Abortion, Contraception: Women's Lives Are At Stake. Shouldn't We Rally Around Saving Them? (Yes, You Too, Church! YOU HEARD ME)

BlogHer Original Post

It might sound counter-intuitive to say that abortion rights are a maternal health issue - after all, abortion does, in a (contestable) manner of speaking, prevent motherhood. But the response of the Catholic Church to a recent study that showed that expanding global access to contraception and safe abortion could save 70,000 lives a year - and some hundreds of millions of dollars in global health costs - demonstrates exactly why this is a maternal health issue.

A new report from the Guttmacher Institute suggests that access to contraception and legal abortion would reduce the 70,000 annual deaths (globally) from unsafe abortions. The Catholic Church says, basically, pish-posh. As Jezebel reports, Deirdre McQuade of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities said, in response to the report, "We need to be much more creative in assisting women with supportive services so they don't need to resort to the unnatural act of abortion," and that "use of artificial contraception could increase a women's health risks and... they would fare better using natural family planning methods approved by the church."

So, basically: 70,000 women die every year from botched abortions? They shouldn't have access to those unsafe abortions! They should be pushed to alternatives! And: natural family planning! Just like their husbands want! Which, okay: women should have access - access - to alternatives to abortion. They should have support in whatever choice they make around dealing with an unwanted pregnancy. But access to abortion is not the problem. In fact, it's the lack of access to abortion that is the problem, which is the whole point of the report. Many, many women without access to safe, legal abortions will seek out abortions anyway, simply because for many, abortion is the only reasonable option, whether because they don't have sufficient systems of support (systems of support - like positive family and/or marital relationships - that neither the Church nor any other organization can reliably replicate), or any one of a zillion other reasons. For many women it is, simply, the only option, and so they pursue it even when they know they risk injury or death. To respond to the issue with the assertion that such women just need 'supportive services' is to miss the point entirely. Most such women would need a support services intervention into their entire lives (pregnancy, childbirth and motherhood, after all, are not fleeting circumstances.)

Which is also the problem with the second part of the Church's response: 'natural family planning methods' presuppose a loving, supportive relationship with a cooperative partner. Unless, that is, the Church doesn't have a problem with husbands coercing their wives to be fruitful and multiply, even if bearing such fruit causes her emotional or physical distress. The fact of the matter is that if natural family planning methods worked or were relevant to all sexual-slash-reproductive circumstances, there wouldn't be so many women clamoring for abortions, or for safe and reliable access to birth control that remains under their control. And safe and reliable access to such birth control is the only thing that has been shown to reduce abortion rates. The only thing. Which is to say: safe and reliable access to birth control saves the lives of  women who are mothers, women who are not mothers, women who hope to be mothers and women who hope never to be mothers. It saves women's lives. Why can't the Church get behind that?

I've been outspoken about the fact that I deplore abortion. I wish that no woman had to have an abortion. But I am nonetheless emphatically pro-choice, and will defend to the end the right of women to control the terms of their reproduction. And there is no question in my mind that although 70,000 abortions represents the termination of 70,000 pregnancies and that that is regrettable, 70,000 women's lives lost in unsafe abortions multiplies the tragedy immeasurably, and if that can be prevented, it should be. It must be.

Catherine Connors blogs at Her Bad Mother and Their Bad Mother and everywhere in between. 



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