Very few words can burn down a comment section like the word "abortion." As a steadfast pro-choice advocate, who talks openly and unapologetically about my own abortion, I've watched this one word spark unhealthy debates that bring on a deluge of misinformation and so much rancor that people quickly click that "unfriend" button. And that's how politicizing the word "abortion" has put women in danger. By making this word the lightening rod of the culture — and social media — wars, we've shut down dialogue at the exact moment when women (and men) need to talk about a common, legal medical procedure that has a huge impact on so many families.
I had an abortion when I was 23 years old, straight out of college, in an unhealthy relationship, living paycheck-to-paycheck, and struggling to take care of myself. I couldn't be, and didn't want to be, a parent, and neither did my partner. So, the decision to terminate the pregnancy was an easy and responsible one to make, and a medical abortion was scheduled. I walked into the Planned Parenthood five minutes away from my apartment calm, sure, and ready. I walked out a few hours later thankful, a little sore, and supported. Sadly, those feelings faded a few days later, when anti-choice friends on Facebook started posting about "murderers" who choose abortion; people who "kill babies" and deserve to die themselves, all in response to articles I shared or the news that I had an abortion electively. It was then that I experienced the power of abortion stigma, and how fictitious correlations between a medical procedure and morality can end up dictating not only whether women have access to health care, but how they feel about using it.
I was actually enormously fortunate. Although I was shamed for my abortion, I at least had the choice. We live in a country where some women — white, economically advantaged people in certain states — are allowed to get abortions, and the rest aren't. I essentially belong to the former. I'm Puerto Rican, but I pass for a white woman. I was able to use the Affordable Care Act to pay for my abortion, and a clinic was close by, which made travel costs nonexistent. I didn't have to endure a 24 hour mandatory waiting period, mandatory counseling, or any other unnecessary restrictions that would have cost me (and my insurance) more money, because I lived in a liberal state. Other women do not have the same safety. As more and more politicians attempt to regulate abortions by passing unnecessary laws, more and more women (particular women of color and poor women) are put in danger. Here's how politicizing abortion accomplishes that:
It Makes The Safe Version Of Procedures People Will Have Anyway Harder To Access
According to the Guttmacher Institute, 45 percent of all pregnancies are unintended, and four in 10 of those unintended pregnancies are terminated by an induced abortion. In 2014, 19 percent of all pregnancies ended in abortion. While the term "abortion" evokes a slew of passionate emotions on both sides of the political aisle, one fact remains: it's a common, legal, medical procedure that 1 in 3 women will choose to have in her lifetime, according to a 2008 Abortion Patients Survey.
Even when abortions weren't legal procedures in the United States, they were common. According to the Guttmacher Institute, estimates of the number of illegal abortions performed in the 1950s and 1960s range from 200,000 to 1.2 million per year.
By politicizing the word, abortion has become a political ideology in addition to a medical procedure. People are asked, and ask, the question, "Do you believe in abortion?" as if it's a fairy you have to profess your undying belief in, otherwise it isn't real. Abortion is real. Abortion is normal. Pretending otherwise in an attempt to legislate women's bodies is a dangerous act that puts women at risk by taking their health care options away from them.
It Lumps All Medical Procedures Or Terms With The Word "Abortion" In Them, Together
Because the word "abortion" has become a political talking point, most individuals don't know there are actually multiple forms of the word, used to describe multiple medical procedures and/or potential complications.
For example, when a woman is pregnant her pregnancy can be labeled a "threatened abortion," meaning bleeding has occurred in the first 20 weeks of pregnancy, usually accompanied by abdominal cramps, and the potential for a miscarriage is high. A dilation and curettage (also known as a D&C) is also an abortion service, which removes tissue from inside the uterus and is used to treat a number of uterine conditions, according to the Mayo Clinic.
It Makes It Harder To Save The Lives Of Women With Wanted Pregnancies
In 2012, Illinois Rep. Joe Walsh falsely commented on the necessity of abortions, saying, "Advances in science and technology had eliminated any need for abortions to save the lives or health of women." Although he later "backed off his comments," according to USA Today, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists issued a statement in response. The statement read as follows:
"Abortions are necessary in a number of circumstances to save the life of a woman or to preserve her health. Unfortunately, pregnancy is not a risk-free life event."
Erika Levi, an OB-GYN at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, told USA Today, " Conditions that might lead to ending a pregnancy to save a woman's life include severe infections, heart failure, and [rare] severe cases of [early] preeclampsia, a condition in which a woman develops very high blood pressure and is at risk for stroke."
Not only is abortion a legal option protected by the United States Constitution, it's also a vital procedure that has saved women's lives. Now that it's politicized, however, its necessity is up for debate.
It Negatively Affects A Woman's Quality Of Life
Imagine if a coronary artery bypass, one of the most common medical procedures performed in the United States that treats heart disease, was politicized. It's a medical term, just like the word abortion, and it's a common procedure, just like an abortion. So imagine people suddenly debated its "morality." Imagine if people who had coronary artery bypass surgery were labeled "lazy" or "cruel" or "individuals who are messing with a higher power's plan." Suddenly, a common medical procedure becomes fodder for political gain, and a misplaced debate of "good vs. bad" starts to impact personal medical decisions.
That's what has happened to abortions, and that's why politicizing medical practices puts lives in danger. While physically life-saving abortions are much more rare than a coronary artery bypass, a woman's quality of life is directly affected if she is forced to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term. According to Global Doctors For Choice, women who describe their pregnancy as unwanted during their prenatal checkups are twice as likely to develop symptoms of depression or anxiety, and report experiencing higher levels of stress. A 2005 Cohort study found that women with unwanted pregnancies are twice as likely to suffer from postpartum depression. That, of course, is to say nothing of women who seek out potentially life threatening back room abortions in their desperation to end their pregnancies. In 2015 an estimated 100,000 to 240,000 women of reproductive age in Texas attempted a self-induced abortion, according to researchers from the Texas Policty evaluation Project. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), an estimated 68,000 women die every year from unsafe abortions, and millions more are injured permanently. The leading causes of death are haemorrhage, infection, and poisoning from substances used to induce abortion.
It Spreads Misinformation
Most politicians, like most people who comment on articles on the internet, do not hold a medical degree or a license to practice medicine. So, for example, when Carly Fiorina described an abortion during a Republican presidential debate in 2016, saying, "A fully formed fetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking, while someone says we have to keep it alive to harvest its brain,” she was factually incorrect. By perpetuating false information in the hopes of attracting anti-choice voters, Fiorina essentially solidified the stigma of abortion.
A suction-aspiration abortion is the most common abortion procedure in the United States, according to the American Pregnancy Association. This procedure occures during the first six to 8 weeks of gestation, and takes around 10-15 minutes to be performed. A local anesthetic is administered to your cervix to numb it. The cervix is then dilated and, when it's wide enough, a long plastic tube connected to a suction device is inserted into the uterus to suction out the fetus and the placenta.
That description is a far cry from Fiorina's, but now Fioroina's description is out there and might convince more voters to limit abortion acces, which in turn affects women's safety in all of the ways outlined above.
It Helps Defund Necessary Medical Care
Anti-abortion bills have already made it increasingly difficult, if not impossible, for poor women and women of color to receive necessary abortion care. A recent study, based on on data from the National Network of Abortion, has provided concrete evidence that the Hyde Amendment — which prohibits federal funds from covering most abortions since its passing in 1976 — impedes poor women’s access to the procedure. According to New York Magazine, the study "looked at 3,999 intakes from the George Tiller Memorial Fund, one of 70 similar NNAF–affiliated nonprofit funds that provide assistance to low-income women." Roughly half the women who turned to the Tiller Fund were black. For reference, only 13 percent of the United States population and about 36 percent of women who seek abortions nationwide are black.
According to Guttmacher Institute, lawmakers enacted 231 abortion restrictions between 2011 and 2014. Those restrictions, including Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (TRAP Laws) that erroneously mandate 24 hour waiting periods and mandatory counseling, target poor women and women of color by placing an unnecessary financial burden on those who seek abortion services.
It Takes Choices Away From Women & Their Healthcare Providers
I don't know about you, dear reader, but I don't hit up my local representative every time I go to the doctor. I don't ask my congressman what he thinks about my yearly pap smear, and I don't call up my Senator when I have a cold.
I keep my medical decisions where they should be: in a doctor's office, discussed between myself and my physician. To allow someone without medical training to dictate my medical care, is to receive potentially unsafe care that could put my life in danger. Texas Senate Bill 25, for example, would allow doctors to lie to their patients about the health of their fetuses if they feel those patients would seek out an abortion. The bill was written and championed by Republican Sen. Brandon Creighton, who was quoted as saying, "Senate Bill 25 will send a mesage that Texas does not belive that a life, in and of itself, is an injury in which parents need a damage payment," according to CNN. Creighton does not have a medical degree or a license to practice medicine, but his political leanings are finding their way inside doctor's offices in Texas, where OB-GYNs could end up lying to their patients for political reasons.
It Gives Credence To The Argument That Abortions Aren't Necessary
Political pundits passionately debating the necessity of abortions doesn't change the fact that abortions are necessary.
My abortion was necessary when I was 23, in an unhealthy relationship, living paycheck-to-paycheck and not ready, willing, or able to become a mother. My second abortion — a procedure to end an ectopic pregnancy that would have killed me if the pregnancy continued — was necessary in order to save my life so I could still be a mom to my 2-year-old son. There isn't a politician in the world that should be able to decide what's necessary for me, my body, and my family.
It Obfuscates The Fact That Women Die When They Don't Have Access To Safe, Legal Abortion
In 1930, before the passing of Roe V. Wade, which made abortions legal in the United States, abortion was listed as the official cause of death for almost 2,700 women. That was nearly 18 percent of all maternal deaths recorded in that year, according to the Guttmacher Institute.
Politicizing the word "abortion" will not end abortions. Legislating what women can do to and with their bodies will not keep women from seeking out abortions if they want and/or need to end an unwanted or dangerous pregnancy.
You cannot end abortions, you can only end safe abortions.