Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Is "unbiased abortion counseling" a unicorn?

Yesterday, an article by SPL member Sarah Terzo appeared on Live Action News, entitled "Abortion clinic counseling: rhetoric vs. reality." In it, she describes insider accounts of supposedly "non-directive" counseling at abortion facilities that is anything but. The "counselors" emphasize the negative aspects of parenthood, evade questions about prenatal development, and make their sale.

This comes as no real surprise to pro-lifers, of course. But it got me thinking about the supposed virtue of the "unbiased" approach.

Forget about whether or not non-directive counseling is desirable for a moment. Obviously pro-lifers are all for directing people away from killing human beings. Today I ask you: is the famed "non-directive, unbiased, non-judgmental" counseling on abortion even possible? I posit that it is not. It is a unicorn, long thought to exist somewhere (at Planned Parenthood? dream on), but ultimately a figment of the imagination.

Most people have an opinion one way or the other about the moral acceptability of abortion. Why is it that only those who are pro-life are considered "biased"? Well, a pro-choicer might say, the counselors Sarah Terzo described were really pro-abortion, not pro-choice. A truly pro-choice person could treat all the options equally. That's right, but treating all the options equally creates a bias of its own. If abortion is the taking of a human life, it should be off the table. Treating it as the equal of parenting or adoption speaks volumes.

Perhaps, you suggest, only those few people who have no opinion one way or the other are qualified to give unbiased counseling. As a practical matter, those individuals are highly unlikely to become pregnancy counselors. But the bigger problem is that they'd be useless. Women who are considering abortion want to talk about the moral dimensions. If all the counselor can offer back is "I don't know, how do you feel?" it's hardly counseling at all. It's a woman talking to herself.

How about a just-the-facts approach? "These are the risks. This is how the procedure will be done. This is what the fetus is like at X weeks. These are the programs offering alternatives." I'm all for this, but I suspect abortion facility owners are not. It sounds a lot like the informed consent laws championed by pro-lifers, funny enough. (And it suffers from the same weakness mentioned above, stripping counseling of its appropriate moral dimension.)

I put the question to the community of readers, both pro-life and not. What is your abortion counseling ideal? And are these ideals attainable?


Sarah said...

One option would be two counselors that work together. If they could agree to politely disagree, they could each share their side with the potential mother. I realize that this complicates things even further, but I really don't think that "unbiased" counseling could really exist.

Kelsey said...

Interesting idea. I hadn't thought of that.

LevelUpPlease said...

I think there is a level of professionalism needed to be unbiased in the sense that the counselor does not lead the woman in one direction or another. A good counselor get a person to open up and discover what for themselves it is that is troubling them AND what they really want to do. It is not a counselor's job to lead, judge or force a person to agree with their opinion on a position. It is to provide the facts (best approach IMO) and guidance.

Max said...

I'm not sure unbiased counselling is possible, and even if it, I'm not sure that it is preferable anyway.

People have biases and I don't see how I could really engage with another human if I deny what it is that makes me me. I think a better model is one in which the woman directs the sort of counseling she wants and the counselor tries to help the woman in the way the woman wants.

Does she want a just-the-facts approach? Then the counselor should try to provide that. Does she want to talk about the moral dimensions? By all means then, talk about that. Does she want support, emotional or financial or otherwise, so she doesn't feel forced to have an abortion? Again, the counselor, to the best of her ability, should provide that.

And while its probably not possible for people to be unbiased, counselors should at least try not to make it all about themselves and what the counselor wants.

So, counselors at PP shouldn't say things like no one ever regrets having an abortion, or that 24 week fetuses don't look a whole lot like babies or that if you have the baby your life will really suck. If they say those things, shame on them.

And, counselors at crisis pregnancy centers shouldn't say that birth control is a form of slavery, or that abortion causes cancer, or that God will hate you if you have an abortion. If they say those things, shame on them.

argent said...

This is an interesting article, and I'm not sure whether I agree or disagree. On the one hand, the very act of counseling a pregnant person while disregarding the life of their child is ridiculously biased and bigoted. On the other hand, if we consider the ideal of counseling to be a process that maximizes the chances of the pregnant person making the decision that most advances their own interests, I think that might be possible.

I have myself received counseling on making reproductive choices--you know, the kind that are actually reproductive choices rather than "should I kill this human being who already exists?" I was directly asked what my moral beliefs regarding contraception were, and I was in a setting where I could feel comfortable answering either way. Because of that second point, I feel that any "unbiased" counseling would necessarily have to take place outside of an abortion facility setting. I feel that a thorough explanation of both the biological facts and the steps that would be involved in each path would be sufficient, or at least, would save lives and consciences compared to what we have now. But the article's contention that no person could be found who would be suitable for the task also seems reasonable....

M said...

There is no such thing as a "100% non-subjective" counseling, I believe. And I'm glad there isn't: that means we're still capable of acting as human beings and not robots, that we care.

If a friend or someone of my family were to take a risky action, I can't just tell them "this is what you're doing and these are the risks, do whatever you want"; I care more than enough about my loved ones as to advice them not to do something dangerous and harmful. Or if a patient of mine is a smoker: should I play "Google doc" and merely tell him "smoking can cause various types of cancer, heart diseases and many other severe conditions, do whatever you want", or do I care enough about my patient as to strongly advice him to quit smoking for his own good (in a respectful way, needless to say)? Let alone when we're talking about abortion, in which at least two people end up damaged (one dies and the other is left alone to deal with the consequences, if she doesn't end up dying too).

Women seek counseling not because they want to engage in a monologue with themselves while the counselor just nods and says "I don't know, what do you think/how do you feel?"; they seek counseling because they want a second opinion in the first place, they want the facts and they want the options and, why not, they want someone to listen to them, to offer advice, someone who actually cares for them and their situtation - not just some mute statue that has really nothing to say besides from giving information they could very well find for themselves on the internet.

We have a moral and ethical duty to explain the facts and offer alternatives (things they're not quite likely to find at abortion clinics). They deserve to know what our position on this matter is, they deserve to have this second opinion they are seeking and to know there are other ways, that we are willing to help them find these other ways, they deserve to know that we care enough as to offer advice instead of just listening passively as if she was all on her own.

Unborn children are human beigns (with whom we also have a moral and ethical obligation by the way), that's a scientifical fact; and the risks associated with an abortion are a medical fact too. If we are truly prolife and not just anti-abortion, if we truly care about women, if we're not just some "Google counselors" that merely repeat information without caring about what happens to that woman afterwards, we have the moral and ethical duty to advice her not to undergo an abortion and to offer appropiate alternatives to help her in her particular situation.

At least that's what I think. Perhaps I'm being somehow "biased myself", in the sense that I tend to think more like a healthcare professional than a counselor, but putting that aside, I believe that if we truly care about someone else's well-being, we have a moral obligation to respectfully advice them what we believe is best for them, and to discourage them from making decisions that we know to be dangerous or harmful.

Considering said...

I don't know if you can have it be 100% unbiased but I suspect that women looking for information generally have an idea of what they want to do anyway and are now looking for additional facts on risks

That said I think any counselor should be up front about their personal bias so that they woman understand that they are approaching it from a particular POV and be able to accept if the woman then decides if she feels uncomfortable continuing the conversation them and would like a counselor with a different bias, or be able to accept if the woman hears them out and then decides to go a different way then they are promoting