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Monday, March 13, 2006

Reducing abortions

Via Atrios, Tapped has this commentary on William Saletan's abortion rantings. I know, I know, that's a lot of indirection (kinda like last night's Simpsons episode), and it's not really Minnesota-related, but it's still something that bugs me.

I don't know about most pro-choicers, because I don't hang around huge gatherings of pro-choice people (if such gatherings exist). I am pro-choice, but to me, that means first and foremost reducing the number of abortions that occur. This isn't some "third-way" mamby-pamby stuff, or a gimmick. There are too many preventable abortions out there, and reducing them is something that is both incredibly possible and desirable, without getting into the abortion debate itself.

This, however, is where the pro-choice movement diverges from its opponents. Since the vast majority of women who are getting an abortion didn't use some form of contraception, getting everybody who is sexually active, male and female, to always use contraception will drastically reduce the number of abortions in this state (also notice that in all of 2004, there was one, that's ONE, third-trimester abortion. "Partial-birth abortion" pandemic indeed...), maybe even by half. That's the "mix of abstinence ed, sex education and contraception, as well as making adoption more socially acceptable and providing better services, such as health care, to young children regardless of their parent's means" that Mario Cuomo called for.

Notice that it says a mix of abstinence and sex ed. Obviously, abstinence is the best choice, especially for teens and others who are unable or unwilling to be parents. It is 100% effective against pregnancy and STDs, and I don't know if there is anybody out there who really wants their teenage kids to be sexually active. However, just as schools tend not to simply teach students that they should not drink or smoke either, but go into some depth as to what drinking and smoking can actually lead to, so should sex ed include discussions on contraceptives. Which are best, what their failure rates are, which are crap (I'm looking in your direction, natural family planning). Saying that comprehensive sex ed makes kids want to have sex is like saying that teaching about saturated fats makes kids want to buy Big Macs. Give me a break.

As Tapped points out, though, this is exactly the kind of initiative that so-called pro-lifers adamantly oppose. If they truly wanted to reduce the number of abortions, they would support these proven methods, but they don't. Instead, they latch onto ideas that either serve to make abortion simply more inconvenient for people (24-hour waiting periods), or outright lie to try to get people to make uninformed decisions (the fake link between abortion and breast cancer, or fetal pain). Whereas sex ed and contraceptive use could reduce the number of abortions by the thousands, how much of an impact has the 24-hour waiting period had on the number of abortions in Minnesota? It certainly hasn't gone down by the thousands.

It's all about morality. There are a lot of people who have a problem with contraception and how this has dissociated sex from parenthood to some extent. Well, regardless of whether these feelings are valid or not, you can't put the genie back in the bottle. The pill, the patch, the sponge, they are all a part of our lives and will be forevermore. The right-wing extreme may want to push us back to some pre-modern Amish lifestyle where none of these evil contraceptives exist, but most people aren't going to go along with that. The only choice is to figure out how best to deal with our new situation.

That brings us to another interesting point in the article, about calling abortion "awful" as opposed to bad or evil. I agree with that, and although I have not come up with a good term myself, awful is not a bad one. Because every time somebody has an abortion, it is awful. Sometimes, the awfulness is the result of being a victim of crime. Sometimes, it's the result of being a victim of somebody in power: a family member, a teacher, another authority figure. Sometimes, it's the result of an awful failure in those contraceptive methods at a time when supporting a child isn't an option. Sometimes, it's the result of an awful substance abuse problem, leaving nobody fit to deal with raising a child. And sometimes, it's the result of being awfully irresponsible, as people tend to do. In any case, I don't think anybody would argue that every abortion represents a missed opportunity at best and a tragedy at worst.

Whereas right-wingers want to force women into raising children they don't want, marrying men they don't want, or even giving rapists equal parenting rights, though, I believe that abortion needs to be legal and accessible in these circumstances. There's a time for discussions about morality; that time, however, is not when a woman is facing an extremely difficult choice, when she doesn't necessarily know what is the best thing to do. "Pro-lifers" want to shove their morality down her throat right then.

The right has somehow painted a picture of pro-choicers as being people who want to put up drive-through abortion clinics at every corner, or a picture of people who think that when a woman chooses to have a child instead of an abortion it's a bad thing. I don't know how they managed to do this, but it is in no way a reflection of the reality of most pro-choice people in this country. Remember, the majority of the people in the U.S. don't want to overturn Roe vs. Wade. We just want to reduce the number of abortions, and some of us have better ideas than others. It's time to do something about it.


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