A feminist take on abortion: deceptive communication, censorship, and ways to empower women.
Abortion activists would appreciate this feminist perspective on the topic, which focuses on deceptive communication strategies, efforts to censor diversity of thought, and ways to empower women considering the abortion choice.
Garratt’s research reveals many uncomfortable truths about abortion that do not appear in major media or in various professions, such as the medical community, the legislature, or academia. She accomplishes the task of uncovering these truths using Grounded Theory, which demands that researchers formulate their ideas based on data obtained in the research instead of fitting the data according to someone’s ideology or political perspective.
Thus, while doctors and legislators may not appreciate the results of her research, ordinary women and men will.
Garratt’s book develops the idea of “Alarmist Gatekeeping” to account for how abortion supporters use specific linguistic and communication strategies to maintain their influence on the public. Garratt doesn’t use the standard labels usually associated with the factions on the issue. Instead, she uses “Adherents, Incognisants, and Dissidents” to refer to those who, respectively, believe in, accede to, or oppose the “Dominant Messaging” of keeping abortion legal throughout the nine months of pregnancy for any reason whatsoever. (Note: since Garratt is an Australian researcher, I retain her British spelling in all cases.)
What Garratt’s research has to say about abortion Adherents is revealing. Alarmist Gatekeepers on abortion use “two distinct strategies—Alarmist Recruitment and Perspective Gatekeeping—which work together to reinforce each other and perpetuate a cycle of disinformation and censorship” (7). Abortion Adherents use “strategic ambiguity” to persuade ordinary people to adopt statements which are either false or deceptive, such as “women have the right to control their own bodies” (9). Abortion Adherents rely on “experts” not so much for impartial data on the controversial issue, but to bolster their public relations image: “Expert status is determined primarily by the person’s strict adherence to upholding abortion rights and by their ability to hold some influence whether in the media or by virtue of their professional position or qualification” (12).
These strategies account for abortion Adherents’ heavy use of negative and alarmist terms (17); manipulation, analyzed into its “deception, intentionality, and advantage” aspects (23); and equivocation (24). Garratt summarizes abortion Adherents’ linguistic deceptions succinctly when she writes, “Controlling language is a strategic aspect of Alarmist Gatekeeping designed to confuse thinking, override one’s defences, depersonalise, and dehumanise” (27).
Garratt is the first researcher whom I have read to explain in some detail why abortion Adherents oppose efforts by Dissidents (pro-lifers) to assist mothers with untimely pregnancies. Apparently, in the abortion world, only the mother must “win” (31). Therefore, abortion Adherents perceive pro-life help for mothers with untimely pregnancies as a threat to abortion itself. Garratt demonstrates how abortion Adherents are anti-science when she documents how abortionists and clinic staff do not discuss fetal development because it is “pro-lifey” (90). Abortion Adherents view pregnancy support groups as a threat because such pro-life services are a threat to their Alarmist view of abortion as the only choice which they think women should have (135ff).
A twenty-first century reader leaves Garratt’s research deeply saddened that abortion Adherents are essentially anti-woman for three reasons.
First, abortion Adherents must use language to remove emotion from every abortion, a task which mothers who experience post-abortion syndrome (PAS) cannot escape (32).
Second, when abortion Adherents use dehumanizing language about the unborn child, they themselves adopt patriarchal attitudes against women who regret their abortions. Garratt rightly points out that such linguistic evasion distances women from their true selves: “Language is used to disconnect women from what is going on inside their bodies, to ignore relationship, as though the entity within is an uninvited stranger, rather than a human being created within them” (34)—a matter which she elaborates later in the book when she further discusses how abortion Adherents are “disconnected” from reality (45).
Garratt suggests a final reason why abortion Adherents oppose accurate information for women on abortion when she counters a key idea from anti-life feminist philosophy, women as “victims”: “Women are not victims of biology, and to teach women such lessons is designed to make them feel inferior instead of feeling in awe of what their bodies can do” (162).
Fortunately, Garratt offers two means that both Incognisants and Dissenters can use to overcome Alarmist Gatekeeping on abortion. She encourages people, first, to stop censoring themselves by not saying what should be said about abortion and, second, to ask questions of the Dominant Messaging that abortion “needs” to be legal.
Since she is an Australian author, some terms in the book need clarification for US readers. When she writes about “medical abortion”, Garratt means chemical abortion, as in the RU-486 abortifacient. Also, the undefined word “furphy”, Australian slang for an erroneous or improbable story claimed to be factual (143), will interrupt the easy reading, but only momentarily.
Overall, Garratt’s research offers an interesting way for feminists to reevaluate their support of a procedure which—based as it is on deception and efforts to stifle dissenting opinions—is more anti- than pro-woman. Every woman will appreciate knowing how to respond to the abortion movement, which would rather have women subject to their ideology than liberated intellectually.