Women’s needs must be considered


Published: 5/15/2019 7:27:12 AM

I appreciate Wallis Reid’s (“On the endless abortion debate”) efforts to respond to John Blasiak’s My Turn (‘It’s about providing basic human rights to a vulnerable group’). It’s about providing but neither considered the needs of women and their children as stakeholders in the abortion debate. If the women are not included, then the spinning word tautology continues endlessly.

The 1972 Roe v. Wade abortion rights decision depends on the viability of the fetus outside the womb. Reid pointed out that viability depends on the definition of life. Had the Court based its decision on the ability of adult women to decide on their own health care needs, we would not be having these conversations today. Since Roe, mostly men have written and spoken about fetal viability. Rarely are women’s needs brought into the equation.

First, a few facts from the Guttmacher Institute most recent 2014 statistics:

— 69 percent of US women who had abortions were very low income, 49 percent at less than 100 percent of the federal poverty level, 20 percent at 100-199 percent.

— 60 percent of US women who had abortions were in their 20s, and 25 percent in their 30s.

— 59 percent had had at least one previous birth.

Most of the women in the US who have abortions are poor adults who already have at least one child to feed, clothe, house and educate. They must decide if they are able to care for another child for the next 18 years.

Although not usually noted in the abortion debate, women have always had abortions; historically with help from other women. Before Roe, there were few safe alternatives... go to New York or Hawaii, which legalized abortion in 1970; or go to Puerto Rico or England for safe abortions. If those were unavailable, a lucky woman found a licensed doctor who was willing to risk his/her license (and prison). If she was unlucky, she went to a quack who put her life at risk. Women died from illegal abortions. Often, women who had botched abortions were brought bleeding to emergency rooms. If they survived, they sometimes found that they no longer were able to conceive children.

When the debate concentrates on fetal viability, it misses the point. Desperate women are going to find a way to have abortions. The question is whether they will be safe. Abortion is part of women’s health care, just as prostate care is part of men’s health care. Would men be willing to go to a “back alley prostate doctor” if treatment of the prostate were outlawed? By making abortions legal, the Roe decision made them safe.

The abortion debate is shrouded in moralism. It has become a morass of terminology and false statements. Let’s start with the concept of “abortion on demand” which is used by opponents to state that women are careless and “can just have an abortion” as contraception. The Guttmacher Institute has documented that the use of a variety of contraceptives has steadily increased. But, there is still no reliable men’s contraceptive device or medication and many men “don’t like” using condoms. So, the failure of a contraceptive, regardless of the type, is clearly laid at the feet of women. Abortion may be the last resort when contraception fails.

Every woman who has an unintended pregnancy agonizes over whether to have an abortion. All of the questions involving bringing a child into the world are part of that decision. “On demand” actually refers to the woman’s ability to make that decision as a consenting adult based on the health, economic, and family issues that impact her life.

Another concept is that women could ”always give the child up for adoption.” This puts the responsibility on the woman to carry the fetus for nine months with all the physical and emotional stress that this entails and pay for all her medical needs. As we are mostly talking about poor women, these supports may be in short supply.

Adoption is not always an option. Currently, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, has 2,800 children in foster care with a goal of adoption. To a low-income woman, the likelihood that her offspring could enter into the foster care system is much greater than that the child will go to an adoptive family. When a woman already has a child (and 59% of women who have abortions do), the prospect of being financially unable to care for another looms very large.

As much as I appreciate Reid’s effort debunk Blasiak’s arguments, the response is more basic. Women are adults who have a right to health care and that health care includes abortion services.

Susan Worgaftik is a Greenfield resident.

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