Thursday, January 26, 2006

Obligatory Roe Post

It's Roe's anniversary (a friend noted the irony of calling it a "birthday"), so I suppose I have to write something about abortion politics in America today. I think I write abortion much less than most political commentators, primarily because a) the issue doesn't interest me that much and b) I'm rather conflicted on the subject anyway. I remain probably closest in alignment to a Clintonite "safe, legal, rare" philosophy, but my guiding star is that every abortion represents, in some respect, a failure of society. A failure to provide adequate birth control, a failure to make child-birth a real option for women, a failure to stop penalizing working mothers--whatever it is, something went wrong. So our policies should try and fix those underlying problems, rather than a (to my mind) simplistic solution based off criminalization.

So I'd just like to cite a few statistics I think would be of interest. In Jimmy Carter's new book (as quoted by Chainz of Restless Mania), he writes that
Canadian and European young people are about equally active sexually, but, deprived of proper sex education, American girls are five times as likely to have a baby as French girls, seven times as likely to have an abortion, and seventy times as likely to have gonorrhea as girls in the Netherlands. Also, the incidence of HIV/ AIDS among American teenagers is five times that of the same age group in Germany.... It has long been known that there are fewer abortions in nations where prospective mothers have access to contraceptives, the assurance that they and their babies will have good health care, and at least enough income to meet their basic needs.

This leads Chainz to comment a feeling I've had for a long time, that the pro-life movement, as an institution, doesn't seem to really care about the lives of the innocent. I think Feministe once said they weren't "pro-life", they were "pro-birth". They just want the child to be born. Once that happens, they promptly lose interest in his or her future (if they don't become actively hostile to it).

I also wrote two articles in our progressive political journal (The Carleton Progressive) about Roe, one laying out the reasons for pro-choice liberals to let it die, and the second explaining why I didn't actually believe the analysis I gave in the first (links if they become available). A pro-life friend of mine read the articles and wanted to discuss abortion with me. Mostly, I just made an elongated argument of what I said above--I don't like abortion, but I don't think law is a good solution to the problem, and instead we need to deal with underlying effects while keeping it "safe, legal, and rare." But he cited me statistics that said 90% of women who get abortions use them for "birth-control" purposes. I said I was skeptical of the study (or at least how its findings got labeled). He sent me a link, and I think my skepticism was justified.

The study asked what the "main reason" women had an abortion across several categories:
Wants to postpone childbearing--25.5%
Wants no (more) children--7.9%
Cannot afford a baby--21.3%
Having a child will disrupt education or job--10.8%
Has relationship problem or partner does not want pregnancy--14.1%
Too young; parent(s) or other(s) object to pregnancy--12.2%
Risk to maternal health--2.8%
Risk to fetal health--3.3%

I'd imagine that whoever said this totaled up to 90% was only counting the last three categories as not "birth-control". But I'd only put the first two categories as "birth-control," the rest seem like perfectly reasonable decisions by a pregnant mother reflecting on her future and social/economic situation. The leads to less than 30% of women using abortion as "birth-control," and upwards of 70% using it as a response to some form of external economic, social, or medical pressure.

So there's your obligatory Roe post. I hope you're happy. Comments appreciated, but again, this isn't an issue that really concerns me that much. I understand people who take it very seriously--I understand why this can be your be-all-end-all. But even still, I'd be much happier if this issue was reduced in importance in American political debates and we let other issues rise to the fore.


The probligo said...

" I'd be much happier if this issue was reduced in importance in American political debates and we let other issues rise to the fore."

I suspect only to be replaced by Schiavo and the right to die...

Anonymous said...

I do question exactly what your friend means by "abortion as birth control." In my experience that is an incredibly loaded phrase, typically used by right to lifers to imply, or often to outright assert, that a significant number of women can't be bothered to take the pill or use condoms so they just have unprotected sex and get (multiple) abortions if/when they happen to get pregnant. This obviously buys into a whole lot of infantilizing stereotypes about women, not to mention that I have never seen it supported by any evidence.

In any case, perhaps you're not familiar with that use of the phrase, and if not I don't intend to jump on you for using it. But I encourage you to think about what it really means - I think your claim that the statistics do show that 30% of abortions are for "birth control" is highly questionable. Doesn't the phrase "abortion as birth control" imply that no other method of birth control is used? If so, do you really think that's a fair statement? I think that at the very least it's thoughtless and derogatory toward women who get abortions and fails to consider what their well-thought-out reasons might be.

David Schraub said...

Prob: Stop it. You're depressing me.

TMB: I think that may be a fair critique. In my defense, I'd say that I was making a "in best possible light" analysis--that if one interprets the data in the most favorable manner to the pro-life side, then it still only reaches 30% as "birth-control." The study doesn't examine all the factors you point, which I agree are quite relevant and shouldn't be minimized.

Morgan P. said...

I agree with Probligo. And with the gist of your arguments, David. I don't think anyone ever says that they actively want an abortion, but in the event that it becomes necessary, it should be safe and legal. Unlike Central and South America, where it's illegal and women frequently die in back-alley procedures.

The issue as a whole would die if the pro-lifers would let it die. But they won't, because they need to push their agenda of inflicting their morals upon everyone else (in this case, women).

Finally, agree whole-heartedly about the pro-life vs. pro-birth thing. To put it very crudely, everyone wants the puppy but nobody wants to take care of the dog.