Friday, February 1, 2013

Why We Need Abortion

Abortion is nothing new. For as long as sexual intimacy has provided pleasure and birth has been painful and life-threatening, some women have taken their fate into their own hands and attempted to prevent "nature" from taking her course. 

In her article for the New York Times, Kate Manning lists some of the dangerous and horrible methods used by desperate women throughout history to induce miscarriage. In the mid-1800's, newspapers carried numerous advertisements for abortifacient remedies. And in 1930, one-fifth of the reported maternal deaths were caused by [illegal] abortion. 
"What is most striking about this history of probes and poisons is that throughout all recorded time, there have been women so desperate to end a pregnancy that they were willing to endure excruciating pain and considerable risk, including infection, sterility, permanent injury, puncture and hemorrhage, to say nothing of shame and ostracism. Where abortion was illegal, they risked prosecution and imprisonment. And death, of course."
Consider Jan Wilberg's story of her risky and illegal abortion in 1967 after a single sexual encounter with her boyfriend. A teenager, a college freshman, Jan did not have the security of a home herself in which to raise a child. Neither was the boyfriend prepared to provide one. She describes the feeling of being trapped in a dark corner while her boyfriend could be nonchalant:
"It wasn’t right to punish women who have been cornered by circumstances — unplanned pregnancy, no job, no money, no options — by daring them to find the $250 illegal abortionist in their city or worse. It wasn’t right that women should have to pay for a mistake with their fear, risk their future health and their very lives while men could walk away and be free." [emphasis mine]
Today, thanks to brave doctors, good medical schools, and Roe v. Wade, abortion is among our safest procedures. Bearing a child carries more risks than abortion. According to Amnesty International's report on maternal health, nearly half of pregnancies in the U.S. are unintended and two women die of pregnancy/birth complications every day. African-American women are four times more likely than white women to die of pregnancy-related complications. If the pregnancy is deemed high-risk, those odds are even higher. According to the 2010 report, the state of Georgia has a maternal mortality rate of 20.5 per 100,000 live births and reporting of maternal death is not even mandatory there!
"More than a third of all women who give birth in the USA – 1.7 million women each year – experience some type of complication that has an adverse effect on their health."
According to a study by ANSIRH of the effects of abortion on women's health and economic situation, specifically comparing women who received abortions with those who wanted abortions but could not obtain them (turnaways), the women who received abortions were better off than those who continued the unwanted pregnancy.
"When a woman is denied the abortion she wants, she is statistically more likely to wind up unemployed, on public assistance, and below the poverty line.
"Turnaways were more likely to stay in a relationship with an abusive partner than women who got abortions. A year after being denied an abortion, 7% reported an incident of domestic violence in the last six months. 3% of women who received abortions reported domestic violence in the same time period. Foster emphasized that this wasn't because the turnaways were more likely to get into abusive relationships. It was simply that getting abortions allowed women to get out of such relationships more easily....
"... the Turnaway Study found no indication that there were lasting, harmful negative emotions associated with getting an abortion. The only emotional difference between the two groups at one year was that the turnaways were more stressed.
"...But turnaways did face a greater health risk from giving birth. Even late stage abortions are safer than giving birth. The researchers said at the APHA meeting: 
'We find physical health complications are more common and severe following birth (38% experience limited activity, average 10 days) compared to abortion (24% limited activity, average 2.7 days). There were no severe complications after abortion; after birth complications included seizure, fractured pelvis, infection and hemorrhage. We find no differences in chronic health conditions at 1 week or one year after seeking abortion.'"
 [emphasis mine]

We can see that even if a woman is able to give up her baby for adoption, carrying a pregnancy to term is no simple solution. Of course human life starts at conception, agrees Mary Elizabeth Williams, but the story doesn't stop there: "Here’s the complicated reality in which we live: All life is not equal."
"... We make choices about life all the time in our country. We make them about men and women in other nations. We make them about prisoners in our penal system. We make them about patients with terminal illnesses and accident victims. We still have passionate debates about the justifications of our actions as a society, but we don’t have to do it while being bullied around by the vague idea that if you say we’re talking about human life, then the jig is up, rights-wise." [emphasis mine]
Besides, most women having abortions are already mothers raising children. The choice is as much about those children's lives as about the mother's. Yes, abstinence prevents pregnancy, but how effectively can a married woman use that? Every contraceptive method fails, and not every sexual encounter can be planned against in advance (I am speaking of rape, including marital rape, but one could also include carelessness caused by alcohol). There are women who long to be mothers to the children they have, and another pregnancy would prevent them from caring for the little ones that already need them desperately.

Those families holding signs in the Life Chain, will they pay for a planned-against birth? Will the crisis pregnancy center provide iron tablets? Perhaps the nuns protesting contraceptives will reimburse a woman's employer for missed days of work? Cover antidepressants and counseling? Provide daycare? In ten years, who will help cover college bills for the older children? Or ought their education be sacrificed to provide food and daycare for the surprise addition to the family? Choosing to raise a child is a commitment that far outlasts the free diapers, crib, or donated maternity clothes. It spans decades and affects every life choice from then on.

Personally, I believe there are worse fates a human being could suffer than being aborted before taking a breath. Abortion needs to be legal because we value human life. I was "pro-life" because life was cheap, men were designed to reproduce themselves, women were intended to bear men's children, and we wanted as many Christians as possible. When I realized the value of each human being, the immense responsibility of parenthood, the lifetime effects of childhood nurture on the adult psyche, and the awful societal price of ignorance, poverty, and abuse, my view of abortion evolved, too. This is why I am glad that a courageous doctor is reopening a women's clinic in Wichita, at the same location where the late Dr. Tiller provided abortions until his murder.

Last week, Michelle Kinsey Bruns told her story to a train car filled with Catholic teenagers on their way home from the annual "March for Life" in Washington, D.C. "By eighteen it had begun to seem I might survive my childhood, but I didn’t believe I could survive being responsible for someone else’s. Since then, though, I have survived and thrived in a way that would have quite simply not been possible without the abortion that cleared a path for me to eventually get here." [emphasis mine]

As long as human beings begin their growth inside women's bodies, we will need abortion. As long as women can conceive against their will, we will need abortion. As long as human birth is difficult, we will need abortion. As long as we believe children are precious, we will need abortion.


  1. Very challenging article to write but insightful. I'm still evolving on this issue...I realized when I saw the Planned Parenthood near my work that I'd been taught to HATE them...those ppl who worked there doing the work that is looked down on in our culture. TAUGHT to hate....not understand, not find middle ground...unveiled disgust towards ppl I've never met. Such a strange way to raise children.

    I feel a shift happening in me, and it's interesting. The duties of being a mother weigh heavy on me now...and I'm more aware than ever the incredible load it is to carry. That it's not for everyone. That in some instances it could be mercy to give a child no life than an abused one.

  2. I saw abortion differently when a close friend had to fight the insurance company to cover her abortion. She aborted because the baby had severe abnormalities that were "inconsistant with life." That means that the baby could not survive birth, and might not survive in the womb. My friend wanted an abortion as early as possible to prevent the developing baby from pain. Her MIL tried to talk her into leaving it in God's hands, but her answer was that that meant allowing the baby to suffer when she could prevent it. I have been a chronic pain sufferer for many years, and this experience has changed me - "leaving it in God's hands" is not as pious as i once beleived, and in a case like this, causes suffering that could be prevented. I have come to think that abortion must be a personal choice, and that choice cannot be taken away from the pregnant woman.