Tuesday, September 23, 2008


Abortion is a touchy subject, particularly for women. It kills women and it kills would-be babies. It goes to the core of what it means to be a woman, and the number one function that society proclaims women should perform.

So it makes a lot of sense - particularly from a feminist point of view - why society recoils from giving women the right to abort. Women are mothers. Women are not CEOs, women are not vice presidents, women are not database administrators, women are not atheletes. Women are mothers. Society is uncomfortable with women who choose to remain childless. A newly wedded woman is often asked, "When is the baby coming?" as if there is no other alternative. An infertile woman is seen as broken, unworthy, something less than other women (and, similarly, a sterile man is seen as something less than manly).

Please note, before I go on, that I am not going to delve into some of the typical arguments for and against legalizing abortions, mostly because I don't see them as relevant (such as when a fetus is considered a living baby with rights, memory, etc.).

But pro-lifers and pro-choicers can agree on a couple of things:
  • Abortions are bad. Abortions are harmful. Abortions are (or should be) unnecessary. Abortions should be a last ditch resort and should be avoided.
  • The reality that - illegal or not - abortions will always be an option. We have the technology, we have people willing to perform them, and we certainly have a plethora of pregnant women that don't want to be mothers (and are even willing to perform the abortion themselves if necessary). This is the grim reality.
  • Sex is a fundamental, instinctual human function. Remember that the biological reason humans are on this planet is to procreate, and that makes the instinct to do just that very strong. Remember that society relies upon women to be mothers; the instinct to do what is required in order to be a mother (or father) will always be there. (Unless you're gay; but that's another story for another time.)
But, that brings us to the question. Outlaw them or legalize them? Here is the way I see it:

"Tens upon tens of thousands" of women died from illegal abortions before Roe v. Wade, according to SocialistWorker.org. In 1932, a study estimated that 15,000 women died each year, more to the infection and hemorrhaging that followed than the abortion itself. "Because of the fear of being punished and socially ostracized, many women - and their doctors - kept their real condition a secret." The same fear of being punished also explains why we can only estimate the number of deaths caused by abortion - so "tens upon tens of thousands" could actually be much greater. After Roe v. Wade was decided, deaths from botched abortions dramatically dropped. People that support the overturning of Roe v. Wade perhaps don't realize that not only will fetuses continue to be aborted, but their mothers will more than likely die too. Remember that we already agreed that abortions will continue to happen, illegal or not. That means that nearly twice as many will die if abortions are outlawed, because we are assuming that the same "tens upon tens of thousands" of abortions will continue as they did before Roe v. Wade. And those deaths are not clean, not painless, but cruel, gruesome, and perfectly avoidable. So it's not a question of "who's life do you value more?" Abortions will continue whether you outlaw it or not; it's a question of saving the aborting women. And if we outlaw contraception completely - the numbers will skyrocket.

History has shown us that providing the public with choices works out a lot better in the end than removing options. The prohibition movement is an excellent example - women called for alcohol to be outlawed because it caused their husbands to lose their jobs, stay at the bar all night, etc, not to mention that it was dangerous to drink anyway because there was no government regulation of it. In the end, of course, we legalized alcohol, and I do not hear anyone complaining or rallying to outlaw it again. We legalized it, regulated it, and then educated people to use it properly (or not at all). There are plenty of people that drink responsibly. There are plenty of people that don't. But the choice is there, and even people that refuse to drink at all don't feel the need to condemn or punish other people for their use of it.

I feel that the same will eventually happen with abortion. (And marijuana, but again, that's another article for another day.) I think we should take the same steps with abortion that we did with alcohol.

Keep it legal, regulate it well, and eliminate the "tens upon tens of thousands" of deaths to come if Roe v. Wade is overturned. I recognize that this does not mean that babies will stop dying (and they haven't). But it does mean that the vast majority of their mothers will stop dying. We are now at the final and probably the most important step in the process: education.

We agreed that abortions are bad and it's something to be avoided, whether you're pro-life or pro-choice. Education is something that both camps can work on and champion together. If we educate people about contraception, STDs, HIV/AIDS, and all of the consequences of having unprotected, thoughtless sex, then we can further eliminate the numbers of abortions, because we are providing people with alternate choices. We already know that abstinence-only education does not work. It's been proven, time and time again. (I will edit this later with some links to studies.) It only makes things worse. And, again, outlawing contraception will worsen the situation further.

On a related note, mandating doctors and clinics to perform abortions should not be necessary. If you are pro-life and refuse to be treated by a doctor that performs abortions - that's fine. There's no reason you shouldn't be able to see a different doctor, because that is your right. I suspect that there are enough supporting practitioners to provide the service without having to mandate it - though the number is dropping, I've read. Perhaps state- and federally-funded hospitals should be mandated to offer abortions; I don't know. We can cross that bridge when we come to it.

And if none of this is relevant to you because your religious background tells you that abortions and contraceptives are sinful and that you should not use either in any situation, then that's also fine. Don't use contraceptives and don't get abortions. That's your right. But it is definitely not your right to tell me that I cannot either.

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