Pro-Life Feminism: Yes, It's Possible!
Contrary to common belief, abortion procedures have been performed for thousands of years all over the globe.
The Sanskrit epic Ramayana, written in the 5th century BCE, describes surgeons and barbers practicing abortion. In the Greco-Roman world, Plato referred to midwives inducing abortion in his book Theaetetus, published in 369 BCE. In accordance with the First Testament, Judaism prioritizes the life of the mother before the baby. On the other hand, the Second Testament has been subject to varying interpretations by figures as ancient as Saint Augustine, who believed later-stage abortion was murder, to modern-day commentators such as Bruce Waltke, who believes that “God does not regard the fetus as a soul.” Fast-forward to the colonial era: from when the earliest settlers arrived to the Plymouth Colony in 1620 to the founding of the Constitution in 1787, abortion was a legal and common practice. In the late 1800s, states began enacting legislation that illegalized abortion. Some states did so out of fear that Eastern and Southern European immigrants, who were of the “less Aryan” ethnicity, would dominate the population due to their generally higher birth rates. Other states did so because doctors desired to obtain exclusive rights as medical practitioners by eliminating competition from “untrained” practitioners, such as midwives and apothecaries. By 1910, all but one state had criminalized abortion.
As such, the current controversy surrounding abortion is by no means a modern one; as long as as a woman has the capability to give birth, whether it be religious figures or politicians, there will always be others telling her whether or not they believe she should keep it. The current stats indicate that abortion is becoming a global norm, albeit a limited one. 26 countries prohibit abortion altogether (accounting for 5% of women worldwide), 39 countries allow abortion to save the life of the woman (accounting for 22%), 56 countries allow abortion on health grounds (14%), 14 countries permit abortion on broad social or economic grounds (accounting for 23%), and 67 countries allow abortion on request (accounting for 36%). Though the number varies, the most common gestational limit (the first day since the last menstrual period) is 12 weeks, which is about 3 months. In fact, 90% of abortions take place in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.
However, regardless of the legislation, women will always be obtaining abortions. In the years before Roe v. Wade (1973), there were about 1.2 million abortions annually in the US. Despite the growing population, in 2017 about 862, 300 abortions were performed, down 7% from 926, 190 abortions in 2014. Globally, abortion rates have also fallen: 39% of pregnancies ended in abortion between 1990–1994, yet 25% of pregnancies ended in abortion between 2010–2014.
This is indicative of the trend that nations with less restrictive abortion legislation experience an increase in usage of birth control and contraceptives, which leads to a subsequent decrease in abortion rates. As third-world nations typically have more restrictive abortion laws, women are less educated about their reproductive health and have less access to contraceptives. Hence, women in developing regions have a higher likelihood of obtaining an abortion than those in developed regions—36 vs. 27 per 1,000.
Abortion legislation not only affects the quantity of abortion procedures performed, but also the quality: how safe the procedure is for the mother. If properly performed, abortion will have a 99% safety record, meaning only 1% of women will suffer from complications.
However, because many nations have restrictive abortion legislation, women are forced to resort to untrained persons who employ dangerous procedural methods. 25 million unsafe abortions take place each year worldwide, which accounts for a staggering 45% of all abortions. An unsafe abortion can have a range of harmful effects on the mother: extreme pain, severe complications, or even death. Globally, between 2 million and 7 million women who have survived an unsafe abortion will suffer from long-term damage or disease, such as injury to internal organs or sepsis (a potentially life-threatening condition caused by the body’s response to infection). Most tragically, 47,000 women die every year from unsafe abortions.
85% of unsafe abortions occur in the developing world, particularly nations in Africa and Latin America. On average, a nation with more restrictive legislation reports that 75% of its abortion procedures have been unsafely performed. On the other hand, the average nation with less restrictive abortion legislation reports that only 13% of its abortion procedures are unsafe.
In California, women stand in solidarity with new legislation mandating that public colleges stock abortion medication.
Currently, abortion legislation is the hotbed of partisan debate in both developed and developing nations. A large reason for this is the many misconceptions regarding abortion. As such, regardless of one’s political stance, having access to all the facts about abortion is crucial.
One misconception about abortion is that younger, childless women oftentimes request them. In reality, 60% of the women who request abortions are already mothers. These women have decided that having another child was simply not the right choice for their lifestyle. Just in 2014, 59% of abortions were obtained by patients who had already given birth at least once.
Another misconception about abortion is that no methods of birth control were used prior to pregnancy. Actually, 51% of abortion patients used a contraceptive method in the month they got pregnant. Of this 51%, approximately 26% of the women had used condoms, and 17% had been taking birth control pills. This makes sense: respectively, condoms and birth control are 98% and 99% effective. This means that for every 100 women who use birth control methods, one or two will get pregnant.
One of the most harmful misconceptions about abortion is that pro-lifers cannot self-identify as feminists. However, thousands of women worldwide lead grassroots organizations that advocate for both women’s rights and pro-life legislation. Simply put, a feminist is one who believes in the equality of the sexes. Feminism should not be a partisan issue; similarly, a partisan issue such as abortion should have no bearing on whether or not one is a feminist.
Pro-life or pro-choice? Knowing one’s facts is key. But feminist or anti-feminist? It should not be stigmatized; it should not be a question.