Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Pro-Choice is Pro-Women


by Caryn Hunt

On the subject of abortion, we need to grow up as a society. Pregnancies don’t always go as hoped for. Birth control doesn’t always work.

Women are adults- half the population, half the workforce in the US, yet women are only 17% of Congress, hardly fair representation. And it shows, because it’s hard for some politicians to treat women as autonomous adults and full citizens. Women give birth to all of the babies. Thus they must have all of the say over what happens within their own bodies. This is every woman’s right as a human.

The bottom line on abortion is this: as long as birth control is not 100% effective or 100% accessible in the first place, as long as our youth are not taught the facts of life and stumble ignorantly into sexual activity, as long as pregnancies can become unpredictably complicated and life-threatening, or the fetus can develop in such a way as to not be viable outside the womb, abortion will remain a necessity for women. Legal abortion means women will not die or become infertile due to unsafe procedures. Access to abortion means women, not the state, are in charge of their reproductive function.

Passions burn hot on the subject of abortion. But it is far from a black and white issue. Abortion is a serious choice, but women choose abortion for many reasons. You can’t know why one woman chooses abortion and another one chooses to continue her pregnancy. The real point is, it’s her pregnancy, not the state’s, not anyone else’s. You can have an opinion about it, but it’s not your decision to make.

Michelle Goldberg, in her book Means of Reproduction describes how in countries where total abortion bans exist, pregnant women are treated as criminals. If they come to the hospital with a miscarriage, there is a police investigation. If the doctor has to choose between the health of the baby and the health of the woman, guess who’s out of luck? In one case, she documented a woman with an ectopic pregnancy, the fetus was developing within the woman’s fallopian tube and would never make it to term. The doctor refused to abort before the fallopian tube was ruptured, for fear he would be prosecuted as a criminal. Instances like these illustrate the absurdities women are forced to live with because of the religious opinions of their lawmakers. Unfortunately, heaping misery on women for being women is nothing new.

I recently heard of a couple where the woman became pregnant. Both she and her boyfriend were attending community college and hadn’t insurance. They were living with the woman’s mother and she was supporting them on $1000/month. Medicaid was covering the prenatal visits. At a routine ultrasound, the couple found out the fetus had developed anencephaly, where the brain and skull do not develop normally, and that, carried to term, the baby would not live more than a few hours. The couple chose abortion.

A routine abortion could not be performed due to the excess fluid surrounding the fetus; the procedure would require a hospital stay costing more than $3000. Because Medicaid is mandated not to cover abortion, this couple was on the hook to come up with the full amount. Luckily a service agency stepped in and helped to raise the funds.

But so often, this is not the case. So often, women who rely on Medicaid are forced to bear children they don’t want and aren’t equipped emotionally or financially to care for, simply because they cannot afford an abortion. Here’s a link to an article by a doctor talking about these instances. This is just one account. They are, however, ubiquitous, because 1 in every 4 women will have an abortion at some point in their lives, 60% of those women are already taking care of children, according to the Guttmacher Institute, and trying to do what’s best for the family they already have. Like it or not, access to safe and legal abortion is a necessity for women of reproductive age. Abortion cannot be separated out from women’s reproductive health needs, it is part of a continuum of reproductive rights that should be guaranteed women. Reproductive rights are human rights for women.

We don’t live in a perfect world and there is no chance for us to be perfect in it. Women bear the children, and they also bear the brunt of our society’s aversion to discussing what that entails, whether it be the biological specifics or just how in heck women are supposed to support themselves and their families and communities when they continue to be underpaid, underrepresented in government, and their contributions to society undervalued. Together we need to continue to raise these issues in public dialogue, and to give women their due justice and equality so women themselves are empowered to be the stewards of their own fertility.

(originally posted on FeministFieldGuide.com)

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