Katha Pollitt

Katha Pollit (right) speaks with Weekly assistant editor Sara Rubin.

Maybe you're one of the estimated 3 million American women who drinks, has sex and isn't using birth control. Or maybe you're one of countless women who uses birth control, but whatever that method of birth control is, it's not 100-percent effective.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control released new guidelines Feb. 2 for you. Those guidelines: Quit drinking.

"Women can stop drinking alcohol if they are trying to get pregnant or could get pregnant," according to the CDC guidelines.

While the effects of fetal alcohol syndrome can be devastating and are well-documented, there's an underlying assumption that comes with medical advice of this nature: That even unplanned pregnancies—those had by the women who could get pregnant (that is to say, all women of a reproductive age who are having sex)—are worth planning for.

But in millions of cases, the plan for women is to get an abortion.

As Katha Pollitt, an award-winning writer and columnist for The Nation, whose work sometimes appears in the Weekly's opinion section, wrote about in her 2014 book Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights, we have a tendency to treat women as incubators.

She writes about 2006 guidelines by the CDC advising medical professionals to tell all fertile women and girls to practice "pre-contraception care." That included generally healthy behaviors like not smoking and controlling chronic conditions like diabetes and asthma, but also taking folic acid supplements and avoiding contact with cat feces—advice medical professionals give specifically to pregnant women to protect the fetus.

Pollitt sees a missed opportunity to focus those guidelines on better birth control options, and also a bigger problem with how we think about women who are sexually active.

"The fact that the CDC thought in terms of protecting accidental fertilized eggs from women, and not protecting women from accidental fertilized eggs shows how shallow still is the idea of women truly being in control of their fertility," she wrote.

"Pregnancy to the CDC is something that happens to them, for which, ideally they should be ready."

It's one compelling point among many that Pollitt made in her book, and then in person during a reading and discussion Jan. 22 as part of the Weekly's event series, Live at the Press Club.

Pollitt argues that state-level restrictions to abortion rights, chipping away at what Roe v. Wade guarantees, are evidence of a bigger problem—and she offers a framework to rethink the way we currently think about abortion as a society.

"It comes close to demanding that women accept grief, shame, and stigma as the price of ending a pregnancy. I want us to start thinking of abortion as a positive social good and saying this out loud," Pollitt writes.

"The anti-abortion movement has been far too successful at painting abortion as bad for women. I want to argue, to the contrary, that it is an essential option for women—not just ones in dramatic, terrible, body-and-soul-destroying situations, but all women—and thus benefits society as a whole."

Weekly photographer Nic Coury captured her Jan. 22 event on video, and has edited it down to highlights (and a longer version of Pollitt's 11-minute reading from her book). It's a chance to revisit her message—and the event, in case you missed it.

You can also check out our Q&A with Pollitt about reproductive rights

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Sara Rubin loves long public meetings, red pens and reading (on newsprint). She has been editor of the Monterey County Weekly since 2016, and has been on staff since 2010.

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