Reproductive “choice” and abortion

So we have a new commenter by the name of A Woman of No Importance who contributed to the thread (still going!) about Asshole Patriarchs. I’ll let most of that stand where it is, but one piece is something that I think should be talked about, and that’s this:

One thing that bothers a lot of moderates on both sides of the issue, which I almost never hear addressed, is this: Why do we need a million abortions a year when birth control is cheap, readily available, easy to use, and mostly works? We should be living in a world in which there are no new AIDS transmissions since it is widely known how to have sex without transmitting the virus, and the same thing applies here. People know how to have sex without making a baby. It’s entirely predictable what may happen if you have sex without precautions. So, if you don’t want a child, maybe the time to decide that is before you decide to have unprotected sex.

Now, AWoNI is in favor of abortion on demand until “sometime in the second trimester” when personhood attaches to the fetus. This isn’t someone who is reflexively opposed to abortion, and AWoNI can of course clarify, but it appears from context that she places herself among the moderates.

That’s important because assuming all that is true, it says quite a bit that a moderate is repeating right-wing extremist assumptions that sex is an entirely predictable thing and people are irresponsibly “choosing not to choose” until after they become pregnant and that, to use AWoNI’s language:

birth control is cheap, readily available, easy to use, and mostly works

Except birth control is not necessarily cheap, it is not always readily available, and “mostly works” is not the same as “it works”.

Further, this is something that is addressed literally all the time. Local schools try to make condoms available to prevent AIDS transmission and pregnancy, then local anti-contraception, anti-sex extremists scream about how a cereal-bowl full of condoms on some school nurse’s desk is killing god and inviting the Chinese Communist Party to rule over the good white folk until the end of time.

Seriously, there’s a huge panic with lots of news stories every time a school tries to increase access to contraception or even simply to good information. And when those news stories are not happening, epidemiologists from the CDC and NIH are producing regular reports about access and information, all of which are available to anyone, including AWoNI. It’s truly bizarre to me when people say that “no one is X” when we have entire industries of people whose job is to study X and put out good, peer reviewed information about it.

Is AWoNI reading that stuff? Evidently not. Could AWoNI read it? Sure could. Accessed through libraries it’s “cheap, readily available, easy to use, and mostly works”. Laws and policies are written all the time using such information and research and professional opinion.

The problem is not that there is no good, non-hyperbolic information. It’s certainly not that no one is discussing these things. The problem is that one side is actively trying to suppress that information through abstinence only education which we know from those same researchers results in more disease and more pregnancy.

And thus the irony: AWoNI is pleading for reasonable discussion, while repeating the assumptions of the people who have, as a significant goal, the squashing of reasonable discussion. Worse, the conclusion that AWoNI comes to is that

if you don’t want a child, maybe the time to decide that is before you decide to have unprotected sex.

And, again, that’s the extremist position of one side: you don’t need the “choice” of whether or not to remain pregnant, because you already had the “choice” of whether or not to become pregnant.

This dovetails with something Alito (or his ghostwriters) said in their draft Dobbs opinion: which is that there’s no such thing as involuntary pregnancy, since anyone who doesn’t wish to be a parent can simply give the child up for adoption.

There can be other posts about ways in which we don’t necessarily have the choices asserted because of x or y. Also too, VASECTOMY, MOTHERFUCKERS. But mostly what i want to say here is that it’s disingenuous to claim that we have so many other choices we don’t need this one, when the person making that claim is simultaneously working to also remove those other choices.

AWoNI has entirely typical views on abortion for a woman in the US — there should be some period where it is an option, then another period where it isn’t, and we should just have a good, productive discussion about when the dividing lines between those periods should be and get this abortion thing solved. It would be silly to blame her or look down on her or think less of her for being an entirely typical woman.

But just because AWoNI is entirely typical doesn’t mean that we can’t notice how the disingenuous communication and even outright lies of extremists end up determining the expectations of the reasonable middle. “Teach the controversy” is another example more familiar to the readers of Pharyngula, but “Sex is predictable, we already have choices at other stages of reproduction, therefore abortion isn’t necessary” is a particularly pernicious one.



  1. Some Old Programmer says

    Precise instructions and catastrophic consequences for failure is the realm of computers, not humans. Anybody that’s done programming can tell you that humans are bad at formulating and following logic.

    As a gay, cis, male, my opinion of anyone’s pregnancy should carry zero weight. The parenthetical mention of AIDS, however, has me seeing red. There’s a reason why messaging changed from “Safe Sex” to “Safer Sex”. Sex is messy. Sex is deeply tangled in each person’s background, education, and experience–or lack thereof. I lived through the apex of the AIDS epidemic, and feel fortunate to have come out the other side. My first boyfriend attended a good public school in suburban California in the early 80s. Information about HIV was available…but not taught. A closeted teen first exploring their sexuality may not have access to accurate information. They may have ready access to misinformation. The Internet has eased access for all information, good, bad, indifferent, and malevolent.

    From the information I have, I think it’s likely Brian contracted HIV while he was in High School. We were together for a couple of years before he died a month after he turned 26.

  2. marner says

    if you don’t want a child, maybe the time to decide that is before you decide to have unprotected sex.

    Sounds like really good advice for at least half the people involved in a pregnancy.

  3. says

    There are a lot of people whose lives are completely out of control from go, people with mental illnesses or racial/economic/etc axes of oppression bearing down on them, who are not always going to be able to perfectly control how and when they have sex. You think a homeless person selling their body for heroin money is going to check to see if those condoms are in perfect condition and being used right every time? (Assuming they were in a state that didn’t successfully ban them like some red state creeps are already talking about.) That’s who you want to be forced to give birth?

    That’s an extreme example but honestly nobody is perfect and we’ve all had situations where our circumstances got away from us. That whole line is predicated on everyone having perfect agency forever. Whether there’s a situation we didn’t consent to or one where we made a mistake under some kind of influence, nobody has that.

  4. A Woman of No Importance says

    Crip Dyke, first of all, thank you for the rational, reasoned, civil response to my comment. I’m not sure we’re actually as far apart as you may think, but even if I’m wrong about that, I greatly appreciate the courtesy you extended in the form of actually engaging with my comments in a civil fashion. Thank you.

    I started that paragraph off by saying “One thing that bothers a lot of moderates on both sides of the issue, which I almost never hear addressed, is this . . .” That is not my position; I was merely saying that a lot of other people are bothered by it, and the pro choice side needs to do a more forceful job of answering it. You’re probably right that the information is out there, but that doesn’t mean people are actually hearing it.

    In my case, you’re preaching to the choir; I grew up in the rural South, and was raised by just about the nastiest species of fundamentalist Christian you can imagine, so I know all too well that yes, a lot of the same people who want to ban abortion also want to ban birth control. And divorce. And gay marriage. And women’s rights. And civil rights for people of color. I’m also a dyke, so there is zero love lost between me and said fundies. I can assure you that for every bad thing you have to say about them, there are probably a couple of others that you’ve overlooked.

    And you’re right, reflexively, I am pro choice, at least up until a certain point in the pregnancy when personhood kicks in. There are some late term abortions I find troubling, but working in the medical field, I also know that most late term abortions happen for a reason, usually because some major birth defect was discovered in the fetus. And pre-viability, I don’t think it’s anyone’s business why someone wants an abortion, because at that point it clearly isn’t a person. So any comments about the easy availability of birth control wouldn’t matter pre-viability anyway.

    Bottom line, reactionary hostility needs to be resisted vigorously and with great force. Birth control needs to be made available to anyone who wants it, and sex education needs to be made widely available in the public schools. And the real way to reduce the number of abortions is with a strong social safety net, which (surprise, surprise) most fundies also oppose. So I think we’re mostly on the same page, except that you are probably more comfortable with late term abortions than I am.

  5. says

    So I think we’re mostly on the same page, except that you are probably more comfortable with late term abortions than I am.

    Possibly. But I’m not particularly “comfortable” with them. I just have read a lot of things that tell me that those abortions are performed for medical reasons or because of really horrible tragedies (14 year old incest survivor that can’t tell anyone she’s pregnant, etc. …or even just any kid who has sex while in an abusive home and can’t safely tell anyone until sometime after you and I would be comfortable).

    I don’t know of a single case of a late-2nd trimester abortion that doesn’t fall into some similar category, so while such abortions definitely make me uncomfortable, I feel like a popular vote isn’t the best way to decide what happens to people in those difficult situations.

    I started that paragraph off by saying “One thing that bothers a lot of moderates on both sides of the issue, which I almost never hear addressed, is this . . .” That is not my position; I was merely saying that a lot of other people are bothered by it, and the pro choice side needs to do a more forceful job of answering it.

    Sorry for placing you among the moderates you describe. I did do so tentatively, but tentative or not, I did so erroneously.

    You’re probably right that the information is out there, but that doesn’t mean people are actually hearing it.

    Yep, and it drives me absolutely bonkers. If the folks on the right really cared about preventing abortions, they would want comprehensive sex ed which has been shown to reduce sexual activity, increase age at first intercourse, and prevent unintended pregnancies, and thus prevent abortions.

    As a final note, I definitely appreciate the Oscar Wilde reference.

    Best to you,

  6. Katydid says

    Even pretending that birth control is cheap and easily available, there is no form that is 100% effective. Moreover, rape occurs, and it’s the rare rapist who will considerately stop and put on a condom just because the victim asks. The court information leak has sparked numerous conversations among my friends, and it’s simply gut-wrenching how many women I know have been raped–including date rape, where the woman agreed to meet for dinner/a walk on the beach/a movie, and ended up overpowered and raped.

  7. A Woman of No Importance says

    Here’s a question: Under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, states generally have to make accommodations for people’s religious beliefs, and that act was widely invoked by people who didn’t want to comply with Covid mask mandates and vaccine requirements.

    I wonder what would happen if an abortion provider in a state that has banned abortion were to say, “My religion is humanism. The tenets of my religion require me to provide help to anyone in need whom I am able to help. That includes providing abortion services to women who need them. Therefore, the state can’t touch my abortion practice as it is the protected practice of my religion.”

    The first thing that would happen is that Alito’s head would explode, but I wonder what would happen after that.

  8. says

    AWoNI @7 – Very similar moves have been made by The Satanic Temple and easily slapped down by various courts. I’m no legal expert, but it seems the argument is less compelling to courts with knowledge of how the relevant laws work than it is to the rest of us. Side note, never donate to The Satanic Temple or trust them in anything, not that I thought you were about to, just, for whoever.

  9. lochaber says

    As Great American Satan said, it’s already been attempted, and pretty much dismissed. Partially because the U.S. is unofficially a “Christian” country, and partially because we are dealing with fucking fascists, who care about nothing other than acquiring and abusing power, and view lying and hypocrisy as nothing more than useful tools to help acquire that power.

    This is the same general political group of people that denigrates victims of rape, sexual assault, and sexual harassment (Thomas, Kavanaugh, etc. for examples on the SCOTUS itself…), and argues that there is no such thing as marital rape (I don’t know, and I don’t have the stomach to do the research to find out if any of the current SCOTUS have publicly stated that, but it’s a pretty common stance with the people supporting decisions like this…

    For those who still insist on attempting to “play by the rules”, the fascists would just claim abortion is murder, and freedom of religion doesn’t have exemptions for human sacrifice, etc.

  10. mathscatherine says

    So, as people can probably guess from my username, numbers are kind of my thing, so I wanted to comment on one particular point that I don’t think has been really touched on: the line “why do we need a million abortions a year…”

    Is this really a big number?

    So I’m assuming you’re talking about the US, and I’m also assuming the million abortions a year is accurate. Google tells me there are about 330 million people in the US. Half of them are the could-get-pregnant variety, and they are able to get pregnant for around 30 years in about an 80 year lifetime. So round about 62 million people in the USA are able to get pregnant – let’s be conservative and say 60 million as that’s an easier number. Now in any one year many of those people either won’t be sexually active, or conversely will be actively trying to get pregnant (or will be pregnant already), or while they are currently on birth control wouldn’t decide to get an abortion if they did fall pregnant unexpectedly. But even if only 1/3 of the people in the US who could get pregnant are sexually active and not prepared to have a baby, that’s still 20 million people. Birth control is doing well if it’s 95% effective for typical use – that’s 5% of people using it who get pregnant every year. 5% of 20 million is one million abortions needed every year.

    Maybe some of the assumptions I’m making aren’t quite right. Maybe fewer people are sexually active, or more would just go with an unexpected pregnancy (or maybe more of those definitely not having a(nother) child right now would use more effective birth control). But I haven’t included anyone who is subject to reproductive coercion or anyone who develops a medical issue with a wanted pregnancy (whether pregnant person or foetus) than needs to be treated via an abortion – so I don’t think my numbers can be that far out. And for the people who didn’t take the right precautions – I’m fairly pregnant right now, and even though it’s been a fairly standard pregnancy it’s not something to be forced on anyone for making a mistake. Luckily I live in a country where abortion is legal, so I don’t have to do this again – I’m so sorry for all of you who aren’t in my position.

  11. says

    @ AWONI

    Here (England) we have this idea of ‘protected beliefs’. That sounds similar to the Act you’re describing. There’s a test as to what counts as a protected belief; but that’s probably not relevant right now. The thing is the concept here protects any believe that is ‘ideological’. That’s to distinguish it from beliefs arrived at ‘rationally’. (the language is clumsy but the concept is easy to understand. And it’s not always a clear bright line between the two. For example a belief in Darwinian evolution is protected, even though really it’s an evidence based stance.

    Humanism though is protected here.

    However a protected belief only means that you are free to hold that believe, and to express it. And that generally you should not be subjected to less favourable treatment because of it. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you will be permitted to act on that belief without limitation.

    Laws prohibiting or limiting acts are permitted if they are deemed ‘lawful, necessary, and proportionate’ in order to protect:

    public safety
    public order
    health or morals, and
    the rights and freedoms of other people.

    Of course how those conflicts of interest are reconciled is like counting angels on the head of a pin. An impossible task to reach a solution that satisfies everyone.

    But in your example, the starting point would be that the ban has been passed by a democratically elected legislature. (And of course there are deeper arguments about how true that is; but there we are). So is the ban an interference with a protected belief?

    That’s where the courts would get involved. Over here they’d apply Art 9 of the ECHR and the various bits of domestic legislation that arise from that. Over in the US it would be the whole ‘constitutional’ test thing. And of course, that’s what’s caused this mess in the first place.

    Sorry that’s a bit legalistic and doesn’t address the underlying issue; but I just wanted to address your specific question.

  12. anat says

    Religious protection of a right to an abortion in a specific case might work better for a more traditionally recognized religion. In Judaism, even the most Orthodox variety, a pregnant woman has the right to self defense against an embryo or fetus that is endangering her. So in one of those states that wants to ban abortion on any grounds such a case could be made, theoretically. (Is there even time to run it through the court before the woman dies?) I really want Alito confronted with his appropriation of Judaism (though I don’t want anyone to be endangered by a pregnancy).

  13. says

    I don’t really know any anti choice people; but on social media I like to raise this point with people.

    Consider one day you wake up in an operating room. You have been kidnapped by organ harvesters. On the table next to you is the prospective recipient. The surgeons have removed his diseased kidneys, and are just about to remove one of yours for transplant. At that moment the police bust down the door.

    What should the police do? Stop the operation, in which case the prospective recipient dies; or allow the transplant to go ahead in which case you’re a kidney down; but otherwise ok?

  14. says

    @14: Here’s another scenario for the forced-birthers to consider: suppose a woman (or a man for that matter) finds themself impregnated, not with a normal human fetus, but with some other non-human life-form; and let’s further suppose that this creature is found to be fully sentient and capable of asking — or demanding — not to be extracted from its host until it’s ready to leave.

    Then suppose that the host, on being informed of this situation, responds with “Holy crap, get this thing out of me NOW!” How many responsible adults would question that person’s decision, or their reasons for making it?

  15. Callinectes says

    My youngest step sister fell unexpectedly pregnant a few years ago. Her first intention was to terminate, and then she changed her mind after learned she was with twins. I have no opinion on this decision, other than that it was entirely hers either way.

    But halfway into the pregnancy a problem developed. I don’t know the precise details, but one of the twins was struggling to develop, and was putting significant strain on their shared placenta. Or something. The upshot was that leaving things as they were would have killed both twins. I don’t believe my sister was in particular danger from this, it wasn’t that classic “mother’s life in danger” scenario that gets so many women killed. But the only way to save one of those twins was to terminate the other. They didn’t remove it, they just cut off its supply so the healthier one could develop safely. She was born very prematurely in the end, likely as a result of this situation, and was smaller than my hand and dark red in colour. But she survived and is a happy healthy young girl. Her sister got a name, but I don’t know how they chose to close her chapter, it was too private even for me.

    But what would these anti-choice maniacs make of a case like this? It seems to me like a total upset of their narrative. Termination is necessary for a live birth, while the strict “pro-life” position means pro-death. I don’t think many of these awaiting force-birth laws leave room for this situation.

  16. lanir says


    I’m pretty sure the playbook for that or any other circumstance they didn’t consider beforehand is “The woman and her doctor are lying,” quickly followed by “thoughts and prayers” at the outcome they’ve engineered. I can’t imagine most of these people doing anything else. It’s not like they’re going to admit they’re wrong. Their entire movement has known everything it stood for was wrong for decades.

  17. mathscatherine says

    anat @13 – Thanks for the link (I should have checked wikipedia). If anything, that reinforces my argument since the number of abortions is in fact lower than a million per year – so even without accounting for terminations for medical reasons or rape or reproductive coercion, the US population who could get pregnant, don’t want to be, and are sexually active must be (as a whole) using very effective birth control. And so the answer to “birth control mostly works” is yeah – otherwise there’d be a lot more abortions!

    Ianir @17 – I read an article (sorry, can’t remember exactly where) where some US (Republican) politician was saying that some situation where someone might need an abortion (incest, possibly) was “rare”, so it didn’t matter that his proposed legislation didn’t allow for that and someone in that situation wouldn’t be able to have an abortion. It astonished me that he even thought that was an argument – but apparently he thought so. Here in Australia, our Prime Minister also seems to think that’s a reasonable argument to use – he says that religious schools don’t want to expel LGBTIQ+ students, so it doesn’t matter that he wants to pass a law that would let him and other politicians should stop trying to add an amendment to make that illegal. My reaction is very much that if religious schools don’t want to expel LGBTIQ+ students then it shouldn’t matter to them if it is illegal, should it – so just pass the damn amendment (or don’t pass the stupid religious discrimination law anyway because I don’t think we need it, but whatever).

  18. txpiper says

    “Last July the pro-life Charlotte Lozier Institute released a report that looked at 50 European countries or semi-autonomous regions with populations of more than 1 million people.

    The group compared that to Mississippi’s law, which was new at the time. That law banned abortion after 15 weeks and is now the subject of the opinion driving the current meltdown on the left. If upheld, it could set a new precedent for restricting abortion on demand.

    Under Roe, abortion is legal throughout the entirety of pregnancy, and the Supreme Court has only recognized limits after 24 weeks. Which is why Mississippi’s law ignited a controversy. Recently, Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a law that matches Mississippi’s.

    Yet, as the Lozier Institute reported, “The majority of European countries that allow elective abortion limit it to 12 weeks. This finding demonstrates that Mississippi’s law limiting elective abortion to 15 weeks is neither extreme nor outside the norm in comparison to European practice.”

    The study analyzed nations that allow elective abortion without providing a reason, such as the U.S. does. That applied to 42 of the 50.

    In that group, 39 countries restrict elective abortion to 15 weeks or earlier.

    As for a breakdown, the Lozier Institute noted that five countries – Croatia, Portugal, Serbia, Slovenia, and Turkey – have set a maximum of 10 weeks for an abortion.

    Meanwhile, 27 others set the limit at 12 weeks: Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Georgia, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Montenegro, Moldova, Northern Ireland, North Macedonia, Norway, Russia, Slovakia, Switzerland, Ukraine.

    Seven more – Austria, Italy, Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, Romania, Spain – set their limits between 12 weeks and 14 weeks.

    Conversely, only three nations – Iceland, Netherlands, and Sweden – allow elective abortion after 18 weeks or later, and only Netherlands, at 24 weeks, is similar to the U.S.

    As the Lozier Institute noted, “No European country allows elective abortion through all nine months of pregnancy as is permitted in the United States, where Supreme Court precedent only allows states to regulate it after viability. … The Mississippi late-term abortion restriction at 15 weeks is not extreme by any measure when compared with European law.” “

  19. Tethys says

    I’m just going to leave this here, for anyone who might think # 19 has accurate information.

    The Charlotte Lozier Institute (CLI) is the “research and education” arm of Susan B. Anthony List. CLI pushes alarmist narratives about women who need abortions later in pregnancy, publishes annual reports applauding state-level abortion restrictions, spreads lies about research that relies on fetal tissue and advocates for deceptive anti-abortion centers.

  20. marner says

    The information txpiper quotes in comment 18 seems correct to me. What is inaccurate?

  21. Tethys says


    The organization quoted is dedicated to pushing misinformation on reproductive rights.

    Why anyone would think Bill Mayer is a go to source of information on reproductive health care for people who can get pregnant is a completely different flavor of stupid.

  22. marner says

    I take your word about them pushing misinformation, but the actual quoted information in comment 19 appears accurate. The 15 week Mississippi law is more progressive then most of Europe. For example, not only is Germany’s limit 12 weeks, but counseling is also required prior to the abortion.
    For the record, this does not mean that I support any law, judicial opinion, etc. that lessons Roe.

  23. Tethys says

    Who cares if some of the figures published by an pro- forced birth organization aren’t completely fabricated?

    Do not get your information from such poor sources!

    I really do not care what the laws are in Europe, because that’s not relevant without a great deal of context.

    It’s simply not accurate to claim that abortion on demand up to 24 weeks is freely available in the USA, that’s just one of the weasel arguments that the forced birthers want to make.

    In any case, I refuse to engage in discussion that isn’t about the absolute basic right to bodily autonomy rather than faffing around parsing weeks gestation with known trolls.

    Since those weeks are counted from the first day of your last period, and include the time that the now pregnant person was menstruating, (and clearly thus NOT pregnant) they aren’t even an accurate basis for measurement.

    I wonder how many men are aware of that fact?

  24. says

    Under Roe, abortion is legal throughout the entirety of pregnancy…

    That statement is, AT BEST, so grossly oversimplified as to sink the credibility of the entire article. Dismissed.

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