By ZawnVillines | 27 June 2019
Abortion is a cornerstone of women’s health care. Dozens of studies have shown clear correlations between women’s long and short-term health and their access to abortion. Earlier this month, a study published in Annals of Internal Medicine found that women who have abortions have better health 5 years later than women who are denied abortions and forced to give birth. Yet the right continues to lie about abortion.
Their lies are so pervasive, so deeply ingrained in our culture, so unquestioned that they’re often starting points taken for granted in debates. A 2018 study found that right-wing lies influence anti-choice legislation—for example, by convincing legislators that it is common for women to regret their abortions. Another study found that abortion coverage in the media is dominated by men lying about abortion.
I’ve written extensively about anti-choice lies, but it turns out that when you debunk one group of lies, a new set springs up. Here are some of the most pervasive lies forced birthers tell.
Myth: Abortion is Dangerous
Abortion regulations have never been about safety. Abortion is much safer than pregnancy or giving birth, and complication rates are similar to those associated with minor dental procedures. A person is more likely to die having their tonsils removed than having an abortion.
The U.S. has the worst maternal mortality rate in the developed world. In Georgia, which recently passed legislation to ban and criminalize most abortions, women are dying at epidemic rates. It’s safer to give birth in every state in the U.S., as well as 100 other countries (including Iraq and Iran), than it is to give birth in Georgia.
This stunning maternal mortality rate is not an accident, and it is certainly not inevitable. In a modern healthcare system, there is no reason for women to die giving birth. In many European nations, death during or after childbirth is unheard of. Meanwhile, American women pay more to give birth than women in any other wealthy nation, are more likely to suffer catastrophic complications, more likely to report abuse such as racism during birth, more likely to call their births traumatic, and more likely to die.
The real danger is birth. And the states working the hardest to ban abortion also seem to be working the hardest to make birth as dangerous as possible.
Myth: Women Agonize Over Abortions
There’s no doubt that for some people, abortion is a painful or tragic decision. The data suggests that most abortion-seekers don’t feel that way. The most common emotion women report after an abortion is relief.
Three years after an abortion, the overwhelming majority of abortion recipients still say the decision was the right one for them, according to a 2015 study. That study also found that abortion stigma and an unsupportive community were significant predictors of abortion-related distress. This latter finding suggests that the very idea that abortion is a painful, wrong, or tragic choice may set women up to feel bad about their abortions.
Numerous studies have shown that abortion does not cause depression, substance abuse, or other mental health woes. Moreover, the Turnaway Study, which followed women for 5 years after seeking an abortion, found that women denied abortions are significantly more likely to have mental health issues.
Even the left has accepted the narrative that abortion is always sad and tragic. The real tragedy, according to the data and to thousands of women who have had abortions, is being denied an abortion or living in a world where an abortion is shameful. For women who do agonize over their abortion decision, the tragedy is rarely the abortion itself, but the social circumstances—poverty, lack of healthcare, an abusive relationship—that rendered abortion the best choice.
Myth: Adoption is an Alternative to Abortion
Protesters routinely plead with women outside of abortion clinics to consider adoption.
This approach treats a pregnant person as a mere vessel for someone else’s baby, and ignores the immense challenges of adoption. A birth mother must find a way to pay for her health care, go through the agony of child birth, hope that she is not one of the many women to die in the worst maternity care system in the developed world, and then suffer through the immense grief of giving up a baby. While women rarely regret abortion, they frequently regret adoption. Perhaps that has something to do with women being human beings whose experiences matter, not just incubators.
Even if a pregnant person is committed to her adoption decision, adoption is simply not an option for ending abortion. More than 100,000 children are currently awaiting adoption. Ending abortion could flood the system with hundreds of thousands more. If anti-choicers aren’t adopting the children already seeking families, there’s little evidence that they’ll step up to adopt more kids if abortion becomes illegal.
It’s easy to beg a person to give up their baby. It’s a lot harder to adopt the baby, pay for the birth, support a woman through labor, or help her navigate years of adoption-related grief.
Myth: People Denied Abortions Will Eventually Be Glad to Become Parents
Parenthood can be a transformative experience. But most parents will tell you it’s more than just transformative: it’s exhausting, difficult, thankless work—especially for women, who tend to do a disproportionate share of parenting work while bearing the brunt of society’s judgments about what good mothers should do and be. Yet anti-choicers dismiss the difficulties of parenthood, and tell pregnant people that they’ll eventually be glad to be parents.
There’s no evidence to support this claim, and plenty of evidence showing that women are far more likely to regret being denied an abortion than regret having one. The Turnaway Study shows that women who are denied abortions are more likely to remain in abusive relationships, to have poor mental health, to live in poverty, and to do worse on virtually every other measure of well-being. People don’t just automatically adjust when forced to become parents. They can suffer immensely. That suffering can extend to their children, creating generational trauma with deep and lasting reverberations.
Myth: Clinic Regulations Protect People Seeking Abortions
Many states have attempted to regulate abortion out of existence, insisting that they are doing so to protect women’s health. They demand that providers have privileges at nearby hospitals, for example, or require abortion clinics to meet licensing requirements similar to those of much larger facilities, such as hospitals and surgi-centers. These regulations do not protect abortion-seekers, and may even be a driver of maternal mortality.
Some data suggests that women are more likely to induce abortion via unsafe means in areas where there are no abortion clinics because those clinics have been regulated out of existence. A handful of studies have also found that expanding the number of providers who can offer abortions to include midwives, physician assistants, and others could improve abortion care and lower complication rates.
In recent years, some states have moved to limit telemedicine abortions. These abortions allow a person to get a prescription for an abortion pill, then take the medication under the care of a doctor. A study of nearly 20,000 women found that telemedicine abortions are safe. Despite this data, Michigan and several other states have sought to prevent abortion clinics from providing telemedical abortions.
Pushing Back Against the Right’s Lies
Anti-choicers will continue to lie about abortion, because it is the only way they can support their position. They’ll also continue to lie about their opposition to policies that could lower abortion rates, like paid parental leave, expanded healthcare access, comprehensive birth control, and better welfare benefits for families and children. They claim they’re worried about the expense of expanding family-friendly policies, even as research shows that abortion bans will cost taxpayers billions. The hypocrisy would be shocking if we weren’t all so used to it now. And yet, the people who would force women to give birth—even when doing so means death, poverty, or abuse—continue to claim the moral high ground.
To win the rhetoric war, to preserve the health of families and women, the left must continue to push back against the right’s lies. Expose them for what they are. Forced birthers have never cared about human lives.
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