About a decade ago, I wrote a post Why Pro-Choice is Pro-Life. It wasn’t very detailed. Though, some good stuff came up in the comments.
Given the extremism in the U.S. today, I think this topic requires a much more detailed and well-thought out post. This post contains information that may be relevant anywhere, but is deliberately U.S. focused. I am a U.S. citizen. I am seeing increasing extremism in my country. I am appalled by the treatment of women in the U.S. today. Increasingly, we are passing legislation that turns women into incubators. I only wish that The Handmaid’s Tale were more far-fetched than it actually is.
These days, I’m even seeing people on the reddit sub /r/atheism arguing from a non-religious standpoint about why they think the anti-choice stance makes sense. I can’t understand that and want to have an answer on hand ready to explain all of the very many reasons why the so-called pro-life but really pro-fetus, anti-choice, and anti-woman stance is horrifically cruel and cannot be supported rationally.
Note that this is an amalgam of posts I’ve written on reddit. I’m going to attempt to concatenate them together and edit them into a coherent whole. I hope to succeed.
The first thing to understand is that the pain receptors do not form until the 24th to 26th week. So, by definition, there can be no pain or suffering from any abortion before that time. From the linked article:
Although the system is clearly immature and much development is still to occur (fig 1), good evidence exists that the biological system necessary for pain is intact and functional from around 26 weeks’ gestation.
The second thing to understand is that there are birth defects that can’t be detected until the 24th week, which is almost a month after most of the abortion bans in this country that are now being pushed to 20 weeks or even earlier. Performing an ultrasound to look for defects at 20-22 weeks is fairly standard and has a high rate of success in finding birth defects.
There are birth defects that cannot be detected in the first trimester. And some, including Down’s Syndrome may not be detectable in the first trimester even though it sometimes is.
It’s good that we can detect most birth defects by week 22 because, as mentioned above, the neural development required to actually feel pain does not form until at a minimum the 24th week.
This means that if not for all of the stupid 20 week abortion bans being passed in a huge number of states, we’d be able to save those poor fetuses from developing pain receptors and put them out of their misery before their misery even begins, i.e. before they are sentient (able to feel).
The third thing to understand is that the vast majority of abortions are performed in the first trimester.
The majority (67.0%) of abortions were performed by ≤8 weeks’ gestation, and 91.5% were performed at ≤13 weeks’ gestation (Table 7). Few abortions were performed at 14–20 weeks’ gestation (7.2%) or at ≥21 weeks’ gestation (1.3%).
Or, at least if our laws were reasonable, they would be! The abortion restrictions in place today and the closures of abortion clinics that often cause women to travel tremendous distances to get their abortions do delay abortions pushing them later and later toward and sometimes beyond those same 20 week ban times.
The fourth thing to understand is that absolutely NO ONE is pro-abortion. The people who call themselves anti-abortion (or pro-life) in the U.S. today unfortunately also support a variety of policies that increase unwanted pregnancy and the need for abortion. They push things like abstinence only sex education. Science based sex ed delays onset of sexuality and increases use of birth control. Also, availability of birth control reduces the need for abortion. But, the same people opposing legal abortion are pushing back against requirements to provide insurance coverage for birth control. So, all of those policies that make it harder to get birth control or more expensive only increase unwanted pregnancy and the need for abortion. This means those screaming most loudly about stopping abortions are often the ones supporting the policies that increase the need for and number of abortions.
The fifth thing to understand about abortion is that “partial birth abortion” is a political term, not a medical term. The procedure is called intact dilation and extraction (IDX). It is used very rarely and almost exclusively to save the life of the mother or to remove dead fetuses in women who have had miscarriages. This is not an elective procedure.
In 2000, although only 0.17% (2,232 of 1,313,000) of all abortions in the United States were performed using this procedure, it has developed into a focal point of the abortion debate.
Patients who are experiencing a miscarriage or who have fetuses diagnosed with severe congenital anomalies may prefer an intact procedure to allow for viewing of the remains, grieving, and achieving closure. In cases where an autopsy is requested, an intact procedure allows for a more complete examination of the remains. An intact D&E is also used in abortions to minimize instruments introduced into the uterus, therefore reducing the risk of trauma. It also reduces the risk of cervical lacerations that may be caused by the removal of bony parts from the uterus, or retention of any fetal parts in the uterus.
That we made this procedure unavailable in such cases has likely caused a lot of suffering in this small percentage of cases and done nothing to help women or prevent abortions.
The sixth thing you should understand is that almost 15 times as many women die per 100,000 childbirths as do per 100,000 abortions. So, forcing women to carry to term and deliver a baby will result in the deaths of women. The mother’s life is always at much greater risk from childbirth than from abortion. This is a crucial point in this debate.
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.
Translation: For every 1,000,000 women you force to carry to term, instead of 6 women dying, 88 women will die. Requiring a million women to carry to term will kill 82 more women than allowing abortion.
This death sentence for pregnancy is not to be taken lightly.
The seventh thing I’d like to point out is that declaring a fetus to be a person means that a woman who miscarries can be charged with murder. This is not hypothetical. Purvi Patel has already experienced this first hand. She has the dubious distinction of being the first woman in the U.S. to be arrested and convicted for what was most likely a miscarriage. Later the conviction was overturned. Note that the claim was that she induced an abortion but there were no traces of abortifacients in her blood.
For those who think forcing a woman to carry to term is OK, please understand that forcing a woman to carry to term is literally wrongful imprisonment. Anything she does that might remotely endanger that fetus puts her at the same risk as Purvi Patel. You’re robbing women of their lives for the duration of the pregnancy, enslaving them to the well-being of their fetus, a fetus that may be the result of rape.
And, that rapist may then sue for visitation rights or even custody in large swaths of the U.S. Really. It sounds like a joke to most reasonable human beings. But, take a look at the maps in this article on the subject. At first glance at the first map, one might think that this is a problem only in 7 particularly bad states. But, that’s 7 states explicitly allowing a rapist to get custody! Again, custody, not just visitation, which is horrific enough. But, then there’s the third map in the article showing all of the states where the rapist must be convicted in order to lose rights. And, this includes liberal states like New York and California and many others.
There is simply no way to grant a fetus any right to life without denying a woman her right to life. Until birth, only one of them can have rights. I’d grant rights to the person we know is sentient and intelligent, the woman.
We can and should take strong steps to reduce the need for abortion. We can and should implement science based sex education. But, we’re doing the opposite today in the U.S. with abstinence only education. We can implement programs that make birth control freely available and free to all. But, instead we’re making it tougher to get and more expensive.
So, our current political situation is based on increasing the need for abortion while reducing access.
Our choices are
1) Change all of our policies to reduce the need for abortions OR teach girls nothing about sex, involve them in creepy mock-marriages to their fathers, tell them that they are only of value to the world if they keep their hymans ’til marriage, make contraception expensive and difficult to get and thus increase the need for abortions.
2) Keep abortion safe and legal while making it as rare as possible OR make it illegal so that women die in back room abortions performed with coat hangers.
Abortions will be done legally or illegally. Desperate women take desperate actions. Making abortion illegal is already proven not to reduce abortions, just to increase the death rate of those abortions.
So, for those who want to reduce abortion, don’t make it illegal. Just advocate scientifically valid sex education and availability of birth control. It’s really that simple.