11/11/2004

How convenient...

One of the big issues in this past election was abortion. Big issue - little common ground.

I had a conversation with a friend the other day wondering why the two extremes can't meet somewhere. Personally I think abortion is a horrible, terrible thing, but I can see how, once someone is in the terrible position of being pregnant in an unplanned way, that there are few good choices. The thing that really pisses me off about abortion proponents (and let's not kid ourselves, they are very pro) is their relentless defense of abortion under any circumstances. State funded, no less.

As someone conceived "out of wedlock" in the fifties I'm lucky to even exist. In the same circumstances today I'd have a 40% chance of existing at all, a 60% chance of ending up as blob of lifeless medical waste. Probably on a New Jersey beach.

It was, um, interesting to find that out at the age of 25. While my family wasn't exactly textbook, I had no idea my origins were so, well, illegitimate. Then I found out that my favorite aunt had been pregnant at 16 years old and gave her baby up for adoption. After being thrown out of the house by her father (my dad's dad) no less.

Not only that, I discovered at the age of 42 that my grandfather was the illegitimate son of some local landowner and a maid, and that he had only acquired the family name in his thirties, while my dad was a mere 7 years old at the time.

Ah, good times...

What's the point? I don't know, except maybe to indicate that you don't ever really know what's going to happen down the road. And that there's no such thing as a "normal" family.

But on to our fun topic of the day...

The Alan Guttmacher Institute is an interesting entity. Its goal is:

to protect the reproductive choices of all women and men in the United States and throughout the world. It is to support their ability to obtain the information and services needed to achieve their full human rights, safeguard their health and exercise their individual responsibilities in regard to sexual behavior and relationships, reproduction and family formation.

The description for pro-abortion of late has been "pro-choice". Well, I'm pro-choice, but maybe not in the commonly perceived way. AGI's goal includes the phrase "exercise their individual responsibilities in regard to sexual behavior".

Interesting, because the first exercising of such responsibilities is whether or not to have sex in the first place. That, my friends, is the ultimate choice (barring rape, of course, which as we see later is really a minor factor). After that it's all a case of natural consequences. Let me illustrate with one of my favorite stories:

A man is talking to a woman at a party.

He asks, "Would you have sex with me for a million dollars?".

She replies, "Well, I guess so."

He counters, "What about $20?".

"What kind of girl do you think I am?" she retorts.

"We've already figured that out," he says, "now we're just haggling over the price."


The AGI is so good at providing statistics about abortion. In the US, 52% of pregnancies are planned, so obviously 48% are unplanned. Hmmm...

They do assume that all abortions are the result of unplanned pregnancies which is fair enough I guess. Maybe there's the odd exception, but probably very few.

Of those 48% of unplanned pregnancies, 47% end in abortion, 40% in a birth and 13% in a miscarriage. So roughly 1 in 4 pregnancies in the US ends in abortion. That's 1.31 million a year. 2% of the female population between 15 and 44 has an abortion every year. That's one in fifty for the mathematically challenged. As the AGI proudly proclaims, abortion is one of the most commonly performed surgical procedures performed in the US.

Reasons for abortions vary, but "not ready financially", "not ready for the responsibility", "woman's life would change too much", "problems with relationship" and "too immature to have a baby" add up to 79% of the reasons. Apparently nobody checked the "too stupid to have unprotected sex when I don't want a baby" category, although I'm sure that would be a Vegas bookie favorite.

By the way, health problems with the fetus, mother or cases of rape and/or incest account for a measly 7% in total.

You might think abortions are mostly performed on teenagers. And you would be wrong. Less than 20% are performed on women younger than 20. Almost 50% are performed on women 25 and up. 67% are performed on women who have never been married, 17% on women who are currently married and the remaining 16% on the widowed or divorced.

Abortions are mostly for the poor, right? Wrong. Only 27% are performed on women at or below the poverty level. Admittedly that's higher than the incidence of women overall in that category, but it's hardly overwhelming. 25% are performed on women earning more than 3 times the poverty level.

Perhaps most telling is the fact that almost half of abortions (48%) are performed on women who have had a previous abortion. As Oscar Wilde may have written, to have one abortion is unfortunate, to have two is sheer carelessness. Yet these multi-abortion candidates are often seen as folk heroines of the abortion movement.

One thing the AGI decries is 87% of US counties have no abortion provider. Now these counties account for only 27% of the female population, so these are mostly rural counties. And let's face it, who wants to be known in a tight community as the local abortionist? It's hardly the kind of thing that endears oneself to neighbors. They're about as popular as the local porno director or oil company CEO, and it's much harder to blend socially into the background in close rural neighborhoods than in the big city.

Well, that was a fun and interesting tour through the world of abortion. I'm sure nobody goes looking for an abortion for kicks, but by the time a couple is faced with an unplanned pregnancy a bunch of bad decisions (aka choices) have already been made and have turned out badly. Are people really willing to deal with the harsh reality that their (lack of) plans have now gone wrong? Or is it really about "whatever is convenient for me"? I think it's this latter perception (and one borne out by AGI stats) that fuels the opposition to abortion as a throwaway means of after the fact contraception.

You can bend a lot of statistics to look any way you want. The pro-choice mantra used to be that abortion should be safe, legal and rare. Pity they've never really worked on the last one, huh?

So where do we go from here? The only way to make abortion rare without making women carry unwanted pregnancies to term is to have less unwanted pregnancies. There are several approaches to that:

1) Don't have sex (as much) if you can't stand to get pregnant. This requires education and self control, so this would also imply fewer drunken parties, etc.

2) Use a reliable means (or two or three) of pregnancy control (why do we still call it birth control anyway?) Given the incidence of STDs condoms should be used routinely with anyone not trusted. And as condoms aren't reliable enough as a sole means of pregnancy control, then other means should be used too. However, those drunken parties are also not conducive to remembering to use protection...

3) Morning after pill. This is an interesting one. Philosophically it's no different than an abortion, but if you don't know for sure you're pregnant, it's more like the don't ask/don't tell deal. It's also the only really good counter to those drunken parties... Of course, there's the risk of hemorrhaging and overuse no doubt leads to some nasty effects on the body. I guess we'll find out from the French eventually. And then there's the problem of using it as a primary means of pregnancy control rather than a "next to last resort".

Complicated stuff...

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