Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Anti-Abortion, Anti-Abortion Bans   3 comments

Starting with an uncomplicated, uncontroversial blog post would be weak, right?

I’ve been thinking about this intensely since I read this post on Stuff Christians Like. I didn’t mean to get all into it, but I simply couldn’t stop myself from commenting on the second page. And then I got a little bit riled up and made some long posts about abortion and babies and women and the legal system. That was actually what prompted me to finally decide to start a blog of my own, so I thought a more complete, less-riled version of my thoughts might be a good first post.

I’ll try to “begin at the beginning and go on until the end: then stop”, as the Queen of Hearts would advise.

At the core of my pro-choice stance is this: I do not believe that the legal system ought to enforce a moral code. I believe the entire purpose of government, legislation and the justice system is to make society as free and as safe as possible for all persons to pursue happy, healthy lives. Thus, I don’t want laws in place that restrict freedom without making anyone safer, happier or healthier, and that’s why I’m against making abortion illegal.

Laws against abortion do not prevent abortion.

You may not be familiar with this idea. If it shocks you, take a deep breath and relax and try to stay with me.

Laws against abortion do not prevent abortion.

This report [“Induced abortion: estimated rates and trends worldwide”, 2007, The Lancet, doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(07)61575-X] states that “unrestrictive abortion laws do not predict a high incidence of abortion, and by the same token, highly restrictive abortion laws are not associated with low abortion incidence. Indeed, both the highest and lowest abortion rates were seen in regions where abortion is almost uniformly legal under a wide range of circumstances.” Previous studies like this one [“Relationships Between Contraception and Abortion: A Review of the Evidence”, 2003, International Family Planning Perspectives] cite access to, and effective and widespread education as to the proper use of, contraceptives as the factor with the strongest correlation with low abortion rates. At the time of the study, in places where abortion rates were high and abortion was legal, the high rates could generally be explained by fluctuations in fertility rates and poor access to/education about contraceptive methods.

Laws against abortion do not prevent abortion.

What prevents abortion?

Access to and education about contraception is clearly extremely important. People have sex. Lots and lots of people who are in no position to have children have sex. There is no way that is going to stop. Increased usage of condoms is a really great thing, and should continue, especially because protection from STIs is also important. However, I’d also really love to see more women, and especially young girls, have knowledge of and access to contraceptive methods that they control independently of their partners and that are more effective because they’re easier to use correctly (i.e., the Pill, which has only an 8% failure rate with “typical use” versus condoms’ 15%).

In addition to contraceptive access, I’m convinced America needs much better and more comprehensive sex education in general. Our entire society has some really messed-up ways of thinking about sex, and I really believe we’d be better off, and people who aren’t ready for children would be much less likely to have unprotected sex (or practice other risky and irresponsible sexual behaviors) if we did a lot more to help young people learn about what constitutes healthy, safe and positive sexual behavior. Teach young adults to respect their sexual partners; teach them that sex while impaired beyond reasoning under the influence of substances is not okay; teach them that sexual activity is only acceptable with enthusiastic, positive consent; teach them that using sex to gain power over someone is wrong.

However, unexpected pregnancies still happen. Part of the reason that abortion bans don’t stop abortion is that our culture makes carrying, birthing and raising children incredibly expensive–there are high costs for a woman, in terms of money, time, energy and sacrifices made to so many other important parts of life like friendships, marriages and career. Add those costs to the psychological trauma of massive amounts of judgment faced by women who get pregnant unexpectedly, especially if they’re young, poor, women of color and/or otherwise marginalized, and they will often, understandably, panic when faced with an unintended pregnancy.

In places where abortion is banned, legal repercussions, even harsh punishments, are extremely unlikely to outweigh an unexpectedly-pregnant woman’s terror. Women in a desperate and vulnerable position are going to take the option that gives them a chance of having the life they want–if the options are “have the baby which will ruin my life” and “have an abortion which will only ruin my life if someone finds out about it and presses charges”, a woman is probably going to choose the latter. I’d rather avoid that dichotomy.

I’d rather see our society make it less prohibitively expensive to carry, birth and raise children. This means, for one important part of the solution, making it easier for a woman to put her child up for adoption without necessarily cutting off all ties, as that can be really difficult as well. This means parental leave and access to decent childcare for everyone. This means access to decent health care for everyone, without ruinous costs. This means improvements in schools, so that underprivileged expectant mothers don’t have to worry about whether their hypothetical kid can get a useful education. This means decent housing for families. With perhaps the most urgency of all, this means resources for women to leave abusive and dangerous domestic situations–women who are afraid their partners will harm them if they reveal that they are pregnant, or who are afraid to raise children in their homes because they believe their partner will abuse the children, are pretty likely to terminate a pregnancy.

Some of these points lead me to another reason I don’t want abortion to be illegal. Laws against abortion not only do not prevent abortion, but they also indicate significant increases in rates of complications from abortions. Worldwide, 67,000 deaths are caused by unsafe abortions; that’s 13% of all pregnancy- and childbirth-related deaths. Far more of these deaths occur in places where abortion is illegal than in places where it is legal. Legalization allows for regulation, and it allows practitioners to obtain proper training, standardized equipment and safe conditions.

Additionally, far more of these deaths happen to poor women, women of color and women who are otherwise oppressed. It’s bad for everyone–under a legal prohibition, the wealthy and privileged will continue to abort pregnancies, but at exorbitant cost, generally with less-than-ideal conditions and always at risk of manipulation by practitioners. However, the poor, marginalized and oppressed don’t have wads of cash to give to black-market doctors, so they will have friends perform the procedure, they will try to induce miscarriage through physical and/or chemical trauma, they will turn over any funds they do have to snake-oil salesmen. Again, the chance of legal repercussions probably won’t do much to dissuade women who want abortions, or the medical professionals (or not) who want to practice abortion (whether they do it to exploit vulnerable women for a quick buck, or they actually want to help women avoid terrible consequences). It’s not prohibitively difficult to run a black-market practice and hide it from the government–used to be done all the time in the U.S. and it still is done in areas where there are a lot of restrictions. It’s even easier to look up the procedure on the Internet and have a friend perform it with whatever tools are on hand.

I don’t want these things to happen. Laws that set up these sorts of circumstances are laws that do the exact opposite of what I want my legal system to do: make a society that is free and safe for all persons to pursue happy, healthy lives. They are doubly offensive to me as they have a disproportionate negative effect on the oppressed.

Obviously, by definition abortion restrictions have a disproportionate negative effect on the oppressed as they most directly impact women. That’s one of the other reasons I’m pro-choice. Because political platforms that support abortion bans rarely support all the other measures that I believe are necessary to effect real change in the rate of abortions, I regard laws prohibiting abortion as a misguided, nominal-only attempt at protecting fetuses while actually, practically, real-world-ily perpetuating misogyny. Banning abortion is one more way to control women, one more way to limit their choices, one more way to keep women from determining the path of their own lives.

When everyone in our society views women as autonomous individuals, capable of making their own decisions and caring for their own bodies and inherently valuable and worthy of respect, then women will be vastly more free to make responsible choices about sex, pregnancy and childbearing. When everyone in our society treats women this way, men will cease to rape and abuse women and otherwise use sex, pregnancy and childbearing to control them. Both these attitudes are intrinsically valuable, and both can contribute to a society with fewer unplanned pregnancies and fewer abortions.

So, I support pro-choice candidates and policies. They are opposed to the abortion bans that I believe cause really bad problems, and they support measures to create the kind of parent-friendly, child-friendly, woman-friendly culture I’ve envisioned–a culture in which unexpected pregnancies happen less often, and an unexpected pregnancy doesn’t seem like it means the end of the world for so many women.

Personally, I don’t think I would have an abortion. The personhood of a fertilized egg/blastocyst/embryo/fetus is a pretty murky issue to my mind, scientifically and theologically and philosophically–that’s why basically all my thinking on this issue is about the political system, what the laws accomplish and what I want them to accomplish. A lot of the Scriptures that are cited about the sanctity of life don’t appear as clear-cut to me as some people think they are. That’s part of the reason I don’t identify with evangelical pro-lifers who insist that a human person has been created as soon as a sperm fertilizes an egg. But as a Christian, I want to err on the side of life and God. I understand that I’m privileged in about as many ways as this world has to offer, except for my femaleness, and I further know that if, God forbid, I were ever impregnated against my will, the Lord would provide me with the strength and resources to survive the pregnancy and make the best decision for the baby. These two factors combined, both tremendous blessings from God, mean that it would probably never be life-ruining for me to bear an unexpected child.

Part of erring on the side of life is also my desire for the number of abortions worldwide to decrease. I truly do not want innocent souls that have been created in the image of God to die, and as long as I think that’s a possibility with any termination of pregnancy I will long for abortions to stop. But not everyone has the blessings that I have that would enable me to make such a difficult choice, if I found myself in such difficult circumstances. Not everyone follows my Jesus and believes my Bible. I don’t want my government to try to make them behave as if they do. I want my government and my legal system to create a society where everyone is free and safe to pursue a happy, healthy life. All the evidence that I see makes a case that legal prohibition of abortion works directly counter to that goal. That’s why I’m anti-abortion bans.


Posted July 27, 2010 by skreps in Faith, Hot-Button Issues, Politics