Wednesday, 28 November 2012

A Flashlight on the Right to Abort: Defending Pro-Choice Under Quality of Life

             Life is probably one of the most precious things we as humans create. Through some miracle of biology, we are able to bring a new life into the world. Thus, abortion is a very controversial issue because in the act of performing an abortion, we are denying some newborn the right to life before it has had the chance to experience it. Unfortunately, the current abortion argument presents a false dichotomy, framing the argument as the mother’s choice to give life and the child’s right to live when in reality, the issue is much more complex. Abortion is a major decision that will have a significant impact on two lives, the mother and the yet unborn child and unless we recognize the issues in this new framework, we do not do justice in understanding the complexity of the abortion issue.
            Before delving into the moral issue of weighing the life of a child against the choice of the mother, we need to understand the threats to the mother’s life that comes from pregnancy. Medical advances have significantly reduced the maternal mortality rate, in especially developed countries, under the fifth Millennium Development goal to improve maternal health. The number of deaths globally dropping from more than 500,000 a year in 1980 to 343,000 a year in 2008 and deaths declining at a rate of about 1.4% a year.[1] Maternal health has improved significantly in developing countries, the maternal rate dropping by 34% between 1990 and 2008.[2] However, the 2011 assessment of the MDGs did find that the vast majority of maternal deaths are avoidable, “the largest proportion of such deaths are caused by obstetric haemorrhage, mostly during or just after delivery, followed by eclampsia, sepsis, complications of unsafe abortion and indirect causes.”[3] Should abortion become legalized and incorporated into general medical practice, the likelihood of unsafe abortions would decrease and maternal health would improve as a result.
            However, there are many more complications than simply the threat of death that result from denying women the right of abortion. Public health researchers and UC San Francisco ANSIRH conducted a collaborative study called the “Turnaway Study” used data from 956 women who sought abortions at 30 different abortion clinics and conducted intensive interviews for the 182 women who were turned away. Two years into the planned five year study, the group reported that “there are no mental health consequences of abortion compared to carrying an unwanted pregnancy to term,” but found that “even later abortion is safer than childbirth and women who carried an unwanted pregnancy to term are three times more likely than women who receive an abortion to be below the poverty level two years later.”[4] According to the Turnaway study, at the time of abortion 45% of women were on public assistance and two-thirds had household incomes below the federal poverty level and the main reason for abortion was money.[5] Of the women who were denied an abortion, 86% were living with their babies a year later but were also much more likely to be on public assistance, 76% being on the dole as opposed to 44% who got abortions.[6] Furthermore, of the women denied abortions, 67% lived below the poverty line and only 48% had a full time job as compared to their counterparts where 56% lived below the poverty line and 58% had full-time jobs.[7] From the study, we can conclude women denied abortions are more likely to be in need of public support and thus denying women the right to abort forces us as a society to foot the bill for a new child.
            Although society may seem willing to sponsor new life, there are other social costs that impact both the mother and child’s lives. Women who were denied abortions were more likely to stay in a relationship with an abusive partner, the study believing that “getting abortions allowed women to get out of such relationships more easily.”[8] Although women did not experience increased mental health disorders from, women denied abortions faced greater health risks such as seizures, fractured pelvis, infection, and hemorrhage with 38% experiencing limited activity for 10 days on average as opposed to abortion where 24% experienced limited activity for a 2.7 day average.[9] Even if we as a society are willing to “sponsor” these babies, it is the women who have the suffer the physical stress of not only giving birth but being responsible for looking after the baby.
            One more issue I would like to highlight is that abortion is not an easy choice for women. According to Turnaway, 97% of women who obtained an abortion felt it was the right choice and 65% of turnaways wished they had been able to obtain one.[10] However, the women who did have abortions did report that although they felt relieved, many also felt sad and guilty afterwards. The abortion procedure itself is quite invasive, the abortion pill only available for up to 8 weeks after the last menstrual period. For abortions in the first trimester, aspiration involves inserting a tube into the woman’s uterus and using suction to remove the pregnancy.[11] For the second trimester, D&E is used where dilators are inserted into the women to allow the doctor to evacuate the remove the pregnancy the second day, third if the pregnancy is more advanced.[12] These are highly invasive procedures that women will not want done on them unless they are very sure that at their current mental, physical, and/or financial situation, they cannot be responsible for caring for another human being.
            The right for women to choose to abort moves beyond the superficial weighing the value of women’s right to their bodies and the child’s right to life. The balance it between the woman’s right to her body; her mental, physical, and financial capability to look after another human being; and her ability to provide a safe environment for her child to grow up in and the child’s right to a fulfilling life. Beyond merely having the right to live, every person should have the right to equal opportunities to pursue their individual goals and dreams, Sen arguing that the purpose of life being to maximize our “freedoms” to choose. However, the reality of our current socio-economic system is that ability to pursue goals in our lives is determined by our social circles and financial situation. How fair is it to be a child coming into a world with a mother who may still be in an abusive relationship, may not have really wanted you to be born, and does not have the financial resources to care for your well-being? Women who chose to abort consider not only the short-term implications but also the long-term implications of having a child and it should not be our role as a society to tell them exactly what they can do with their bodies. Such a law infantilizes women as individuals who do not have the capability to make significant decisions about their own body and lives.
            Our society tends to believe that everyone has the obligation to have children and continue the human race. Not only do we now suffer from issues resulting from overpopulation and the unequal distribution of resources, we devalue the role of the parent. Becoming a parent is not an obligation but a privilege because parents have the most important impact on our lives. Our parents shape the type of people we become and their actions have significant impact on our lives. We as a society should not force women, especially women who are not financially or mentally prepared to care for another human being, to become parents. Rather, women and their partners need to have the resources and support structure necessary to look after new life that is brought into the world.

By Khan Kikkawa

[1] Simon Rogers, “Maternal mortality: how many women die in childbirth in your country,” Data Blog,
[2] United Nations, “The Millennium Development Goals Report 2011,” United Nations, p. 29
[3] United Nations, “The Millennium Development Goals Report 2011,” United Nations, p. 29
[4] Annalee Newitz, “What happens to women denied abortions? This is the first scientific study to find out,” i09,
[5] Newitz, “What happens to women denied abortions? This is the first scientific study to find out,” i09
[6] Newitz, “What happens to women denied abortions? This is the first scientific study to find out,” i09
[7] Newitz, “What happens to women denied abortions? This is the first scientific study to find out,” i09
[8] Newitz, “What happens to women denied abortions? This is the first scientific study to find out,” i09
[9] Newitz, “What happens to women denied abortions? This is the first scientific study to find out,” i09
[10] Newitz, “What happens to women denied abortions? This is the first scientific study to find out,” i09
[11] FWHC Services, “Type of Abortion Procedures,” FWHC Services
[12] FWHC Services, “Type of Abortion Procedures,” FWHC Services

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