In response to my previous post about feminism, someone wrote (in part) why she supports abortion:
And wanting to dismantle those structures is why I support reproductive rights. In a different world, abortion would be unnecessary. Women’s lives would never be endangered by a pregnancy, no woman would ever be forced to get pregnant by her abusive partner, no woman would ever be raped, 10-year-olds would not get pregnant, there would be comprehensive sex education and free and unlimited access to birth control and free high-quality daycare and a year of paid maternity leave. These are, to me, highly feminist goals.
But we don’t live in that world; in this world, unintended pregnancies occur and a myriad of forces conspire to cause them and punish women for them. A system in which abortion is criminalized does nothing to help women; it makes their lives worse. If the only goal is to have somewhat fewer abortions, then banning abortion is probably an effective thing to do. There will still be abortions, of course: women with money will always find access to them, and women with less money will sometimes find a way, safe or unsafe, to access abortions; and sometimes they won’t, and those are the abortions the ban will have prevented. But it will also be causing maternal deaths (unsafe abortion is one of the top five causes of maternal death around the world, and causes an especially large percentage of maternal deaths in Latin America), and their fetuses won’t be carried to term; and when women are caught and prosecuted (and those will almost certainly be the women with less money), their other children will suffer (as so many women seeking abortions already have children). There is an excellent article about the consequences of what a full abortion ban looks like, as El Salavdor actively enforces one. It doesn’t seem like a good solution to me. To me, the feminist act is to dismantle the structures that make pregnancies unwanted, and that hurt women in myriad other ways as well.
Because this is an important topic (and because I recently read about Chile’s maternal mortality rate and abortion laws), I wanted to repost my answer here, slightly expanded:
The El Salvador link didn’t come through; you can re-post it if you want. It’s been some time since I’ve thought of El Salvador, but I remember being in a discussion some time ago in which I found out that they have an abortion ban in place which would prohibit abortions even for ectopic pregnancies as long as the fetus/embryo is still alive. Once fetal/embryonic death is confirmed (or the tube bursts), an abortion or other surgery can be performed to save her life. I think this is a bit too stringent, with the probability of a diagnosed ectopic resulting in a life-threatening if not a life-taking situation for the mother. In abortion cases such as these, the intent is to save the life of the mother, *not* to take the life of the child. It is the unfortunate inevitable result that the baby dies; but the likelihood (probably 99% or greater) is that the baby could never survive, so it is saving one life instead of taking two.
And, yes, I agree that we should be looking at ways to make pregnancy wanted. Often, when faced with an unwanted pregnancy/child, the solution offered is to get rid of the child. Most pro-life people would say that we need to get rid of the “unwanted” portion of the equation instead.
However, there is some equivocation about abortion. Often, “unsafe abortion” is juxtaposed against “legal abortion,” as if the two were opposite or mutually exclusive, when that is not the case. There are numerous unsafe legal abortions, as there are numerous safe illegal ones. [Safe for the mother, anyway.] Just recently, a woman in New York City died from an abortion when the abortionist lacerated her cervix during the procedure and she apparently bled to death. Legal, but unsafe. Ireland has the lowest maternal mortality rate in the world, and it also has strict laws against abortion. Illegal, but safe.
The reality is, that often in countries where abortion is illegal, health services in general and maternity services in particular are horrible, with high rates of death and disease from things that barely raise a blip on the radar of developed nations. I can’t speak for the current climate in these other countries, but I know that in America, about 90% of all illegal abortions were performed by a doctor or midwife, with most of the remainder being performed by someone else who had some medical training (veterinarian, nurse, etc.), and only a small minority being either self-induced abortions or by a complete amateur. [The term “back-alley abortion” does not refer to the place of the abortion, but rather that the pregnant woman would enter the doctor’s office through the back door in the alley, often at night, so as not to be seen and raise suspicion.] These abortions were unsafe, not because they were illegal nor because they were done by unqualified personnel, but because they were unsafe by their very nature. Up until the development of antibiotics, if a woman got sepsis from childbirth or abortion, there was precious little that could be done for her. Maternal mortality dropped like a rock with the advent of sulfa drugs and penicillin, because it gave doctors for the first time the ability to fight infection. Maternal mortality dropped below 600/100,000 in 1934, and was in a free-fall for decades after, dropping to 75/100,000 in 1951 when abortion was still quite illegal, and continuing to fall to 18.8 in 1972, the year before Roe and Doe were decided. Legalizing abortion did not alter its safety; good health practices did. [In highlighting antibiotics, this does not exclude other advances, such as safer anesthesia, better technology in recognizing and treating maternal illness, a higher standard of living, etc.] MMR did fall below that, but is now on the upswing again — all with abortion still very legal. In countries where antibiotics and other health-saving measures are not easily available, we still see high rates of preventable deaths from all sorts of reasons, including abortion.
Here are abortion laws by country for 2007. As you can see, El Salvador does not allow for abortion for any reason. It has a maternal mortality rate of 170/100,000. However, what you may not have noticed from those same sources is that Chile also does not allow abortion for any reason, even to save the life of the mother, yet its maternal mortality rate is 16/100,000 — about the same as the United States’ rate.
While one might say (as is often said of Ireland), that women are merely going across the border to neighboring countries where abortion *is* legal, I would point out that their neighbors (Argentina, Bolivia and Peru) all have abortion restricted only for the life and health of the mother, and sometimes for rape. Plus, all three of these countries have *much* higher MMRs than does Chile: 77, 290, and 240/100,000 respectively. In fact, as you can see, El Salvador has a much lower maternal mortality rate than Bolivia and Peru, which both have abortion legal in the case of saving the mother’s life and health. Somehow, even with a full abortion ban, Chile enjoys an MMR comparable to that of the United States.