Today’s post is also a guest post, this time from Asha Dahya. Asha is a journalist, content creator and TEDx speaker based in Los Angeles, originally from Australia. She is the founder of a women’s blog called GirlTalkHQ.com. She is passionate about reproductive justice and taking the abortion issue beyond the pro-choice vs pro-life paradigm, stemming from her own experience growing up in the conservative Evangelical movement. She is currently developing a documentary series called ‘LIFE AT ALL COSTS: Going Beyond Pro Choice vs Pro Life’ which is set to address the wider issues related to reproductive healthcare with the aim to completely shift culture away from its divisive view of abortion. She is a wife and mother of a very energetic and happy 19 month old boy. You might also consider checking out her TEDx talk on this issue: Reframing Reproductive Rights: Going Beyond Pro-Choice vs Pro-Life
“There comes a point where we need to stop just pulling people out of the river. We need to go upstream and find out why they’re falling in.”
― Desmond Tutu
This is a quote I find myself going back to often, when it comes to discussions about abortion. I didn’t always think this way, about the need to figure out the WHY of abortion decisions, and instead just powered ahead, damn the consequences or who I offended, with my very staunch black-and-white “ABORTION IS MURDER!” stance. But over the past 7 years my views have changed drastically from that of someone who identified as a pro-life conservative Christian, to someone who now abhors any sort of label. I don’t like the terms “pro-life” or “pro-choice” because they are inherently political, and politics are exactly what has ruined the abortion issue in America (and undoubtedly the rest of the world where it is such a similarly divisive topic). First and foremost, I am an advocate of reproductive, maternal, and sexual health, as well as an advocate of reproductive justice. These terms should be bipartisan as I firmly believe that no matter what religion you believe in or political leanings you hold there are many areas in the vast abortion issue that we can easily find common ground on.
I believe every child should be wanted and born into this world with full support from families, communities, and yes, the government. I believe in investing in preventative measures and will gladly support any policy that allows my tax dollars to go toward this. And in case you are wondering, yes, I DO believe abortion should be safe, legal and regulated. After doing a lot of research, interviews, and soul-searching, I cannot change my mind on this. The idea that the criminalization of abortion will act as a deterrent is so far from the truth.
I’ve had numerous conversations with friends and social media followers who refuse to budge from the “abortion is murder!” stance. It is disappointing that this line is thrown out there so often without a second thought.
If we are to classify abortion providers and those who seek abortions as murderers, let’s break that down for a second. Under US law, if you are convicted of murder you go to prison, and some states even impose the death penalty. Now add into that equation the fact that the US has the highest prison population on the planet, and the rates of incarcerated women are growing faster than men.
Do we really want to add women who have had abortions into our mess of a prison industrial complex? Do those who hold pro-life values honestly think that throwing women in jail will help to stop abortion rates? The answer is definitively NO, and there is some solid data from a number of countries, where abortion is outlawed entirely, to see that criminalization does not work.
A shocking result of the focus on the creeping criminalization of abortion in certain states has meant that even pregnant women who choose to carry to term are being penalized by the prison system. As an in-depth study from ProPublica found, states like Alabama have seen the collision of anti-drug fervor and abortion politics which have become a harsh weapon against pregnant women.
The New York Times editorial board put together a sobering analysis on the way the push to give personhood rights to a fetus is leading to a woman’s rights being incrementally stripped away, as we see more and more states charging pregnant women with crimes.
Is this the result the pro-life movement was intending?
What will it take for the pro life movement as a whole, especially its leaders and well-funded lobby groups and orgs, to admit that these tactics aren’t working, and that they go so far as to cause harm to women, children and families?
Here’s another thing to think about, the countries that an boast the lowest abortion rates are actually nations where abortion is still legal and accessible, but where policies exist in tandem that also make contraception and family planning widely available.
Many conservative Christians and pro-life advocates have praised President Trump’s expansion of the Global Gag Rule, which prohibits health care providers and organizations from not only providing abortions, but even talking about or recommending them. This rule is now being introduced into the US in a domestic version, targeting Planned Parenthood clinics primarily and their federal funding, despite that fact that the Hyde Amendment budget rider that has been voted for in every legislative session since 1976 has prohibited the use of Federal dollars to go toward abortion.
But studies estimate the number of maternal deaths and unsafe abortions are going to increase because of this Trump-era rule. Can we truly say this is the best way to support life? Can those who support these harsh policies just throw their hands up and walk away, satisfied that at least a ban on abortion was made and that’s all they wanted to achieve.
There is another aspect to the reduction in the number of clinics, and excessive restrictions being placed on facilities that provide a safe and legal service – closing clinics doesn’t mean women are choosing abortion less, it just means they are going elsewhere to seek it. Since 2010 when the Tea Party rose to ascendence in the mid-term elections after President Obama won his historical election in 2008, we saw an exponential wave of anti-abortion bills being introduced and passed. Over 300 abortion bans have been passed since 2010, and in 2015 alone, nearly 400 bills were introduced.
But as these bills start to have an impact on communities and states, we are seeing the real result. As one article showed, more than 5000 women traveled to Illinois from other mid-west locations because their own states have started closing down more and more clinics due to restrictions. So it turns out both criminalization AND excessive clinic restrictions (some of which the Supreme Court struck down in the 2016 Whole Woman’s Health vs Hellerstedt case and were found to have no bearing in the proclaimed mission of “protecting women”) are ineffective and a waste of money when it comes to preventing and reducing rates of abortion.
As an immigrant and a woman of color, I am particularly concerned about the impact of abortion restrictions along with the lack of similar emphasis on other reproductive and maternal health issues. Because when it comes to those being disproportionately affected, low-income women and women of color will always be hit the hardest. This is something everyone needs to pay attention to.
Let’s take the issue of maternal mortality, for example. Did you know America has the highest rates of women dying from childbirth complications in the developed world, and that our rates are RISING, while other developed nations’ rates are declining? How is this happening in the country that spends more than any other nation on healthcare? How can we call ourselves the “most powerful country on earth” when mothers are dying in childbirth? When breaking down the rates, it turns out African-American women are dying 3-4 times more than white women. Here’s the kicker – 50% of all maternal deaths in America are preventable. Yet we only have ONE federal bill addressing this issue, and it only recently passed into law. But 700 women are still dying every year from this, and pro-life advocates would much rather spend time, money and energy into helping draft and introduce abortion bans. The recent uproar over Georgia’s 6 week abortion ban which was voted in by the state legislature has prompted many reproductive justice allies and activists to point out that the state sadly has the highest maternal death rate, and not ONE bill is being introduced to address this or reduce rates. Why does this matter? Because every child deserves to have its mother in its life. Who speaks for the unborn babies? The MOTHER does, and we should be placing all our energy into ensuring mothers across America, especially black and brown mothers, have access to support, funding and comprehensive healthcare despite their socio-economic status or zip code. You don’t get to bypass a child’s (whether unborn or born) mother and skip straight to the womb. As data shows, America’s pregnant population are vulnerable and in danger.
As one article states, the disproportionate impact on women of color when it comes to abortion bans and the lack of other reproductive healthcare focus makes this issue not just a healthcare one, but also a racial and financial issue:
According to the American Journal of Public Health, low-income women and women of color have the highest abortion rates, suggesting the conversation transcends just the issue of abortion and is also a socioeconomic one. The other interesting aspect is certain policies limit availability of contraceptives and proper sex education. And with the routine economic subjugation of women, coupled with the demonization of abortion, women often bare the brunt of the criticism.
However, there is some good news. There ARE ways to reduce rates that have proven, time and time again, year after year after year, to actually be effective. The most prominent of these is access to birth control. From 2009 – 2013, the state of Colorado conducted an experiment where they gave teens and low-income women IUDs. The unintended pregnancy rate fell by 40%, and abortions fells by 42%. Yet there are still a number of advocate groups, religious organizations and legislators who are hostile to the idea of easier access to contraception. Here’s the thing though, if you were to choose between someone using birth control or having an abortion, which would you choose? If you say both, I venture to say you are not pro-life, but pro-the-idea-of-controlling-someone-else’s-sexual-choices.
Another method that has been proven to lower abortion rates is comprehensive, fact-based and medically-accurate sex education, not abstinence-only. America has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the developed world, and thankfully that number is declining, thanks to policies that make birth control more accessible. States that continue to mandate abstinence-only curriculum through the use of government funding have seen an increase in teen pregnancies, STIs and abortions. States that put tax-payer money and create policies mandating comprehensive sex education can boast the lowest rates of STIs, teen pregnancies and teen abortions in the nation. To me, that’s just a no-brainer, but frustratingly we are still seeing government money being put into abstinence-only programs that have proven time and time again to be ineffective. This is why the presence of staffers in the Trump administration who have held leadership positions at abstinence programs is alarming to many reproductive justice and health advocates.
My thought is this: if you are against abortion, but also against paid leave, affordable childcare, sex education, birth control access, expanded healthcare access and programs that fund and support low-income women and children, are silent on the mistreatment of pregnant incarcerated women who are shackled during labor and see high rates of miscarriage due to negligent care, are silent on the rising number of immigrant women under US care experiencing miscarriages due to negligent care, you aren’t pro-life. You are simply anti-abortion, and given the overwhelming amount of data and research, it is just not good enough to be AGAINST something, you need to be FOR something in its stead.
I will point out that there are some (very few, but they do exist) organizations that identify as pro-life who are against abortion but are very much pro all of the issues and programs I just mentioned. One such organization I have had the pleasure of speaking with in research for my documentary series ‘LIFE AT ALL COSTS: Going Beyond Pro Choice vs Pro Life’, is Feminists For Life, founded by Serrin Foster. They are not as well known or well-funded as the other major pro-life organizations, and here’s why: they are non-religious, they do not take an official stance on Roe vs Wade, they have worked with Democrats and Republicans, as well as pro-choice organizations like NARAL, NOW and Planned Parenthood to lobby for anti-pregnancy discrimination bills, they support SNAP, CHIP, WIC, TANF and other programs for low-income families, they support the Violence Against Women Act, they support Disability Rights, and they believe poverty is at the root of a lot of abortion decisions. Both Serrin and the organization’s magazine have written a lot about how we would do well to first work on poverty reduction policies and strategies which would go a long way to reducing abortion rates. This mindset goes back to my initial Desmond Tutu quote and I respect that Feminists For Life, who have been around for decades, are making this their focus.
A pro-choice group I admire greatly is Black Mamas Matter Alliance who are made up of a coalition of organizations primarily dedicated to ensuring black, brown, immigrant and indigenous women have equal access to safe and well-funded maternal and reproductive healthcare. They have been instrumental in helping raise awareness about the Prevent Maternal Deaths Act and worked with legislators on both sides of the aisle which became the catalyst in getting this passed into law. They hold panels, discussion series, Twitter chats, workshops and conferences around the country to amplify the voices of black women, because frankly they are being left out of and unheard of altogether when it comes to reproductive, sexual and maternal health. They are intersectional and inclusive, meaning they believe everyone has the right to parent and birth safely, regardless of their beliefs, orientation or political leanings.
Both of these groups are an example of what it looks like when the focus on abortion is less political, and more human. It’s time we take stock of our “single issue” focus on abortion in America, and widen our view of this complex issue. Because at the end of the day, women, especially low-income women and women of color are bearing the ultimate cost of our divisiveness. Will you join me in finding a solution-oriented way forward in the abortion issue?