Freezers Are For Food

Jennifer Lahl

In the world of commercialized conception, it seems we’ve decided the freezer is a great place to keep eggs, sperm, and “spare” embryos until we need them.  We think they do pretty well in the freezer, but the verdict is still out on what happens over the long haul when you freeze and store human reproductive material and nascent human life.  Commercial conceivers simply assume that because we can freeze and thaw our reproductive cells or progeny, it causes no harm or danger.

And not only can we do it; it has become big business.

Case in point: the new fad of egg freezing. It began with the laudable goal of helping the younger woman who was diagnosed with cancer.  A woman facing cancer treatment is at risk for compromised fertility induced by chemotherapy.  Egg freezing was used to try to preserve and protect her fertility, so that after her cancer treatment was completed and her health was restored, she might still be able to conceive — using in vitro fertilization — her own biological child.  It is also used in veterinary medicine to preserve species, especially endangered species.

But this new egg-freezing industry has popped up more and more as a lifestyle choice.  Maybe, baby later. National Public Radio devoted a segment to this fad titled, “Egg Freezing Puts the Biological Clock on Hold.” They reported, “As more women postpone motherhood into their 30s, even 40s, they’re hitting that age-old constraint: the biological clock.  Now, technology is dangling the possibility that women can stop that clock, at least for a while.”

Even grandparents are getting into (and paying for) the act!  The New York Times heralded, “So Eager for Grandchildren, They’re Paying the Egg-Freezing Clinic”!  The story paints this picture, “The gray-haired entourages, it turns out, are the parents, tagging along to lend support — emotional and often financial — as their daughters turn to the fledgling field of egg freezing to improve their chances of having children later on, when they are ready to start a family.”

But of course, the facts seem to get lost in all the hoopla over a newfangled way to manipulate reproduction.

First, there is the pragmatic reality of the cost of this new experimental service.  I called one egg freezing agency in Southern California, and the woman I spoke with was putting the hard sell on me.  I explained I was only writing an article on this and wasn’t interested in this for myself!  The costs are high – meaning if you are poor, don’t even think about freezing your eggs.  It’s about $7,000 to $12,000 to harvest the eggs, and an additional $4,000 to $5,000 later to transfer the embryos into the woman’s uterus once she’s ready to have a baby.  Then there are the fertility drugs to super ovulate the woman in order to maximize the number of eggs retrieve, adding an additional $2,700.  Plus the annual storage fee of $300 to $600.

Then, there are the medical realities.  Nowhere on any egg freezing sites that I visited did anyone disclose the realities of the risks to women and children related to maternal age and pregnancy.  I’ve written before about the risks of advanced maternal age which heightens the risk of “fetal loss” – meaning age increases the likelihood that she won’t carry the baby to term.

One important study noted this stark conclusion:

There is an increasing risk of fetal loss with increasing maternal age in women aged more than 30 years. Fetal loss is high in women in their late 30s or older, irrespective of reproductive history. This should be taken into consideration in pregnancy planning and counseling.

Shouldn’t a technology that claims to be able to put the biological clock on hold be accountable for disclosing the maternal-child health risks to women?

And this is still experimental science.  Even the sites that show their methods and success rates show that this is a field still learning about the best methods and techniques.  Do women really, if properly informed, want to experiment on their future children?  This graph demonstrates the wide range of “success” depending on the freezing method:

I say freezers are for food, like the Thanksgiving turkey, not for our future progeny.

View “The Human Egg Freezing Project” on YouTube.


Why she takes so many pictures.

Elizabeth Hanna Pham

Women take lots of pictures. Just look at Facebook. Or go to a prom or a wedding or a homecoming. It makes me wonder sometimes—do we actually care about this event, or do we care more about the pictures? I think about the times I have regretted oh I didn’t get a picture with her! But don’t mind or regret the fact that I didn’t actually talk to her. Why is it that, for a girl, forgetting her camera can put a damper on the whole day? And why, when you look through a Facebook album, do you see the same picture of the same four girls in the same bar with the same hands-on-hips pose over and over and over again? What drives this?

Women (and all people, but particularly women) feel the need to preserve memories. This comes from a good impulse. The woman taking pictures of her baby generally does so because she sees something beautiful and good and she knows that that beautiful and good thing will change and grow into something else. She wants to forever preserve the beauty and goodness of the moment the child is in and the moment she shared with him. This can be the same impulse that drives the girl wanting a picture of her prom date who asked her out over the intercom at school. Forever that picture will remind her of how special he made her feel. Because the way she felt was good. And she may never feel that way again. So then, how could there be anything wrong with female excessive picture taking?

The problem with excessive picture taking is that it has the potential to detract so much from that wonderful moment that you actually end up missing it. And the problem with missing the moment is that well, that one should be obvious. If the moment is so worth preserving, why are we missing it? It seems rather illogical. But human beings can be illogical, and often we are illogical when we are afraid. I suggest then, that excessive picture taking is often rooted in fear. Somehow, we jump from wanting to preserve a wonderful moment because it will eventually pass to becoming entirely afraid of its passing, and thus obsessive about preserving it. Every mother knows that her child must grow up and that the way he looks as a baby will be no more except in memories and pictures. And every mother ought to want to keep those moments. But how many mothers go from wanting to keep it to absolutely dreading its passing? I wonder, is the same picture with the same four girls in the same bar every night because the moment keeps being so wonderful and so necessary to preserve even if each picture looks the same? Or is it borne out of a fear of losing whatever was found in that bar and with those friends? Is it borne out of a fear that once there are no more pictures to take in the bar, well, there will be less to live for? Maybe, says the subconscious, if I take enough pictures of it all, I will have enough to look back on when the “best days of my life” are over. Maybe, somehow, I can extend the moment so those days don’t have to end. Maybe, my picture taking will make me immortal.

Now I know that most of us aren’t thinking about immortality while taking pictures. And I would guess that most of us are honestly just having a great time and wanting to preserve that time innocently and healthily. But women (and men, I suppose) think about what drives you to take the pictures you do. I wouldn’t be surprised if for many of us (I know at times it has been for me,) it is borne out of a fear of passing moments. And why is immortality related? Well, because passing moments remind us that our life is a passing moment. When a child grows up, when a groom carries his bride up the stairs away from her fairy tale wedding, at a graduation, at a twenty-first birthday party, we may, amidst our joys and excitements, feel a sudden and unexpected pang of fear. We may not always recognize it right away, but it is the realization of our mortality. When something good ends, we are reminded that everything ends. I suggest that we often take pictures, even frantically, because we know we are going to die. And we don’t want to die.

But see, what we often forget, as we panic at the sight of our wrinkling skin and greying hair (or even simply our passing semesters or the ticking clock on a Sunday night,) is that the thing we want to preserve—goodness, beauty, relationships, the human spirit—these things are immortal. The baby’s first smile, the first day of kindergarten, the last day of high school, the ninetieth birthday party, our best friends—these things live on forever! And I don’t mean in a sappy way and I don’t mean simply that they live on in our memories or pictures (for if that were the case, well then, frantic picture taking would make perfect sense.) I mean that the thing that we loved so much about those moments is immortal. That’s a sheer fact that needs no real faith. Goodness has always been and always will be infused throughout our world. The part that needs faith is that there is a place and a time and person where that Goodness exists as one entity. That someday, all those pictures won’t be necessary because we have the Real Thing. We have all the joy and the love and the beauty that was shared in those moments in its full force. Not just snippets here and there throughout our lives. We will no longer need to preserve.

Until then, let us preserve with joy and detachment. Not with fear or anxiety or obsessiveness. Let us preserve simply because life is so good! Not because life will get worse. It is this kind of carefree preservation that allows us to relish in the good both while it is here and afterwards. It is this kind of preservation that, in so rejoicing in that which is Immortal, reminds us of our immortality. It is this type of preservation that causes the girl who forgot her camera to smile and think to herself, I don’t need to worry, I’ll see this all again someday. We don’t need to live in the moment simply because moments are passing. We live in the moment because the Goodness we find in them does not pass away. The Goodness is the immortal thing– the thing which gives us life and happiness and energy. It is the time that separates them which passes. Time is so insignificant. Time will come to an end. Time is mortal. What we long to preserve, on the other hand, will never end. So let us laugh in the face of time, for we have surpassed it. And let us enjoy those things which surpass it with us. And let us take pictures of those things. But always as a second thought, and with the knowledge that we haven’t seen anything yet.

Anne-Marie Slaughter: A New Feminist?

Marjorie Murphy Campbell

Progressive feminism had a hard week.

An online article “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” – by the successful academic and State Department professional Anne-Marie Slaughter – blew the leotard off Superwoman.  Slaughter’s widely read piece soundly exposes the professional woman/wonder wife/marvelous mother as the exhausted and conflicted real person so many of us know through personal and vicarious experience.  Slaughter slays the myth of progressive feminism that women “are to blame if they cannot manage to rise up the ladder as fast as men and also have a family and an active home life (and be thin and beautiful to boot)” and blames, instead, the chimera progressive feminism crafted at the expense of my generation of women.  Remarkably, Slaughter attributes her conversion in perspective to a realization that she could not hawk this fundamentally flawed feminist image to the next generation of women.

Slaughter left her power position in DC because of “my desire to be with my family and my conclusion that juggling high-level government work with the needs of two teenage boys was not possible.”  “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” is a loving – though still confused – lament over changes that might make work and family easier to juggle for women in elite leadership positions.  Unwittingly, Slaughter actually explains why no set of changes will alleviate the conflict.  Indeed, of the many changes Slaughter tosses about – work from home, irregular “stair steps” as career path, matching work and school schedules and freezing eggs as a protection against declining fertility – none would have derailed her decision to go home.

In real life today, women have choices that men simply don’t have.  Having more choices means having to make choices that men do not have to make, choices that arise solely from our gender based differences.   Slaughter gives voice to the New Feminist assertion that gender equality means respecting and supporting women’s feminine reality, not re-engineering women in the mold of men or pretending that women’s life choices mirror those of men.   Slaughter’s explanation of her decision to “go home” is so beautifully, uniquely feminine, it’s worth quoting:

But I realized that I didn’t just need to go home. Deep down, I wanted to go home.  I wanted to be able to spend time with my children in the last few years that they are likely to live at home, crucial years for their development into responsible, productive, happy, and caring adults.  But also irreplaceable years for me to enjoy the simple pleasures of parenting—baseball games, piano recitals, waffle breakfasts, family trips, and goofy rituals.  My older son is doing very well these days, but even when he gives us a hard time, as all teenagers do, being home to shape his choices and help him make good decisions is deeply satisfying.

Even as Slaughter testily pokes ideas that might ease the balance of work and family, she recognizes the fundamental flaw in setting as ideal work-family combinations men favor – a flaw that academics like Elizabeth Fox-Genovese identified as New Feminism developed.  Namely, women are fundamentally different than men in their orientation to family and children and the human person.  These differences reflect a natural, gender-based concern for human well-being that often conflicts and most certainly contrasts with the male model of measuring success through individual ambition and pursuit.   Indeed, Slaughter points out the much higher frequency of women leaders who forego having families compared to their male colleagues.  As many of us know firsthand, this choice often does not signify that women in consuming leadership roles don’t want families but, rather, they embrace the human component of their office and profession (as well as friends and relatives) as their family.  Slaughter’s description is, again, so feminine in tone, it is worth quoting.

Still, the proposition that women can have high-powered careers as long as their husbands or partners are willing to share the parenting load equally (or disproportionately) assumes that most women will feel as comfortable as men do about being away from their children, as long as their partner is home with them.  In my experience, that is simply not the case.

Here I step onto treacherous ground, mined with stereotypes.  From years of conversations and observations, however, I’ve come to believe that men and women respond quite differently when problems at home force them to recognize that their absence is hurting a child, or at least that their presence would likely help.  I do not believe fathers love their children any less than mothers do, but men do seem more likely to choose their job at a cost to their family, while women seem more likely to choose their family at a cost to their job.

When I described the choice between my children and my job to Senator Jeanne Shaheen, she said exactly what I felt: “There’s really no choice.”  She wasn’t referring to social expectations, but to a maternal imperative felt so deeply that the “choice” is reflexive.

It is that “maternal imperative” – which Betty Friedan cavalierly dismissed when she called women the persons who happen to bear children – that “sameness” feminists deny, decry and demand destroyed that women might better measure up to male-defined success.  As predictably responded to Slaughter’s article:

We are still very much in the midst of reversing eons of gendered injustice . . . Backlash politics . . . pushes back against every female stride, every achievement, and there’s still enormous effort to put into righting gender . . . injustices that make true equality elusive. A document like Slaughter’s offers a valuable testament to these remaining challenges. But its presentation as a deadening diagnosis of insurmountability is antifeminist, anti-woman, cheap and reactionary.

And that sucks.

Well, yes, I suppose from the progressive feminist point of view, Slaughter’s very real description of women as female beings, deeply and differently moved in relation to the human person than male beings, “sucks” – the way my sons say losing a ballgame or getting a “C” sucks.  New Feminists don’t see it that way.  New Feminism rejects the assertion that gender equality requires socially engineering our young women into the life styles, measurements and values used by men.  New Feminism rather embraces our “maternal imperative” and the feminine values that flow from that imperative as a “deeply satisfying” pursuit for women, a badly needed benefit to humankind. welcomes the discussion initiated by Slaughter as a long overdue affirmation of the feminine as truly equal.


Elizabeth Hanna Pham

It was an all girls school retreat in ninth grade.  We were woken up around seven in the morning to start our day.  Girls shuffled into breakfast in t-shirts and sweatpants, un-showered and un-pampered.  After sitting down one of the girls in my class who, at the time, I didn’t know that well, turned to me and said your eyes have like a natural eye liner on them.  That’s so cool!  (Of course she assumed that like the other girls, I obviously wasn’t wearing makeup under this circumstance.)  I thanked her, hesitantly, and then spent the whole morning wondering whether I should tell her the truth.

You see, ten minutes prior I had run to the bathroom to coat my eyes in that little black stick I relied on so fervently.  It went everywhere with me.  I doubt I had a wallet on that retreat.  Maybe not even a cell phone.  But I had my eyeliner.  And I would make sure no one would see me without it.

Because my eyes were tired.  Always.  No matter how much sleep I got.  No matter how healthy I was.  They were too small.  Too weak.  Dark circles.  Puffiness.  Everything you don’t want your eyes to be mine were without that eyeliner.  Later, I found out that I was applying it wrong anyway (heavy line underneath my eye, nothing on the lid) but I was sure it made a difference.  And I was sure I was unpresentable without it.

A lucky few women may be immune to such obsessions or insecurities.  They may wear no makeup and feel great, or they may wear it when they feel like it but have no insecurities about when it comes off.  But my guess is that most of us have the equivalent of what eyeliner was to me in ninth grade.  We have some sort of mask — foundation, eye shadow, a hair straightener, fake tanning lotion — something, or many things, that we become enslaved to because of what we see as an imperfection.  And all this talk of every girl is beautiful— well we hear it, we may believe it, but we still find that one imperfection to be the exception to the rule.  Yes, okay, I’m beautiful, we say, but I have to get my hair relaxed. Have you seen it when its not?  Or I know that I can be pretty without eye makeup but I have terrible acne scars and I would not be caught dead in public without covering them up. 

I’ve said these things.  We’ve all said these things.  And God bless the woman who hasn’t.  But why do we say them?

I must clarify that there seem to be two circumstances under which a woman wears makeup (or straightens her hair or curls it or does any of these things.)  The first circumstance is really awesome and is not the one that I was in in ninth grade.  This woman wears makeup because she is an artist or she appreciates art and she sees makeup as a beautiful art, which it is.  Makeup, for her, is a way to adorn a beautiful picture with a beautiful frame.  A makeup artist then, is a master framer.  And the framing he or she does is a beautiful and good thing.

But the second reason for wearing makeup comes from the opposite impulse.  From the woman who says I am not beautiful, therefore I need makeup to cover me up and change me.  We say this because we want to be perfect.  And for many women, perfection consists of being physically perfect.  We have this little drive inside us that pushes us in the age old race to be the fairest of them all It’s biological, it’s a shame — but it’s our tendency, some more than others.  But we are more than biology.  And we know that Snow White was beautiful primarily because of her pure heart and because she was not concerned, as the queen was, with looking in the mirror.  I don’t know if Snow White wore eyeliner, but I’m sure that if she did, she did not have the same anxiety I had when I was without it.

I wore eyeliner because I was scared that I would not be loved for the way I was made. And that’s what we all want.  To be loved.  I had a little panic after the incident in ninth grade where I started wondering if I would wear makeup around my husband (for after all, I had to wear it in front of my closest friends.)  I decided that I needed to stop my addiction before I met him so that I would feel comfortable without it around him.  A weird reason to stop wearing makeup perhaps, but thank goodness for it because it freed me.  I started to see my own beauty, and in the process became a little bit more comfortable with myself.  It wasn’t easy.  No addiction, no matter how insignificant, is easy to stop.  But it’s always worth the pain.

Makeup and the many ways we clothe ourselves can become addictions.  And if they are, we have to work to reverse that because the addiction will destroy our own self-confidence and even hide our beauty.  Because masks hide.  Makeup should be an adornment, and not a mask.  For while we may think that the mask hides the things we want it to hide, often those are the things that help complete the picture.  The frizzy hair. The birth mark.  The sleepy eyes.  And the people who are irked by the exposure of such qualities usually are only so because they wish they had the courage to expose their own.

I by all means do not want to suggest that women should stop wearing makeup.  That would be like saying we should ban gold frames so that painters who have no frames won’t feel insecure about their pictures.  But I do think that many women would benefit from sort of a makeup (or hair straightening, tanning, etc) fast.  We will never be immune to insecurities, but if we can present the things we are most insecure about to the world without shame, what confidence may arise and what beauty we may find within ourselves! It’s a struggle.  The first time you walk out in a crowd without your mask, no matter how small of a mask it may be, you will feel ugly.  And you will feel judged.  But you will learn to see your own beauty and in turn, how to properly frame it.  The coolest thing is that other people see too.  I can’t count the number of men who have said they love it when women don’t wear makeup.  I don’t think is because makeup looks bad.  Makeup can be so beautiful.  I think it’s because men like us to be confident.  They like us to be courageous in our own skin.  Not just men — everybody likes that.  We were made to be that way.  We were not made to walk by the mirror on the wall and kneel down and beg it to tell us we’re the fairest.  No.  We were made to walk by the mirror and look in it and say, without arrogance, but simply with admiration, wow, what a beautiful masterpiece.

So here’s to mascara and here’s to dresses and here’s to earrings (what wonderful things they are.)  And here’s to the way they frame the picture.  But let us do our best to never let them hide it.  Because the woman is too beautiful for hiding.

Secret Land Mines

Jennifer Lahl

Anonymous Father’s Day “Should be required viewing for anyone considering donating or selling their sperm, as well as for anyone contemplating using this method of conceiving a child.”
  — Kevin D, Sperm Donor

On Father’s Day holiday, we can’t help but think of those who do not know their fathers.  Some don’t know their fathers because they are adopted, because their fathers walked away, or because their fathers have died. But others do not know their fathers because their families have been intentionally structured so that they cannot know him—they were conceived through anonymous sperm donation.

It’s easy to think of sperm donation as nothing more than a way to help infertile couples have a baby.  It can be difficult for those of us who were not conceived this way to understand what it’s like, and how Father’s Day is a time of mixed emotions.

Hundreds of thousands of donor-conceived people have been born, all around the world, in the two hundred plus years that sperm donor conception has been going on.  Only recently have the ethics and the effects of donor conception begun receiving close scrutiny.  Often the questions are being raised by those who know they were donor conceived.

What is it like to grow up not knowing who your biological father is or if you have any half-siblings?  What is it like to find out that the man you thought was your dad is not your biological father, that your biological father donated his sperm and is known only by a number?  What do donor conceived people think about their conception stories, the money aspect of buying and selling sperm in order to conceive them?  And how have the anonymity and secrecy involved in donor conception affected them?

These are the questions that spark the conversation in our film Anonymous Father’s Day.

In the film, we state that it is difficult to know just how prevalent the practice of sperm donation is.  In fact, the latest research shows that it is simply impossible to know how many children are born from sperm donation each year.  The number most often cited is 30,000 per year, but that number is based on an estimate from 1988.  There is do doubt that the practice has increased since 1988, but there is almost no tracking or monitoring of donors or of the children conceived through sperm donation.  We cannot not know the true number.

In addition, sperm donation is a global enterprise.  Sperm from a man inCaliforniais used to fertilize an egg from a woman who lives inEastern Europe.  The resulting embryo is transferred into the womb of a woman inIndia.  A couple travels from their home in London to India for a vacation so that they can be nearby when “their” baby is born.

This convoluted scenario is now commonplace.  Sadly.

Many donor-conceived children are never told their conception story and are not able to be a part of the growing conversation about the practice, ethics, and impact of donor conception.  Those who do know speak of “genealogical bewilderment,” attempting to describe the feelings that come from having little or no information about their donor parent.  They have a deep longing to know where they come from, who they look like, who they belong to. It is a longing to know the missing other half of them.

Unfortunately, when it comes to infertility, family building, and reproductive technologies, the focus is often on those wanting to have a child rather than on the child they want to have.  Reproductive technology has advanced without enough serious reflection on the health and the well being of the children created.  These children wonder if anyone considered them, their needs, their desires.

The conversation around donor conception is growing.  Many donor-conceived people maintain their own active social network communities through blogs and Facebook groups.  Studies such as My Daddy’s Name is Donor and work being done with the Donor Sibling Registry are gathering and examining the experiences of large groups of donor-conceived people.

Donor-conceived people scour the Internet and school yearbooks and cold call fertility doctors and clinics looking for any information or details on their beginnings, their family tree, and medical history.  Many use DNA testing as part of the search for their unknown parent.

While their stories and family situations may be different, the issues surrounding donor conception in the lives of those created this way are often similar.  Many talk about secrets and mystery, about feelings of loss and abandonment, and about wanting to know their biological fathers and that whole side of his—of their—family.

Barry Stevens, one of the donor-conceived people interviewed in Anonymous Father’s Day, captures it well when he says, “Secrets are like land mines, you know.  They can go off at any time, but until they go off you’re sort of treading around them.”

Donor conception impacts not only the donor conceived person, but his or her entire family, and ultimately, all of us.  This Father’s Day let us consider those who have been intentionally separated from the man who gave them life.

Matthew Eppinette contributed to this post; he is the associate producer and co-writer of Anonymous Father’s Day and new media manager at The Center for Bioethics and Culture.

Housing Discrimination

Marjorie Murphy Campbell

Two items of note crossed my review last week:  Kent Willis resigned after 25 years as Executive Director of the ACLU of Virginia and Congress failed to pass the Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act.  Here is how these seemingly unrelated events relate. 

I knew Willis before his tenure at the ACLU, when he was employed by a nonprofit organization Housing Opportunities Made Equal (HOME).  Blond and white, Willis meandered about the Richmond,Virginia area posing as a young professional looking for housing.  Unbeknown to the agents or offices Willis approached, Willis was, in fact, a “white” housing tester, paired with an African American tester who pursued a parallel interest in the same properties within the same time frame as Willis.  

As a HOME tester, Willis was convinced that the only way to eliminate the ongoing, often insipid discrimination in housing – still thought to contribute to persistent patterns of segregation – was to trick, catch and sue those who used steering, lying and manipulation to keep housing racially segregated.  Repeatedly, HOME caught agents and rental offices giving contrary information about availability and suitability of particular housing to HOME’s white and African American testers.  It was a blatant practice of discrimination based solely upon race.    

I admired Willis’ work.  It proved highly effective, particularly after Willis and an African American tester pursued their standing to assert discrimination claims based upon the disparate treatment they received.  The case of Havens Realty v. Coleman was vigorously battled all the way to the US Supreme Court.  There, the Court ruled that:  

Insofar as . . . Willis [has] alleged that the steering practices of petitioners have deprived the two respondents of the benefits of interracial association, the Court of Appeals properly held that dismissal was inappropriate at this juncture in the proceedings.

A similar type of discrimination is now equally well documented:  the destruction of female fetuses who, simply because they are female, are denied the nurture and home of a womb and the opportunity to be born.  Like the unwanted African American testers Willis worked with, female fetuses are “turned away” and rejected, not for race, but solely by reason of their gender.  We know this practice occurs worldwide, with over 50 countries now reporting sex ratios at birth reflecting widespread elimination of female fetuses.  We know this practice occurs in the United States because testers, like Willis, have posed as women pregnant with females they do not want due to the gender and received advice and direction on sex selection abortion.  

Sex-selective abortion is by now so widespread and so frequent that it has come to distort the population composition of the entire human species: this new and medicalized war against baby girls is indeed truly global in scale and scope. 

Despite this overwhelming, uncontested discrimination against females, Congress was unable to pass the Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act which, in its original form, bans abortion based on race or gender.  Like persons accused of racial steering in housing, the most radical pro-choice advocates insist that these patterns result from private, unique decisions that are neither the business of government nor the fault or responsibility of service providers.  

Planned Parenthood, the largest provider of abortion and proponent of unrestricted, unregulated abortion, insists that every abortion decision is a “personal” decision and that any legislative limitation – including any protections against discrimination – will “limit [a woman’s] choices as she makes personal medical decisions.”  Planned Parenthood strongly opposed this legislation in keeping with its objection to all legislation which seeks to limit or regulate the “choice” of an abortion, even when that “choice” would be a blatant act of illegal discrimination if perpetrated against a born person.  Killing a newborn because it is a female would be a hate crime – but Planned Parenthood calls taking the life of a 6 month old fetus because it is female a “personal medical decision.” 

This makes no sense from the perspective of society’s interest in preventing behaviors that affect us all as a community.  If testers like Willis have standing to pursue discrimination claims because “the steering practices of Havens deprived Coleman and Willis of the benefits of interracial association,” it is difficult to understand why Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers which support and carry out a discriminatory practice of denying life to a fetus for the sole reason that it is female should remain beyond examination and regulation.  The elimination of females, because they are female, and the skewed ratios of male to female demographics suggest as compelling a concern for government involvement as Willis’ interest in interracial association.  As the recent report The Global War Against Baby Girls warns:

The consequences of medically abetted mass feticide are far-reaching and manifestly adverse. In populations with unnaturally skewed [sex ratios at birth], the very fact that many thousands — or in some cases, millions — of prospective girls and young women have been deliberately eliminated simply because they would have been female establishes a new social reality that inescapably colors the whole realm of human relationships, redefining the role of women as the disfavored sex in nakedly utilitarian terms, and indeed signaling that their very existence is now conditional and contingent.

Perhaps there will emerge well funded litigants, like HOME and Willis, who will represent us all in defending against and eliminating the highly discriminatory practice – cloaked as “individual choice” – which is depriving humanity of the benefits of the female gender.

Bodily Self-Determination

Henry Karlson
In the early Church, many virgin women were killed by Rome.  While these women infuriated authorities for proclaiming their faith in Christ, it seems that something else put them in the spotlight for persecution:  they denied Rome’s social mores by exerting bodily self-determination. 
Even though the ancient world had some powerful women with a great deal of freedom, for most women, such freedom was but a dream.  Generally, women were raised under the authority of their father and then married to find themselves under the authority of a husband.  Most women’s lives were controlled and dictated by this male authority exerted legally over “their” women like any other item of property. 
Christianity, with its promotion of continence and virginity, suggested new paths for women, ones in which they did not have to end up under the direct authority of a man.  Christianity introduced options by which women could take possession of their own lives, their own destiny – and, importantly, be respected for it.  
In this way virgin martyrs like St Catherine of Alexandria declared that they and they alone controlled their own bodies.  They exerted themselves as persons possessed of the same dignity as men.  These women positioned themselves socially as moral actors, free to make decisions over their own body.  They rejected the prevailing social norm of male authority and control over them.  
To be sure, ancient society believed the government possessed authority over people and could make demands of them, including demands upon the use of the physical body.  So control over one’s body, even for the average man, was relative. 
It was this limited status – the same as men but much more restricted than today- which women claimed for themselves.  They did so under the direction of the greater moral authority given to them by God through their creation and moral conscience.  This revolution – a literal revolt against government authority – did not just benefit women.  Men, too, would come to draw upon this revolution in thought to free themselves from false obligations to the state and to assert a greater level of self-determination, following a higher authority to become authentic, moral persons in the world.

This authority over one’s own body was seen as a kind of stewardship, because God was the one who had ultimate control.  With God in control, no human could claim absolute authority over another.  This granted true freedom, because God, the greatest authority, had given it.  Self-determination was guaranteed.  Moral demands were placed upon what one could or could not do, with a range of consequences imposed when one failed to meet the basic moral law, to be sure – but the person was still guaranteed control over one’s body. This was not merely a libertine right:  it was also a responsibility (which is lost in the libertine arguments we hear today).  
In this way the Christian tradition helped establish the belief that people should be in control of their own bodies. The virgin-martyrs represented this ideal in its fullness: they kept complete control of their bodies, of their own destiny, and nothing – not even the brutalities fostered upon – could take that power from them.

We only hear half of this truth today.  When people speak about having control over their own bodies, the rhetoric is used to justify all kinds of abandonment of bodily control.  We are told one can and should do whatever they want with their body, implying that if one’s body desires something, that craving should be heeded.  But this means such a person is no longer in control of their body: the body controls them.  Caving in to the impulses, the consequences can be dire.  “Safe sex” is hardly safe, as statistics easily show.  It is artificial and represents an attempt to hide from the self one’s own actions, to prevent oneself from owning one’s own actions. 
Today, control of one’s own body is often brought up in the debate over abortion.  But we can see that those asserting control over the body to defend abortion end up contradicting themselves:  abortion affects the life of another, destroying the body of another.  This returns us to a hierarchical view of bodily control, where some bodies are seen as the possession of others.  The acceptance of abortion rejects the rights of a person to control their own bodies.  It is the ultimate inversion of all such rights because it permits and supports the denial of bodily rights, taking bodily control away from one self and making that self the possession of someone else.
People have a right to control their own bodies.  But that right is, as with every right, a responsibility.  When the responsibility is neglected and turned aside, when the right it seen as a freedom to act without consequences, the only thing which can happen is the overturning of the right itself. 
And this is exactly the problem which faces us today.



Military Wives Exploited

Kathleen Sloan

Contributed by Kathleen Sloan

The worldwide use of reproductive technologies has grown exponentially in recent years.  While these developments have brought benefits to many by successfully treating some types of infertility, deep regulatory divides – or their complete absence such as at the national level in the United States – have fueled growing national and international markets in which privileged individuals and third party intermediaries, who benefit financially from the commodification of reproduction, exploit vulnerable, uninformed, low income and poor women for their reproductive capacities.  Surrogacy and the trade in human eggs in particular have become pervasive national and international phenomena in which women’s poverty and subordinate status everywhere increase their exposure to gender-based exploitation and physical harms.

Unequal relationships between the buyers (intended parents) and the women who rent their uteri, favor the needs and desires of the buyers.  These unequal transactions, in the absence of regulation of the fertility-industrial complex, result in “uninformed” consent, low payments, coercion, poor health care, and severe risks to their short and long-term health.  In addition, both the children conceived through commercial transactions and the intended parents may suffer as a direct result of these arrangements.  While the full magnitude of the harms resulting from reproductive exploitation is unknown due to lack of regulation, documentation and oversight, reports of egregious harms continue to mount.

Unless her own eggs are used with intrauterine insemination, women recruited to serve as surrogates are subjected to the many risks of synthetic hormonal stimulation in order to synchronize their menstrual cycles with those of the egg provider.  Hormones and drugs used include Lupron which is not FDA-approved for this purpose; estrogen, which is linked to breast and uterine cancers, blood clots, heart attack and stroke; and steroids which can produce high blood pressure, glaucoma, cataracts, peptic ulceration, and an impaired immune system.  High rates of multiple births and infection resulting from Invitro Fertilization (IVF) place both surrogates and babies at high risk for complications.  When problems arise during the pregnancy, the wellbeing of the fetus tends to be given precedence over the health of the woman serving as a surrogate since the intended parents are paying large sums of money for the baby being produced.  Care of the surrogate ends with the birth of the baby even when the woman who bears the child suffers lasting effects. 

If the intended parents’ circumstances change during the pregnancy, or if the child is born with health problems or disabilities, the infants may be left to the surrogate or abandoned.  Intended parents may find that they face unplanned financial costs and inadequate legal protections. The practices of reproductive organ, tissue and cell commerce, particularly surrogacy and ova sale, infringe upon several basic human rights under international law, and are violations of international agreements on health and medical standards.  Policy makers and the public at large must recognize reproductive commerce as a unique kind of human exploitation.  As the European parliament stated in a resolution, surrogacy and egg sale constitute an “extreme form of exploitation of women.”

It is estimated that nearly half of surrogates in the U.S. are “military wives” who represent an ideal supply source for agencies and brokers.  They often survive on low incomes and tend to marry and have their own children at young ages, so the prospect of doubling their income by serving as a surrogate is a powerful incentive.  These women have few legal or regulatory protections, making them sitting ducks for exploitation and fraud.  It is no coincidence that surrogacy brokers and clinics are concentrated in areas where there are large military bases.  One could also point out that while the military heavily recruits from the working class and poor demographics to provide their cannon fodder for endless wars and occupations, these people are doubly exploited for their reproductive capacities by profit-driven private enterprise. 

Society has barely begun to grapple with the issues surrogacy raises.  In many countries, most notably in Europe, surrogacy is an illegal medical procedure.  But in the U.S. there is no national regulation, earning its title of the Wild West of third party reproduction and its status as second world-wide only to India in the supply of surrogates. 

 Surrogacy is a stark manifestation of the commodification of women’s bodies.  Surrogate services are advertised, surrogates are recruited, and operating agencies make large profits.  The commercialism of surrogacy raises the specter of a black market and baby selling, of breeding farms ala The Handmaid’s Tale, turning impoverished women into baby producers.  Surrogacy degrades a pregnancy to a service and a baby to a product – an entitlement for those with the financial means to procure one.

For millennia, women’s human rights have been abused and ignored with impunity.  As developments in biotechnology facilitate the commodification of reproduction, alarm bells should be sounding about the new door that has been opened for yet further disregard and degradation of women’s humanity, wholeness, physical and emotional inviolability.  Simply put, if you care about women’s human rights, you cannot allow their exploitation as commodities and their health endangerment for others’ profit and gain.


Kathleen Sloan is a member of the Board of Directors of the National Organization for Women (NOW), a consultant to the Center for Bioethics and Culture, and the former Program Director of the Council for Responsible Genetics.  

Helen Alvare – Whose Enemy?

Marjorie Murphy Campbell

First it was Maggie Gallagher.  Today, it’s Helen Alvare. has taken aim at New Feminists.

A sure indicator that New Feminism has arrived in the public forum are recent attack pieces at which focus not upon approaches to a specific issue affecting women, but upon a particular woman who is injecting a conservative, religious or politically incorrect point of view into the public discussion.

Today’s piece by Sarah Posner, “Birth Control’s Worst Enemy,” is nasty and disapproving in tone and surprisingly devoid of analysis.  Posner ignores entirely the content of the Alvare’s OPEN LETTER TO PRESIDENT OBAMA, SECRETARY SEBELIUS AND MEMBERS OF CONGRESS:  DON’T CLAIM TO SPEAK FOR ALL WOMEN, now signed by over 28,000 women.  Rather, Posner assumes her readers find women like Alvare “absurd.” Posner wastes no brain power on Alvare’s – or New Feminism’s – actual arguments against funding “free”  contraception for all fertile females, treating unplanned pregnancy as a female disease, promoting sexual intercourse as a sport activity unrelated to human reproduction and exposing young women to a disturbing range of serious health consequences and STDs which the free meds and devices popular with progressive feminists like Posner often occasion.

While Posner does acknowledge Alvare’s argument that the HHS mandate grossly infringes on the First Amendment protections for free practice of religion, Posner oddly abandons her train of thought when she notes that the Administration’s next most recent effort to restrict what constitutes religious practice lost 9-0 at the Supreme Court.  Posner, at any rate, seems anxious not to distinguish Alvare’s legal arguments against the HHS mandate from Alvare’s social arguments against promoting wider use of contraception among women:  both of which Posner would have her readers believe Alvare argues as a mouthpiece for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (for which Alvare worked over a decade ago before becoming a law professor).

Posner’s attack on Alvare, and her disregard for the substance of Alvare’s arguments, disserves women. 

I am going to assume that Posner, like 99% of the women I know, is a person of goodwill and sincerely interested in the health and happiness of women.  I am going to assume that she wrote the piece, not to engage in dialogue, but to entertain the choir to which sings.  I am going to hope that Posner will, in another forum, tackle some of the hard underlying realities that have motivated activists like Alvare and other New Feminists to challenge prevailing cultural norms as detrimental to the long-term health and well-being of females.  While we might not reach agreement, we most certainly can agree that rational discussion and analysis better serve the future of women than mindless compliance with prevailing systems of domination and intimidation – such as Posner’s attack piece represents.

Here are but a few of the “realities” that are motivating New Feminists like Alvare to challenge social policies being foisted upon all women as presumptively in their interests – rather than in the interest of male sexual standards, pharmaceutical profits or Malthusian anti-population theorists.

  • Women’s happiness has fallen both absolutely and relative to men’s in a pervasive way among groups, such that women no longer report being happier than men, and, in many instances, now report happiness that is below that of men.”
  • One in four women is taking medication, including antidepressants, for a mental health condition.
  • STDs affect young women in epidemic proportions and adversely impact their health, leaving our healthiest young women with reproductive damage, infertility and other long term health consequences.
  • Unplanned pregnancy is not necessarily unwanted pregnancy.  Contraception has little impact on the birth rate of impoverished teens.  The majority of women who terminate a pregnancy do so because they perceive lack of support from those around them for having the child.

Progressive feminists, like Posner – who often fail to place their outrage and dismay at opposing points of view in the broader context of women’s daily realities – might say, “What do these realities have to do with contraception? ~we are just talking about meds and devices which will repress normal female fertility so that females can have sex whenever they want just like a guy?”  To which the New Feminists reply, “Exactly.  We are talking about the very same thing.”

And as Posner notes with some distress in her article, we are not going away anytime soon.





On 50 Cent and Braveheart

Elizabeth Hanna Pham

Two weeks ago I wrote on premarital virginity.

Last week I got married.

Towards the end of our wedding reception my husband and I danced along with our guests to the hip-hop song Give Me Everything Tonight, and we sang every word to each other. It seemed to capture our feelings quite well. And for the first time, we were allowed to really mean it.

But when he had carried me up the stairs (six flights!) to our secret room the song didn’t quite fit anymore. On the floor were rose petals and the theme song from Braveheart, For the Love of a Princess was playing in the background. (For those of you who do not know, this song is a beautiful, heart-wrenching bagpipe ballad played when Braveheart marries his princess in the forest. You should listen to it or watch the movie if you haven’t.) Give Me Everything Tonight suddenly seemed, well, kind of silly. I felt like a beautiful princess, not a Nicki Minaj set free, and he was a brave and handsome warrior. I’ll take you to the candy shop, and all other previously forbidden language and concepts became jokes that sure, we could now say to one another, but why would we when Braveheart finally was alone with his princess?

And why is this weird? Because lovely bagpipe melodies are not what our culture associates with sex. In our culture sex is supposed to be dirty. Desirable and necessary and fun and unavoidable, but dirty. Gone are the days where children grow up admiring the statue of David or the painting of the Birth of Venus. Children are shielded from such things. Instead, at younger and younger ages, they are introduced to Victoria’s Secret models and The Hangover. We want to hide our five year olds from any knowledge of sex whatsoever and we mourn the first time they learn of it—but once they do learn of it, we shower them in condoms and birth control pills and consider it none of our business when they want to try it out. We hate the idea of our daughters dating, but we let our sons look at porn. We now hide sex not because it is precious or sacred but because it is shameful and disgusting. It destroys innocence, it’s mischievous, but everybody ought to do it anyway. And what a confusing contradiction this is!  We can’t handle the idea of sex being something beautiful and perhaps unattainable whether for a short time or forever. We’d rather be animals, seizing it violently. We’d rather joke about it and laugh about it and flirt about it and use it than actually talk about it or admire its beauty. We treat sex like an inevitable fall. In other words, we humans have to eat from the forbidden apple, so let’s just get it over with.

My husband and I are a part of this culture and so we could not help but be influenced by it to some degree. And so once we went inside our beautiful hotel room we actually became a little sad. We both felt like children of Eden, standing at the foot of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Up until now the world had been telling us seize that apple and eat it! And we had resisted. But now, we were supposed to take it? We were supposed to do something dirty? What if we just stayed here and danced to this beautiful song and held each other? Wouldn’t that be enough? Goodness was too wonderful and too beautiful to be thrown away in pursuit of an apple.

But this is where our culture was so wrong. For when we turned around and braced ourselves to look at the tree, it was as if an angel came down and smiled, and led us back into the garden—to a time even before we met. What had been hailed as the breaker of innocence I now understood as the breaker of insecurity, bitterness, and all the many walls we build around ourselves as we grow old. The nakedness we might associate with a dark and sultry club scene can be instead the nakedness like that of cherubs. What we might think of as the end of childhood, can be only the beginning—a rebirth, together, unashamed and pure.

Sex has been deemed dirty because sin is dirty. The apple was never dirty– just the act of taking it when it wasn’t yours to take. The problem is, in our culture, we have nearly forgotten the difference between sex and sin. We have forgotten that they do not have to, and ought not go together. The prevalence of taking the apple when it’s not yours to take has muddied our conception of sex and even love. Deep down, when we steal something, we are ashamed and so we hide in dark alleys. On the contrary, when we are given something precious and sacred, we don’t hide in dark alleys. We seek the most beautiful castle for shelter in which to properly adore and adorn our gift. That’s what is so cool about marriage. You are given to. You don’t have to request give me everything because it is implicit that you will both be giving everything, freely and always. And you don’t have to be ashamed and you don’t have to lose any innocence.

My husband and I heard Candy Shop the other day and we laughed, but honestly, 50 Cent seems kind of pitiful now as he grunts out his animalistic desires to a woman he treats like an animal. Once sex became completely accessible to him to grab and seize, it lost its beauty and grandeur. It lost its humanity and became associated with dogs and cows (literal terms used in our culture to discuss sexuality.) What might be seen as the freedom to do what you want when you want becomes a stifling slavery to sin and a lonely dwelling in a dark alley.

I want to end with a quote by G.K. Chesterton. He says this in reply to the complaints about the “rules” within many religions. We hear this all the time: I love Jesus, but I don’t like how organized religion has all those rules. Why shouldn’t I be able to have sex with someone I love? Why shouldn’t I be able to… etc. Here is what Chesterton says:

Those countries in Europe which are still influenced by priests are exactly the countries where there is still singing and dancing and coloured dresses and art in the open-air. Catholic doctrine and discipline may be walls; but they are the walls of a playground. Christianity is the only frame which has preserved the pleasure of Paganism. We might fancy some children playing on the flat grassy top of some tall island in the sea. So long as there was a wall round the cliff’s edge they could fling themselves into every frantic game and make the place the noisiest of nurseries. But the walls were knocked down, leaving the naked peril of the precipice. They did not fall over; but when their friends returned to them they were all huddled in terror in the centre of the island; and their song had ceased. – Orthodoxy, Chapter 9

When you enter into marriage, (really, when you enter into family, religion, or any sort of place where there are “rules”) you enter into a room surrounded by walls. But as I have learned particularly in the past two weeks, if you submit to them they are entirely the walls of a playground. And the walls of a playground are far more free and light and beautiful than the walls of a club. My husband and I will still dance to and sing Give Me Everything Tonight, but it will be with a laugh and the knowledge that Pit Bull only knows the half of it.