Abortion: The Big Lie and The Inconvenient Truth (Part 2)

Whenever you state an inconvenient truth to someone whose ideology provides them with a simple answer to even the most complex questions, you’re likely to hear one of several handy-dandy predigested glib responses. So it is with telling “pro-lifers” that government restriction is not an answer to abortion. Here are the knee-jerk retorts they most often offer.

Glib Response #1: “Well, if you’re not going to have laws restricting abortion, you might as well not have laws restricting anything.”

Aside from the fact that such a comment treats all questionable activities as equals — not only in moral magnitude, but in susceptibility to regulation– it also equates opposition to outlawing an activity with enthusiasm for engaging in it. (See, for example, the hostile punditry directed toward opponents of Arizona’s legislation supposedly designed to check illegal immigration.)  Many citizens — including many “pro-lifers” — would agree that the “war on drugs” has been an abject failure. Does this mean that they advocate acid orgies every weekend?

Glib Response #2: “Maybe we can’t eliminate abortions altogether by making them illegal, but we can at least reduce their numbers.”

Oh? How exactly would we know this? The best we can do is summon up highly inconclusive numbers from the past and assume not only that they’re perfectly accurate, but also that they’re perfectly indicative of the future. Look, for example, at this table of statistics covering the years from 1909 to 2010. One might point to these figures and draw attention to the fact that the estimated total for 1974 was more than double that of 1973, which was the year of the Roe Vs. Wade decision. Bingo! That proves the point, right?

Not so fast. You’ll also note that the estimated abortion rate (number per thousand females of child-bearing age) increased by only 3 percent, i.e. from 16.3 to 19.3. How is this discrepancy possible unless there was an enormous influx of such females during that time? And you might notice that the estimated total increased more than tenfold in 1943, even though there was no such landmark court case in 1942. Furthermore, you might observe that while the abortion rate increased rather steadily in the years prior to Roe Vs. Wade, it has  declined during most of the years since then, with a markedly consistent declining trend since 1981. The exception to that trend was in 2006 ; coincidentally, the previous year had seen what was then a record number of state restrictions against abortion.

Perhaps most revealing of all, observe that for the first five years for which an estimate is recorded (1926-1930) the total is 2 per year. Yes, two. Seriously? This in particular highlights the fact that what such tabulations really indicate is the difficulty of obtaining  accurate statistics about an action that is illegal. Was there really a jump in the number of abortions performed in 1974, or did people just feel safer admitting they’d occurred?

Furthermore, it would be naive to assume that what may have worked (or probably didn’t) 40 or more years ago would be effective now. We’ve had a couple of generations of females grown accustomed to the idea of reproductive choice, and you can’t put the tree back into the acorn. Especially now that technology and communications have advanced so unforseeably.  At the risk of sounding like a science fiction writer, I predict the time is coming when a safely self-administered home abortion will be possible for virtually anyone. What good will oppressive legislation do then? How far is the “limited government” crowd willing to go to ensure government monitoring of our reproductive lives? (If the government decrees that life begins at conception, should it also issue certificates of conception instead of birth certificates? Will it begin supervising sexual activity in order to ensure that these events are accurately documented?)

Whatever lessons we might draw from the past, let’s ponder what is going on right now. According to the Guttmacher Institute’s  examination of statistics worldwide ” legal restrictions on abortion do not affect its incidence”. In other words, there will be about the same number whether it’s legal or not. Which of course brings us to…

Glib Response # 3: “You can’t believe what Guttmacher says because they have a liberal agenda.”

Like many other organizations, the Guttmacher Institute often earns the dismissive designation of “liberal” just by not being right-wing — and by presenting information that right-wing extremists don’t want to hear. It doesn’t help that the Institute is affiliated with Planned Parenthood, one of the favorite whipping boys of right-wing extremism. According to “pro-lifers”, Planned Parenthood and Guttmacher and any other group that disseminates information about reproductive health must necessarily have a prime directive of promoting abortion.

But in fact Planned Parenthood prevents far more abortions than it provides. And The Annenberg Foundation, in evaluating sources of information, concludes that  “the Guttmacher Institute’s statistics are highly reliable” and further comments that “(t)he Guttmacher Institute’s empirical findings are widely cited with good reason and should be trusted.”  Wait, don’t tell me: Annenberg is a bunch of libruls too. Even if it was founded by a staunch “conservative” in the Reagan-Nixon mold.

In any case, nobody has ever produced better statistics than The Guttmacher Institute. If you don’t like their numbers, bring us some better ones and we’ll use ’em.

The bottom line is that we just don’t know what effect, if any, government prohibition has on the number of abortions performed; but we do know what effect it has on their quality. Those legendary anecdotes about botched surgeries performed by veterinary students, about coat hangars and Lysol in someone’s garage, about desperate teenagers dying tragically and horribly? They’re not just stories. They really happened. In far greater numbers than most people realize. Even many fanatical “pro-lifers” have an abortion tragedy in their family closets.

And right about this time is when we hear…

Glib Response # 4: “It’s their own fault. Nobody forced them to do it.”

True, it doesn’t have to happen. And doesn’t knowing that just make you feel all nice and smug and superior and tingly warm?

We also know that the way we can reduce abortions is through proper education and better availability of contraception. But many “pro-lifers” have a problem with these solutions. Contraception, they claim, is itself a form of abortion (another popular “pro-life” myth), and of course many oppose it on religious grounds. If so, that just means they need to work much harder on the education aspect.

But that’s a problem too. Many “pro-lifers” believe that teaching teens about sex just puts ideas into their heads that never would crop up otherwise. Many even manage to say this with a straight face. So instead, the ostrich approach is in vogue — the approach commonly known as abstinence-only sex “education”, which has been an unqulaified disaster.  The Republic of Texas, which the late Molly Ivins (herself a Texan) dubbed the “national laboratory for bad government”, has been a bold pioneer in instituting this (and other forms of) induced ignorance, and subsequently the teen sex rate has soared in that state. And the term “spit baby” has entered the lexicon, because many Texas teens have been convinced they became impregnated through oral sex.

You can’t have it both ways. You can’t be “pro-life” (in any sense), and also pro-ostrich. Consciously or by default, we all must choose between facing facts and hewing to an ideology.  If “pro-lifers” wanted to show that they’re serious about stemming abortion, they’d address the problem like adults. Instead, they give us intrusive legislation, harassment and intimidation, accusatory and inflammatory rhetoric, murdered doctors, denial, indoctrination of children, and cutesy bumper stickers proclaiming how people supposedly care more about trees and spotted owls than they do about the “unborn”.

And, of course, plenty of lies.

Abortion: the Big Lie and the Inconvenient Truth (Part 1)

Question of the day (and perhaps the century): why would anyone representing a just and righteous cause feel the need to promote that cause with lies and deception? That, perhaps, is the question we ought to be posing to “pro-life” activists. Granted, there are plenty of “pro-lifers” who are honest and well-meaning enough. But they allow themselves to be manipulated by  fanatics who are blatantly dishonest – if not batshit loony. While posing as representatives of infallible truth and moral rectitude – often on wisdom obtained directly from God Herself – they perpetrate falsehood after falsehood, including one Big Lie that is the backbone of all the others.

They’ve said that abortion causes cancer. They’ve said that it causes infertility. They’ve said that women can’t get pregnant from being raped. They’ve said that abortion providers aggressively promote the service because it’s highly profitable. They’ve said that women who’ve undergone the procedure are highly susceptible to depression and suicide. They’ve said that most abortion patients have multiple procedures and use it as a form of birth control. They’ve said that Roe Vs. Wade applied the same line of reasoning as the Dred Scott decision. They’ve said that Planned Parenthood exists primarily to peddle abortion. They’ve said that the organization is aided and abetted by The Girl Scouts. (Did someone say “batshit loony”?) They’ve said that the organization supplies defective birth control in order to pump up the abortion count. (Did someone say it again?) They’ve said that fetuses feel pain before the third trimester. They’ve obtained (and often digitally altered) photos of fetuses aborted in rare late-term emergency procedures, and presented them as typical. They’ve said that emergency contraception produces an abortion. They’ve said that most abortion clinics are located in black neighborhoods – thus implying it’s all a sinister eugenics plot.  Is there any lie they won’t tell in the name of Truth?

But none of these is The Big Lie. Nor is it the notion that life begins at conception; that’s just a belief that is generally at loggerheads with other dogma cherished by “pro-lifers”. A great many of them are religious fundamentalists (though by no means do all religious people believe this way), and religion of just about any flavor is predicated on the idea that we are spiritual beings; yet while believing this, they also define personhood in terms of a biological process. But religionists routinely contradict themselves all over the map. Get used to it. And get used to the fact that a great many “pro-lifers” support the death penalty and aggressive warfare that kills thousands of innocent civilians; “pro-life” applies only to the “unborn”, not to the born. Still, a sincerely held conviction, however oxymoronic, is hardly a lie.

The very term “pro-life” is disingenuous, as it shifts focus away from the core issue – i.e., how to curb abortion – to a metaphysical speculation on the definition of life -no, it’s not even a speculation, but an arrogant assertion.  But this is not The Big Lie, either. The Big Lie is not what “pro-lifers” say about themselves, but what they say about The Others.

The Big Lie: Pro-Choice is the same as Pro-Abortion

Leave it to Rush Limbaugh, highly accomplished practitioner of big lies, to articulate The Big Lie About Abortion in its nastiest and nuttiest terms:

The term (“feminazi”) describes any female who is intolerant of any point of view that challenges militant feminism. I often use it to describe women who are obsessed with perpetuating a modern-day holocaust: abortion. A feminazi is a woman to whom the most important thing in life is seeing to it that as many abortions as possible are performed.

Got that? If you’re a “militant feminist”, whatever that is (I picture khaki-clad females -and males, perhaps – blasting down the wall between the men’s restroom and the women’s because the lines are longer in the latter), then you’re a stepchild of Hitler and you just absolutely love abortion.

Okay, hit the pause button. I’d like to invite you to stop and do something that the Limbaughs and Becks and Coulters and Malkins and Hannitys desperately hope you will never, ever do: think. That’s right – summon forth before your mind’s eye a parade of all the people you’ve known in your life and ask yourself this: How many can you think of who actually thought abortion was a good thing? Can you, in fact, recall even one? If so, then you’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din.

Most of the people I have known would be classified as “pro-choice” rather than “pro-life”. But I’ve never encountered anyone who liked the idea of abortion – and most emphatically not the people who’ve actually undergone them. And I have known quite a few such individuals; indeed, some have been very good friends. (I surely have known far more than I realized – and so have you – because most people who have had one don’t proclaim it from the rooftops.) Without exception, they were all among the sweetest, most loving and compassionate human beings I’ve ever met.  All of them who talked about the experience at all concurred that it was a devastating ordeal that they wouldn’t wish on anyone. Likewise for all the women I’ve ever heard about who have had one. Yet in Limbaugh Loonyland, these women are “baby killers” and “feminazis” who feel empowered every time a pregnant teenager heads to the clinic.

In our particular galaxy, however, women and girls do not terminate pregnancies because they are evil, but because they are desperate. “Pro-choice” is not (as the term “pro-life” is designed to suggest) pro-death or anti-life. And people are not pro-choice because they deem abortion to be a Sunday picnic or a power trip, but because they are realistic enough to grasp an inconvenient truth.

The Inconvenient Truth: There will always be abortions as long as there are unwanted pregnancies.

This is true whether they are legal or banned. It’s a fascinating irony that there is such a great deal of overlap between “pro-lifers” and gun lovers. And I don’t just mean it’s ironic because they claim to revere life while being enamored of instruments of death. I mean it’s ironic because gun lovers love to say (quite irrelevantly)  that “when guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns”. But “pro-lifers” love to tout government-induced prohibition as the ultimate response to abortion (often before the altar of “limited government”). Does this mean they believe that guns are more vital and germane to the human condition than sex? Actually, I wouldn’t be surprised if some of them did.

(Be sure to check out Part 2 of this discussion.)