Well, I don’t really know where to start on this one and I’m worried it will descend into a rant. But I find the new abortion laws in America utterly heart-breaking. When it comes to this topic, I am 100% pro-choice. I believe that a woman has the right to decide what happens to her own body. I’m not totally against those who are pro-life, if a pro-lifer falls pregnant and decides that abortion isn’t for her and she wants to continue with the pregnancy then fair enough. It only becomes a problem when pro-lifers start making laws that affect other people. You know you don’t have to be pro-abortion to be pro-choice.
Let’s face it, abortion will always be a thing whether it’s legal or not. All these laws are doing is making it unsafe for a woman to have the procedure because they will still have it. Women will no longer be able to go to their doctor and have a trained professional terminate the pregnancy. She will no longer be monitored, both physically AND mentally (because, and this may be a shock, abortions are traumatic for the woman no matter what the circumstances!) by doctors in white coats with letters after their names. Instead, they’ll be terminated by dodgy individuals down back alleys in secret. They’ll be administering at-home terminations using boiling water and coat hangers (I don’t know the methods used, but that’s what I’ve seen in PERIOD DRAMAS). The World Health Organisation estimates that 22 million unsafe abortions happen every year, but most of these are in developing countries. Unsafe abortions lead to preventable disabilities and even fatalities making them the third leading cause of maternal deaths worldwide1. We’ll lose more young women because unwanted pregnancies will always happen unless, one day, fertility becomes something you can ‘opt-in’ to when you’re ready to reproduce.
Four American states have passed bills to make abortion illegal once a fetal heartbeat is detected; the heartbeat bill. For context, this is usually at about 6 weeks. Which is strict considering a woman might not even know she’s pregnant before then… Then there’s the state that has made it even harder (looking at you Alabama) where abortion will be illegal from conception unless the mother’s life is at risk; this includes pregnancies as a result of rape or incest. Doctors (or anyone else performing abortions) who are caught performing them could now face up to 99 years in prison. Just to put that into context, other felonies in Alabama that carry the same sentence; murder, first degree rape, kidnapping. Second degree rape doesn’t carry quite the same sentence; statutory rape and sexual activity with a person incapable of giving consent carry a maximum sentence of 20 years. Sexual abuse and incest you’re looking at 10 years maximum2, 3.
Women who are seeking an abortion in this country, the UK, don’t have to explain why they want one. Women are entitled to objective and non-judgemental care regardless of the doctor’s personal opinion. And in my opinion, they shouldn’t have to justify their decision to anyone, unless you have a vagina and the pregnancy in question relates to your vagina then your opinion doesn’t matter. Women just have to be sure. It’s a traumatic event, whether you take pills for a medical termination or go under general anaesthetic for a surgical one, and as you may have guessed, they’re irreversible. ‘Post-abortion syndrome’ affects many women, and this is akin to post-traumatic stress disorder after an abortion. This is far more likely to happen in places where abortion is considered taboo4.
One of the most frustrating things about this is that the number of abortions in America is actually on the decline. By 26%! The main reason behind this is that contraceptive is more easily accessible. Unwanted pregnancies are often portrayed to be young single women or teenagers, when actually, in 2014, 59% of women receiving abortions already had at least one child. In many cases, a woman already has a family to care for, and she and her partner have made a decision together, that they lack the time, the money, or the ability to add another member to their family. Despite this decline, abortion still happens fairly often, with an estimated 1 in 4 women undergoing the procedure before the age of 45. So look around you, look at your friends and co-workers. You probably know and love a woman who has terminated a pregnancy5.
The most frustrating thing about this is that the people passing these bills are men. Men who will never know the panic of an unwanted positive pregnancy test. Who will never know the desperation of a woman with an unwanted pregnancy. They’ll never have to hide morning sickness from their colleagues, because you’re not announcing a pregnancy you don’t want to keep. Men who will never know the physical toll a pregnancy takes on a woman’s body or the mental struggle women go through when making the decision to abort. Imagine calling a woman a murderer for making the painful decision to end her pregnancy. People are also upset at the fact that the people passing these bills are male, but the reason for that is the fact that the majority of law makers in America are male. So who else is going to do it? That throws up way more questions, like why aren’t there more women in those positions in America? That’s a whole other article. Do they speak on behalf of the rest of the country though? Well, apparently 60% of Americans polled agreed that abortion should be legal in all circumstances6 . That’s still a lot of people, 40%, who think it should be illegal in some circumstances.
Generally, I believe that a lot of men believe that these are women’s reproductive rights we’re talking about and therefore it should be down to women to decide. Perhaps alienating men from the decision and shouldering women with the burden of the decision allows men to shirk their responsibilities. We all know men can physically walk away from a pregnancy where women definitely cannot. Does this go against our fight for equality? These new restrictions emphasise that this is a woman’s problem. In some cases, the decision to terminate a pregnancy will have been a joined decision by both parties, but it will be only the woman who is punished. Even in cases of rape, the victim will be punished for seeking an abortion- while we currently live in a world where it is estimated that for every 1000 rape cases, 996 perpetrators will not see any jail time. Maybe it’s time to include men in this conversation so that they understand exactly how babies are made (the internet is awash with quotes from right-wing American policymakers that suggest that they don’t have even a rudimentary understanding of biology), the full effects of pregnancy, and the true scale of the responsibilities that come with raising a child.
These laws will force children to grow up in a country where people claim to be pro-life, but subjects these children to grow up with parents who cannot care for them, maybe even in foster care. A country that claims to be pro-life but refuses to accept universal health care and a person can be bankrupted by a minor ailment. A country that claims to be pro-life but refuses to give up guns, so these children will go to school where there is very real possibility of them being shot in their classrooms.
There’s so much more that could be said about this issue. I haven’t even touched on Roe vs Wade and how that shaped abortion laws in 1973. I haven’t spoken about the people I know who have been through an abortion. I haven’t spoken about the fear the women of Alabama now feel. Or how this affects women who miscarry. It’s a huge subject and if you’ve made it this far then I salute and thank you. Do your own research, consider the implications of this action and what, if anything, we can do to stop it from happening.
My heart is breaking.
It’s breaking for the women in those states who might one day accidentally fall pregnant.
It’s breaking for the women who might one day attempt to abort a pregnancy and die herself as a result.
It’s breaking for the women who will be imprisoned for aborting a pregnancy.
It’s breaking for the women, some of whom are friends of mine, who have had an abortion in the past and are being called murderers for it.
We’re back living in a world where equality based on race, gender and sexuality are under threat. At this rate, in ten years time I’ll be back in my place in the kitchen.