"I don't think that being a strong person is about ignoring your emotions and fighting your feelings. Putting on a brave face doesn't mean you're a brave person. That's why everybody in my life knows everything that I'm going through. I can't hide anything from them. People need to realise that being open isn't the same as being weak."

- Taylor Swift

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

the reality of abortion

Now Playing: Treacherous by Taylor Swift (put your lips close to mine as long as they don't touch, out of focus, eye to eye until the gravity's too much and I'll do anything you say if you say it with your hands)

Myth #1: Women who don't use contraceptives are 'irresponsible' and deserve the consequences of unwanted pregnancies 

Contraception isn't as black and white as 'to use or not to use, that is the question'. In reality, there are many factors as to why women don't use contraception. I personally cannot use any kind of hormonal contraception because of my hormonal imbalances and my mental illness - both of which are often dangerously exacerbated by contraceptives such as the pill or the ring or implant. The reality is that it's not always about the responsibility of taking a pill every day - I have to think holistically about my physical and mental health. The reality is that I may have to use contraceptive methods that haven't got the security of 99% effectiveness, and I will be stigmatized for that. The reality is that contraception is a physical, emotional and financial nightmare - a nightmare borne out of our society's inability to recognise every woman's right to sexual freedom, sexual pleasure and reproductive rights. Other factors for improper use of contraception include pressure from partners, lack of education and cost concerns. Further, for all the widely accepted contraceptive methods, only one is specifically for men - the male condom. The rest are all for women - for women to bear the physical, mental and economic consequences. And the most important thing is that there is never any peace of mind - no contraceptive method is 100% foolproof, not even abstinence. In fact, over half of all women who obtain abortions were on some form of birth control.

Myth #2: Most women who get abortions are teenagers/shady/irresponsible/immoral (atheist)/sluts/don't understand what it is to be a mother etc etc etc

According to the Guttmacher Institute (these are American statistics) 1 in 3 women will have an abortion by the time they are 45. One. In. Three. Most women who have abortions are in their 20s - which makes sense, given that in the ruthless and predominantly male corporate ladder many women must sacrifice their most fertile years to establish a career, and that most of these women have been sexually active since their late teens. Teenagers account for only 15% of abortions, but teenagers under eighteen only account for 6% of abortions. 60% of women who have abortions already have children, and so understand fully what it is to be a mother - many cite the need to care for existing children as a reason to get an abortion. 75% of women who get abortions are religiously affiliated, and the rates of abortion amongst Catholic women are comparable to that of all women. Although abortion rates are increasingly concentrated amongst poor women, this is not due to sexual behaviour but limited access to contraception and education.

Myth #3: Criminalizing abortion will reduce abortion rates

There is little relationship between the legal status of abortion and how often it occurs. The lowest instances of abortion (12 in 1000) is in Western Europe, where abortion is legal and widely accepted. The highest instances of abortion are in Latin America (32 in 1000) and Africa (29 in 1000), where abortion is highly restricted. Criminalizing or severely restricting access to abortion only forces abortion underground and increases the chances of women dying or sustaining severe and lifelong injuries from backyard abortion clinics or attempts at self abortion. No matter what your stance on abortion is, no woman deserves to die a horrific, undignified death as a consequence of an unwanted pregnancy.

Myth #5: Abortion is wrong/murder/etc

Where do you draw the line with this? Many extremist and conservative religious sects cite 'wasting seed' as a reason to prohibit male masturbation - which suggests that some people consider eggs and sperm to be 'life forms'; you could argue that certain religious and cultural rituals surrounding menstruation are also derived from the concept of losing life. Some consider a fertilized ego to be a life form, others consider foetal viability such as the precedent of Roe vs. Wade. Many also consider that a child's rights do not outweigh those of the mother until it is born, and some cultures and religions do not consider a child to be a full human being with full human rights until a set period has passed since the birth, such as the Jewish tradition of not giving a child a full funeral if it dies 30 days after the birth and the Asian custom of not registering a child until it is a year old. The reality is that life and the potential for life dies all around us - women are born with one or two million follicles and produce 400 ovum in her lifetime, and yet many only give birth to one or two children - does that mean this woman has murdered two million people? No. 50% of all fertilized eggs are naturally aborted before pregnancy is even detected. 1 in 3 of all detected pregnancies end in miscarriages. Babies die in utero, in childbirth, in the first weeks and months of life. Every day we hear stories of life that ends before it has a chance to live. Many pregnancies have to be terminated for medical reasons and it is beyond stupid to criminalize this. Of the babies that do make it many are born with severe congenital defects, or are born into violent, abusive families. There are things worse than death, especially death before life has begun. Reproduction is not quick and easy and idyllic. It can be bloody and tragic and intensely complicated. But the abortion debate is not really about saving lives and we should stop pretending that it is - it is about people who believe women have the right to sexual freedom and the right to safely, legally and responsibly deal with the potential consequences of this, and the people who believe that women must remain at the mercy of men, of the government and of God. With all this knowledge of how fragile life and potential life is and how difficult it is to define 'personhood', I can't help but consider the pro-life stance to be about punishing women for expressing their sexuality.

From a purely medical perspective a foetus is the time between embryo and personhood - by definition it is not a human being, only a human to be. Put it this way. When a woman is pregnant, she and her husband don't call themselves 'parents', but 'parents to be', because their child is not a human, only a human to be. Personhood is defined as being able to survive outside of the mother's body, albeit with technological help - this is normally defined as the 22nd or 24th week of pregnancy, and contrary to popular belief about 90% of abortions occur in the first trimester, far before this time - abortion is not delivering a live baby and then killing it. Before this time, a foetus is not a human being in any sense of the word. It cannot think, has no emotional capacity, has no memory and cannot feel pain. If a fertilized egg fails to attach to the uterine wall, it is not committing suicide. If two fertilized eggs merge and become a chimera, it is not a cannibal. If a woman miscarries she is not committing murder and the foetus, although mourned, is mourned as a missed opportunity rather than a lost life. The potential for life is precious, don't get me wrong, but is also fragile and treated differently in our society than an actual human life - except for abortion, because of its (mostly unfair and illogical connection) to sex and promiscuity and irresponsibility. Ending life before it has begun is not murder. Some extremist pro-life activists would have you believe that a foetus can feel and remember everything and is put under extreme physical and psychological distress and it is not true - you cannot attribute human sensation to something that isn't human. Other pro-life activists claim that abortion doctors are murderers and women who obtain abortions are sadistic and heartless and this is all just fear-mongering lies. Every pro-choice activist sees the clear distinction between inducing a miscarriage and murdering a human being. Pro-choice isn't even necessarily pro-abortion - the definition of 'pro-choice' is to give women the right to choice, and there are no situations in which women are obligated to get an abortion according to pro-choice thinking.

So how will we reach a consensus? Choice. I am personally pro-life on abortion, in that I believe abortion is only appropriate in cases of rape, incest, risk to the mother's life or severe congenital deformities. I think this not because I think a non-viable foetus is a full human being, but because I recognise that the potential for life is precious and should not be flippantly discarded. I also acknowledge that I am lucky to have the socio-economic status to bring up a baby, that I have family and community support, that I am not likely to have an unexpected pregnancy and that I am, or very soon will be, physically capable of pregnancy and parenthood. This is my opinion and will inform my choices as I move into the next stages of my life. I also acknowledge that this is an opinion formed by a teenager who has never been in a relationship and never done anything that could have led to a pregnancy, and so if I have to eat my own words later on I reserve my right to do so.

But my opinions and my beliefs on abortion concern only me and my choices. I support pro-choice legislation on reproductive rights because it is every woman's right to make her own choices - her choice as to when abortion is and is not appropriate, and when something is actually a human being with full human rights.

Imagine this. Imagine if abortion was mandatory if you had a mental illness or you weren't married. I say this because this reflects a) hormonal contraception's impact on mental health and the real life sterilization and forced abortions of patients with mental illnesses in the past and b) the previous mandatory removal and adoption of children born out of wedlock. Imagine if you were forced to have an abortion even if your mental illness wasn't hereditary, was under control and would not impact your capacity as a parent. Imagine if you were forced to have an abortion even if you don't believe in abstinence until marriage or if you were forced into sex. Imagine if abortion was mandatory regardless  of your opinions, your values, whether you consider your child to be a viable life form or not, regardless of whether you wanted the child or not. How is this in any way fair? How is this in any way respecting human rights?

Forcing women to have babies is no different to forcing women to have abortions - it robs women of choice and rights. Pro-life policies force women to pay the consequences of lack of education, of socio-economic inequality, of sexism and sexual violence. It may be every child's right to life, but it is also every child's right to be safe and happy and to be born to safe and happy parents in a safe and happy environment. Pro-life policies rob women of the right to choose if and when to have children and the circumstances in which they build their own families. Pro-life policies disadvantage women and rob them of their right to sexual freedom. Pro-life policies encourage sexist and misogynistic attitudes towards contraception, sex, pregnancy and abortion. It's okay to be pro-life; I am. But it's not okay to impose your beliefs on others. It's not okay to have the blood of millions of women and children worldwide on your hands because you think you can make choices for other people. We can debate until the end of time when personhood starts, whether the mother's rights are more important than a child's rights, whether abortion is immoral or not. But we could end this here and now by saying 'This is what I believe and this is what I would do. I respect you as a human being to make your own choices. I wish for my choices to reflect my values and I respect your right for the same.'

Pro-choice policies do not force women to have abortions. It does not lead to an increase in abortions. If anything, access to safe, legal abortion procedures in conjunction to access to comprehensive contraception, education and healthcare have led to a decline in both unwanted pregnancies and abortions. They only allow women to make a choice based on their beliefs and their values. It's your right to consider every single tiny minuscule sperm cell a 'life form', but not to impose these beliefs onto other people. Criminalizing abortion only punishes women for exercising basic human rights, and leads to an increase in deaths and injuries associated with unsafe abortion procedures. Education, contraception and choice is worth more than all the slut shaming and demonization of women and of abortion by politics and religion.

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