Abortion: Is it safe? Who decides? And what about birth control?


An interesting comment showed up in my filter the other day. It’s a reply to a guest post from Penny Gets Lucky back in February, Pro-Life vs Pro-Choice: Missing the Point, where Penny argues that if you want to prevent abortions, there are far better ways that criminalising and demonising the people who have them. Here’s the comment, from Jemalacane:

The thing I don’t like about abortion the most is that sometimes, both the mother and child will die during. If I were a husband or boyfriend, I would rather you spare my wife or girlfriend though. I’d rather the unborn child die than her. If someone can come up with a way which makes it nearly impossible for a woman to die while going through an abortion, I would be much less hostile to abortions.

I also do not think abortion is a necessary form of birth control. That’s what contraception is for. It’s better to prevent the pregnancy than to terminate it.

This comment raises several important questions. Is abortion dangerous? What is the role of partners in deciding whether someone can have an abortion? And, of course, the question of whether abortion is a preferable method of birth control.

Let’s get the last two out of the way first.

It’s better to prevent the pregnancy than terminate it.

Yes! Yes, it is. With the exception of cases of fatal fetal abnormality and threats to the health or life of the pregnant person, people who seek abortions generally don’t want to be pregnant. Pregnancy was not part of the plan, and even if the pregnant person knew immediately that abortion was what they wanted to do and didn’t have any difficulty with that decision, a certain amount of stress is almost inevitable. In Ireland, where abortions involve travelling overseas, this is doubly the case. Even without that, it seems silly to suggest that someone would, all else being equal, prefer to undergo an uncomfortable medical procedure instead of preventing it. Medical abortion pills cause painful cramps, and who actually enjoys being trussed up in stirrups for any kind of gyno visit? Contraception is normally a hell of a lot easier, and there are enough different methods around that most people can find something that suits them fairly well.

There’s just a few problems. We haven’t yet invented an infallible method of contraception (aside from having the kinds of sex where there’s no more than one kind of gamete around. I gather that a lot of people don’t swing that way, though). We do a terrible job of educating young people about sex and birth control. And people commit rape and sexual assault every day.

It is, in most cases, better to prevent a pregnancy than to terminate it. But once you’re pregnant, you don’t have the option of going back in time and changing what happened weeks or months ago. Once you’re pregnant, the decisions left to you are to carry to term, or to terminate. While sometimes it might feel like both of those options, quite frankly, suck? It’s what you’re stuck with.

And yes, we should do a lot more work around preventing people from getting pregnant when they don’t want to. And around empowering people to make all kinds of informed decisions about their bodies. Let’s do that too!

If I were a husband or boyfriend, I would rather you spare my wife or girlfriend though. I’d rather the unborn child die than her.

That’s… nice? I’m glad you think that way? I’d like to be honest about one thing before I go further: this was the only part of this comment that annoyed me. If you’re reading this, Jemalacane- and I do hope you are- then I’d like to state for the record that I can see that you’re probably not trying to say anything hurtful or damaging here. And I’d ask you to read this next part carefully.

There’s just one thing, though. If I were a girlfriend or wife, and you were a doctor, I would rather you ask me about what medical procedures you carry out on my body. I’d rather you ask me if I would want you to risk my life to save my pregnancy, or if I would choose for you to do everything necessary to save my life.

If I were a girlfriend or a wife of someone who would prefer to put me in danger to continue a pregnancy, against my will? I would want a doctor to take absolutely no notice whatsoever of what that person, who is not me, said. And if I were to be unconscious and unable to have those conversations with my doctor? I would want that doctor to act in the best interests of their patient- me– and not listen to anyone who tells them otherwise.

In short, I do not want my life to be dependant on whether or not I’m currently making wise decisions about dating. I would really prefer if the worst consequences of bad dating decisions were epic facepalming, having my friends sit me down and ask me if I don’t think I might do better, and some embarrassing memories. I’d like to be alive to have those, thanks.

With that question firmly sorted out, let’s go to the last- but by no means least- question. Here we go:

The thing I don’t like about abortion the most is that sometimes, both the mother and child will die during.

That sure is a point. It’s a scary one at that. If you feel that abortion risks the pregnant person’s life, then I can see how it would disturb you! I would never want to advocate something that would hurt and endanger people.

Looking at statistics, though, we find that abortion is safer for a pregnant person than carrying to term. Much safer, in fact. A person is fourteen times more likely to die during or after giving birth than they are of any complications following abortion! I’m going to say that again, because it’s a staggering figure- you’re fourteen times more likely to die from giving birth than abortion.

This doesn’t mean that I’m going to go picket antenatal units and GPs offices around the country, begging women not to have babies because of the risk to their lives. The vast majority of women survive pregnancy and birth, and they have the right to make informed choices and bear and raise children. It simply means that, of all the reasons that a person could choose to oppose abortion, the minuscule risk of life-threatening complications simply doesn’t add up.

Except.

Except where abortion is illegal. While only one person in 167,000 will die from a legal and safe abortion, death rates for unsafe abortions- which are what pregnant people will and do turn to when they have no legal alternative- are, according to the WHO, 350 times higher. Three hundred and fifty times higher. And that’s just counting the women who actually die. Add to that the incidence of complications that don’t kill outright, and you have a massive, preventable health crisis on your hands.

If the thing that you don’t like most about abortion is risking the lives of the people who have them? The single best way to prevent that and save lives is to make abortion legal and accessible to everyone who needs one.

One thought on “Abortion: Is it safe? Who decides? And what about birth control?

  1. Brilliantly handled.

What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s