10 Things I'd Say to the Anti-Choice Fanatics Trying to End Access to Abortion
The anti-choice movement would be nowhere without a heavy denial of reality based on the promotion of myths about sex, about birth control, about women’s bodies, but especially about abortion. While the majority of Americans are pro-choice, the constant drumbeat of stories makes the public wonder if there isn’t some truth to the stereotypes, causing even pro-choice people to support regulations such as waiting periods, parental notification laws, and ultrasound laws that only serve to make it harder for women in need to get abortions.
With that in mind, here’s ten realities pro-choicers should throw in the face of anti-abortion fanatics they have the misfortune to get into arguments with:
1) Most abortions take place early in pregnancy. Anti-abortion propaganda tends to focus on late term fetuses and even pictures of babies and small children, falsely implying that what’s evacuated during your typical abortion is basically the same as a baby. They shouldn’t be able to get away with this, but instead should acknowledge that nine out of ten abortions take place in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Additionally, the growth of medical abortion means a much larger percentage of abortions---62% overall---take place before the 9th week of pregnancy. In fact, in most abortions, the term “fetus” is incorrect, as doctors classify it as an embryo until the 11th week of pregnancy. At 8 weeks, and embryo is about ½ an inch long, and at 12 weeks, the fetus is a little over 2 inches long. In contrast, a full-term baby is an average 20 inches long, a full 40 times larger than the size of the average embryo during an abortion. The response to the bloody fetus pictures anti-choicers love should be pictures showing how small ½ an inch really is.
2) If not for anti-choicers, even more women would get abortions much earlier in their pregnancies. Most women want to terminate unwanted pregnancies as soon as possible, but there are some women who wait until 12 or 16 or even 20 weeks to terminate a pregnancy for elective reasons. Why do about 10% of women having abortions wait until early in their second trimester? It’s not because they’re stupid or indifferent to the growing fetus inside them. Research indicates that women delay having abortions because they have trouble deciding, they struggle to come up with the funds, and because they may have to travel and overcome legal obstacles to get an abortion. When anti-choicers focus on abortions that happen at 14 or 16 weeks, they should be asked what they’re doing to make sure women are getting abortions earlier: Do they support Medicaid funding? Do they want to help make sure there’s an easy to access provider in every county? If abortions after an embryo turns to a fetus bother you so much, you should be making sure women who want abortions can get them earlier in their pregnancies.
3) Doctors perform late term abortions because of medical indications, often on women who desperately wanted the baby. Anti-choicers like to lump all abortions together, implying that women wait until they’re 20 weeks pregnant or more to terminate a pregnancy because it somehow just occurred to them that they didn’t want to have a baby. But the rule of thumb with abortion is, “The later the termination, the higher the odds that the woman needed it for medical reasons.” Indeed, doctors who perform abortions after 24 usually require, as a matter of practice and of law, that the women have medical necessity reasons for abortion. Before he died, Dr. George Tiller had to have a second doctor confirm every diagnosis of a medical condition allowing post-24 week abortions. When he was accused of fudging these records to allow for elective abortions, the court found that Dr. Tiller innocent of all the charges.
Anti-choicers should be asked if they really can look a woman in the face whose fetus has defects incompatible with life or whose blood pressure is rising so high that it will kill her, and tell that woman that she shouldn’t be able to save herself or her family because later term abortions gross them out.
4) Women who get abortions aren’t afraid of being mothers. Anti-choice protesters like to shout at women going into clinics about how they would really like motherhood if they tried it out. In reality, women who have abortions are fully cognizant of the joys and pains of motherhood; 61% of women having abortion are already mothers. Anti-choicers who wax poetic about motherhood should be asked to explain why women who are already mothers would therefore choose abortion.
5) Abortion is physically safe. Anti-choice propaganda dwells on calling abortion clinics “abortion mills” and even going so far to call, as Michele Bachmann did, abortion an “act of violence” committed against the woman getting it. The truth is that abortion is a simple outpatient procedure that’s on the high end of safety for a medical procedure. The vast majority of abortions have no complications at all, and abortion is considered many times safer than childbirth. There are no long term health effects of abortion; anti-choice claims that it’s correlated to breast cancer have been repeatedly shown to be false. When anti-choicers get hysterical about how abortion is “violence”, they should be made to answer for the statistics that show it’s much safer than childbirth.
6) Abortion is mentally safe. In order to dissuade women from abortion, anti-choicers claim it will invoke depression and possibly even post-traumatic stress disorder. But repeated studies show not only that abortion doesn’t cause depression, but that giving birth can. In fact, mental illness can be a medical indicator for abortion; for women for whom giving birth can aggravate mental health problems, an abortion is often necessary to prevent further degradation of their mental health. Andrea Yates is good evidence against the contention that childbirth is a panacea, but anti-choicers should explain why they think they know better than the American Psychological Association when it comes to the mental health effects of abortion.
7) Women who get abortions take responsibility for their decision. Much anti-choice propaganda and legislation portrays women getting abortions as too stupid or cowed to understand the gravity of their decision. Supporters of mandatory ultrasounds argue that once women realize there’s an embryo in there, they’ll dash out of the clinic, an argument that assumes women must think they’re growing puppies or lemons in there and have to be set straight. The truth is that women who get abortions know that they’re terminating a pregnancy and are determined to do it long before they set foot in the doctor’s office. When dealing with supports of ultrasound laws, I recommend referencing this study of women who looked at ultrasound images before an abortion. The research showed that none of the women who did so changed their minds, and a substantial majority found that the images didn’t have much of an effect on their feelings at all.
8) Abortion providers are responsible medical professionals who work to make sure their patients are healthy and avoid future unintended pregnancies. Anti-choicers refuse to acknowledge that abortion providers are medical professionals who put their patients first, instead using terms such as “abortion industry” and claiming that abortion providers are trying to increase the abortion rate to make more money. First of all, abortion prices are relatively low compared to other medical procedures. Your average abortion costs around $500. The average cost of childbirth is 17 times as much. Ask an anti-choicer why a doctor who is just in it for the money wouldn’t go for the more lucrative profession of delivering babies.
When the words “abortion industry” come up, it’s fun to ask anti-choicers if they know what the term “non-profit” means, as the nation’s single largest provider of abortions, Planned Parenthood, is a non-profit. Additionally, Planned Parenthood works tirelessly to reduce the abortion rate by promoting sex education and contraception, the very tools necessary to prevent unintended pregnancy and therefore abortion. Contraception counseling to prevent future abortions is a regular feature in abortion care.
9) Women get abortions because they’re being responsible. Abortion is often characterized, even by some pro-choicers, as the result of women’s irresponsibility. Women are assumed to get pregnant because they were being irresponsible, and all too often, abortion is characterized as the “easy way out”. The truth is more complex. More than half of women getting abortions were trying to prevent pregnancy by using a contraception method the month they got pregnant. Moreover, it’s not like abortion is all cake and roses, but in fact it’s an unpleasant medical procedure that resembles all those other ones you get when you’re being responsible for your health. Most women getting abortions cite their personal responsibilities as a reason to get an abortion: responsibilities to actual children, financial responsibilities, work and school responsibilities. An honest society would view waiting to have children until you’re prepared for them as a sign that someone is responsible, instead of evidence that she’s irresponsible.
10) Conservative policies cause the abortion rate to be higher than it needs to be. No one wants an abortion. Women aren’t getting pregnant on purpose so they can enjoy an expensive suctioning of their uterine lining. So why are there 1.2 million abortions a year in America? Part of it is just bad luck; sometimes contraception fails and unwanted pregnancies happen. That will always be with us.
However, 46% of women who get abortions weren’t using a contraceptive method the month they got pregnant, indicating that conservative policies that discourage regular contraception use---everything from abstinence-only education to objecting to any measures that make contraception cheaper and easier to obtain---have been effective in keeping women from using contraception as regularly as they should. In addition, abortion rates are much higher for women living in poverty, and three quarters of women getting abortions say they can’t afford a child. If anti-choicers start moaning about the high rate of abortions, ask them what they intend to do about it. Do they want to make birth control free for all women? What about expansive social welfare that makes it easier for pregnant women living in poverty to say yes to having this baby? Most anti-choicers are generally conservative, and most will get really angry really quick if you start to mention concrete solutions to lower the abortion rate.