Saturday, 4 April 2015

The reader dialogue continues--trauma-informed practice

A professional colleague of mine contributed to this series of posts by positing that harm reduction could be a justifiable reason for allowing the abortion choice to remain. Another reader strongly rejected that view. Now reader one has submitted further reasoning for his position. S/he prefers to remain anonymous but extends permission for the response to be published.


 In your previous post there is the assertion that a harm reduction approach MUST centre on an assumption that the unborn child is somehow morally subhuman (or at least less human than the unborn child's mother). I don't think this is the case at all. I posed the issue of abortion as an ethical dilemma... which necessarily requires that two moral imperatives be in conflict - and therefore whatever the choice, significant harm will unarguably come. Of course, if a woman carrying a baby who intended to have an abortion changes her mind (as in the anecdote you share in this post) - there's arguably no harm there. But I would argue that harm is not only in what happens, but also in how it happens.

In my last response I brought up the possible connection between this issue and the concept of harm reduction, now I'll bring forward the possible connection with "trauma-informed practice".

The basic concept behind trauma-informed practice is that people who have experienced significant trauma have nervous systems that, for good reasons, are tuned up to be hyper alert - enabling them to go into flight or fight mode (thus turning off their executive reasoning) at the first sign of danger.

The basic tenants, then, of trauma-informed practice are safety, collaboration, and, yes... choice. Why choice? Because anyone - but particularly anyone who has experienced significant trauma - will begin to feel threatened and cornered if they sense that they don't have choice or that someone is aiming to take their freedom to choose - their autonomous, easy exit - away from them. And at that point - the point where their amygdala fires them into a flight or fight response -  not only have we lost our ability to interact with that person's executive reasoning - they have too.

It is called "trauma-informed practice," rather than something like "responding to trauma" because trauma is actually much more common than our culture really lets on about, but, more importantly, because both we and a person who has experienced significant trauma may not ever have the chance to become aware of it - or of its effects (and therefore the necessity to respond to it). So trauma-informed practice would suggest that we treat everyone as if they had the propensities of a person who has experienced significant trauma... and offer them explicit safety, collaborative opportunities, and choice.

Doing so doesn't and will not resolve these ethical dilemmas between moral imperatives, but it will give everyone... most importantly the woman carrying the unborn baby... a fighting chance to be supported through an ethical decision-making process, which may include the kinds of information sharing that your anecdotal example in this post points to... but ALL in a process where choice is made EXPLICIT, and where signs of fight or flight are looked for and responded to assiduously... and as if someone's life depended on it... because it arguably does.

Just more food for thought, and I look forward, as always, to any response.

Monday, 23 March 2015

Real life harm reduction--Jade's story

Meet Jade. She was a firm believer in a woman's right to chose, and had strongly positive feelings about abortion as a means of dealing with certain life challenges. Nevertheless, finding herself unexpectedly pregnant, she came into a crisis pregnancy centre, Hope for Women* in Abbotsford B.C. (, wondering what her options were, but truly believing that only one option was viable--abortion. What happened after that didn't just reduce harm--it magnified good.

Jade in her own words:

Jade was astonished, and deeply troubled, to learn that she was pregnant. It simply didn't fit with her plans, with her relationships, with her self-image, with her life.

How did Jade see herself as being in harm's way?
  • Self-esteem: "I thought that I was the only one going through this. I thought that I was a horrible person for getting pregnant."
  • Relationships: "[I thought] that my relationship (i.e., with her boyfriend, the father of the pre-born child) was going to fall through, and that my parents were disappointed with me.
  • School and career: "I thought that [going to university to study criminology and become a police officer) was not going to be possible."
  • Plans for her life: "[I thought] that my life was over...if I kept it (i.e., the child)."
Looking back, Jade concluded that had she not been made aware of other options resulting from her visit to Hope for Women, she would have definitely procured an abortion.

What changed? Why did Jade decide that hers was not the way of harmful results after all?

First, her misconceptions and lack of knowledge about fetal development:
  • Before: "I remember always thinking that if I got an abortion early in my pregnancy, it wouldn't matter because I didn't consider them a baby." [Note: The standard line among those who urge the procurement of abortions is that in the early weeks and months of fetal development, there is no baby present but merely a clump of cells.]
  • After: "By the time I went to Hope for Women, my baby had a heartbeat, and there's no denying that's a baby, that's a living thing with a heartbeat. I didn't know that." 
Second, her personal values:
  • Before: "This is coming from someone who was very pro-abortion."
  • After: "I knew deep down inside, after talking to [my counselor, Elizabeth, at Hope for Women], that I didn't want an abortion even though my whole life I thought I would."
Third, her experience of pregnancy and viewing an ultrasound:
  • "When you feel the first kick, when you see their face on the ultrasound for the first time, it really changes your perspective.
 Fourth, her relationships:
  • "Her daddy, my fiance, is loving every second of it. My parents are so excited to be grandparents."
Fifth, her future:
  • I'm planning to go back to school, which I thought was not going to be possible after becoming pregnant. Pregnancy is not the end of me; it is the beginning of a new chapter. Pregnancy is not a death sentence."
From thinking that she was seriously in harm's way, with her future in tatters if she did not abort, Jade came to this conclusion: "I decided to keep the baby. It was the best decision I ever made."

Jade's story has that fairy-tale quality to it--all her fears were overcome, everything she thought would go wrong went right instead, and she can't imagine life without her beautiful baby girl.

But it does not go this way for everyone. Other women and girls in crisis pregnancies have much different experiences. I will finally get around to looking at various agencies who deal with the Jades of this world, and look at the many ways in which standing in the way of harm has made a difference. 

*Full disclosure: I am a member of the board of Advokate Education and Life Services (, a non-profit society in Abbotsford BC that runs Hope for Women Pregnancy Services.

Friday, 20 March 2015

Harm reduction--my take

So we have one reader's post ('s call him "Stan"-- saying that he finds some of my life-oriented reasoning to be persuasive, but feels that he has to hang on to the availability of abortion for those instances where a woman appears to be putting herself in unacceptable harm's way by not having the choice of terminating the pregnancy.

These are not the ravings of an ideologue. Now Judy Rebick, former leader of the National Action Committee on the Status of Women, she's an ideologue. This is what she says, in this case in reference to Canadian Green Party leader Elizabeth May's view on abortion as found in my post of March 13/15 (

Elizabeth May:   
She believes that “all life is sacred” but that if Canada criminalize abortions “women would seek out whatever butcher they could find…and they would die horrible deaths.” She goes on to say “I’ve talked women out of having abortions. I would never have an abortion myself.” Her approach would be to “have a different kind of conversation? What kind of programs and strategies do we need to reduce the number of legal abortions take place?” 

Judy Rebick (in response to Ms May): 

There is no middle ground on the abortion issue as you are no doubt finding out. The organized opposition to abortion in this country as in the United States does not care if women die... I personally have debated right-to-lifers for 30 years. There is no dialogue here. They put the life of a foetus above the rights and even the lives of women. Whether or not you agree with this, by raising the issue in the way that you did, you contribute to their position... We had a debate on abortion in this country for decades. Raising the need for further debate as you have done is a serious error in judgment and in the unlikely possibility that Stephen Harper wins a majority in the next election, you could have done irreparable harm.

Rebick refers to a woman's right to choose as "the most important victory of the women's movement of my generation". She also ripped up her financial contribution to the Green Party.

Other pro-abortionists also weighed in on May's position:

1. “I think I was most disgusted when May bragged about giving medical advice to young women she’s totally and completely unqualified to give.”

2. “Elizabeth May is a garden tool and an embarrassment to womankind. An abortion is not a tragedy, it is a medical procedure. Nothing more and nothing less.”

3. “The zygote does not have the same rights as the pregnant woman. No. The zygote has no rights. It doesn’t even get last rites. It doesn’t have citizenship. Most are flushed before there is anything anyone in their right mind would call “life”. The zygote is a parasite living off the body resources of the hostess. And if she is unwilling to be the hostess the parasite has no rights at all.”
But the response to "Stan" from Advokate Life and Education Services dismisses the idea of harm reduction as a justification for abortion in even a small number of cases ( 

What's my take? Well, I see no point in being distracted by the extremists like Ms Rebick and her ilk. Countless rigorous polls of Canadian women's attitudes regarding abortion indicate that the critics cited above are out of step with what women believe and want. At best only about 30% of women believe that Canada's current regimen of abortion-on-demand is the right position. Knee-jerk ideology, totally lacking in creativity or empathy, is of no value in solving life's problems. 

But the remaining 70% or more of Canadian women believe either that placing various restrictions on abortion (e.g., not past first trimester, not without prior counseling, not without looking at an ultrasound first, etc.) is legitimate, or that abortion should not be permitted at all. What can we learn from the pro-choicers in this group (and I would number "Stan" among them)?

Well, the glaring middle ground that jumps out is, of course, the issue of harm reduction. None of us wants harm to come to women in crisis pregnancies*. Whether we believe in limited abortion or no abortion, the concern is the same. The difference is in how to reduce the harm. 

I'm going to give you a practical case study, complete with video, in my next post on how this was accomplished by a crisis pregnancy centre.  

P.s. Sorry for how crummy this post looks. Blogspot is not always a perfect host in terms of the appearance of the drafts I publish. 


*It's fair to say that the official position of the Roman Catholic Church is that the Church bans abortions which directly cause the death of a fetus. Therefore, if it is determined that carrying a pre-born child to term will or might cause the mother to die or be significantly harmed, the Church will still urge the woman to carry the child rather than abort. This position is not typically taken by other Christians. Indeed, a large number of Catholics don't hold to it either. Nor is it my position. To put things into perspective, less than 5% of abortions are performed for reasons of rape, incest, or physical harm to the mother.   

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Harm reduction argument for abortion rejected by reader

In my last post, I published the thoughts of a reader who raised "harm reduction" as a defensible justification for abortion. I invited other readers to respond. What follows is a post, this from Advokate Life and Education Services, that critiques the harm reduction argument.

Once again I encourage readers to take advantage of the opportunity at the bottom of each post to leave comments. Let's keep this dialogue going. Thanks.


 2 thoughts on the Harm Reduction argument:

1) It's question begging.  You must assume an unborn child is, in some way, sub-human to make that argument or else the harm-reduction argument is non-sense.  By way of analogy: in the Canadian north, infanticide used to be practiced by leaving the baby out in the cold (usually females) to die of exposure.  Let's imagine that, occasionally, under severe sub-zero temperatures, hiking into a remote area to leave your baby to die would put the mother at risk and in rare cases some women actually died of exposure themselves.  Would it be reasonable to set-up facilities where women could safely leave their infant girls to die without any risk to themselves?  Absolutely not. That would be monstrous.

But that's exactly what harm reductionists are arguing for, unless they believe that an embryo or a fetus is somehow less of a human than an infant.  In that case, their argument is not one of harm reduction at all, their argument is one of the moral status of the unborn and the harm reduction argument is simply a question-begging red-herring.

2) It is an urban legend that 1000s of women were dying from illegal abortions prior to abortion's legalization. Before the advent of modern medicine, particularly penicillin, many women did die.  But it was not legalizing abortion that suddenly made them "safe", it was modern medical advances. Pro-choice lobbyists intentionally fabricated the number of women dying from illegal abortions to get the procedure legalized.  Those who assert that legalized abortion would decrease harm to women have the burden of proof.  Without controversy, legalized abortion increases harm to unborn children.  

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Harm reduction--An argument for keeping abortions legal?

 I have a warm professional acquaintance who, much to my surprise, indicated recently that he reads my posts. I must say that I was gobsmacked. I have never discussed life issues with him, and obviously had no idea as to the nature of his views. 
He recently left the comment below on one of my posts in this series I'm doing on engaging with the broader culture and finding common ground with those who take the pro-choice label. I would very much be interested in the views of other readers on what he has to say. 

Please take advantage of the comments section at the bottom of the post to indicate your views. Thanks.

John, always enjoy reading your posts. I would say that your explanation of the rationales behind the pro-choice lens leaves out the one and only reason I support so-call "choice," and that is harm reduction. 
The fact is that women do have a choice, whether that choice is legal or not (in the same way that drug users have a choice)... what they may lack if abortion were illegal would be safer options for exercising that choice. 
If I could somehow be assured that every woman for whom carrying a pregnancy to term is unthinkable (and I think we could agree that this does happen, just as staying off of illegal drugs under certain circumstances - intense chronic pain and negative history with doctors, for example - may be unthinkable to some) would be provided adequate support to make the circumstance thinkable. 
Do I think that will ever happen? Probably not. Do I think we can do a lot better - and thereby further reduce the number of abortions - absolutely. I think there are a lot of opportunities for uncovering more collaborative (if not necessarily common) ground between harm reductionists (like me) and pro-lifers... that would reduce the number of abortions. 
My dilemma is as moral as the pro-lifer's, I think. But it's more conflicted... thus essentially making it an ethical matter (between two moral ones). I keep an open mind to collaborating with the efforts and resources of those who are trying to prevent abortions for whatever reason - my ethics demand it... but must try to ascertain if they are going to stick their heads in the sand - or worse - if (and sadly when) all efforts of support fail to render circumstances thinkable quickly enough. 
I'd love to hear any thoughts you have on the harm reduction aspect of medical abortions.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Man I (don't) feel like a woman (with apologies to Shania Twain)

Shania Twain is one of Canada's famous exports to the broader culture of music. I am the furthest thing from a C & W fan, but I do find myself humming her music occasionally.

One of my favourites from among her repertoire of hits is Man, I Feel Like a Woman ( I find the title quite creative, and the tune is terrific.

Nevertheless, the lyrics in one sense are a bit disconcerting to me. Like so much modern music written or performed by women, it's focus is often related to men, what they think (or don't think), male-female relationships, etc.

[Shania performs in front of an all-male band of perfect young specimens in skin-tight shirts, one of whom licks his lips as she disrobes to further reveal her charms.]

Oh, oh, oh, go totally crazy-forget I'm a lady
Men's shirts-short skirts
Oh, oh, oh, really go wild-yeah, doin' it in style
Oh, oh, oh, get in the action-feel the attraction
Color my hair-do what I dare
Oh, oh, oh, I wanna be free-yeah, to feel the way I feel
Man! I feel like a woman!

Don't get me wrong. I am a typical male with a full appreciation for the fairer sex, etc., etc. I'm not saying that Shania's lyrics are weird in any way. I simply feel that too much of people's self-worth is tied up in what others think of them, and so, in looking for approval, may even cause them to act in ways that can pose certain risks. 

But beyond this, I also feel that in the deeply nuanced world of womankind, relationships and the pressures that come with them bring challenges that oblivious males can have little appreciation for.

I was reminded of this again in reading an article having to do with Quebec's in vitro fertilization laws (see The author makes what was for me a startling and revealing comment:

The decision when to have a child is very personal. It is also widely acknowledged that women today are under tremendous social pressures to “be responsible,” complete their education and establish financial and relationship stability prior to starting a family. Having a child later in life is not always a mere preference; often it is the result of how our current social structure limits the choices open to women. But by the time it is “socially responsible” to have a child, it may become biologically challenging. Our fertility declines and we are racing against our biological clocks. This is precisely when some need the assistance of IVF to conceive (emphasis added).

I can't help reflecting on an earlier era when social structures were much different. I am the oldest of six children. My parents married shortly after WW2, and I was born 9 1/2 months later. My three
oldest siblings arrived in quick order, every two years thereafter. When sibling number four arrived, Mom was 27 years old. A secretary in the Women's Royal Canadian Naval Service during the war, she never worked outside the home again once she was married. Her story was far from atypical among us of the early Baby Boomer generation--in fact, it was more or less what people expected of new wives.

But now, if the author I quoted is to be believed, women have one more pressure heaped on them that affects the child-bearing question--what is considered to be the responsible thing to do, given the high importance for women of education, fulfilling jobs, financial security etc. Such matters never crossed my mother's mind. A typical comment from that era would be something like, "Well, if you waited 'til you could afford it to have children (or even, to get married) you'd never do it."

Now I'm not yearning for older, simpler, better times here. I'm only reflecting on how things change, and that changes bring new challenges and complications. As our culture and the worldview that comes with it evolves, issues have to be looked at from a different perspective.

Going back to my earlier posts, then, what do we have?
  1.  Perhaps the most troubling reality is that two-thirds of women who decide to have abortions (according to statistics from pro-choice sources) do so for people other than themselves; e.g., threatening and abusive boyfriends, uncooperative husbands, embarrassed families, hard-hearted employers, inflexible school administrators, moralistic churches, etc.
  2. Pregnant women in crisis often feel that their options are slim-to-none; e.g., no affordable day-care, insufficient means, no partner in their life, nowhere to live if family isn't cooperative, and so on. 
  3. Lack of resources available through government agencies or non-profits that might help women clarify their situation and consider options that they didn't even know existed.
  4. A feeling that adoption is a poor choice, either because they have done all this work and get nothing out of it, or that they have in some way failed by giving up the child. 
  5. Men who do not understand these pressures and do little to address them, either by being irresponsible and undisciplined in their relationships with women, or in ignoring a woman's reality when they are in a position to do something (e.g., politicians who don't create the necessary social policies).
  6. Media that sexualize women and male-female relationships in ways that creates unreasonable expectations and can lead to highly regrettable results, including crisis pregnancies.
  7. And now, social pressure that comes from the prevailing worldview that other things are more important, or that they are just as important, placing significant inner pressure on the woman.
Many non-profit societies that are part of what I have been calling the "life sub-culture" are in a position to address at least some of these issues for women in crisis. But unfortunately our public face is, rightly or wrongly, such a judgmental, moralistic one that we would not even be considered by the very people who could use our help. That is to say, we're lacking street cred.

Colleagues, it is time to become much more understanding and empathetic in our dealings with the modern woman, and far more sophisticated and strategic in posing solutions.

Friday, 13 March 2015

Who put the crisis in crisis pregnancies? Ask Elizabeth May

In my last post, I deliberately quoted Hillary Clinton, despite the animus of many in the life camp toward her, because of her strong desire to dramatically reduce the abortion rate and to urge women to consider other options.

A similar position is taken by Canadian politician Elizabeth May. Like Ms Clinton, Elizabeth May is on the center-left side of the political spectrum (she is the federal leader of the Canadian Green Party and is a member of Parliament). Both women are professing Christians (Methodist and Anglican respectively). Here is Ms May's party's take on the desirability of abortion:

The Green Party's policy is described as “pro-life, pro-choice”, confirming support for legal safe abortions, while also finding ways to support women who find themselves facing economic hardship and wanting to have a child.

(Ms May speaking) “Some feminist scholars have pointed out that the slogan 'right to choose' focuses on too narrow a context. What are a woman's real rights in society? Where are our economic rights? While a woman must have the right to terminate a pregnancy, what of the larger context? What about the on-going struggle to create a truly equal relationship of sexual equality that might (would) help avoid unwanted pregnancies in the first place? What about the responsibility of both sexual partners to avoid unwanted pregnancy (and while on the topic, to avoid sexually transmitted diseases that would be reduced through use of condoms)? I believe that respectful dialogue is possible even around such an emotionally charged issue as this. Not every opponent of legal abortions is unthinking. Neither is every supporter of legal abortion unwilling to acknowledge the moral complexity of the issue. Some common ground could be found, I believe, when the discussion shifts to a broader context” (

[Despite the above, May's personal view has raised the ire of many hard-core pro-choice people:
Her position is simple. She believes that “all life is sacred” but that if Canada criminalizes abortions “women would seek out whatever butcher they could find…and they would die horrible deaths.” She goes on to say “I’ve talked women out of having abortions. I would never have an abortion myself.” 

Her approach would be to “have a different kind of conversation? What kind of programs and strategies do we need to reduce the number of legal abortions taking place?” I think this the approach the anti-abortion folks should take. I think criminalization of abortion is a poor strategy. It is unlikely to happen, it comes with serious baggage, and I‘m not sure how effective it would be (

One prominent pro-choice spokesperson replied with heat: “Elizabeth May is a garden tool
and an embarrassment to womankind. An abortion is not a tragedy, it is a medical procedure. Nothing more and nothing less.”

Now, look at my last post, where I quote a guest columnist who is also a professing Christian but identifies with the life culture, and consider the factors she posits as contributing to crisis pregnancies, and often to terminations:
  • The [hyper-sexualized media] message is: women exist for men. It's called female subordination. Pregnancy is not part of the message. Male responsibility is not mentioned. 
  • Women have been streamed into low wage jobs.
  • Maternity benefits and child care provisions are still poor.
  • Child care subsidies are inadequate.
  • Adoption, the alternative proffered by many pro-life people, is also anti-life, particularly if the adoption is closed. It ignores the child's lifelong feelings of abandonment as well as the mother's pain.
  • A truly pro-life society would work on male responsibility, different socialization, better wages for women, more affordable regulated child care programs, and improved income assistance. 
I have no doubt that both Clinton and May would agree wholeheartedly.
Now I ask again, as I have at different points in this series on engaging culture, Why isn't the life culture more concerned about the matters raised above, and less on placard waving? Because it's very hard, long-term, potentially expensive, strategic work. It requires cultural engagement, a thick skin, a high tolerance for setbacks and ambiguity, and satisfaction with small wins while never resting until the final objective is obtained.

Sounds a lot like William Wilberforce, doesn't it?