American citizens live in a world of obscene privilege. We have access to things like clean water, indoor plumbing, limitless food, the iPad, and Starbucks all of which signify our status of wealth and luxury. Above the material items we commonly enjoy, there are other intangible privileges; most notable among them, are the rights guaranteed to us by the Constitution and Bill of Rights. We can speak freely, express ourselves, and pursue happiness to almost any end without having to topple a dictator. All of these rights share the purpose of honoring human life, autonomy and choice.
Though brilliant in its conception, the Constitution, a well-weathered slip of hemp parchment paper stained with quill-applied ink that provides us these unerring rights, is constantly under attack. If you browse the news cycle of any period in American history, you would find thousands of stories that document the pruposed legislations that have sought to remove us from our rights. Most commonly endangered are the first amendment guaranteed rights to freedom of speech and expression. However, a quick browse through the news of today will be an introduction to the war against abortive services.
While there is no such thing as a right to an abortion, we do have a fourteenth amendment guaranteed right to privacy, which allows us the use of abortive services thanks to 1973 Supreme Court case Roe v Wade. These rights were reaffirmed and further defined by the 2000 Supreme Court case Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey.
For those of us born after 1973, we have no idea of what life was like for women before the Supreme Court laid their decision on history books. Being born in 1987 with male genitalia, I am a full generation and gender removed from the firsthand struggles of pre-1973 women. However, through firsthand accounts and historical writings I can tell you of the horrors that an unwanted or accidental pregnancy could have led to in those days.
Because abortions were illegal, women would need to seek out so-called “back alley” abortions. Illegal and therefore unregulated, unscrupulous medical practitioners and scared women used coat hangers, knitting needles, Lysol and dangerous herbal remedies to end pregnancies. The use of these techniques led to infections and other trauma, which caused the unnecessary deaths of thousands of women.
If a woman sought treatment for condition that could have been an abortive complication, they were subject to highly invasive, compromising and 5th ammendmant trampling interrogations. These women were forced to reveal the identities of the doctor, father, nurses, and any other involved parties, before they could receive treatment. If there was no one willing to intervene many woman who declined to incriminate themselves were left for dead.
Those who gave in, would become whipping children for the state. Their faces and lives would be plastered on the front page of on every news source in a given city. This was a mechanism to shame and warn any woman of her fate if she were to seek an end to any pregnancy. In a time where your reputation as an “unspoiled” woman is the only worth you have to potential male suitor, public exposure could have meant that these women would spend their lives as outcasts, destitute and abandoned by society.
Today abortions are simple and safe medical procedures. The mortality rate is astoundingly low, for abortions performed before the eighth week of pregnancy it is one in one million. That rate does increase over the course of the pregnancy rising to to 1 in 11,000 after week twenty.
That may be disquieting but you have a greater chance of being struck by lightning - 1 in 6250 - than dying from an abortive complication. These statistics are comforting for those of us with access to these services. For those forced to seek other options, they risk becoming one of the 72,000 women worldwide who die annually due to complications from illegal abortions. Even as the global numbers of abortions decrease, illegal abortions still account for half of all abortions performed each year.
Unlike many other abortive debaters, I am not gifting you this information in the hopes that it will scare you into favorable submission; instead I share this information with you to make a point that would otherwise be nearly impossible to make. That point, we cannot go back.
As is their right, see the first amendment, the majority of opponents to abortive practices object because it violates their moral or religious code. Despite the fact that I am of a different viewpoint, under different circumstances, I would be championing these people as models for moral steadfastness and integrity. However, in this situation, I find their arguments equally lacking in validity and responsibility as well as their tactics to be deplorable and morally reprehensible.
Opponents to abortive practices claim that they are concerned with saving children, stopping “child abuse,” serving god’s word or fighting for other options such as adoption. The reality of their fight is that they do not want any of those things. If their reasoning for opposing abortive practices were as they claim then their ends would be better served by fighting for low cost health care for children and mothers or voting for improved women’s health services or marching for greater standards in sexual education. Unfortunately, the opponents to abortive services also oppose teaching sexual education in schools and socialized medicine, they're currently fighting to criminalize miscarriages and to defund Planned Parenthood, one of our nation’s greatest resources in the fight for the things they claim to want.
If you look at the whole of their argument, what they seem want is to punish those who step out of line from their beliefs. They want to hide sex by not allowing any sexual education in schools. If you do find the information, they want to make it as unpleasant as possible by only focusing on diseases and preaching abstinence If you choose to engage in sex, they do not want you to have access to birth control or condoms so you can have sex safely. If you catch a STI, they do not want government-funded medicine to help you. If you make a mistake, they do not want you to have access to Plan-B, which prevents pregnancy. If you get pregnant, they do not want you to have access to abortive services to end the pregnancy. If you take the pregnancy to term, they do not want you to have government assistance to help with the financial burden of raising a child.
What opponents of abortive services need to understand is that pro-choice does not mean pro-abortion. Pro-choice means that you stand behind a woman’s right to choose the path that her life will take. It means that you do not want children born to mothers who openly admit that they are not ready. It means that you recognize that a woman’s uterus is not a political playground. It means that you respect the autonomy and the humanity of women. It means that you understand that your religion has no place in another woman’s vagina. If pro-lifers were pro-life, they would understand that the life they need to be protecting is that which already exists. If they were pro-life, they would expend their energy and efforts fighting to make life better for everyone and not just for an idea, which has not yet become a sentence.
The most common argument used in the fight against abortive services is that abortions are murder. This is used most commonly because it is the hardest to prove/disprove and the most emotionally polarizing. There is no definitive answer to the question of when life begins. There are many people that claim conception is the beginning of life; others believe it is the point at which you can hear a heartbeat. However, I counter that the entire argument is invalid. Sperm cells and egg cells are living human cells, they combine and duplicate into more living cells that never begin to live but just simply continue to do so. At the point of conception and for many weeks later, the developing embryo is more closely related to a tumor than a child. There is a point where the scales shift and we can definitely see a living organism, but that moment is different for every pregnancy and therefore hard to pinpoint and even harder to legislate.
Often opponents to abortive services will throw around the term “partial birth” abortion as another fear-based tactic. A “partial birth” abortion is where a doctor will deliver the fetus up to the shoulders, then crush the skull and remove the brain matter. Fact is that partial birth abortions are illegal and most importantly they do not exist. After speaking with a pair of medical practitioners, a representative for Planned Parenthood, and psychologist who works in the field of sexual education, I can tell you with confidence that no one, in the United States, is performing these “partial birth” abortions. Even in the cases of a stillbirth, where a fetus dies in utero, the intact fetus is removed through the vaginal canal.
The fear of late-term abortions is also unfounded, a full 89% of all abortions performed in America occur before the 12th week of pregnancy. 12 weeks is far ahead of the 20 weeks, which doctors use to determine a stillbirth. At 12 weeks, the embryo has just become a fetus, weighs about half an ounce, and is only about two and a half inches long. At this point, the digestive system has yet to develop, and there is no chance that the fetus could survive outside the uterus.
The question of when life begins is a very important part of the debate over abortive services. Sadly, the reality of the situation is that we do not know the reality of the situation. On this topic, everyone is an uneducated Joe Six-Pack shouting at the top of their lungs trying to be heard. In the middle of the conflict they are leaving women to languish in uncertainty and that is more criminal than anything they are opposing.
Recently the opposition has begun using racially specific advertising to target certain groups of people. If you visit Detroit, MI; Atlanta, GA; New York, NY; or any other area with a large population of Americans of African genealogy, you may see billboards with slogans such as, “The womb is the most dangerous place for a black child” or “Black children are an endangered species.” These advertisements seek to perpetuate the myth that Americans of African genealogy tend to have more abortions than other ethnic groups. According to a 2000 survey, Americans of African genealogy account for 34% of all abortions placing them second behind Americans of European genealogy with 36%. Americans of Latin, Hispanic, and Chicano genealogy accounted for 12%.
What is most disturbing about this campaign is its brilliance. The advertisements tap into a nearly subconscious fear many Americans of African genealogy have carried with them for centuries. What they are expressing is dissatisfaction with the disparity in social services, wealth, and education that they experience. These ads exploit that by telling Americans of African genealogy that they are an “endangered species” or that “The Man” is the root cause of these mass abortions. In reality, there is no conspiracy and while the disparity in social services, wealth and education exists, using that fear as a means to an end will cause more problems than it solves. It also does not address the real problem.
According to a 2010 survey, 75.3% of women cite financial reasons for seeking an abortion. About 42% of abortions are performed on women with an income below the poverty line (under $10,830/year), another 27% of women have incomes below $21,660/year. This is compared to a national poverty distribution of 13% for Americans of European genealogy, 35% for African genealogy, and 34% for those of Latin, Hispanic or Chicano genealogy. About 50% of all pregnancies are unintended; Americans of European genealogy account for 40%, African genealogy 69%, and Latin, Hispanic or Chicano genealogy 54%. About 46% of women seeking abortions had not used any contraception in the entire month before they became pregnant. Numbers mean nothing if they cannot tell a story, these numbers tell us about the poor, uneducated people whom their government and society as a whole are once again leaving behind.
The fight for abortive services is real. The casualties of this fight are real and plentiful. We live in a world where we can do amazing things; we put a man on the moon, and have all of the world’s information available to us at a few taps on a piece of glass. Yet somehow we cannot seem to get together and settle this debate. The way we have handled it thus far is appalling and cannot be allowed to continue. With this latest uprising, we have our perfect opportunity to bring about a definite and favorable end. It is my sincerest hope that for once in American history we can rally around a good fight that does not lead to more unnecessary casualties. The only thing that restores humankind is cooperation and if we cannot manage that, then it is time for some serious introspection. This time around, we know the right thing to do; it is time to make the tough decisions so that we may finally begin to truly honor life.