As governments are complicit in the death and injury that results when women cannot access safe abortion, they are even more directly responsible for the loss of dignity and livelihood and the discrimination that occurs when authorities enforce restrictive abortion laws.
Abortion is often framed as a mercy bestowed upon a woman who has committed the “crime” of having had sex. Mercy is something that someone else grants you, however, and not something you can simply decide for yourself that you deserve. That’s what people are stabbing at when they say they don’t want women to use abortion “as birth control.” The fear is that a woman might get an abortion without feeling remorseful or may, gasp, even feel like she’s entitled to it without having to apologize or grovel. Basically, people are uneasy with leaving the decision of whether or not an abortion is deserved to the woman seeking it herself. What a lot of people in the gray area between pro- and anti-choice want is for women to have to justify themselves in order to get abortions, even if it’s something as simple as making women feel ashamed of themselves for what they supposedly did wrong.
The problem with that, beyond the inherent sexism of it, is that there’s no real legal way to make women justify themselves, besides maybe making them sign a piece of paper that says, “I’m sorry I was a naughty girl who had sex. Can I please have my abortion now?” Roe v Wade sets things like time limits and Planned Parenthood v Casey says that there can be no “undue burden” to access, but the court decisions that shape abortion law don’t speak to “good” vs. “bad” reasons to have abortions, and for good reason. Abortion is medical treatment. It goes against basic medical ethics to require a patient to argue their moral worth before they are permitted access to health care they require.
The risk of death from childbirth is about 14 times higher than that from abortion.
In the US, abortion is framed as a deeply moral and highly emotional issue. In the public imagination, the choice to have an abortion is a wrenching one, one that often leaves women feeling emotionally fragile for months and years afterward. No doubt this is sometimes the case. But for many women, my friend included, it is not a wrenching or painful decision, but an easy and obvious and matter of fact one.
But we don’t have a cultural script for those women. When women speak publicly about their abortions – which, given the stigma around abortion, happens very rarely – we expect them to speak with reverence, not relief. We expect to hear stories of excruciating indecision, not of easy, obvious choices. We don’t have a blueprint for women who weren’t wracked with indecision, women who felt emotional attachment neither to the fetus nor to the decision to terminate it. And as a result, we also lack a script for supportive friends that doesn’t somehow frame abortion as a tragic illness.
I cannot understand anti-abortion arguments that centre on the sanctity of life. As a species, we’ve fairly comprehensively demonstrated that we don’t believe in the sanctity of life. The shrugging acceptance of war, famine, epidemic, pain and lifelong, grinding poverty show us that, whatever we tell ourselves, we’ve made only the most feeble of efforts to really treat human life as sacred.