionals will include a domestic violence screening and an eye toward this woman's future, and a future contraceptive plan. I've shadowed at PP and I know that even on procedure day (after her previous counseling appt where she had even more counseling) there's a lot of discussion of contraception to the point of some pressure to go home with a little paper bag of heavily subsidized birth control.
Let's consider another setting, say in Chile where all abortions are illegal for any reason. This woman may drink herbs or fall down the stairs or try to use a catheter to flush something toxic into her uterus or use something sharp like a knitting needle or wire to disrupt the gestational sac. This woman may kill herself, she may permanently impair her fertility, and she is certainly not getting any help with domestic violence or future contraception.

This is why I believe that access to safe, legal abortion WITH a strong agenda for contraception and education will reduce abortion rates. Legal abortion brings women in difficult situations into contact with healthcare professionals that can get them help. Criminalized abortion forces women in difficult situations into back alleys where they are further abused.

The current rates of abortion in Chile is around 35%. Yup, that's similar to ours.
and an article about the rate of rape and sexual abuse in Chile

iVillage Member
Registered: 10-17-2006
In reply to: wobitnobby
Sun, 01-27-2008 - 6:25pm

Interesting points :)

Our abortion rate is 15.6 - and abortion is available, free, and acceptable.


iVillage Member
Registered: 06-17-2007
In reply to: wobitnobby
Sun, 01-27-2008 - 9:15pm

"Could it too be that wemon are no longer falling for the 'clump of cells' argument thanks to science and medicine that have proven that a bit of an understatement?"

And yet, at two weeks after fertilization, it is hardly a fully-formed baby, as Thomas Aquinas believed it to be. Care to back up your argument?

"Is it posible that the message of those who are against abortion has gotten out over the last 18 years? Could it be that legal abortion has left a 'bad impression' on women today?"

I suppose it is possible, but I don't think you're noticing that there is a HUGE gap in the research. All that is shown in the Guttmacher study is that there is a smaller rate of abortions to pregnancies. It doesn't say that there is a smaller rate of abortions to *unwanted* pregnancies. Information like that would indicate that more women who have an unwanted pregnancy are choosing to carry to term instead of abort. You are assuming that, but the stats don't specify that. It could be that, of course, but it could also be (and very probably is) a lot of other things: improved access to contraception; improved opinion of giving a child up for adoption and adopting a child (as you pointed out); improved view of single women and girls getting pregnant and carrying to term.

And yet your argument disturbs me. Since I know that you believe elective abortion should be illegal, it follows logically that you would use the argument you have stated here as further evidence that abortion is less necessary and is no longer needed to be legal. In fact, I argue that it is the ability to have a choice that makes many women (such as yourself, IMO) take for granted what the right to having a choice really means. I compare this to the women's movement. In this country, women fought for decades for suffrage. Yet not every woman chooses to vote. Should we deny them the right to vote because not all of them use it? Another example is the fight to be equal in the workplace. Many young women today grew up with the option to stay at home and raise a family, the option to delay or forgo having children in favor of a career, or the option to do both. Their mothers and grandmothers had to fight for those choices. Because they have a choice, many young women have decided to do as their grandmothers were forced to do and stay home and raise a family. Should the option to do well in their careers be taken away from them because they choose not to use it?

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iVillage Member
Registered: 03-26-2003
In reply to: wobitnobby
Mon, 01-28-2008 - 8:33pm

I just saw this film last week and I have to say that while I was watching it I kept in mind that the writer of the screenplay was a stripper from Minnesota and most likely prochoice...being prolife,

iVillage Member
Registered: 04-15-2006
In reply to: wobitnobby
Mon, 01-28-2008 - 9:30pm
That's pretty much what I got from it too.

iVillage Member
Registered: 03-26-2003
In reply to: wobitnobby
Tue, 01-29-2008 - 11:24am

"That was perhaps a very smart way to handle a very touchy subject....kind of vague."

I agree with you.

iVillage Member
Registered: 07-19-2007
In reply to: wobitnobby
Tue, 01-29-2008 - 3:48pm
It is cheap movie night at my local movie theater 4 bucks gets you a ticket and popcorn. I can't wait to see it, I have heard alot about it.

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