When I first got the idea for this
column, I thought it would be one of the funniest pieces I’ve ever written. I had a list of “reasons we’ve never heard from women for seeking an abortion.” I planned to point out that there
are virtually no nonsurgical options for male contraception except for condoms, which have been around since the 1500s. Apparently the demand for male birth
control is about as high as finding a
cure for cuteness. Women have always shouldered the burden of ensuring against unintended pregnancies.
But as I thought about the battle for reproductive freedom playing out across this nation, and the terms in which we frame it, I realized I was trying to compare apples and giraffes. And then I started to get mad.
The more I seriously pondered the idea — hey, if we could put a man on the moon, we could probably get one pregnant — the more I came to realize that these laws, and the way we frame the discussion about abortion, are based on two overwhelmingly misogynistic concepts: First, women get absolutely no credit for critical thinking. Second, the people making these laws have no knowledge of reproductive biology.
In case you haven’t been paying attention, in recent months a number of state legislatures have approved restrictions that essentially outlaw access to abortion services within their borders. These new laws prohibit the procedure after six weeks — a time when many women don’t even know yet that they’re pregnant — and there are no exceptions for rape or incest victims, or for women who do not wish to carry fatally deformed or stillborn babies to term. These laws are designed to not only to ban abortion in individual states, but to get the U.S. Supreme Court to reconsider whether reproductive freedom is a constitutional right. The high court could send us all back to the good old days when pregnant women died at the hands of unskilled quacks wielding metal coat hangers.
Take the recent case of the Alabama woman charged with fetal homicide after being shot by another woman. The mother-to-be was charged with manslaughter. (The charge was eventually dropped, as were charges against the woman who fired the gun.) Are we also going to arrest pregnant women who get into car accidents or fall down the stairs?
I don’t think there’s a man on earth who would be willing to put up with those kinds of laws. They wouldn’t stand for it.
In the alternate reality created by men, we women spend as much time deciding whether to have an abortion as we do having a pedicure. Except we agonize more over the choices of nail polish. Give women some credit. Really? Does anyone believe that? The overwhelmingly old, white state legislators passionately orating in “defense of life” seem to believe it. Of course, women’s lives, or the lives of children once they’re out of the womb, aren’t worth getting worked up about.
Enacting a six-week restriction — along with mandatory “counseling,” a two-day cooling-off period (which, God forbid, we should insist on for gun purchases) — and time really starts to run out. Of course it also takes a bit of time to beg or borrow the money we need to shell out for the procedure, since insurance doesn’t cover it, and if you live in a state with just one abortion clinic (or no clinic at all), you can also start saving for bus fare and an overnight stay in one of our nation’s cheapest and sleaziest motel chains.
Along the way we are derided for being tramps because only tramps need abortions. The men who impregnate women? They’re studs.
Almost every woman I know has had an abortion at some point in her life. Their reasons have been as varied as they are. Some felt they were too young to be mothers. Some felt they already had as many kids as they could afford. Some did it for health reasons — their own or that of the developing fetus. Some did it because they already had a gravely ill child who demanded all their love and attention.
But I can tell you one thing with certainty: No woman who decides to terminate a pregnancy wants to draw it out. No one waits until she’s six months pregnant to make up her mind she doesn’t want it. Second-trimester abortions (a fetus is still not viable outside the womb) are rare, and lack of access and money only drive up the numbers. And the (very few, thank the goddess) women who have to have third-trimester abortions are nearly always broken-hearted: They’ve been told they are in danger of imminent death, or that their babies are destined to be born dead or so screwed up that they won’t last more than a few days or weeks.
Almost every woman, at some point in her life, is going to think long and hard about whether or when to be a parent. Give us a little credit for taking it seriously. I wish I could say the same about men.