A life-salvaging bit of technology

The new Free Inquiry is out, and my column in it is online.

The takeaway:

The more we buy into the meme that abortion is always a tragic lesser-of-two-evils situation, the more we lose sight of the reality, which is that for a woman or girl who does not want to be pregnant, abortion is a glorious human invention, a life-salvaging bit of technology.


  1. Blanche Quizno says

    Let us not forget that carrying pregnancy to term and undergoing childbirth is orders of magnitude more risky than a legal abortion performed by competent medical personnel. Who has the right to dictate what level of risk a given person must accept when there are less risky options available?

    The pregnancy-associated mortality rate among women who delivered live neonates was 8.8 deaths per 100,000 live births. The mortality rate related to induced abortion was 0.6 deaths per 100,000 abortions. In the one recent comparative study of pregnancy morbidity in the United States, pregnancy-related complications were more common with childbirth than with abortion.


    Legal induced abortion is markedly safer than childbirth. The risk of death associated with childbirth is approximately 14 times higher than that with abortion. Similarly, the overall morbidity associated with childbirth exceeds that with abortion. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22270271

  2. quixote says

    Ophelia, you note that the important point is that abortion is a human rights issue, but you don’t actually stress which right. (Or if you do, my reading comprehension is deficient!)

    The thing is that recognition of everybody’s right to make their own decisions about their own bodies absolutely requires recognition of womens’ right to have an abortion.

    Otherwise the right applies to people-except-women. Do we really want to open the door for a world in which your organs can be requisitioned to “save a life”? I doubt it. For some reason, that’s only OK when it can’t affect anyone except women. (As the old saying goes, if men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament.)

    You make important points in the article, but I think the bodily autonomy one really needs to be the main one.

    Or if not, why not? Is there some reason why it makes people immediately stop listening? I’m really asking because I need to know for when my Inner Podium Thumper comes out.

  3. says

    quixote well except that that’s not what the article is about. It’s not about the right to abortion; that’s taken for granted (for the purposes of this column). It’s about a step after that.

  4. Blanche Quizno says

    One more angle that few people seem willing to address – the impact carrying a pregnancy to term with the intent of giving the baby up for adoption will have on that woman’s life.

    Imagine an unmarried woman who is in management in a big corporation. If she gets pregnant and has no desire to become a parent, she can get an abortion. Her life continues unchanged. Nobody needs to know. But if she decides to (or is forced to) carry the pregnancy to term, even if she gives the baby away at birth (and thus does not become a full-time parent), everybody at work knows about it. It’s as public as anything can possibly be. What will this do to her reputation? How is this going to affect her career? Her potential for career advancement? It will be terribly awkward for everyone no matter how you slice it, and this is virtually guaranteed to negatively affect this woman’s career.

    There are many reasons women are turned away from an abortion clinic — lack of funds (many insurance plans don’t cover abortion) or obesity (excess weight can make the procedure more complicated) — but most simply arrive too late. Women cite not recognizing their pregnancies, travel and procedure costs, insurance problems and not knowing where to find care as common reasons for delay. These are the women for whom “society has the absolute least sympathy,” Foster acknowledges.

    Usually the only difference between making it and not is just realizing you are pregnant,” Foster says. “If you’re late, abortion gets much harder to find. All the logistic concerns snowball — money, travel, support.” Women who seek abortions tend, in general, to be less well off than those who don’t, and those seeking second-trimester abortions tend to be “particularly vulnerable,” given the difficulties of finding an appropriate clinic and the higher cost of a later procedure.

    David [in a study in Czechoslovakia] reported that the children born of unwanted pregnancies had significant disadvantages. They were breast-fed for shorter periods; were slightly but consistently overweight; had more instances of acute illness and …seemed less capable in socially demanding situations; they were less popular among peers and teachers and even, if sons, with their own mothers. David concluded that “the child of a woman denied abortion appears to be born into a potentially handicapping situation.” After David published his first round of data, Czechoslovakia made first-trimester abortion available on demand.

    But women in the turnaway group [denied abortion because too far along in pregnancy] suffered more ill effects, including higher rates of hypertension and chronic pelvic pain (though Foster cannot say whether turnaways face greater risk from pregnancy than an average woman). Even “later abortions are significantly safer than childbirth,” she says, “and we see that through lower complications and low incidence of chronic conditions.”

    Economically, the results are even more striking. Adjusting for any previous differences between the two groups, women denied abortion were three times as likely to end up below the federal poverty line two years later. Having a child is expensive, and many mothers have trouble holding down a job while caring for an infant. Had the turnaways not had access to public assistance for women with newborns, Foster says, they would have experienced greater hardship.

    Finally, [after being turned away from several other clinics], in New Mexico, J. was able to terminate her pregnancy. A month later J. got a job operating heavy machinery at a manufacturing plant for $15 an hour. She had been applying for the past six months. If she had had the baby, she said, she wouldn’t have been able to take the job. “They wouldn’t have even looked at me.” http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/16/magazine/study-women-denied-abortions.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

    It’s clearly a very fine line between whether a woman will be given the slightest nod of acknowledgement or ferocious vilifaction. We’ve already established that nobody gives a shit about those babies once they’re born or the woman’s welfare. Also, women are already at a distinct disadvantage in the job market. One wonders how much bosses will be eager to accommodate a woman’s additional needs during pregnancy if it is known that she intends to give the infant up to adoption instead of becoming a full-time mother. I think the whole giving-up-for-adoption is still looked down upon in society, no matter how much the anti-choice zealots try to spin it as some sort of virtue.

  5. quixote says

    Ah. Okay. I guess I see that. Although why would the article even be necessary if the first step was understood? I mean, if people accept that there’s a right to bodily autonomy (or whatever the right term is), why would they even be pissing and moaning about tragedy? You don’t hear them going on about the tragedy of all those unsaved lives because people insist on walking around with excess kidneys. Anyway, I take your point that you’re discussing the consequences of the right and not the right itself.

  6. opposablethumbs says

    abortion is a glorious human invention, a life-salvaging bit of technology

    This, many times this. The ability to not be pregnant any more when you don’t want to be, and get your bloody life back is brilliant. Your life, your body, your self, back they way it should be, the way you want it to be.
    Two IUD failures, two early free abortions. Took maybe half a day each time, and I felt fucking fantastic afterwards, so happy to get my self back. My kids wouldn’t be alive today if I’d been hijacked by forced-birthers all those years ago.

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