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Privacy and consent; early notes, appropriate uses and co-optations of the terms – part I – Introduction

These posts are going to try to begin to address some of my underlying assumptions about how these concepts both do and do not inter-relate with the adoption field. They are backgrounder, or basic building block concept posts that underlie a fair amount of my writing, and will probably be referred to from time to time throughout my writing. I’ve been promising to get to these for quite some time so for a number of reasons, now seems an appropriate time.

I’m not trying to do an end all be all of posts on these topics though. These are merely what I’m calling “early notes.” I want to discuss some aspects related to these topics, but these “notes” are by no means going to be comprehensive nor a complete overview.

That said, before I can even get to the concepts themselves, I’ve come to the (somewhat unfortunate) conclusion that in order to explain my approach I first must explain part of my own story of how I got here. Hence, this part one, “Introduction” portion.


As some of my regular readers are aware, I’ve spent much of my adult life in the field of reproductive autonomy related work, specifically writing about and working on increasing access to abortion services.

I approach both my reproductive autonomy work, and somewhat separately, my adoption/Bastard related work from a radical (or “to the root”) feminist standpoint. Much of my analysis hinges upon womyn’s roles relating to reproduction and child rearing, ways in which womyn’s autonomy is both expressed and intentionally restrained.

Unlike some in the adoption field (on both sides of the abortion deep divide), I make great effort to not falsely conflate aspects of the abortion field into adoption related work. The two are altogether chronologically separate portions the first relating to the reproductive process, then the second portion relating to the day to day child-rearing process. I have graphed this all out on paper, explaining the differences visually, at various points in explaining the basis of it to others, but for the purposes of the web and blogging, I do not have those notes and visual graphics available, (yet anyway.) That’s another “building block” sort of a post for another day.

I’ve often spoken about how blogging forms a kind of ‘coming in in the middle’ and then having to back up and explain the concepts taken as underlying assumptions to those conclusions. These posts about privacy and consent are on the one hand building block concepts, yet ultimately, they too, in turn also rely upon other sets of assumptions that I have yet to spell out for the purposes of blogging. As always, I am starting in the middle, these posts are a form of compromise in that sense.

For the sake of this series, though, I’ll simply refer to abortion as chronologically a portion of the pregnancy or lack thereof portion of the reproductive process, and adoption as chronologically a portion of the day to day child rearing, or lack thereof portion of the process, what I have termed at times the “parenting” process.

That said, I work with the underlying assumption that any womyn who has given birth regardless of whether or not she is able to do the day to day child-rearing certainly qualifies as a parent. This is one of those places where the English language fails. These womyn are most certainly parents, yet many are either self removed from, or deprived of day in and day out child-rearing responsibilities and the legal status of “parent” in the broader culture.

Men of course, are also in here. For me birth is clearly the dividing line. Prior to birth there is no child. Post birth there is. Post birth you have male parents/fathers with their own sets of rights, as well as the rights of the child him or herself.

In the reproductive process a womyn only has two paths that are in any form even potentially “under her control;” bearing to term or aborting. While miscarriages are common, perhaps occurring in as many as 1 in 4 pregnancies prior to the six week mark, miscarriage is not a process usually considered under a womyn’s personal control.

In the chronologically separate period, post birth, who will who have day to day custody of the child and who will in effect raise the child is determined.

I do not consider these “choices” as for many womyn, as these “decisions” are not “choices” they are enabled or allowed to make. Whether the pressures be economic, access of lack thereof, or court ordered, for some number of womyn, their reproductive processes and eventual post birth child-rearing “choices” are perhaps more aptly characterized by a distinct lack of options and lack of “choices.” Back in 1999 I wrote an early draft of some of my thinking on the consumerist marketing term “choice” and some of the reasons I dismiss it as a strategy.

While it is difficult to write about both abortion and adoption in language that does not intrinsically assume womyn’s free agency, (womyn having choices or decisions in these matters) the reality is some number of womyn genuinely do not enjoy the assumption of autonomy required to place these outcomes into the realm of “choices.” Womyn are forced into both carrying to term and abortions by lack of financial alternatives. “Parental rights” (by which I really mean day to day decisions and legal authority in child-rearing) are routinely stripped from parents deemed for one reason or another unworthy of their “parenthood,” be that with cause (such as abuse) or merely because they are impoverished.

To then assume that all outcomes are grounded firmly in autonomously made “choices” then merely hides the realities many womyn face. End results cannot be assumed to be the result of a consensual process grounded in “choices”, “decisions” or other means by which womyn express their own authentic desires.

First and foremost among those reasons to reject the language of “choice” must be that it hides the authentic voices and experiences of womyn.

“It was your (reproductive) choice” has been used repeatedly to cover over and silence the experiences of womyn who non-consensually lost their children to adoption. (Note the conflation, of pre-birth pregnancy/reproductive period and the post birth child-rearing period inherent to such.)

Likewise, it also covers over the experiences of womyn who wanted access to abortion but were unable to gain access. Thus children, by the mere evidence of their existence, are then at times falsely assumed to have been “wanted” or a product of a “choice.” This has led to Compulsory Pregnancy Advocates’ slogans that assume a child was “chosen” merely based upon existence of said child, such as “chose life your mother did.” Such slogans are actively used to hide information, such as cases wherein one’s mother may have wanted an abortion, but may have lacked access at the time to carry through on her desired course of action. As these are things often not conveyed to said resultant unintended or undesired children after the fact, the realities of the situation remain hidden, and via the mere evidence of a one time child’s existence, consent to the pregnancy is then assumed.

Realities tend to be far more complex, but usually remain hidden or silenced. After all, most womyn do not feel they have the ability to speak candidly with their offspring about what they may or may not have wanted at the time.

Nor is adoption any portion of a reproductive process. Some will attempt to conflate adoption into the reproductive period, be that from an abortion supportive perspective or from a compulsory pregnancy centered perspective, but such conflations rely upon the central lie of equating a pregnancy to a born child. Pushing womyn towards an eventual expected adoption while they are still in pregnancy is to make determinations on the eventual disposition of a (for some) hoped for outcome, not yet a reality.

Much of what I will be discussing in parts II and III relies upon my own grounding in and background in the womyn’s health movement or (WHM.) The Womyn’s Health Movement has been a blend of both a Feminist pro-active continuation of womyn’s ongoing roles in health care provision, and a direct response to the inadequacies, gaps, and at times outright misogyny in the provision of medical care.

witchesmidwivesnurses.jpgMany of my underlying assumptions pertaining to the field relate to the historical rise of the originally exclusionary of womyn male based professionalized and certified health establishment. Imperfect as it may be, works such as Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English’s “Witches, Midwives and Nurses: A History of Women Healers” (along with their other similar writings) provides a brief overview of of the rise of “professionalized” medicine and what it meant to the pre-existing class of womyn healers.

I should also mention before we begin that I approach the reproductive autonomy and abortion work not as a “pro-choice” advocate, but as from a radical (“to the root”) feminist abortion law repeal stance.

I’ve written a fair amount through the years about where I come out on all of this from my pro-abortion stance to my pro-repeal work. Without going into all that here, I’ll simply point readers across towards two materials that have helped shape my ‘bedrock assumptions:’


Firstly, “Abortion without Apology: A Radical History for the 1990s” by Ninia Baehr.

Secondly, Lucinda (Cindy) Cisler’s vitally important essay, “Abortion law repeal (sort of): a warning to women,” which fortunately a version of can be found online.

Taken together, the two of these sum up much of my stance in less than 100 pages.

As we move on into parts II and III, these are some of the materials that under-gird my thinking. Written materials, though are only a portion of my approach. Much of how I approach privacy, consent, abortion and adoption has far more to do with the practical applications out in the real world.

My understandings of a subset of privacy, “patient confidentiality” cannot help but be formed through having spent enough Saturday mornings across this country documenting compulsory pregnancy advocates (CPAs) for example logging every license plate entering a Florida clinic’s parking lot over the course of years, or CPAs standing on ladders to videotape womyn over womyn’s health center fences so they could put the womyn’s pictures online in an effort to shame them.

I’ve spent the majority of my adult life enmeshed in the finer points of what these words mean in real life practice.

This is also very likely why I have not written on them before now, and why I fully recognize these posts are going to be mere sketches, of the concepts, far from complete.

For me, there is no conflation betwixt the realms of abortion and adoption and how terms like privacy and consent both at times do and do not apply within each. Unfortunately, however, individuals such as Bill Pierce, the former head of the National Council for Adoption (an institutionalized voice of the adoption industry just outside DC) made a career of building intentional conflations. Far too many people who should know better have been suckered in by the conflationary rhetoric down through the years, so for that reason alone, it is long past time to begin to try to pull apart these false memes.

2 Responses to “Privacy and consent; early notes, appropriate uses and co-optations of the terms – part I – Introduction”

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