Posted Tuesday, May 8, 2012, at 12:11 PM
Photo by MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images.
One of the great things about living in the age of research is that the scientific method can be applied to so many questions, with my favorite being those in which the answer was obvious before the research ever began. In this week's news, researchers applied themselves to the question of whether or not women, by virtue of being female, are terminally stupid, or what. Common sense says no, based on a quick survey of all the things women do that they couldn't if they were terminally stupid: drive cars, feed themselves, hold jobs, read and process information. Sadly, however, old-fashioned bigotry trumps common sense all the time, which is why Republican legislatures across the country are passing laws---mandatory ultrasounds, anti-choice lectures, and waiting periods---based on the premise that women who are seeking abortions are literally too stupid to understand that doing this means they don't get to have a baby in the next six to nine months.
But are women as stupid as conservatives believe? Research published in Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health suggests that common sense wins this one, and conservative bias is wrong. Researchers looked at the precounseling needs assessment of over 5,000 women in abortion clinics and found that, in direct contrast with the assumptions of these anti-abortion restrictions, women seeking abortion did know what abortion is and what the results (a baby) would be if they didn't get one. Turns out that they were getting abortions because they wanted to avoid the results of not doing so! Which would suggest that lecturing them about how they're not going to get a baby if they do this is probably not going to affect their decisions. Eighty-seven percent of women assessed were what the researchers characterized as "highly confident" about their decision.
I wouldn't get too excited that the remaining 13 percent of women reinforces the belief that women are stupid and fickle and need a bunch of Bible-thumping old white men to write lectures about how abortions prevent babies and make them suffer unnecessary ultrasounds. The markers of ambivalence suggest that it's usually a lot more complicated than women being unaware that they have a deep need to have a baby at any point in time no matter what. More important: All these feelings were recorded in the counseling sessions offered by the clinics voluntarily. Anti-choice propaganda would have you believe that women are marched through abortion clinics, strapped to tables, and subjected to abortions without anyone asking them a question, much less explaining what's going on. In reality, women get counseling beforehand, where they talk about why they want an abortion and are given information about what's going to happen and what options they have. Unlike mandatory ultrasounds and tone-deaf lectures, individualized counseling is about making sure a woman makes the decision that's right for her, based on her personal circumstances. Ambivalent women therefore can have a chance to work through that ambivalence and decide if abortion is really what they want. Contrary to what anti-choicers think, many of them decide on their own to go through with it, because they know better than anyone else if they're simply not in a place to have a baby.
Not that I think the facts will dissuade anti-choicers from sticking with the "women are stupid" philosophy underpinning so much recent legislation. Bigotry isn't known to bend to reality; bigots tend to reject uncomfortable facts with claims that those facts are made up by a conspiracy to hide the truth about Hated Group X. This research is coming out as it's being discovered that a favorite guest of Sean Hannity's has been out there literally preaching that women are too stupid to be allowed to vote, much less hold power. If the overwhelming evidence against that contention is so easily discarded, we can't expect any better when it comes to the facts about abortion and women's understanding of it.