I shouldn’t go there. I should not go there…. I will go there. The Supreme Court has recently agreed to hear Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole, a case involving a Texas law requiring abortion clinics to conform to a set of requirements.
The case is not material to this piece. However, this legal action, as many before it, on both sides of the conflict, is another salvo in the war to make abortion either easier or more difficult to access. Abortion opponents cite moral and religious grounds for their actions whereas the proponents argue from the position of protecting women’s right to self-determination. They continue to shout past one another, not capable of, nor interested in, having a substantive debate.
When Roe v. Wade became law of the land in 1973, over 60% of the women seeking abortion were in their early 20s or younger, including over 30% of all abortions obtained by women younger than 20. They were unmarried and likely predominantly white; although ethnic data isn’t available that far back, the trends have been clear.
Today, while abortion rates haven’t changed much, over 80% of the women who obtain abortions are older than 20, and they are predominantly Hispanic and African-American. Almost 70% of women seeking abortion are living at below 200% of the federal poverty line. That means they must attempt to subsist and secure healthcare for under $22,000/year (2014 data). They are still single. Over 60% have other children.
I find the argument on both sides of this debate flawed.
According to the data gathered by the Guttmacher Institute, about half of all abortions in the world are unsafe, that is, are performed by people other than trained healthcare providers. This number includes almost all of the abortions performed in Africa and Latin America, where it tends to be illegal. Abortion rates in these regions are also much higher than in North America and Western Europe, where it is allowed by law.
Can we agree that there is no abortion without unwanted pregnancy? People aren’t wired for celibacy – that runs against everything our species evolved for. Why can we not agree, then, that making contraception widely available, free, and socially encouraged is a reasonable outcome of the desire to limit abortion rates? Somehow, some of the same people who decry abortion the loudest also stand in the way of one of the most effective ways to limit the demand for it.
High abortion rates also tend to correlate with male-dominated social conditions in which unwanted pregnancy and female sexuality approach the level of taboo, and where the healthcare and economic systems offer women very little support. For all of our technological advances, we Americans live in one of these societies. Germany and Holland, where a woman can get an abortion in a drive-through, with a side of fries and a diet Coke, have abortion rates roughly one-third of what they are here in the United States. Why is that?
The pro-abortion camp must at the same time understand that for a large number of people in this country, abortion is not ethically neutral. Speaking of ending a human life, even in-utero, as no greater a deal than choosing to get Botox inflames firmly-held convictions and spreads the divide far too wide for even a cursory constructive conversation. Could we agree that it would be a good world in which fewer people got abortions because they were simply not needed, because all our pregnancies were wanted, the intentional and accidental alike, because our economy and society has provided women with true and positive alternatives in all aspects of their lives to the same extent men enjoy them? When an average abortion takes place, people and systems have failed the woman who chooses to have it.
This post would not be complete without a word about what just happened in Colorado this Friday. A complete asshole terrorist killed at least three people in an attack on a Planned Parenthood clinic. It is a fluid situation and few facts are known for certain. What is certain is that abortion is not going away, whether legal or not, as long as women find themselves with unwanted pregnancies and in situations making it impossible for them to imagine carrying these pregnancies to term. If this particular complete asshole wanted to save unborn babies, he would have made a greater difference handing out condoms on a busy city corner and casting a vote in favor of policies supportive of women.
Here’s how we can all help bring abortion rates down: let’s stop being assholes to women.