The Sanctity of Abortion Access: Survival Is Not Optional.


Up to 31,000 women die every year from botched abortions and seven million are injured or made ill. Guttmacher Institute. Every sixteen minutes, therefore, a woman in the world dies because of an illegal abortion. That number is down from 2007, thanks to legalization of abortions and higher access to contraception worldwide. But it is worth remembering that in 2007, the Guttmacher Institure reported, "Every eight minutes a woman dies somewhere in a developing country due to complications from an unsafe abortion." Guttmacher Institute, Aug. 2007.

Today, one woman will have died from an illegal abortion by the time you are finished reading this article. Many more died in the time it took me to write this. Let that sink in; feel the ticking clock of women, making desperate decisions, balancing the need to take care of themselves, their future, and their other children, laying down on a table, or a mattress, or a floor, staring at the ceiling and praying they make it. Every hour, four of them don't. 

Illegal abortions kill women, period. Legal abortions don't. Study after study establishes that legal abortions result in very few deaths. Indeed, the US only needs to look back at its own history. While legal abortions resulted in 4.1 deaths per 100,000 procedures, by 1997 that number was down to 0.6.  In California, a 1967 study found that illegal abortions were the "most common single cause of maternal mortality in California." Leon Parrish Fox, Abortion Deaths in California, 98 AM. J. OBSTETRICS & GYNECOLOGY 645, 650 (1967). Each year, an estimated 42 million women obtain abortion services to end unplanned pregnancies. 21 million of them obtain the procedure illegally. Of those, 50,000 a year will die due to complications from illegal abortions.

Even psychologically, abortions are overwhelmingly a difficult put positive decision for women undergoing them. In 1992, the American Psychological Association performed a review of women having had abortions and found that the "vast majority of women experience a mixture of emotions after an abortion, with positive feelings predominating." Nancy E. Adler et al., Psychological Factors in Abortion: A Review, 47 AM. PSYCHOLOGIST 1194, 1202 (1992). In 2012, another study found that one week after getting an abortion 97% of women said it was the right decision. When interviewed, 67% of women who had not been able to get the procedure reported wishing they had been able to. Those same women were three times more likely to be under the poverty line two years later. Seven percent of those women had reported an incident of domestic violence in the previous six months. Leon Parrish Fox, Abortion Deaths in California, 98 AM. J. OBSTETRICS & GYNECOLOGY 645, 650 (1967).

Women from all walks of life obtain abortions. 
  • 59% of women obtaining abortions had already had at least one other child
  • 24% of US women will have an abortion by age 45
  • In 2014, 34% of abortion patients were between 20 and 24 years old
  • In 2014, 27% of abortion patients were between 25 and 29 years old
  • 75% of abortion patients in 2014 were poor to low-income individuals
  • In 2014, whites accounted for 39% of abortion procedures, blacks for 28% and Hispanics for 25%
  • 51% of abortion patients were using contraception
Based on the numbers above, abortions are not the result of thoughtlessness or sex or "freedom." Abortions are about poverty. Abortions are about money. Abortions are about trying to survive in an economy that squeezes the middles and working classes at every turn. Abortions are about low wages and lack of access to childcare. Abortions are about unaffordable housing. Abortions are about all the ways we have failed the middle and working classes in this country. Abortions are about the ways we have allowed endless cycles of poverty in our black and brown communities. Abortions are about the ways we have failed to spread the tremendous benefits of capitalism through our society. Abortions are about what we haven't done to help families, not about what women did with their bodies.

Abortion, in other words, is the result of a societal failure. Our failure to make it easier for women to control their reproductives lives--with contraception and sex education--and our failure to provide adequate financial and logistical support to women who choose to have children, such as affordable childcare and livable wages with equal pay. If there is anyone to blame for the rate of abortions, it is legislators who repeatedly fail to address mothers' pressure points and continue to fund asinine abstinence-only programs. The blame also squarely lays at the feet of any individual objecting to insurance coverage for contraception.


Not surprisingly, the most cited reason for having an abortion was the inability to take care of other people, mostly other dependents, if the patient woman with the pregnancy. In other words, women have to face the fact that in today's society they have to undergo an abortion in order to have a shot at taking care of their children or a shot at a future of any kind for themselves. Abortion is not about convenience; it is about survival. 


This current state of affairs means that women don't want abortions, they need them. Abortion access should be beyond discussion. It is a fundamental need and a human right. Without it, women will die. While legal abortions are a balancing of obligations and hardships, illegal abortions become life and death decisions. But ultimately, as any mother will tell you, if protecting our living children from a life of poverty means rolling the dice in a back alley, hoping we make it out alive, we'll risk it.

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