In Response to Kavita: Legal Abortion Globally


This post is part of our online salon: A New Agenda for Girls' and Women's Health and Rights, co-hosted with UN Dispatch.

I want to respond to part of what Kavita said:

"Finally, the women's movement needs to show the political will and courage to refuse to cede the moral high ground by showing itself able and willing to speak to the moral ambiguities around the issue of abortion."

This is so important, but it has proved incredibly tricky, because if we paint abortion as a "tragedy," a la Hillary Clinton several months ago, we buttress the anti-abortion movement in its creation of "post-abortion syndrome" as something women need to be protected from.

This is one of those areas where I really wish we could bring the international to bear more on the domestic debate. I want to scream every time some pundit, in contemplating her own ambivalence about choice, relegates back-alley abortion to the realm of ancient history. I wish politicians would say, loudly and repeatedly, that if you look around the world, there is no connection between abortion's legality and its incidence. I wish the staggering toll of unsafe abortion in the developing world was part of the conversation. Outside the world of public health and the global women's movement, very, very few people know that, for example, there are countries in East Africa where botched abortions are responsible for a third of maternal deaths. I don't even know how many people realize that the lowest abortion rate in the world is in the Netherlands.

Ross Douthat, an up-and-coming young conservative thinker, has sketched an utterly fantastical vision of what he sees a post-Roe America looking like in Imagining A Prolife America.

It's maddening for all kinds of reasons, but mostly for its utter ignorance of what's happening in countries where abortion is illegal. (Hint: the truth doesn't bear out his "assumption" that "a ban on abortion, by changing the incentives of sexual behavior and family formation, would actually end up reducing out-of-wedlock births, welfare spending, and all the rest of it.").

Obviously we're never going to convince people like him, but I think if there was some kind of basic knowledge of how this issue plays out in other countries, it could possibly change some of the faulty assumptions underlying the abortion debate here, and help people understand the connection between pro-choice policies and fewer abortions.

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  • marysia

    Not everyone who identifies as "prolife" rather than "prochoice" on abortion takes that stance because, like Ross Douthat, they hold an untenable, naive, and inhumane fantasy that banning abortion will bring about a right-wing "utopia" of sexual repression, patriarchal family structures, and no dreaded "welfare dependency."

    Some of us actually identify as prolife because we are concerned about developing unborn life, but we don't stop there, we are pro-already born lives, including of course the precious lives of women. 

    And therefore, we realize, the deepest, most decisive question is not the legality/illegality of abortion, but its root causes. 

    Women are going to resort to abortion if they don't have other & better routes, such as good, readily accessible contraception, a social climate welcoming to same-sex relationships, a social climate that makes male resonsibility a widespread reality, and a comprehensive, generous public commitment to social supports for all kinds of families.  So we actively support those other routes.

     

    The abortion-reducing measures you associate with prochoice are not supported exclusively by prochoicers (this holds true historically as well). Please give us some credit.  We may not get space in the Atlantic or in the columns of RHReality Check, but we do exist.  In the US & elsewhere.

  • invalid-0

    Could you please point me to your sources for the high rates of maternal deaths you allege?

  • invalid-0

    Some of us actually identify as prolife because we are concerned about developing unborn life, but we don’t stop there, we are pro-already born lives, including of course the precious lives of women.

    And therefore, we realize, the deepest, most decisive question is not the legality/illegality of abortion, but its root causes

    An actual living and breathing pragmatic pro-lifer. Where have you been? Come, come out of the shadows!

    they hold an untenable, naive, and inhumane fantasy that banning abortion will bring about a right-wing “utopia” of sexual repression, patriarchal family structures, and no dreaded “welfare dependency.”

    At least one pro lifer told me a complete ban on abortion would force women to “be more chaste”. I have heard even more extreme views, like a desire to ban what is considered “abortifacient” birth control as well.

  • marysia

    Where have I been? 

    Uh, working very diligently on all these issues for nearly a quarter-century now, with many others who take the same or similar approaches. 

    Probably I was passing out birth control leaflets and sending politicians letters about parental leave and such when some of the younger folks here on RH Reality Check were still in diapers (:

     Why do people like us seem to come from the shadows? It's certainly not because we don't exist, or haven't existed.  We've been around, and busily so, for a long time.

    One thought I have on this: the abortion debate is so completely polarized, people on both "sides" more often than not don't believe us when we explain in our own terms who we are and what we are about. 

    Cognitive dissonance can be a powerful force in the human universe…

  • invalid-0

    Cognitive dissonance can be a powerful force in the human universe…

    It won’t get better anytime soon because the MSM (mainstream media)loves polarized debates like this. Anything to sell more papers or get more viewers. “Knee-jerk” will always get more attention than “nuanced”.

    I used to be a real hot-head about this 6-7 years ago,and I am trying very hard to be halfway civil now. And it breaks my heart to see younger pro-choicers repeating my old discussion board errors, such as using “anti-choice” as a verbal club.

  • marysia

    …for your commitment to civility and respect.

    Yes, that word "anti-choice" gets used–not only by young hotheads but older ones!–as a "verbal club."  Just like some abortion opponents use "antilife" as a word-weapon.

    Such terms destroy the opportunities to recognize and jointly act upon shared concerns that exist despite disagreements over the ethics, legality, or spirituality of abortion itself.

  • invalid-0

    … Four days later: … silence ….

  • invalid-0

    Sorry — I don’t spend a lot of time on message boards. Here are some sources for stats on unsafe abortion. A simple google search will get you lots more.

    http://www.who.int/reproductive-health/publications/articles/article4.pdf

    http://www.popline.org/docs/126980

    http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9906EED71E39F937A35755C0A963958260

  • invalid-0

    Thanks, Michelle.