Realistically speaking…

Mannion’s written a very thoughtful post on the abortion debate, taking up the task of addressing that, on the “when life begins” question, we’re all just guessing, whether our answer is “at conception” or “at birth” or anything in between. In the absence of definitive proof, one guess shouldn’t (and logically can’t) trump another, which is another way of saying that “God says so” isn’t a particularly compelling political position—although Mannion says it (as usual) much more eloquently.

One little thing was niggling at me, though…but it’s not really Mannion’s post to which I’m responding; it’s some other discussions going in various comments threads (especially this one) around here the past couple of days. This was the bit in Mannion’s post that sparked the thought, however:

And if the Supreme Court were to decide or Congress were to pass a law stating that except in cases where the mother's health was at risk, abortions should be banned, or severely restricted, after the fourth month instead of the sixth, I wouldn't be outraged.
In theory, I might not be outraged, either. (Although, in addition to provisions made for the mother’s life and health, I’d always add something about the health of the fetus; with grave deformities or other health issues that would make life outside the womb unsustainable, some of which may not always be detectable until further along, I believe the decision whether to terminate early or give birth to a baby that will inevitably quickly die after a short life of suffering is best left to its parent(s).) But theoretical arguments don’t work very well in abortion debates.

It’s to the anti-choice brigade’s credit that they have us focusing on second- and third-trimester abortions at all. They do make for great theoretical arguments, inflamed with all sorts of passion and emotion. But the reality is that second-trimester abortions account for less than 10% of all abortions, and third-trimester abortions account for less than 0.5% of all abortions. It’s quite a coup for them that we spend so much time discussing 10.5% of abortions, as if they’re of more importance than the nearly 90% of abortions that all happen within bounds with which we’re all pretty comfortable.

And then there’s the theory v. reality of that 10.5%. In theory, it’s all about making sure we address the morality of callous or indecisive women who lazily wait until their second- or third-trimester to seek out an abortion. In reality, the majority of women seeking early second-trimester abortions do so because they didn’t realize they were pregnant earlier and/or because they had problem raising the funds to pay for an abortion. (If finding a way to pay for an abortion takes a couple of weeks, pushing a woman into her second term, financial problems become increasingly complicated; second-trimester abortions can be more costly, and they require, for many women, travel costs to a state with abortion providers who perform the procedure.) And the majority of women seeking late second-trimester abortions do so for reasons relating to their own health or the health of the fetus, much like third-trimester abortions.

Here’s another little nasty reality: As of 2000, 87% of counties in America had no abortion provider, and 86 of our 276 metropolitan areas had no provider. Nearly one-third of all American women aged 15-44 lived in counties without providers. The number of providers continues to steadily decrease.

So, why, pray tell, do we spill so much ink (as it were) debating our hand-wringing concerns about second- and third-trimester abortions? Why do we discuss ad nauseam when life begins and when whatever rights we’re willing to confer to fetuses, if any, should kick in, when what we should be talking about, what we need to be talking about, is lack of access?

First, lack of access to comprehensive sex education, which decreases the incidences of unwanted pregnancies in the first place. Second, lack of access to emergency contraception, which is cheaper, among other things. Third, lack of access to safe, legal, and affordable abortion providers. If women’s inability to get cash and get to an abortion provider is one of the main contributors to delayed abortions, then our focus on the morality of second-term abortions is really putting the cart before the horse. Let’s make abortion accessible to women during any stage of their pregnancy, and then see if the whole argument isn’t a moot point.

In theory, I wouldn’t be outraged by lots of stuff—including spending endless amounts of time mounting philosophical debates about abortion (which can be very interesting). But in reality, I’m more interested in giving women the best options possible. Good information, birth control, emergency contraception, full and easy access to abortion when needed. Once we’ve got all that, I’ll spend all the time in the world debating second- and third-trimester abortions, if there’s anything left to debate.

Shakesville is run as a safe space. First-time commenters: Please read Shakesville's Commenting Policy and Feminism 101 Section before commenting. We also do lots of in-thread moderation, so we ask that everyone read the entirety of any thread before commenting, to ensure compliance with any in-thread moderation. Thank you.

blog comments powered by Disqus