Abortion (or How Alabama is Determined to Remain in Top 10 US States with Worst Health Care)

For all you “citation needed” folks: here you go.

I could talk about something funny. Ben Shapiro threw a bitch fit and made a fool of himself on international television because another conservative pundit . . . asked him basic questions during a Q&A. That’s fucking hilarious. But I guess I should probably comment on something that’s actually important.

Note: I do not use pro-choice/pro-life terminology because I think both of them fundamentally ignore what is actually being argued about–abortion–in order to make themselves look better and their opponent look worse. So, with that out of the way, here is this gargantuan, citation-heavy list.

1.) It’s very difficult to find an anti-abortion argument that doesn’t seem religiously rooted.

I’m getting this out of the way first because it is a.) the most obvious and b.) the least substantive. Even so, it is very relevant to bring up, so I’m doing it. Opposition to abortion seems almost entirely rooted in explicitly religious values and religious philosophies of life. I’m not saying secular anti-abortion talking points don’t exist, but they seem to be put on the back burner in favor of whatever arbitrary distinction God has supposedly made about when “a life” starts and stops mattering. For example, here’s a quote from one of the Republican state senators, Clyde Chambliss, who helped approve a bill that doesn’t even let rape victims have abortions:

“Human life has rights, and when someone takes those rights, that’s when we as government have to step in. When God creates that life, that miracle of life inside the woman’s womb, it’s not our place as humans to extinguish that life. That’s what I believe.”

The United States is not theocratic. We have the separation of church and state. Religious values and sensibilities can freely dictate how individual people choose to deal with unplanned pregnancies. If a woman doesn’t want an abortion because she thinks God has blessed her with the gift of life even if she wasn’t planning on it, good on her. I’m an atheist, though. I don’t care that God blessed my uterus with the miracle of life. I don’t think God exists, and I certainly don’t think “God created that life” is something that should impact legal and health policies.

2.) It’s a baby./Life begins at conception./Once it has a heartbeat, it’s a person./etc.

Here’s a website detailing the steps of pregnancy. Here’s another one. Read them. For a quick rundown: It goes from a zygote (a fertilized egg), to an embryo (around 4-11 weeks old), to a fetus (12 weeks and onward, when organs continue to develop and its nervous system is developed enough to allow movement and sensation). The 13th week marks the second trimester. The 27th week marks the third trimester, which is what most people think of when they think of “a baby.” Fetal viability–the point where the fetus could conceivably survive outside the womb–tentatively starts at 24 weeks, though only around 30% survive being born that early.

I’m just going to flat out say that the majority of anti-abortion talking points I’ve heard about when a life “begins” make no sense. From a strictly biological sense, “life” doesn’t stop or begin anywhere in this process. The sperm and the egg are just as much “alive” separate as they are together, so the proclamation that life doesn’t start until conception is odd. The heartbeat bill that has become so popular nowadays just comes across as a totally arbitrary defining point. I know we place symbolic significance on the heart, but the heart developing isn’t some flagship moment in development. The heart is formed enough for a heartbeat to begin when the embryo is less than an inch long and is also in the process of developing all of its other vital organs. The heart is no more or less vital than the liver in terms of survival, yet we for some reason decided that the heart’s chambers developing enough to start pumping blood kinda is when a fetus starts to super-extra be alive, like it wasn’t equally “alive” before that point. Here is what a fetus looks like at the time when the heartbeat bill would disallow an abortion, by the way:

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According the CDC’s website, with data collected in 2015, the majority of of abortions-(91.1% of them) were performed during early gestation, by the 13-week mark at the latest. Almost 25% of those were performed before the 8-week mark and were non-surgical/non-invasive, i.e., the woman is given a stronger version of the Plan B pill which induces a very heavy period . . . and that’s the end of that. So, in short, the idea that full grown babies are being gorily scraped out of callous women’s wombs is inaccurate. The overwhelming majority of abortions happen within the first trimester, where the fetus doesn’t have a developed enough nervous system to be a conscious/sentient being, and when it isn’t even physically developed enough to warrant the horrible, bloody surgical removal that anti-abortion activists love to fear monger about. For the minority of late term abortions that do happen, I’ll get to those later.

A fetus is a baby the same way an egg is a chick and the same way an acorn is an oak tree. They can be those things, if the variables of the world line up in such a way to allow that potential development to happen. X having the potential to become Y does not mean that X=Y, and stopping X from becoming Y does not mean you killed Y.

3.) Children are not a “consequence” or a “punishment” or something to “teach people a lesson.”

This is my personal least favorite anti-abortion argument: “You got yourself pregnant, now it’s up to you to take responsibility for your actions. If you didn’t want a baby, you should have kept your legs closed. You shouldn’t be allowed to run away from the consequences of your actions by getting an abortion. You have to do the right, mature thing.”

Okay. Let’s just ignore that rape is a thing. Let’s just ignore that coerced sex is a thing. Let’s just ignore that abusive relationships are a thing. Let’s ignore all of that and the incredibly unfortunate implications that arise from painting pregnancy as something that is necessarily a consequence of a woman’s choices. Let’s also ignore the fact that a very large percentage of unplanned pregnancies happen within monogamous relationships where the birth control measures they take unexpectedly fail, so the implication that unplanned pregnancies are necessarily a result of irresponsible behavior is also not accurate.

Let’s ignore all of that. Let’s assume that every single abortion that has ever happened or will ever happen is undergone by a young, freewheeling, independent woman who just sluts around all the time, having constant unsafe sex and behaving in an incredibly irresponsible and immature manner. Okay. Why do you want those above women to be forced to have a child to take care of? You wouldn’t trust someone like that to dogsit for you. Rover not getting fresh water one afternoon is awful, but a human infant being raised for 18+ years in a household that didn’t want it, wasn’t emotionally or financially prepared for it, and has no idea how to go about it is fine. Who cares if they’re raised in a safe, healthy, supportive environment, as long as their slut mom can see them as a punishment for her own life mistakes and learns a valuable lesson about adulthood. It’s not like the cycle of poverty and just the general lasting effects of a poor childhood exist.

In summary: If you think someone is immature and irresponsible, forcibly entrusting that person with the well-being, safety, mental health, education, and life prospects of another human being who relies wholly upon them for support is not a fair and reasonable way to get them to “grow up.” I’m also having a difficult time understanding why going through the financial, emotional, and social hardship of abortion and then living with the stigma of being a woman who got an abortion doesn’t count as “accepting personal responsibility.” Also, for an anecdote to help back this claim up–I was born as an unplanned child to a young, emotionally unstable single mother in an economically destitute area. My mother did not suddenly become an adult who made better life choices just because I existed. I just became an adult with a crippling fear of poverty and lots of mental health problems! Fun times.

4.) Abortion is not birth control. It’s what you get when birth control fails.

I think there’s an odd misconception going around that women are using abortion as their go-to birth control option, like they’re sluttin’ around having mountains of unsafe sex, and abortion is how they contend with that problem. That’s just not how the world works. I’m sorry. I don’t know what universe you live in where women are totally down to drop at least $800 on an abortion as their chosen contraception method when condoms, birth control, and the Plan B pill exist. I don’t think abortions are some great, wonderful thing that everybody should be getting all the time. I’d rather as few abortions happen as possible. In my opinion, it should be the last resort of women who were unable, for whatever reason, to successfully use contraceptives. I’d much rather have a public that was informed and safe, in a society where contraceptive options are readily available and accessible, than a public that was poppin’ on over to Planned Parenthood for a quick aborsh.

If anything, abortion seems to be used as the go-to contraception method for teenage girls who overtly do not use any of the above mentioned contraception because a.) safe contraception materials are not accessible to them and/or b.) they have no concept of what safe sexual practices are because it was never something they were taught and they were highly discouraged to do any research on their own, and they wind up engaging in unprotected sex. The majority of abortions are performed in hyper-religious areas with limited to no legitimate sexual education, shock of all shocks. Also, for extra shock-points, the same people who don’t like abortion are the ones who don’t want Sex Ed taught, even though sufficient Sex Ed instruction and available contraception in high schools is highly correlated with a decrease in teen pregnancy and teen abortion.

5.) Why don’t you put it up for adoption instead?

American Child Protective Services is overburdened and rampant with internal and external abuse. There are already more kids than adults willing to foster/adopt them in the system right now. That won’t be helped by every unplanned pregnancy adding to the pile of unwanted kids with nowhere to go. To be fair, a newborn is far more likely to be adopted than a grown child because “people don’t want a kid with baggage,” but this is not a guarantee, especially if the newborn in question has developmental issues, which is common in unplanned teen pregnancies in particular. Many girls who get pregnant at 16 aren’t particularly opposed to drinking and smoking while they’re with child, as it turns out. Who’d a thunk it? Plus, adoptions in all demographics regardless of the child’s health are going down.

This is also ignoring the larger issue of a woman’s bodily autonomy. What happens to the child once it is out of her body is a separate issue entirely from the question of whether or not a woman should be required to carry a child to term.

Pregnancy isn’t some walk in the park where you get wacky cravings sometimes and pop a kid out, and whoop it’s over. Prepartum and postpartum depression are very real things that affect women with unplanned pregnancies at higher rates, with that risk rising even more if the woman has negative feelings about the unplanned pregnancy. And that study I linked is for married women with support systems in place to deal with the unplanned pregnancy, so you can imagine what women in less ideal circumstances go through. Ignoring the risk of depression, a normal, healthy pregnancy takes a huge toll on your body and hormones, oftentimes permanently. I’ve known multiple women who’ve had to have various knee and back surgeries that cost them thousands of dollars for problems associated with pregnancy. And you go through the rapidly changing body and hormone cycle of pregnancy for 9 months, before going into terrible pain, and then giving birth in a country (or in the cases of Alabama and Georgia–a state) with ridiculously high mortality rates for mothers in the cases of both natural births and c-sections. Doesn’t that sound fun!?

The United States medical sphere has a habit of disregarding women who want to exercise their own bodily autonomy whenever their reproductive organs are involved, and the “just carry the baby to term even though you in no way want to” argument is just the tip of that iceberg. For instance, many doctors refuse to perform tubal ligation surgery for women who request it–even if they’re already mothers, and even after they reach middle age–all under the presumption that the woman in question doesn’t really not want kids. I’ve had to deal with this personally. I can’t get my tubes tied even though my fiance and I know we aren’t having children, because I clearly don’t understand just how much I’m definitely going to have a baby later. I just can’t be trusted to make that decision about my body because a potential baby is involved, and whenever a potential baby is involved, I apparently don’t get to decide shit.

6.) But aren’t late term abortions bad?

Back to the CDC’s website! 7.6% of the abortions were performed at 14-20 weeks (the second trimester) and 1.3% were performed after 21 weeks. That’s roughly 9% of all reported abortions that count as “late term” in nature. So the most highly contested aspect of the morality of abortion is incredibly rare and in no way indicative of a typical abortion procedure. Ignoring how unrepresentative late-term abortions are, however, let’s actually examine why they happen.

There’s the issue that many people have already brought up–medical necessity. That’s a very legitimate reason and the one even the most hard-core anti-abortionists can usually agree with. From the very limited research that exists on the topic of abortion, however, medical necessity seems to be one of the less common reasons for late term abortions. According to this Washington Post article that has complied and linked to multiple outside data sources and studies, most late term abortions are essentially the direct result of a lack of access to health care.

One study loosely described late term abortions as being split 50/50: 50% women who would have aborted sooner had they been informed of a fetal abnormality within the early developmental stages but who weren’t, either because they couldn’t afford frequent medical checkups or because the medical checkups they did receive weren’t good enough; and the other 50% were women who wanted and tried to get an early term abortion but who couldn’t find a provider and/or obtain funding until after they were past the first trimester. The 50/50 number is obviously just a framework to talk about two of the most common reasons and not a real stat, but those general ideas are reflected elsewhere. Multiple other studies cited “inability to find abortion providers, difficulty funding the procedure, and difficulty traveling out-of-state to a provider” as major causes for delayed abortions. So, in short, if you think late term abortions are evil, making it so difficult to receive an abortion during the first trimester is not helping. It’s actually just making things worse.

Two of the studies mentioned also created a list of the kinds of women who they saw getting late term abortions. Most were unmarried, and very many of them were single mothers with one or more children already. Many of them had mental health or substance abuse issues, and many were from domestically abusive households. Domestic abuse and fear of violent retaliation from a domestic abuser were also commonly cited as a major reason for a delayed abortion.

The profile of a woman who gets a late term abortion for non-medical reasons, then, seems a lot less “evil and irresponsible” and a lot more “marginalized and systemically/individually abused to the point of having even more limited options.” I’m having a really difficult time villainizing the women in these situations even though I also have a knee-jerk negative response to the idea of a non-medically necessary late term abortion. It really just seems like another element of systematically enforced classism where women who have been socially and/or economically disenfranchised are given nothing but shitty options and then further stigmatized for choosing one of those shitty options. You want to be a welfare queen who just popped out a baby so you could get more food stamps, or do you want to be one of those evil women who got an abortion in the second trimester because you couldn’t afford to travel out of state?

8.) What if the father wants to keep the child?

I’m not a fan of some of the more antagonistic commentators who’s response to this question amounts to “FUCK U KILL URSELF!1!! NO VAGINA, NO SAY”. I think we, as a society, ignore and downplay and outright stigmatize the emotional needs of men far too frequently. I don’t think making sarcastic comments about “Male Tears” is all that helpful. That being said: The abortion debate is not the arena in which to talk about men’s emotional needs, even if I think doing so is important.

You have the right to your feelings. They are legitimate. They should be acknowledged. They also do not give you the right to dictate what other people do with their own body. Those feelings are an issue that will certainly have to be addressed before and after the fact between you and the woman if you wish to maintain any kind of relationship. But feeling some kinda way about it does not give you the right to usurp a woman’s body and use it for your purposes against her will. You do not have the right to force a woman to incubate and give birth to your child. Conversely, the woman is not obligated to give you a kid because you want one. If you want kids, if you “would never abort your baby,” good for you. Find a woman who also wants those things, because forcing that belief onto a woman who doesn’t is a bad thing.

9.) Is this all old, white men’s fault?

For reference, here is a very up-to-date Pew Poll that I’ll be taking data from.

That’s certainly the way the American Republican party makes it look. They’re really prone to having “discussions” about abortion between five Boomer-aged white dudes who consult literally nobody else in the decision making process and then decide that the thing they already agree about should be made law. And, in an American context, White Evangelical Christians and Conservative Republicans are really blazing the path when it comes to being vocally anti-abortion, both statistically and visibly.

That being said, the genders seem fairly well-balanced: around 60% of women think abortion “should be legal in most cases,” and around 60% of men agree. That means that there’s an equal proportion of anti-abortion women out there to anti-abortion men; there might actually be more anti-abortion women once you factor in the stat that there are more women in this country than men, though Pew polls typically have equal gender representation, so it’s difficult to say that definitively. The same goes for age: Proportionally speaking, “being old” doesn’t seem to make someone more likely to be anti-abortion. All four age brackets polled are essentially hovering at 60% approval for abortion. Being white also doesn’t seem like much of a determining factor: Both black and white demographics are hovering around that magic number 60% approval, with Hispanics actually being the most anti-abortion racial demographic polled. So saying “old, white men are the problem” doesn’t seem to be overly reflected in the actual stats.

I get why people are saying it–old, white men tend to be really over represented whenever a “discussion” takes place in a political or media sphere, especially when that “discussion” is held in a conservative-leaning forum. That being said, like “Male Tears” and other stereotypical third/fourth-wave feminist buzz phrases, “old, white men” may be the face of the problem, but they certainly aren’t the only ones involved. So talking about abortion in terms of old, white dudes trying to take away women’s rights just isn’t helpful. There are too many people who consider themselves anti-abortion who don’t fit into that easy-to-point-at-and-hate box, and you’re really not addressing them or their talking points when your go-to argument is that “an old, white man shouldn’t get to have an opinion on this.”

For things that actually do have a significant correlation with one’s stance on abortion, we have to look at education (the more education you have on the high school/college/grad school scale, the more likely you are to be pro-abortion) and religious affiliation. Those seem to be the two actual determining factors at play–not race, gender, or age. Another related Pew poll about religion specifically shows that increase in traditional religiosity is correlated with anti-abortion sentiments on almost every scale. Here’s this rundown that further breaks down abortion stances by religion to further back that up. I feel inclined to mention that many of the “oppose abortion with no exception” groups are not white/majority white (Southern Baptist, African Methodist, Hindus), so that’s yet another reason why we shouldn’t be equating “old, white men” with the face of religiously-informed patriarchal tendencies.

Aaaaaaaand, that brings me back around to point number one about this whole thing just being way to rooted in religion for me, as an atheist, to take it seriously. So that’s a wrap, folks.