Norsigian & Lahl: Hope for Feminism

Marjorie Murphy Campbell

On May 1 2012, a remarkable event occurred at the Bechtel International Center on the Stanford campus.


Sponsored by Stanford’s Office of Diversity and Leadership and Women’s Community Center, the program on human egg donation brought together Judy Norsigian, famed pro-choice feminist author of Our Bodies, Ourselves, and Jennifer Lahl, award-winning pro-life producer of Eggsploitation – two women with notably divergent views on abortion and the sanctity of unborn life.

Both women delivered the same message to young women targeted by aggressive recruitment and lucrative compensation for donating their eggs:  Don’t Do It. 

The message was timely.  Less than 30 days prior, this privately placed ad appeared in the Stanford Daily. 

Young women know that these sorts of ads appear regularly on college campuses.  Our young women know that, under the cover of “helping” less fertile, often older women and male same sex couples become parents, they are targeted for solicitation, harvesting and purchase of their eggs, much like a flower merchant with a great bulb to offer.

Young women know this – and they know that no one is offering much advice or protection.  Why are the adults so silent on this experimental commoditizing of our young women?  The technology is relatively new and, before Lahl’s Eggsploitation revelations, largely occurred below media radar, within the confines of medical confidentiality.  But older adults also remain silent in part from sheer ignorance of the industry’s unregulated marketing assault on young women.  If you haven’t seen these ads, it’s hard to believe.  Well educated adults, like this one, don’t realize that the industry is making a commercial market in human eggs extracted from young women – and they think ads like the one in the Stanford Daily “must be a joke; a late-running April Fool’s spoof.”

On the other hand, lots of people – lots of older women to be precise – know that it’s no joke at all.  In fact, it is often older women who patronize this industry, an organic human egg collective where consumers can pick and choose the particular product that suits their tastes.  

I don’t care how much money you pay these young women, it’s exploitative to turn desireable, fertile young women into a series of products which less desireable, less fertile older women (and men) can purchase.  From a feminist perspective, there is so much wrong with the human egg industry, it’s surprising that women are not demonstrating with signs “Hands Off My Eggs” or “Keep Your Dollars To Yourself” or “My Daughter’s Not for Sale.”  The Stanford event – and the appearance of Norsigian and Lahl united on this issue – finally gives purchase to some push-back as we belatedly realize that those targeted young women are our daughters, our nieces, our friend’s child – not egg harvesters’ guinea pigs.

Pushback is desperately needed.  Eggs are harvested from our young women using a untested, experimental procedure called “super ovulation” – which attempts to “trick” the woman’s body into ovulating a large litter of eggs at a set time tethered to the menstrual cycle of the woman who is scheduled for implantation of an embryo(s) from those eggs – rather than the natural 1-2 eggs per month a woman typically produce on her normal cycle.  It is impossible to get “informed consent” to this hormonal drug regime and invasive procedure because no one actually knows what the risks are.  Eggsploitation documents the fate of three women (one a doctor herself) who experienced stroke, infertility, breast cancer and other major physical effects as a result of hyperstimulation.  A 4th woman featured in the documentary, Jessica Wing, died young of a colon cancer that her mother, a doctor, believes may have resulted from Wing’s repeat super ovulations and egg retrievals.

The industry’s claim that these side effects were not from the procedure – or are rare and warranted by some higher purpose – is laughable since fertility doctors have successfully shielded themselves from studying, learning or considering the outcomes on these young women, thereby manufacturing a defense based on sheer ignorance.  The fact that some number of young women have undergone the procedure, incurred or recovered from less serious side effects, express satisfaction at the money paid and care given and argue that the fate and use of their eggs is not their business, does nothing to console the young women permanently damaged by this experiment in reproduction.

Norsigian’s and Lahl’s is a welcomed alliance between progressive and new feminists on a campus where Jessica Wing, whose mother is now a vocal opponent to this unregulated, unchecked experimentation on young women, once matriculated.  Jessica Wing’s life may well have been saved had feminists stepped up earlier to warn young women against the risks, known and unknown dangers and cavalier commoditizing of egg donation.

No amount of “choice” rhetoric should stop Norsigian’s Our Bodies Ourselves and Lahl’s organization Center for Bioethics and Culture from agreeing that choice has met its limit in reproductive experimentation and exploitation:  feminists must refuse to compromise the emotional, physical and mental health of our young women and stand up vigorously against an industry using healthy, young women as human test subjects while preying and playing upon the woes and longings of people unable to have their own biological children (people who do not know and are not told the risks their egg purchase poses to the young woman they’ve selected). That these two women, Norsigian and Lahl – from opposite coasts and opposite points of view on many critical issues affecting women – could come together and join their voices in a direct and honest message to the next generation of women is cause for hope – hope that all feminists will unite in formulating feminist policies and strategies that better life and opportunity for future generations of women – not simply expand choices.

Enough is enough – and all the feminists are saying so.



Women as Scapegoats

Henry Karlson

“After the fall, man hides, confesses, recognizes and buries his origin and crime in the womb of woman: after the generations are accomplished, God emerges from the womb of Mary Immaculate.” — Paul Claudel

The history of humanity contains many things.  It is a history of glorious accomplishments, of wondrous achievements.  It is also a history of evil and the consequences we have had to face for the evil men and women have done.  It is the history of human desire to rise above the clouds and the history of shame, of humanity trying to displace its evil through scapegoats.

As Paul Claudel intuited, the way women have been treated by many men has been as such scapegoats.  The myth of the fall gives us an example of this.  Adam blamed both Eve and God for his sin, “You gave her to me; it’s your fault.”  Women often have taken the blame for the sins men do.  Even rapists have blamed their victims: if only they had hid themselves, if only they had covered themselves up, the rapist wouldn’t have felt it necessary to do what they did.

From the Laws of Manu to early Christian apologists like Tertullian to the Buddhist thinker Santideva, men thought the way to control their own desires was to place blame on women – even calling women evil – and hide them from society.  Women were confined to home, to protect themselves and society as a whole.

Control by blame and repression works better in theory than practice. Unconscious desires find a way of creating more problems and generating more repressive attitudes.  Some Christian leaders abandoned all private contact with women, even members of their own family – to avoid temptation. While critics point out the ways Muslim cultures hide women and treat them as second class citizens (all for their own good, of course), it is often forgotten many Christian societies did so as well and that these sentiments – to cover women and protect men from temptation – are still expressed within some Christian circles today.

Just as many Christians have considered the influence of cultural mores on theology and moved beyond restrictive practices, so many Muslims (despite what people think) have rejected such treatment of women, distinguishing Islam from such cultural norms.  A prime example of this movement within Islam is the work of Badshah Khan, a Muslim, a friend and co-worker of Gandhi, and a peace activist, who promoted the liberation of women from unjust discrimination in his own society.  Not only did he criticize the stereotypical veil, he promoted the education and voice of women, seeing their liberation as running parallel to the liberation of his people from British rule.

The problem of unjust “placing of blame” upon all women – on using women as scapegoats – is one which finds not correction, but reversal, in radical feminism.  Men, instead of women, became the “placing of blame” scapegoat.  Men are coaxed, bullied and intimidated into hiding their masculinity from themselves and from the world.  Radical feminism blames men for both history’s and the world’s wrongs and injustices and demands apologies, reparations and withdrawal of male needs and viewpoints from the public forum.   If all men and all the ways of men are suspect, then what we have done is create a new hierarchy, not a new way of dealing with the world.

The evil of such scapegoating, though, remains an evil.

When women or men (or any gender group) are blamed and labeled as scapegoats for social problems and woes, the evil ferments and grows and multiplies repression.  The solution is to reject scapegoating and to refuse to blame the “other” for our own faults and ills within society.  This path becomes possible only by mutual recognition of the strengths and weaknesses of each other and forging forward-moving relations so that men and women can work together, complementing each other in unity instead of competing with each other in a vocal and harmful power contest of blaming.

Complementariness not competition is the proper paradigm to escape the evils and restrictions of blaming and blame shifting.   Paul Claudel uses the problems of the past to illustrate how Christian theology attempts to resolve and move beyond:   God became man through a woman.  God reveals himself through the revelation of the dignity of women, not apart from it.  This is the essence of complementarity – it does not abide scapegoating.

A Muslim View on Respecting Life – Pt. 2

Suzy Ismail

Contributed by Suzy Ismail

Today, as I look at my three beautiful children, I know that God is good. No, God is great, or in Arabic, Allahu Akbar.  And what gives me the greatest solace in times of trial is the verse in the Quran that states: “It may be that you detest something which is good for you; while perhaps you love something even though it is bad for you. God knows, while you do not know” (2:216).

As Muslims, we believe in the power of life to change others, and we believe even more in the power of God. In any disaster, in any calamity, and in the face of any death, we are urged to repeat “inna lilah wa inna ilayhee raji’un”—“To God we belong and to Him we return.” In the end, only He knows what is best for us.

I could share with you so many stories from the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament, and the Quran that illustrate the power of God in our lives: the creation of Adam, the patience of Job, the perseverance of Noah, the purity of Joseph, the judiciousness of Solomon, the trials of Jonah, the obedience of Abraham, the wisdom of Moses, the devotion of Jesus, and the inspiration of Mohamed. I could share these stories with you, but they are available to all in the Holy Scriptures.

Instead, I want to share with you the story of an amazing woman whom I met recently at a conference. This woman truly exemplifies the spirit of respecting life. Melinda Weekes had recently returned from a trip to theSudan, where she was helping to enact a policy of slave redemption. For years and years, a rampant genocide was perpetrated in southernSudanby the wealthy slave traders of the north. They would pillage and torch the mud huts of the villagers, and then capture the women and children to sell them into slavery.

Heartbroken by what was happening in Sudan, this woman traveled across the world to help free these slaves by buying them back from the traders and returning them to their villages.  Upon their return, she helped them rebuild their lives by establishing schools and educating their girls so that they could break free from oppression.  Describing the strength of these women in the face of modern-day slavery, Melinda shared story after story of the things she had seen on her trips toSudan.  She spoke of one of the most powerful experiences she had had, when she sat with a woman who had lost her home, her husband, and her children, and had suffered incredible harm at the hands of her slave master.  She asked the woman, “How do you survive? How do you manage to continue living?”  The woman responded, “When the world pushed me down to my knees, I knew that it was time to pray.  I am blessed to still have these old knees that allow me to kneel, blessed to be able to prostrate, blessed to be able to pray. And I am blessed because I have God.”

I ask you today to reflect on women like these, to reflect on their inner strength, and to reflect on your own life as you know it.  I ask you to accept life as a gift and to understand that your life belongs to a greater power, to a higher authority that breathed life into your soul at your beginning and decreed that you should live it with good morals, good ethics, and a good heart that can truly make a difference in the lives of those around you.

In the memorable words of Mother Theresa:

Life is an opportunity, benefit from it.
Life is beauty, admire it.
Life is a dream, realize it.
Life is a challenge, meet it.
Life is a duty, complete it.
Life is a game, play it.
Life is a promise, fulfill it.
Life is sorrow, overcome it.
Life is a song, sing it.
Life is a struggle, accept it.
Life is a tragedy, confront it.
Life is an adventure, dare it.
Life is luck, make it.
Life is too precious, do not destroy it.
Life is life, fight for it.

I’d like to end with a prayer, a Muslim ayah (verse 286 from Suratul Baqara) from the Quran:

On no soul doth God place a burden greater than it can bear. It gets every good that it earns, and it suffers every ill that it earns. (Pray:) Our Lord! Condemn us not if we forget or fall into error; Our Lord! Lay not on us a burden like that which Thou didst lay on those before us; Our Lord! Lay not on us a burden greater than we have strength to bear. Blot out our sins, and grant us forgiveness. Have mercy on us. Thou art our Protector; help us against those who stand against faith.

I ask you today once again to respect life, for there is no greater gift. Respect life, yours and the lives around you.  For when we lose respect for life, we lose respect for humanity, and when we lose respect for humanity, we lose respect for God’s creation, and when we lose that, we have lost everything.

Suzy Ismail is a Visiting Professor at DeVry University in North Brunswick, New Jersey and is the author of When Muslim Marriage Fails: Divorce Chronicles and Commentaries. This article is adapted from remarks made in the Princeton University Chapel for Respect Life Sunday.  It originally appeared in Public Discourse: Ethics, Law, and the Common Good, the online journal of the Witherspoon Institute ofPrinceton,NJ, which generously gave permission for this reprint. 

A Muslim View on Respecting Life – Pt. 1

Suzy Ismail

Contributed by Suzy Ismail

In a world preoccupied with material wealth and convenience, the gift of life is often minimized and sometimes forgotten altogether. Modernity encourages us to view “unwanted” life as a burden that will hold us back.  For Muslims, however, just as for many in other faith traditions, life must be acknowledged, always and everywhere, as a true blessing.

In the pre-Islamic period, the practice of female infanticide was widespread in much of Arabia, but it was immediately forbidden through Islamic injunctions. Several verses of the Quran were revealed that prohibited this practice to protect the rights of the unborn and of the newborn child: “When the female infant, buried alive, is questioned for what crime was she killed; when the scrolls are laid open; when the World on High is unveiled; when the Blazing Fire is kindled to fierce heat; and when the Garden is brought near; Then shall each soul know what it has put forward.  So verily I call” (81: 8-15). Indeed, there are many verses in the Quran that remind us of the sanctity of life.  We are told that “Wealth and children are an adornment of this life” (18:46), and we are commanded to “Kill not your children for fear of want: We shall provide sustenance for them as well as for you.  Verily the killing of them is a great sin” (17:31).

While the religious injunctions reverberate through faith on a spiritual level, the blessings of life touch us daily on a worldly level, as well.  As the mother of three beautiful children, I can truly attest to and appreciate the gift of life. But I also understand how heartbreaking it is to lose it.

I want to share with you the story of how I came to realize life’s fragility and the importance of making the most of our spiritual journeys here on earth. Over thirteen years ago, my husband and I were eager to start our family. We were ecstatic when, a few months shy of our first anniversary, we found out that we were expecting.  Very early on, we began playing the “new parent” planning game, picking out names and nursery colors even before our first doctor’s appointment.

A few months into the pregnancy, the doctor scheduled a routine ultrasound. Giddy with excitement, we entered the darkened room and waited in great anticipation to see our child.  There on the screen—fuzzy, yet discernible—we could see our baby’s outline.  We imagined the features and jokingly guessed who the baby might look like.  But the ultrasound technician did not laugh with us.  As she solemnly stared at the screen, we followed her gaze. As inexperienced as we were, we could tell that something was not right: our baby had no heartbeat.

After losing my first child, I truly began to understand the meaning of life. When the heartbeat we’d heard so clearly on the Doppler suddenly ceased, our baby’s life ended in the womb, before he or she even had a chance to begin in the outside world.

But strong faith and an unshakeable belief in a just God is a great formula for filling any emotional void.  As the Quran states in Verse 156 of Surat Al-Baqara, there are great blessings for those “who, when a misfortune overtakes them, say: ‘Surely we belong to God and to Him shall we return.’” Losing our first baby led to a deeper appreciation of God’s magnificence and the miracle of His creation.

Several months later, we found out we were expecting again.  This time, the excitement was tempered with worry.  Our first ultrasound came much earlier in the pregnancy, and we eagerly scanned the screen for the telltale beating before glancing at fingers and toes or eyes and nose.  And there it was, strong and steady!  We breathed a sigh of relief. Our baby was alive.

As the months of this second pregnancy progressed and the baby bump grew larger, we began to hope.  Each ultrasound revealed a little more of our child and each kick confirmed that this time we were really going to begin our family.  As the due date quickly approached, we felt more confident in choosing baby items and room colors.  We even chose the name for our baby girl.  Her name would be Jennah, which means Heaven in Arabic.

With just a few weeks left before my scheduled delivery date, I went into labor.  As we sped to the hospital and I was wheeled into the darkened ultrasound room, out of habit, my eyes went directly to the heart area on the screen that I knew all too well by now.  That tiny heart, which I had sought out so many times in the previous ultrasounds, had stopped beating.

That day, so many years ago, I delivered Jennah, my stillborn daughter; and that day we buried Jennah.  We hadn’t known how fitting her name would really be.  As the infection that had ended the pregnancy sped through my blood in the days that followed, I recognized just how delicate life really is. Nothing can bring life into perspective as much as loss. And nothing can affirm faith as much as life.

This article continues tomorrow.

Suzy Ismail is a Visiting Professor at DeVry University in North Brunswick, New Jersey and is the author of When Muslim Marriage Fails: Divorce Chronicles and Commentaries. This article is adapted from remarks made in the Princeton University Chapel for Respect Life Sunday.  It originally appeared in Public Discourse: Ethics, Law, and the Common Good, the online journal of the Witherspoon Institute ofPrinceton,NJ, which generously gave permission for this reprint. 

Time To Non Conform

Marjorie Murphy Campbell

Getting to the Next Scene or

Why Won’t He Ask to Marry Me? 

(send this link to a young woman

 who is stuck in love)

It’s wedding season and, what, you are not getting married?  Again.  Another year and still no ring, no wedding gown, no battle with your mother over who to – and not to – invite.  You’re stuck in Adele’s world – your heart and brain suffering with a longing and love you can’t seen to do anything about.

Wait, do you see my heart on my sleeve?
It’s been there for days on end and
It’s been waiting for you to open up
Yours too baby, come on now
I’m trying to tell you just how
I’d like to hear the words roll out of your mouth finally
Say that it’s always been me

This made you feel a way you’ve never felt before
And I’m all you need and that you never want more
Then you’d say all of the right things without a clue
But you’d save the best for last
Like I’m the one for you

You don’t know what you are doing wrong.  Perhaps it’s time to Non Conform and try a New Feminist approach to your love life.

Maybe you’ve already tried the conformity route?  There’s one guy you’ve adored – maybe more.  You detected a possible match made in heaven because he is a good guy.  You can imagine happy ever after with him –you’ve waited for him to think about you the way you think about him. 

He hasn’t though.  Not yet.  And you are getting frustrated.

You did the diet, the workout, the sculpting and shaping class.    You’ve loved him, forgiven him, broken up with him and taken him back into your arms one more time because . . . you just had to.  You took the birth control pill, the morning after pill and perhaps something for those STDs he doesn’t know how he got.

You’ve worn cute skimpy stuff, killer heels, designer blue jeans and nothing at all.  You drank, danced and drugged it up until the wee hours of the morning and he said, “I love you party girl.”  Then, you went to the gym with him, jogged with him, played soccer, tennis and anything he wanted with him and he said, “I love an athletic girl.” 

Meanwhile, you’ve been going to classes, pursuing your degree and talking about your future as a journalist, interior designer or Capitol Hill lobbyist.  You’ve done internships, summer jobs and talked about going to grad school one day.  You’ve taken him to the office parties and introduced him to your boss, colleagues and clients and he said, “I love a professional gal.” 

Never once, not once, have you mentioned how much you want him to give you a ring and tell you “you are the one for me” and “I will honor and adore you all the days of my life.”  You have never mentioned, not once, how much you want to have a baby – HIS baby to be precise.  You’ve kept to yourself how confused you become trying to figure out how all this is going to work out and how you are going to be remain his party girl, his athlete, and his professional sidekick, while also having that baby and taking care of that home no one is talking about.  You haven’t mentioned words like “moderation,” “compromise,” or “balance” – because these seem like spoilers which can ruin the movie you are trying to make.

But, now, do you find yourself stuck in that movie?  -with a really great guy, an enviable set of skills and possibilities and no way to get to the next scene? –wondering if you are starting to sound more like Adele everyday?


Perhaps it is time for you to Non Conform and say “no more” to what you’ve been doing – and what you know with growing certainty is NOT working.  Here are three things you can do toward taking charge of your life and your worth and refusing to conform to a culture that has failed to deliver.  In the process, you may discover some great ways to get to the next scene – the one with the happy ending.

 1.  Talk to whoever sent this link to you.  Tell them, “I will take you out for a glass of wine if you will tell me honestly what the heck I am doing wrong.”

 2.  Pick up Carrie Lukas’ “The Politically Incorrect Guide to Women, Sex and Feminism.”  If reading a Non Conformist challenge to the culture that is failing you is too much, start with the comments at Amazon and go from there.

3.  If you are ready for a truly radical leap into Non Conformity, try Jennifer Roback Morse’s “Smart Sex:  Finding Life-long Love in a Hook-Up World” (for sale at Amazon where you will notice that the reader who hates, hates, hates this book the most is an elderly guy named “Arnold” whose real concerned about “Maslow’s heirarchy of human needs.”)

So, get going … you, too, can have a good, long life with the man of your dreams!