The Anti-Life Movement
Originally written June 15th, 2006
I will agree with pro-life-minded individuals on one thing: abortion is a tragedy. I am not a female, so I know I cannot speak to that aspect of it, but for my part I will always wonder what could have been.
Abortion is a tragedy. Just because I’m an atheist and a materialist, I’m often accused of being unsentimental and unfeeling. That things like this hold no sway sway me – that a fetus is a “bag of meat”. It’s a long read from “should not be extended the same rights as you, me, or even Tom DeLay for that matter” to “bag of meat”. Would I like to live in a world where conditions where such that abortions needn’t be performed? In a heartbeat. I wish that we lived in a world where people didn’t make mistakes. Where there were enough resources and time to go around. Where you were physically unable to have sex until you reached a certain level of psychological maturity. Unfortunately, that world is nothing close to the one we live in.
That, however, is where my agreement with pro-life-minded individuals stops. I can sympathize with the motivations of those who would identify themselves as “pro-life”. They want to live in a world with no abortions. They want to achieve these ends through things such as spreading misinformation regarding abortion (particularly that abortion is a dangerous procedure with many consequences), abstinence-only sex eduation, like-minded legislation, and “concern for the health of the woman”. It is my idea, however, that the actions of such groups and individuals run contrary to their goals in terms of effects and have a host of unforseen negative consequences. It is my idea that, insofar as results are concerned, the so called “Pro-Life” movement (herafter, PLM) is not pro-life at all.
Among the many misconceptions regarding abortion, there is the notion that it is a dangerous procedure (no doubt fall-out from the misinformation spread by the PLM intended to scare women from having it done). Abortion is one of the safest medical procedures in the country with a death rate of .6 deaths per every 100,000 abortions. Compare that number with another one: 6.7 in 100,000. That’s the death rate for child birth (and that’s just in the developed world).1
Another popular refrain (particularly in Texas, where PLM groups tried to pass legislation requiring that abortion providers inform their patients of this) is that abortion raises the risk for developing breast-cancer and infertility. According to the American Cancer Society, having an abortion does not raise the risk for developing breast cancer (and in fact, having a live birth does temporarily raise the risk for developing breast cancer).2 Ditto for infertility. While abortion can scar the inside of the uterus, this scarring typically does not cause infertility and can typically be removed.3,4
And remember when I said abortion is a tragedy? Well, maybe it’s just cause I’m a dude because according to the American Psychiatric Association: “for the vast majority of women, an abortion will be followed by a mixture of emotions, with a predominance of positive feelings”.4 Hmmm. But I thought PLM groups generally held that abortions has significant emotional impact on women.
Of course, misinformation isn’t where the fun stops. As we all know, many members of the PLM believe that instituting abstinence-only education (i.e. sex ed minus the sex) is crucial to the cause of reducing the number of abortions. Aside from the various errors that these cirricula are riddled with–such as information on the efficacy of contraceptives in preventing HIV/AIDS, other STDS, pregnancy as well as the risks of abortion4 (surprise!)–they are essentially leaving an entire generation without the proper knowledge and information to guard against these very preventable conditions5 (yes, even if you have sex).
Of course, the rationale behind abstinence-only education is that teaching young people about sex would be like giving them a loaded gun! I mean, if we tell them about condoms and penises (is that the correct form for the plural of penis? I’ve never had to use that before…) and vaginas, well, they’re just going to go right out and have sex! Brahhh. Wrong answer again. Studies have shown that programs that include a discussion of contraceptives as well as abstinence do not increase levels of sexual activity. Which, as is intuitively appealing, means less abortions6,7–which is the end goal of the PLM.
To sum up, the goals of the PLM and it’s actions are contradictory. They say they want fewer abortions, yet they advocate policies which create more. They say they are for women’s health, yet spread vicious misinformation regarding reproductive options. They say they are for a healthy society, yet their information leaves teens unable to protect themselves against STDs and unwanted babies.
I don’t doubt the motivation of these individuals. I don’t doubt that they sincerely believe a fetus is a human being. I don’t doubt that they want to live in a better world: we all do. But they need to recognize that policies that they advocate and ideologies they line up behind are fostering the very conditions they wish to eradicate. If they were serious about stopping abortion, they would be hard at work handing out condoms, removing sex from the Taboo column in our nation’s collective thought processes, and working at changing the conditions that make people want to have them in the first place (i.e. Why not get behind raising the minimum wage?).
But I don’t think it was ever about the life of the fetus. No. The fetus is just a battle ground. It’s more about control and pushing a Judeo-Christian version of reality than anything else (which, not suprisingly, abstinence-only programs frequently cross the line between science and religion without any distinction4). It was never about what science actually says regarding women’s health. It’s about making sure women don’t do anything that offends God. It was never about making young people any safer. It was about trying to get a teenager to wait until marriage to have sex (i.e. abstinence vows, which typically last no more than two years before broken)6.
As I said at the beginning of this entry, I think abortion is a tragedy. I also think that the aims of PLM groups are admirable, but the methods are cripplingly naive, disengenuous, and ultimately harmful to humanity. It is time that they wake up and smell the data.
1Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. 2002. Abortion in the U.S. Facts Sheet. Retrieved online June 13th, 2006 from: http://www.kff.org/womenshealth/upload/Abortion-in-the-U-S-Fact-Sheet.pdf
2American Cancer Society. Can Having an Abortion Cause or Contribute to Breast Cancer?. Retrieved online June 12th, 2006 from: http://www.cancer.org/docroot/cri/content/cri_2_6x_can_having_an_abortion_cause_or_contribute_to_breast_cancer.asp?sitearea=cri
3Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. MayoClinic.Com: Ask a Women’s Health Specialist. Retrieved June 13th, 2006 from: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/abortion/AN00633
4United States House of Representatives, Special Investigations Devision. 2004. Retrieved June 14th, 2006 from: http://www.democrats.reform.house.gov/Documents/20041201102153-50247.pdf
5Human Rights Watch. 2002. Ignorance Only: HIV/AIDS, Human Right, and Federally Funded Abstinence-Only Programs in the United States. Retrieved online June 14th 2006 from: http://hrw.org/reports/2002/usa0902/
6Parikh, R. 2005. Helping Teenagers Make Choices. SFGate.Com. Retrieved online from June 13th, 2006 from: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2005/11/01/EDGFTFG41L1.DTL&type=printable
7USAID. Family Planning Prevents Abortion. 2004. Retrieved online June 11th, 2006 from: http://www.usaid.gov/our_work/global_health/pop/news/familyplanning.html