EPISODE 6: MELISSA
Compiled & Synthesized by David Sokol
Edited by Samia Mounts
00:08:05 Is the earliest you can have an abortion at six weeks?
No. An abortion can be performed as early as your pregnancy can be confirmed by test. Many medical professionals agree that having the procedure done earlier makes it easier to perform and leads to fewer potential complications for the mother. Many of these abortions are performed medicinally, using a combination of medications that is extremely effective in terminating pregnancies up to the ten-week mark. This means that if you find out you’re pregnant at any time before you reach ten weeks of pregnancy - that’s about two and a half months - you can end the pregnancy with medication alone. After ten weeks, a surgical abortion is the best option, although a woman can choose to have a surgical abortion done even if the pregnancy is discovered earlier.
Melissa may have gotten the idea that an abortion can only be performed after the six-week mark because some doctors recommend waiting until five to six weeks after the first day of the woman’s last period to perform a surgical abortion.
00:08:13 Can a six-week-old fetus see and feel?
No, at six weeks, a fetus does not have the ability to sense touch or pain.
Around the eighth week, fetuses develop touch receptors in their face, mostly on the lips and nose. Slowly, from week eight to week 29 or 30, more touch receptors form. They are completed by the 32nd week.
Touch receptors, however, are not the same as pain receptors. They allow the fetus to respond to physical stimuli, but the neural pathways necessary to experience that stimuli as pain or pleasure aren’t present until around week 26.
The issue is not without its controvesy within the medical field, but the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists released a statement in July 2013 stating that the most current science shows that fetuses aren’t capable of experiencing pain until the third trimester. That’s 24-36 weeks. From their statement: “The evidence shows that the neural circuitry necessary to distinguish touch from painful touch does not, in fact, develop until late in the third trimester. The occurrence of intrauterine fetal movement is not an indication that a fetus can feel pain.”
That means that, while Melissa is correct that a fetus will move away from a sharp, cold object while in utero, that does not equate to the fetus feeling pain from said object.
As for whether a six-week-old fetus can see, the answer is also no. A fetus cannot process any visual stimuli until the 16th week, at which point it can sense light through the eyelids, which are still fused shut. A fetus cannot even open its eyes until around the 26th week.
00:13:44 Does abortion cause anxiety and depression?
This is a controversial topic, made more complicated by the lack of consensus in the medical community about pre-disposition to mental illness.
There is little doubt that having an abortion can be associated with a feeling of grief or sadness for a period of time following the procedure. However, negative feelings are more likely to happen if a woman believes that abortion equals killing a baby. Women who believe a fetus isn’t a person until it’s born are less likely to experience negative emotions. That literally means that growing up with a conservative ideology can make a woman more likely to suffer emotionally after having an abortion.
A study published in PLOS ONE found that 95% of women who have had abortions don’t regret it. The results of that study also showed that “the overwhelming majority of women” thought their decision to terminate their pregnancy was the correct one three years later, and any negative feelings immediately following the procedure decreased over time.
There’s also evidence to show that women who desire an abortion and are denied access to one may be more likely to have mental health problems than women who have abortions. Mother Jones sums up these findings nicely, for those of you who have trouble focusing when trying to read scientific studies (like I do - this is Samia here).
Not to put too fine a point on this, but the New York Times reported in December 2016 that abortion really doesn’t have much of an effect on women’s mental health at all.
Here is a link to a critical review that is largely based on a report from the American Psychological Association Task Force on Mental Health and Abortion. It’s 27 pages long and quite an intense read, but if you want, you can skip straight to the Conclusions section. Among said conclusions? Having one abortion doesn’t increase mental health risks any more than having a child does. There’s no good evidence to support that having multiple abortions causes mental health problems in comparison to other factors (like the conditions that create a person who has multiple abortions in the first place). The majority of women do not deal with mental health issues after having an abortion (although some women do). And the kicker - limiting access to abortion wouldn’t necessarily prevent of mental health issues but could potentially increase them, because of the stress that comes with raising a child among the populations of women most likely to seek out abortions (young, low-income women or women who’ve exhibited “problem behaviors” or have been exposed to violence).
Lastly, there is a wealth of evidence to show that many women experience depression after carrying a pregnancy to term. It even has a name we’ve all heard of: postpartum depression.
The takeaway? Pregnancy in general can cause negative emotions, whether it’s terminated or not. Most women bounce back after a while, and only a small number of women experience long-term negative emotions. Melissa is obviously one of those women, but I’m not a psychologist and can’t comment on why that might be. I do feel for her, and I believe her pain is real.
00:16:09 How effective is the pull-out method when used as a form of birth control?
Planned Parenthood says it’s “pretty effective.” However, there are a few caveats. First, you would have to do it perfectly every single time. “Perfectly” means that absolutely no semen can get inside the vagina. If done perfectly, PP claims the method is effective 96% of the time. That’s almost the same as using condoms. Who woulda thunk?
However, when you account for human error, the effectiveness drops to about 73%. So, if only using the pull-out method, it can be estimated that about 1 in 4 women would eventually get pregnant. With condoms, human error drops the effectiveness to about 82%.
One obvious reason that the method may fail is that the man may not withdraw his penis quickly enough, allowing some semen to enter the vagina.
Another oft-cited reason is that pre-ejaculate fluid may contain some sperm. Although this fluid in its pure form does not contain any sperm, it's possible that semen from a previous ejaculation could still be lingering in the penis, and could be flushed out (and into a vagina) by the pre-ejaculate fluid. Sperm performs better in an alkaline environment, so this fluid is produced before ejaculation to neutralize the acidity of any urine left in the urethra. Thus, if a man were to withdraw perfectly (no semen in the vagina) but not urinate afterwards to flush out any remaining semen left in his urethra, and then have sex again, there could be sperm left that would leak out with the pre-ejaculate fluid. This could result in pregnancy even if he were to pull out “perfectly” again.
I think the takeaway here is that the pull-out method is definitely better than nothing, and we shouldn’t completely dismiss it. However, there are methods that are much more effective on a consistent basis.
00:16:55 Is it true that 90% of abortions happen in the first trimester? And also, is there really an abortion procedure that involved cutting the fetal tissue apart before “sucking it out”?
There is a lot to unpack here, so bear with me.
I think it’s important to first understand how gestational age is calculated, and also to note the commonly used abortion methods in the United States.
Gestational age is measured starting from the first day of a woman’s menstrual cycle prior to fertilization. Fertilization typically occurs about two weeks later. In virtually all statistical measurements, as well as medical documentation, when referring to the age of the fetus, the gestational age is used. Basically, when the sperm meets the egg and fertilization occurs, you are already two weeks pregnant.
Trimesters are broken down to 1-12 weeks, 13-28 weeks, and 29-40 weeks, respectively. The average human pregnancy lasts 40 weeks from the first date of the menstrual cycle pre-fertilization, and birth normally occurs between 38-42 weeks. This is important to keep in mind when viewing the information below, because everything is broken down by weeks, not trimesters or months.
The most commonly used abortion methods in the United States (and the gestational age in which they are typically used) are: medication abortion, also known as medical abortion or “the abortion pill” (2 to 10 weeks), and two surgical options, vacuum aspiration (2 to about 14-16 weeks) and dilation and evacuation or “D & E” (14-16 weeks to 24 weeks).
Samia was only referring to the D & E method, which usually involves a combination of vacuum aspiration and curettage, which is the “gruesome, surgical cutting apart of the fetal tissue” that she mentions.
Abortion rates have been decreasing in the U.S. for years, are pretty rare, and happen overwhelmingly in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. In 2013, only 664,000 induced abortions were performed out of something like a hundred million women and girls (that number is a solid guess based on 2013 U.S. population estimates). Of those abortions, 66% were performed at or before 8 weeks gestation, 25.6% between 9-13 weeks, 7.1% between 14-20 weeks, and 1.3% at or after 21 weeks. That means 91.6% at or before 13th week would translate to the first trimester. Samia hit the nail on the head.
Lastly, there are a lot of anti-abortion groups with websites that use the scariest-sounding language possible to describe these procedures. These sites also typically refer to the fetus as the “pre-born baby” or “your baby,” and other terms designed to make you identify the fetus as a separate person from the mother.
Compare the description of the D & E method from this website with the one from this website to see what I mean. Or this one to this one.
They all describe the same procedure, but one is using medical terms designed to frame the procedure as just that - a medical procedure - while the other is using hugely loaded words designed to frame it as the murder of a child.
You may also notice that the websites that use medical language also include information on what the woman can expect and how she can best care for herself leading up to and following the procedure, which is notably missing from the other sites.
00:17:40 Are there state laws that force women to delay abortions?
Like you wouldn’t believe! Many states not only require a woman to wait anywhere from hours to days, but some actually require that the woman receive in-person counseling BEFORE THE WAITING PERIOD CAN EVEN BEGIN! For many women, this is the difference between a simple, only semi-invasive procedure and a full blown surgical procedure that is far more complicated and requires a lengthy at-home recovery. Are these waiting periods medically necessary? NO! They only create the potential for more harm to the mother.
This is how it would go if you were a woman in South Dakota and made the decision that you need or want an abortion on a Thursday night or Friday morning. First, you would have no choice but to go to the clinic to receive REQUIRED in-person counseling, during which you would be given (not offered) written materials that include a graphic description of the procedure, an explanation of fetal development that claims fetuses feel pain throughout most of the pregnancy (which we know is not true), and a principled opinion that life begins at conception, not birth. The state has made those decisions for you!
But wait - there’s more! NOW you have to wait 72 hours before the procedure can happen. Three. Days. But wait - I’m not even done! Weekends and annual state holidays are not allowed to be included in the waiting period BY LAW! So if you go in for your counseling visit on a Friday, the waiting period will begin Monday, ending Wednesday, and you can then have the procedure done on Thursday. Remember how I said you may have decided on Thursday evening? You had to wait a week! And not because you wanted to. If you wanted to gather information and receive counseling because it’s what YOU wanted to do, then fine. But your lawmakers, who are overwhelmingly male, have decided the entire process for you, when absolutely none of what they have forced you to do is necessary.
Couple that with what we know about how most women do not regret their abortions, even just one week after the procedure, and this really starts to look like a scam to fuck women up well and good by guilting them into not having the abortion. Which, as we’ve covered already, does more harm than good.
I chose South Dakota because they have one of the most grueling processes for women who seek an abortion, but more than half of the states in the U.S. require some version of the scenario I described.
I will admit that I very obviously made that scenario up in a fit of anger at lawmakers deciding what my female friends and family can and can’t do with their own bodies. Here is another writer who takes you down that same imagination journey, but with an extra sprinkling of shit to show how bad the reality can actually be. Living in New York City for so long, I forgot that some states only have one Planned Parenthood, and it could be hundreds of miles away. My scenario made South Dakota seem like it was a walk in the park to get back and forth to the clinic.
The takeaway here? Yes, state laws are causing women to delay abortions, it is dangerous, and I (David) am PISSED about it!
00:18:06 Would reducing or eliminating laws restricting abortion while making contraception and sex education more readily available decrease the number of second-trimester abortions?
There is definitely data out there to support this idea. Texas experienced an increase in later-term abortions that corresponded with their reduction in access. Iowa began a program in 2008 that assisted doctors in reaching people that had trouble accessing services and then saw a reduction in later-term abortions.
There is also a clear indication that if contraceptives are not easily accessible, women will choose to have an abortion regardless of illegality.
In Hawaii, changes to their sex education regarding teen pregnancy, as well as easier access to emergency contraceptives, like the morning-after pill, may have caused a dramatic 30% decrease in abortions from 2010 to 2014. Hawaii also has a high usage rate of more long-lasting contraceptives, like intrauterine devices (IUDs).
You can choose not to draw a connection between those measures and the drop in the abortion rate, but it seems pretty reasonable (obvious) to me that the two are connected.
00:21:08 I thought you said in the show note above that they could not feel pain until pretty late in the pregnancy. Can they or can they not? Is there scientific proof to prove that they can, as Melissa said?
I did go over this in a show note above, but I can go a bit more into detail about what they can and cannot feel and exactly how and when that happens in-utero.
Many of us think that touch and pain are felt much in the same way. While the same nerves are associated with both, the difference between the two is exactly what happens inside the nerve and where that signal goes in the brain to perceive the touch as benign, pleasurable, or painful.
Our sense of touch lies within the somatosensory system, which is the system that responds to stimulus both inside and outside of the body. It’s a complex network of nerves, neurons, and nerve fibers connected to our brain which deciphers what those things are sensing. The somatosensory system includes the sense of touch, the sense of movement, and haptic perception. Haptic perception is basically using touch to identify objects, which obviously could only happen after birth. Sense of movement is not really part of the subject being discussed, so I’ll only go into the sense of touch and how pain is perceived.
I absolutely love how this website explains the different types of touch perception.
There is a lot to take in there, so I will do my best to paraphrase. The skin is made up of three layers. The top layer is the epidermis, which is made of dead skin cells and provides protection for everything living underneath. It is also waterproof. This layer contains our skin pigment and is where we have melanin to protect us from the sun’s rays. (Always wear sunscreen!) Most importantly, for the purposes of the current discussion, this is where many of our touch receptors begin.
The second layer, or dermis, is where you find hair follicles, oil and sweat glands, some blood capillaries, and more touch receptors. This layer replaces the dead skin cells on the top layer as they slowly slough off.
The bottom layer is the subcutaneous layer, which is made of fat cells that insulate and regulate our body temperature. There is also connective tissue that keeps our muscles and all the other stuff inside us attached to the skin. Basically, it’s the reason we don’t have the ability to just move our skin around like it was a loose t-shirt. Ewwwwww that visual, I’m so sorry I did that to you…to all of us…hold on while I go soap out my third eye.
Within those skin layers are touch receptors, consisting of mechanoreceptors (which sense pressure, vibration, and texture), thermoreceptors (which sense hot and cold sensations), proprioceptors ( which sense oneself in relation to one’s environment), and pain receptors (which perceive potential tissue damage so we can avoid or stop whatever is hurting us).
These receptors do begin to form early in fetal development, but - and here’s the important part - without the part of the brain that interprets these sensations and translates them into an experience, the fetus before around 24 weeks cannot perceive anything as “bad” or “good,” pain or pleasure, or anything else. They literally do not have the brain capacity to process the sensations their touch receptors are sensing, because their brains are not developed enough yet.
What differentiates pain from normal touch is how the brain interprets the touch. As this article explains, “Pain requires both nociception and emotional reaction or interpretation.” Until the part of the brain that can interpret the touch as “bad” is developed, the fetus will only interpret the touch as nothing more than a benign touch. Again, this doesn’t happen until the third trimester, a point at which abortions almost never happen. Only about 1% of all abortions happen after 21 weeks, and the third trimester doesn’t even start until 24 weeks.
00:22:16 What besides counseling and waiting periods makes women have to “jump through hoops” to get an abortion?
This helpful chart breaks down all the restrictions by state.
00:22:42 Do women feel tortured by these laws requiring them to wait and go through “hoop jumping” to get what is already legal?
The following linked articles show that the answer to that question is a hard yes.
Ireland and abortion: the law is failing women
Late Term Abortion Restrictions Trap and Torture Innocent Women
Center for Reproductive Rights: The Waiting Game
Oklahoma abortion law wants women to get the father's written permission
This Is What Late-Term Abortion Laws Do To Loving, Expectant Parents
New Research Shows How Abortion Restrictions Hurt Poor Women Most
Restrictive state abortion laws still hurting women
Abortion Restrictions Harm the Most Vulnerable Women in the South
Studies Show How Abortion Restrictions Hurt Women
6 Personal Stories that Reveal How a 20-Week Abortion Ban Would Hurt Women
3 Abortion Providers Explain Why Texas’s Anti-Abortion Laws Are an Attack on Women’s Rights
Five Ways Arizona’s Abortion Restrictions are Hurting Women
00:28:17 Do the restrictions and laws put in place cause women to take more precautions to not get pregnant?
There’s no reason to think so.
First of all, women have the same amount of sex regardless of income, but use contraception far less often if they are poor. This leads to unintended pregnancies in poor women five times more often than in higher-income women.
One major reason for this? Insurance. Poor women don’t have easy access to private insurance through an employer, and Medicaid coverage is limited at best for abortion coverage.
The Hyde amendment, passed by Congress is 1976, blatantly targets poor women. Republican representative Henry Hyde, after whom the amendment was named, said it himself, “I certainly would like to prevent, if I could legally, anybody having an abortion, a rich woman, a middle-class woman, or a poor woman. Unfortunately, the only vehicle available is the Medicaid bill.” And Medicaid is, of course, the safety net insurance option for many our country’s most disadvantaged people.
00:29:22 Show me this data that Samia is talking about saying that abortion rates are at a record low.
Here is the Guttmacher Institute data Samia is talking about showing the all time low abortion rates in 2014. They were below 1973 levels, which is when Roe v. Wade was passed. This is the most recent data we currently have for the U.S., as far as I can find.
00:30:11 Do pregnant women go through negative emotions during pregnancy, even if they want the baby and plan to carry it to term?
Whether a woman intends to get pregnant or not, pregnancy causes a woman’s hormones to go into overdrive. The fluctuating hormone levels cause the moodiness commonly associated with pregnancy, and anxiety, forgetfulness, and issues with body image are common.
Estrogen and progesterone levels drop sharply immediately after birth, which can bring on many of the depressive and emotional symptoms associated with “the baby blues,” which is the more common little sister of full-on postpartum depression Usually, the blues only last a couple of weeks, but they affect around 80% of all mothers. On average, about 15% of mothers experience the more serious condition of postpartum depression.
00:30:58 Is there any legislation intended to limit anything a man can do with his body?
In the first half of 2014, there were 468 restrictions introduced by U.S. state legislators that attempted to regulate what a woman can do with her own reproductive system. For men? Zero.
Once upon a time, there were laws banning sodomy, or what Samia likes to call really adventurous sex, which were intended to stop gay men from being gay. But those are thankfully gone as of 2003.
00:31:48 Do abortion restrictions unfairly affect poor women and women of color?
Specifically, the Hyde Amendment, a law that was passed by Congress in 1976 that bars federal funding from being used for abortion services. That means that women who get their health insurance through Medicaid - i.e. the poorest women in our country, who also often happen to be women of color - have to pay out of pocket to get an abortion. This is why Planned Parenthood and other affordable clinics that offer reproductive health care for low-income women are so important.
00:33:35 Can fathers get out of child support payments that easily?
I went into this fact-check thinking it would, of course, be easy to find specific situations in which fathers got out of paying child support. I was not wrong. There are plenty of these stories out there. This article focuses a little heavily on if the father is a narcissist, but regardless, he’s still getting out of paying up.
What I did not expect to find was websites that literally list ways to get out of paying child support. I felt like I was reading a Google search result list of different ways to easily cook a turkey for Thanksgiving in 6 easy steps. I am sort of horrified.
00:35:05 Is abortion a safe procedure? Is it better to get one earlier in the pregnancy?
Yes and yes! Not only is it more safe than riding a motorcycle and equally as safe as using a canoe paddle, you have more a chance of dying from a bad reaction to penicillin than from an abortion. Ironically for the pro-lifers who argue that abortion is unsafe for women, you also have more of a chance of dying from complications of pregnancy than abortion.
Getting an abortion earlier is arguably better, for the simple reason that medical (or medication) abortion and surgical vacuum aspiration (as opposed to surgical dilation and evacuation) are still options up until 10 weeks and 16 weeks, respectively. Those procedures are less invasive and easier to recover from than the D & E method. They induce something similar to a natural miscarriage.
A dilation and evacuation abortion is still very safe, but carries the same risks of any surgery. First trimester abortions are much less risky for the woman for this reason alone.
00:36:01 Does abortion cause breast cancer? And it true that Romania banned birth control and then there was no breast cancer until abortion was legal again?
Many studies have been done on this, and the consensus in the international medical community is that induced abortion does not correlate with an increased risk of developing breast cancer.
Those who say it does use misleading language and reference studies that used flawed methods to obtain their results.
As for Romania, they sure did ban abortion for a while, but there’s zero evidence to support what Melissa is saying about their breast cancer rates dropping.
Let’s start with what happened with Romania’s abortion ban. It was called Decree 770. Not only was abortion illegal except in the absolute most extreme circumstances, but Ceausescu also created a celibacy tax on women over 25 if they didn’t have children. This resulted in hundreds of thousands of wanted children being born. You not only were told what you COULDN’T do with your body, but you were punished if you DIDN’T do something with your body.
Some women seeking to end a pregnancy would attempt to perform the abortion themselves, leading to infection and sometimes death. Many others sought illegal abortions elsewhere. It is true that most reports say around 9,000 women died from complications of illegal abortions during Ceausescu’s reign, but some estimates put the number as high as 200,000. And, of course, poor women suffered the most; women who had money were sometimes able to pay or bribe doctors to give them a diagnosis that made the abortion legal.
The unwanted children that were born largely ended up either dying from malnutrition, starvation, or poor living conditions, because their families could not afford to raise them. Many of these children ended up in orphanages. Not because they were truly orphans, but because they posed too great a financial strain on their parents or were purely unwanted. Five hundred thousand children were brought up in communist orphanages while the decree was in effect.
For more information on how this attempt to control every aspect of women’s reproductive health affected the children that were born, I highly suggest you watch this documentary, Children Underground. It takes a deeper look at the Romanian orphan crisis.
As for whether Romanian women experienced a sharp drop in breast cancer rates during this time period, there is absolutely no credible evidence (that I can find) online to support this claim. The only sites I can find that claim this is true are run by conservative anti-abortion activist groups and often cite no sources. The ones that do cite sources are mostly referring to this one study conducted by the “American College of Pediatricians,” a conservative advocacy organization most recently known for being an anti-LGBT group. When you go down to click on the source in their study that is supposed to support the claim that Romania had no breast cancer during the abortion ban, you get this page.
00:38:51 Do abortion rates fall when easy access to contraception is available with government support?
That has been the case right here in the United States. In 2014, the United States had the lowest abortion rate since 1973, when Roe v. Wade made abortion legal across the country. The agreed-upon cause of the fall in abortion rates? Easy access to contraception.
00:40:19 Are there women who carried the children of their rapists to term and said it was “the best of their life”?
There is no doubt that some women who are victims of rape have gone on to love and adore the children that were the products of it. This incredible woman gathered strength I didn’t even know was possible from someone as young as she was. She was only 11 years old when she raped in the bathroom at her school. She didn’t even understand what was happening to her during the rape or when she was giving birth. It’s actually an incredible story of female strength.
00:40:53 What is the medical community’s view on the fetus being separate from the mother?
There is no consensus on this from the medical community, because this is largely a matter of opinion that is derived from one’s personal ideology concerning when a person becomes a person. Is it when the egg is fertilized in the mother’s uterus? Is it when the baby is born? Is it when the baby becomes “viable,” meaning it could survive outside the womb (there is no exact fetal age to guarantee this, but chances of viability usually begin around 23 weeks and increase with every week a pregnancy advances)?
Scientifically speaking, a fertilized egg is on a path to becoming a human baby, but whether or not that constitutes personhood is a matter of ideology, not science. And if you look this up for yourself, you’ll see that most of the people who are even discussing this issue are anti-abortion advocates.
00:41:24 Does the fetus have separate DNA from the mother and it’s own blood type?
Yes, fetuses have their own DNA separate from the mother’s. A fetus’s blood type is the direct result of the maternal and paternal blood types.
I’ll start with blood type, because it’s very straightforward. If both the father and mother have the same blood type (A, B, or O), the fetus will also have that blood type. If one parent has type O blood and the other does not, the fetus will have the non-O type blood. If one parent has type A blood and the other type B, the fetus will have type AB blood. If one parent has type AB blood, they may only pass one of the types to the fetus. Therefore, if one parent has type AB blood and the other has type A, the fetus could end up with A or AB, depending on which of the two came from the AB parent. Genetics is fun! If the mother’s blood type is O and the fetus is A or B, there is an incompatibility that can cause problems for the baby. This incompatibility is relatively common and usually not a life-threatening thing.
Blood type gets a little more complicated with the positive and negative Rh factors. The Rh factor is the positive or negative sign after the letter of your blood type. The simple part is that two Rh positive parents result in a positive for the fetus, and two Rh negatives result in a negative for the fetus. However, if one parent is Rh negative and the other is Rh positive, regardless of the blood type (A, B, or O), the fetus could end up with either Rh positive or negative blood. If the mother is Rh negative and has the potential to have incompatibility in the future, it has to be addressed beginning with her first pregnancy to prevent the problems that will arise during subsequent pregnancies.
As far as DNA goes, the DNA in the fetus is derived from the egg and sperm of the mother and father. After conception, there is no true DNA meshing between the mother and fetus. This is why a woman can carry a pregnancy to full term even if the egg in her uterus was taken from another woman and implanted there. That’s why surrogacy works. The DNA of the child will not be that of the surrogate mother. There is something called cell-free DNA which can float freely in the mother’s blood, but without having any effect. Cell-free DNA is how blood tests can be performed on the mother to find certain genetic disorders that may be present in the fetus prior to its birth.
00:42:55 What are the most common reasons women seek abortions?
The most common reasons for seeking an abortion include that having a child would negatively affect the pursuit of education and/or career goals, that it would inhibit the woman’s ability to care for dependents, and that the woman isn’t in a situation where she wants to care for a child, either because she’s single or in a problem relationship. There are many other reasons as well.
00:43:35 Does the female body reject pregnancy if they are too young or “not meant to have” the child?
Small children as young as six years old have gotten pregnant and delivered the baby.
In 1934, Yelizaveta Gryshchenko, a six-year-old girl who lived in what is now Ukraine, delivered a child vaginally, because a C-section was considered too risky at the time. The father was her 70-year-old maternal grandfather. (You’ll either need to translate the page using Google Chrome or use a translate page for that linked article. Here is the Wikipedia page summarizing what happened in English.) The baby died during the birth, but doctors at the time said it could have survived had it been extracted more quickly and given oxygen.
In 2004, an unidentified Columbian girl gave birth to her rapist’s baby. (The linked page is in Spanish.) Both baby and mother were reported as being in perfect health after the delivery.
In 2007, a 10-year-old South Carolina girl gave birth via Caesarian section to a child fathered by her 26-year-old stepfather. The baby was given up for adoption.
Here is Wikipedia’s list of the world’s youngest mothers. It is not a short list.
Whether or not these children went on to have wonderful, meaningful lives in which they cured cancer or became president is impossible to know. I obviously can’t speak on what’s “meant to be,” but I would like to echo Samia’s point that the “meant to be” argument can be used for literally anything. It can even be used to justify getting abortions. For example, I could say that Melissa was meant to have the two children she has now, and it was vital that she have those three abortions to get her to this point in life.
00:44:25 Do most women not regret having an abortion?
A study published in PLOS ONE in July 2015 found that the overwhelming majority of women believed getting an abortion was the right decision for them. The crude data showed that 95% of women that have had an abortion do not regret the decision, and when accounting for additional factors, they predicted a likelihood of greater than 99% that a woman who has an abortion will not regret it in the future.
This, of course, does not mean that some don’t regret it. Melissa obviously does, and I don’t doubt the sincerity of her expressions of remorse and regret. This wife of a Republican state representative says she does regret it. (Of course, the obvious political affiliation makes her public telling of this story a little suspect, whether it reflects her true feelings on the matter or not.) Just as with everything else in the realm of human behavior and psychology, you can find personal stories to back up almost any claim.
00:45:04 What does Samia mean when she says that the inability to control their reproductive health is one of the reasons women are held back from being equal in society?
This is something many feminist writers have covered in great depth. The National Women’s Law Center says, “Abortion is a key part of women’s liberty, equality, and economic security.”
Essentially, the argument is that by restricting a woman’s ability to make decisions about her reproductive health, including whether or not to terminate a pregnancy, you force her to deal with bearing and potentially raising a child, which, logistically speaking, will limit the other things she might have been able to do with her time and energy.
This is a much bigger problem for women with fewer resources and smaller (or non-existent) support networks. If having a child is something that can completely drain a woman’s financial resources, it can cripple her ability to make choices for her own life that could lead her to a better situation. If the child is the result of a rape or a bad relationship, it can bind a woman to the man who raped her, or who is abusing her, for years. If a woman is very young and doesn’t have a support network, it can stop her from pursuing higher education, or advancing her career. There are so many ways that unwanted pregnancies hold women back, but not men.
00:45:40 Has the fact that women bear children been used to control women for thousands of years?
Pretty much. I love this article from Time, because it lists some phenomenal examples of why, even though women may have been able to slowly carve out a decent role in our society, it is very clearly male-dominated and always has been. In fact, most human societies in history have viewed women as inferior to men, an assumption that made it easy for human culture to develop a second-class-citizen role for women to occupy.
00:46:46 Is it true that women have it better now than they ever had in history?
It’s pretty obvious, if you know anything about history, that women’s rights are at an all-time high in free, democratic societies like the one we have in the U.S. Here’s a brief history of our women’s rights movement to give you an idea of how far we’ve come. I mean, shit, just a few generations ago, women couldn’t vote and were subsumed into the identity of their husbands when they married. And in ancient Greece, women were considered to be lower on the social totem pole than slaves.
However, in some societies today, women’s rights are still heavily restricted, usually through a perversion of religious beliefs or a cultural attachment to a hardline right-wing ideology. And now that the United Nations has elected Saudi freaking Arabia to its Women’s Rights Commission, I can’t even reasonably argue that the international community is condemning these violations of human rights.
00:50:16 If a religious parent prevents their daughter from accessing birth control or other methods of contraception, will it prevent pregnancy?
It’s no secret that conservative Christian views on birth control are that it shouldn’t be used, since sex is only supposed to have for the purposes of procreation. Christianity is the only major religion to take this stance. Some people truly believe that making it impossible for their daughters to get birth control will stop them from having sex at all. Studies have proven that this is totally not the case, and young women will likely start having sex no matter how restricted they are from family planning services.
00:50:33 Are the pro-life politicians the same ones who are trying to restrict access to contraceptives and sex education? Is the GOP against abortions, birth control, and sex education?
I think the current GOP-led attempt to defund Planned Parenthood speaks for itself. While I don’t personally agree, it’s one thing to make abortion illegal or restricted, if you at least divert some funding to preventing the pregnancies from happening in the first place. But by fighting to end sex education in schools and defunding affordable clinics for women like Planned Parenthood, you are stripping away the WHOLE package. Not to mention eliminating affordable access to other services, like cancer screenings and STI testing. If we’ve learned anything in this episode, it’s that this tactic absolutely did not work for Romania.
The GOP is attacking sex education programs, access to birth control, and a woman’s right to choose. There is no argument here.
00:52:48 Did Hillary Clinton support a ban on late-term abortions? Did she say so in one of the presidential debates?
Ban may have been too strong a word, but Hillary Clinton is on record, many times, as saying that she would support restrictions on late-term abortion if the legislation makes exceptions for the health of the woman.
A bill was proposed in the Senate in 2003 that did not include those exceptions, so she voted against it, as she explained during the third and final 2016 presidential debate. She’s extremely clear about this in her comments. I don’t know how Melissa watched the same presidential debate and came away with the idea that Clinton supports late-term abortions with no restrictions whatsoever.
The fact that she voted against has been used against her by conservative politicians and media outlets ever since. But it’s important to note that she never said she was for late-term abortions.
00:56:36 Is it true that the same politicians who are pushing for more restrictions on women’s bodies are also pushing for less restrictions on corporations?
Yes. But if that source is too opinionated (on the liberal side) for you, then just glance over this, this, this, and this.
00:57:49 What is the rate of late-term abortions compared to the rest?
There is a lack of consensus as to the exact gestational age that a fetus could live independently, and the CDC doesn’t give precise gestational age for abortions after the 20th week. But if you estimate based on the number for abortions after 20 weeks (1.3%), it’s probably somewhere just under 1% of all abortions performed across the country. And it’s usually because the women involved are facing tragic circumstances.
00:58:25 Does the government ever get involved in men’s health? Did the government used to regulate gay men’s penises?
I covered this earlier, but just to put a finer point on it… No. The government never tries to restrict what a man can do with his body.
I did stumble across these two gems, though:
Lawmaker Challenges Men To Accept Health Restrictions Like They Propose For Women
Nina Turner, Ohio State Senator, Introduces Viagra Bill To Counter Anti-Contraception Legislation
And yes, our country famously had laws making sodomy, or what I like to call the most advanced level of sex (this is Samia talking), illegal, but all of the sodomy laws that remained were struck down by a Supreme Court decision in 2003.
00:58:50 Is suicide illegal?
Suicide is completely legal in the United States. However, all of the states, with the exception of California, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington, make assisting someone with their suicide illegal.
The state that Melissa references as perhaps having a law against suicide, Oregon, actually legalized medically assisted suicide in 1997 for terminally ill patients. The law says a doctor can prescribe a terminally ill patient lethal medications that they can then self-administer to end their own life. It’s called the Death With Dignity Act.
00:59:46 If a pregnant woman is murdered, is the murderer charged with two counts of murder?
This is entirely based on the state’s specific law regarding fetal homicide. Currently, 38 states have fetal homicide laws, and 23 of them apply to any stage of the pregnancy beginning at conception.
Those 23 states are Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.
The states with laws that have a condition relating to either the gestational age, viability of the fetus, or whether the murderer knew that person was pregnant are Alaska, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts (through case law, not legislation), Michigan, Nevada, Rhode Island, Virginia, and Washington State.
The states that do not have fetal homicide laws are Connecticut, Delaware, Washington D.C., Hawaii, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Vermont, and Wyoming.
01:01:42 It seems like Samia sees the abortion debate as an ideological one, while Melissa claims that science backs up her anti-abortion views. Is this an ideological or scientific debate?
Well, let’s talk through some of what we’ve already covered. The scientific community agrees that abortion is safe, restricting access to it hurts women, and many of the restrictions that are placed on abortion have no science to back them up. From that alone, it seems clear that this is an ideological debate.
01:02:11 Is sex outside of marriage the norm? Do we have sex for more than procreation, and do other animals do the same?
In 2014, only 30% of the U.S. population considered pre-marital sex to be unacceptable, while the other 70% were presumably having a much more enjoyable time on earth.
And yes, lots of animal species have sex for reasons other than procreation. Some do it for reasons of social dominance, and some use it to bond. (I’m pretty sure anyone who’s ever had sex knows that humans also have sex for both of those reasons.)
Bottlenose dolphins have sex outside of the female’s estrous cycle, which some say indicates sex for pleasure. And we can’t forget the wonderful bonobos, the absolute best of all the primate species, who not only have casual sex for pleasure, they also have casual homosexual sex for pleasure. And group sex, too! I love me some bonobos!
And yeah, humans have sex for myriad reasons other than reproduction. To name just a few, we have sex to foster love and bonding, to express ourselves, to increase our self-esteem, to release tension, and for purely recreational purposes. Yes, we have sex for fun! (But we all knew that…and if you didn’t, get out there with your bad self, boo! There’s a world of orgasms awaiting you!)
There is, of course, no denying that we also do it for reproduction. Everyone has heard a couple hopefully announce that they’re “trying to have a baby.” Many people report growing bored of sex when doing it for the sole purpose of baby-making. Which actually segues nicely into the next topic…
01:03:19 Does reducing sex to nothing more than a function of procreation take the humanity out of it?
Yes, because we have sex for so many reasons other than procreation.
01:03:23 Is most human sex for reasons other than procreation?
Well, obviously. We actually have sex more often for human connection with a partner than we do for procreation or even pleasure. And our reasons for having sex don’t even have baby-making in the top 25, for men and women, according to a survey study conducted by researchers at the University of Texas in Austin.
01:03:57 Do we have an overpopulation problem in the world and are we really stretched thin for our resources?
This topic has created a lot of controversy that I had no idea existed. I really thought that everyone was on the same page about this - that there are clearly too many people physically in the world causing us to thin out our resources. Apparently, there are plenty of people that don’t think that is the case.
01:04:17 Is there more food today than ever before?
Yes, but that’s not stopping more people than ever from starving, as it seems Melissa was about to talk about before the subject changed to fossil fuels.
01:05:13 What about Samia’s point that fossil fuels and clean water are limited resources? And pollution and climate change?
She had no idea what she was talking about when it comes to fossil fuels, but that’s okay. Scientists don’t have clear numbers on how much fossil fuel exists in the planet that we can safely burn without having too great an impact on climate change, but it’s clear we still have a TON of fossil fuels that we haven’t touched yet.
As for clean water, there is indeed a fresh water shortage that will almost certainly cause huge problems for humanity in the not-too-distant future.
And yeah, obviously, climate change is a thing. And we humans are causing it.
But all in all, it's not clear that overpopulation is, in and of itself, a problem as of now.
01:06:00 Does Donald Trump and the GOP want to increase the use of fossil fuels?
He sure does! It’s literally his energy plan.
01:06:30 What is the Keystone pipeline and what’s the deal with that?
The Keystone XL pipeline extension is a project that would extend TransCanada’s Keystone pipeline all the way from Canada’s oil sands to our refineries in Port Arthur, TX. People who favor the project say it will create jobs. Critics say it will make it harder for the U.S. to stop being dependent on fossil fuels and will lead to environment-damaging spills.
The damage it will do to the environment extends beyond the potential for oil spills, though. Mining oil out of the Canadian oil sands is a process that emits more greenhouse gases than regular oil drilling. Greenhouse gas emissions, of course, are one of the biggest manmade expeditors of global warming.
Note from Samia: When I said I thought the Keystone pipeline situation was “a tragedy,” I admit I was getting it confused with the Dakota Access pipeline and the protests at Standing Rock. I didn’t actually know what the Keystone pipeline was until editing the fact checks for this episode. I just love acting like I know things I don’t know.
01:07:00 Is there a really a way to power engines using water as fuel? Was there really a water-powered car and did the inventor really get silenced by the government?
If this sounds like a conspiracy theory to you, too, you’re not wrong. I’m can’t find any reputable evidence that a water-powered car could even function. Most of the things I’m finding are basically saying that all claims of a water-powered car are fraudulent.
01:09:12 Are there witches and/or Satanists out there putting curses on Donald Trump?
I mean, I can think of far more people than just witches and Satanists that want to curse Donald Trump! (I crack myself up.)
But in all seriousness… Yeah, witches have been cursing the hell out of him. (Pun intended - I am on a roll today!)
I can’t find any evidence of Satanists putting curses on Trump, however. Well, this one website calls them “Satan Worshippers,” but it’s sort of difficult to take that particular website seriously. Everything I find calls them witches, which I would tend to link to the pagan religion, Wicca, but that isn’t actually mentioned by name, either.
My personal opinion? This is all a bunch of crap.
01:10:16 Are Satanists evil? Or are they really just rejecting the constraints of “patriarchal” religions? Does Samia describe Satanism pretty accurately?
Satanists aren’t evil and they are flouting the constraints and beliefs of the major world religions. Samia gets pretty close. The FAQ on the Church of Satan’s website says, “Satanists are atheists. We see the universe as being indifferent to us, and so all morals and values are subjective human constructions… Satan to us is a symbol of pride, liberty and individualism, and it serves as an external metaphorical projection of our highest personal potential. We do not believe in Satan as a being or person.”
01:12:40 Do Trump and the GOP throw around the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism”?
Not only do they almost always call it “Islamic terrorism” or “radical islamic terrorism,” but they were furious that Obama wouldn’t ever say the words. It wasn’t always this way - even once-hated-by-all-liberals President George W. Bush would not call it terrorism of a specific faith. (This is part of the reason why liberals across the U.S. are now remembering the years of Bush Junior fondly in the Trump era.)
One Republican lawmaker went so far as to say U.S. citizens should seek out anyone we suspect to be a radicalized Muslim and “kill them all.”
01:13:20 Does the Quran say to “get rid of the infidel”?
This is a classic example of Islamaphobes using a poor translation that they cherry-picked to convince others that Islam is an inherently violent religion.
01:13:24 Does the Bible promote violence and harsh punishments for minor crimes?
Yes, so much. But most Christians don't interpret the Bible literally in this regard, just as most Muslims don’t interpret the Quran literally.
The major takeaway from the linked article above is that people like to interpret things to justify actions that they don’t feel like taking direct responsibility for, and that is never how the Bible was intended to be interpreted. As a fairly anti-mainstream-religion and pro-spirituality kinda guy, I loved how much that article made me think about how almost any text should be interpreted. My favorite sentence that could apply to basically any situation in life is, “Don’t forget the rule: Never read a Bible verse. Always read a paragraph at least if you want to be confident you’re getting the right meaning of the verse.”
Here’s a great analysis of the verses in Deuteronomy that encourage violence against non-believers.
01:14:16 Do Christianity, Islam, and Judaism have the same basic principles in common?
More or less, yes. They all belong to what are called the Abrahamic religions, which include Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Bahai, among a few others.
What do they all have in common? They all believe that one all-powerful God created the universe and everything in it. They all believe in holy scriptures, or revelations delivered from God to humanity via prophets (the Bible, the Torah, the Quran, etc). They all believe in good, evil, destiny, and final judgement. And they all agree that Jerusalem is a super-special place of divine importance.
01:15:22 Is Islam an evil religion?
No more than any other major world religion could be called such. This article from Slate does a beautiful job of explaining why Islam, like the other major religions, can neither be called inherently peaceful nor inherently violent. Here’s an excerpt:
“The reality is that Islam—like Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, and other major world religions—is neither inherently violent nor inherently peaceful. Like every other great religion, the history of Islam is darkened by periods of violent bloodletting. And the holy texts of all religions can be mined for quotes to legitimize terrorism—or indeed principled nonviolence.
“Thus ISIS and other extreme Islamist radicals have no difficulty finding justification in medieval Islamic texts for their ultra-violent ideology and barbaric practices. But these extreme interpretations have minimal support among Muslims around the world and tell us nothing about the propensity for violence in mainstream Islam.”
The article goes on to explain that murder kills far more people globally than political violence, so if one wants an accurate view of whether or not Islamic societies are more or less likely to be violent, one should look at the homicide rate. Spoiler alert: the homicide rate in Islamic societies is lower than the worldwide average, and much lower than the murder rate in the United States. Read the article, seriously. It’s too good to skip. Here’s one more snippet:
“The latest homicide statistics from the U.N.’s Office on Drugs and Crime reveal that for every murder perpetrated in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim state, seven people are murdered in the United States. This reality should give American Islamophobes pause.”
Okay, last one, just because it’s so freaking important to understand this about ISIS and other terrorist groups in the Middle East:
“In the radical Islamist conflicts that are tearing apart Syria, Iraq, and other parts of the region, the exclusionary politics, state repression, rights abuses, corruption, and incompetence of the regimes that the radicals have sought to overthrow provide more compelling insights into what drives the abhorrent violence of ISIS than does the extreme Islamist ideology that seeks to legitimize the killing.”
This article contradicts what Samia says in the podcast about Islam preaching peace, saying “Islam is not an inherently peaceful religion, either.” In response to that, I’d like to send you to this great blog post from the Muslim Times, about how the Quran teaches compassionate living above all else.
01:15:31 Are liberals trying to create a distinction between the wider Muslim community and the small sect of extremists behind groups like ISIS and Al-Qaeda?
Definitely. And the reasons for it are based on facts!
01:15:59 Do the terrorists that claim the Islamic faith say Akrabar Allah whenever they employ an act of terrorism?
I think we can all forgive Melissa for botching this phrase. The phrase she is referring to is “Allahu Akbar,” also called the Takbir, which is an Islamic phrase meaning “God is great.”
This phrase is used by all Muslims to remind themselves of God’s greatness, but like the rest of the religion, it’s been hijacked by terrorist groups. This video explains the true meaning of the phrase and how it is commonly used.
01:16:40 Do we have acts of terrorism committed for reasons having to do with Christian beliefs?
Yes, and Christians think that committing violent acts is un-Christian—although they don’t think its un-Islamic if a violent act is committed by a Muslim.
Statistically speaking, domestic terrorism is a bigger threat in the United States than any other kind, and the attackers are often motivated by extremist right-wing views, often derived from the major religion of this country, Christianity. Here is a list of white supremiist terror attacks, many of which have used “Christian beliefs” as a motivation or justification. Some of them don’t mention Christianity, specifically; however, any of the ones against abortion clinics or Planned Parenthood can pretty clearly be attributed to the most conservative interpretations of that religion.
01:17:20 What’s going on with the LGBTQ community is Russia? Is it true that they had more freedom than ever before Putin took power, and now they are essentially a right-wing autocracy?
I’ll start with the plight of the LBTQ community in Russia. They are being heavily scapegoated and persecuted by the Russian government, and in Chechnya, the situation is extremely dire for gay men.
And Samia is right - before Putin became president, Russia seemed to be on its way to becoming a truly free democratic society after decades of communist rule. Thanks to Putin, Russia is now essentially an autocracy masquerading as a democracy. Their elections are not open or fair. Their economy is weak, thanks to massive corruption within Putin’s government. And they are known in the international community for thuggish, aggressive behavior, like invading Ukraine, meddling in other countries’ elections, and bolstering the regime of the brutal dictator Bashar al-Assad in Syria.
01:18:24 Does Steve Bannon really want to get rid of the Department of Education and the Environmental Protection Agency?
I can’t find anything where Steve Bannon is on record specifically saying he wants to abolish the Department of Education and the EPA, but he has said that he wants a “deconstruction of the administrative state” and that Trump’s cabinet picks were chosen because they’d be more likely to deconstruct the agencies they run.
A lot of liberals find Bannon to be pretty scary, and Saturday Night Live portrays him as the Grim Reaper.
He certainly has a frightening way of worming his way back into Trump’s inner circle, even after reportedly losing influence with Trump and being ousted from the National Security Council.
01:21:03 Is the Wiccan religion against violence, because whatever you do will come back at you threefold?
According to Wiccan morality, anything a person does will be returned to them times three. That goes for both good deeds and bad. Wiccans don’t even cast “curses;” they cast spells to bring positive changes to the world.
01:21:45 How does Donald Trump talk about women?
Here’s a list of all the sexist comments he’s ever made on the public record, all in one place.
01:22:45 What has Donald Trump said about his daughter, Ivanka, that’s so unsettling to Samia?
Here’s a list of every creepy thing Trump has ever said about his daughter, Ivanka. And yeah, he said if she weren’t his daughter, he’d “perhaps…be dating her” on The View.