This column originally appeared on Finding (Un)Common Ground.
“You should terminate this one,” the doctor said. I was 37 years old, ten weeks pregnant, and suddenly faced with an unexpected life or death decision. An ultrasound revealed the fetus I was carrying had implanted at the top of my uterus. If it grew up towards my stomach, it threatened to burst a large artery, very likely killing me and the baby it promised to become. My doctor continued, “You already have two healthy children who need you. This is for your safety.”
Safe or not, I didn’t want an abortion. I wanted this baby. Some might see this as the height of irony. Since the age of sixteen when I began volunteering as a peer counselor at Planned Parenthood, I have been a strong advocate for women’s reproductive freedom. I’ve held the hands of friends during their abortions, I’ve marched on Washington, lobbied Congress, written checks, and even served six years on the board of the local Planned Parenthood affiliate. I believe control of the reproductive aspect of a woman’s life benefits society as a whole by enabling women to focus on their education and careers, their contributions to their communities, and to those children they choose to have.
And yet, here I sat being advised to get an abortion and I was refusing. However, it is important to note two things. First, the conversation was between me and my doctor and second, I could legally and safely get the abortion she was recommending.
Under the current GOP platform, my life, my health, my safety would not matter. If their dream for the future is realized (a future that expands the 14th amendment to include fetuses and thereby a blanket ban on all abortions), I would not be able to get the abortion my doctor recommended, one she deeply believed was in the best interests of me and my family.
We know the two sides of this debate: life begins at conception and therefore must be protected versus the life and well-being and rights of the mother. I do not know when life begins. No one does. There is no scientific proof, only spiritual belief.
But for the safe of this argument, let’s assume life does begin at conception. Let’s assume we outlaw all abortions under every circumstance. What is the outcome? Well, we already know nearly 50% of pregnancies in the United States are unplanned. Of these, currently 43% end in abortion and 73% of those who terminated a pregnancy did so because they could not afford one more mouth to feed.
Does the Republican party and their adherents think these women will just adopt all of these unwanted babies away? Given, 30% of abortions are performed on women who live below the poverty line, what accommodations are being considered for the 1.21 million new children who could potentially be born if abortion is not an option. This would be 25% increase in the number of children currently born each year, which leads me to ponder issues of education and poverty and Medicaid. I would never argue for abortion to keep costs down, but we should realize the implications to our society are vast if we suddenly had a deep influx of new born children. What’s the Good Ole Party’s plan for them?
Of course, for women of means abortion will always be an option. Currently, 87% of counties in this country do not offer abortion services. As a result, women who can afford it, simply travel to where they can get abortions. If we outlaw abortion altogether, we’ll see a rehashing of the strategies women used before the legalization of Roe v Wade: women who can afford it will simply travel farther to places like Canada, Japan, and Europe to terminate their unwanted fetuses. Europe by the way, has one of the most progressive abortion policies and the lowest rates of abortion. In most cases, you can get one legally, safely and the state will pay for it. My sister, who lives in Italy, can get abortion with little fan fare fully paid for by the Italian government (yes, that would be the same Italy where 95% of the population self-identifies as Roman Catholic – go figure).
So, do we really think if we outlaw abortion, we will end it? No, we’ll likely go to back to a place where women who are forced to will find unsafe alternatives. Remember the hanger? It wasn’t just something we put our clothes on. It, and other horrific remedies, killed more women than we know.
“Fine,” you say (much like Romney has said in yet another flippity-flop). “We’ll keep it in case of rape, incest, and the health of the mother. But I refuse to let my tax dollars pay for it.”
Great. Then things won’t be any different than they are now. As you probably know, the Hyde Amendment restricts federal funding of abortion except in the cases of rape, incest, and the health of the mother. In 17 states, state tax dollars are used to fund abortion services beyond RIH. If you don’t agree with this policy, you can choose to move or to lobby your state legislatures on that one.
Let me be clear, I deeply respect the belief of my friends and others who argue life begins at conception. I respect their right to not terminate an unplanned pregnancy. I too would like to reduce the rate of unplanned pregnancies and their attendant abortions. However, I do not believe outlawing abortion is the answer.
I believe the best way to reduce unwanted pregnancies is to began at home, teaching our children about our own personal morality and our beliefs around sex and reproduction. Then we provide effective sex education in school because I believe the more we know, the more empowered we are to make smart choices about our lives and our future. If, and when, an unplanned pregnancy does occur, I believe the best thing we can do for society is to offer that woman options. If she decides she can not keep the child, then adoption and/or abortion should be made available to her.
In short, I believe safe, legal and rare is the best solution for the abortion conundrum and that this decision should be between a woman and her doctor, much like it was for me.
Today, my son is a healthy, funny, and occasionally annoying thirteen year old. When I was pregnant all those years ago, my doctor respected my choice and worked with me to ensure I would be safe. I received constant monitoring until such time as it was clear the pregnancy no longer put me at risk. Despite those weeks of anxiety and fear I suffered, I don’t regret for a minute my decision to not abort the fetus that became my beloved third child. It was my decision and for that I am grateful.