What Does “Abortion Reduction” Really Mean?


Anna North, on Jezebel, takes a look at the problems with “abortion reduction” as portrayed through an O’Reilly lens. She surveys some of the most offensive moments of Friday’s The O’Reilly Factor, on which Salon Editor-in-Chief Joan Walsh appeared.

Abortion reduction can mean different things, as North points out. It can mean reducing the need for abortion, as in reducing unintended pregnancies. But some people use the phrase to mean that we should more closely monitor women who want abortions and the reasons they want abortions.

For example, O’Reilly alleged on the show that Dr. Tiller performed late-term abortions frivolously:

He maintained that "Tiller was aborting late-term fetuses for casual reasons." He then called in Dr. Paul McHugh, head of the Psychiatric School at Johns Hopkins University …who made some vague claims about Tiller offering abortions so that women could "go to concerts" or "take part in sports."

These claims are ludicrous, but they shed light on one of the primary tactics of the anti-abortion movement, which is to call into question the judgment of pregnant women. The clear implication is that women who want abortions are selfish, short-sighted, or stupid, and that by restricting abortion, we’re saving not only fetuses—we’re also saving these women from themselves.

The phrase “abortion reduction” makes me uncomfortable because it implies that we have perspective to offer women considering abortion. This is the abortion protestor (or “counselor”) outside the clinic door. The least aggressive of these might say something like, “Have you considered other options?” but even this, spoken politely, is offensive. Why would a stranger have considered options for my fetus that I haven’t? Can he/she be serious?

This, the necessity of deferring to one woman’s judgment, is what Anna North articulates so well:

If we truly want to preserve a woman’s right to choose what to do with her body, we need to accept that sometimes women will abort for reasons we might not agree with. Really, being pro-choice doesn’t mean thinking every abortion is a good idea. It means realizing that the only person who should truly have the right to determine whether it’s a good idea is the mother, and protecting her rights means allowing her to make decisions we might not necessarily support.

This is the essence of abortion rights. Roe v. Wade came out of the knowledge that we can’t allow there to be gatekeepers to abortion, be they state legislators or parents or the public. These gatekeepers will fail, and O’Reilly’s (continued) rant about late-term abortions shows us why. We cannot understand, in every circumstance, a woman’s experience, and we cannot be the ones to decide which abortions are justifiable.

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