Wednesday 15 February 2012

Abortion: My final word on unwanted pregnancy

Reprinted from September 24, 2010

A while back, I wrote an article Abortion: If we make it illegal, the problem will go away which was inspired by a CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) news report on childbirth in Africa and the enormous risks faced by women in situations where health care was poor or nonexistent and sanitation left much to be desired. That article generated some responses and I thought the moment had arrived to address some of those comments and the pro-life arguments therein. Let me donate my $0.02 to this issue; my final word.

First of all, in going back and forth with certain people, obviously pro-life, in reading some forums and following the debates both for and against abortion, it occurred to me that no amount of arguing is clearly going to define the winner. You are either for abortion or you are against it. You can't argue the point; there is nothing to be gained by debating the issue. Each side just plainly believes what they believe and I doubt either side is going to be swayed by the other side. Yes, both sides will come to the table with their talking points, their examples both personal and general but at the end of the day, each side will continue to believe what they believe.

Abortion is murder or it's not. Nuff said. Yes, I've heard the arguments about the development of the foetus prior to X number of weeks, aborting before the 2nd trimester, no life before the heart starts beating, whatever. No amount of medical explanations about consciousness, scientific rationalizations about the formation of life is going to sway anybody. Abortion is murder or it's not. Accept one side or you're accepting the other.

But why? I have sometimes been surprised at the ferociousness with which some people hold their pro-life beliefs. They may be in no way personally touched by abortion but they are ready to vote, campaign, stand out on the streets with signs and sometimes go so far as to bomb clinics and even kill doctors. Where does this all come from?

In my entry on abortion, I spoke of how reports claimed that every year in Africa, 25,000 women die from botched abortions. You must remember that in 90% of the African countries, abortion is illegal. A few weeks after publication, I found this comment to my entry:

Feynman and Coulter's Love Child said...
As a purely ethical matter, am I supposed to feel bad when a murderer, in the course of murdering, dies?
Because it just ain't there.

Sounds fair to me. Ted Bundy who confessed to over 30 murders was executed by the electric chair in 1989. Timothy McVeigh, responsible for the Oklahoma bombing which killed 168 people was executed in 2001. Yes, let's get those murderers; they deserve to die!

My mother was born in 1929, the 2nd of 2 daughters. My grandfather and grandmother faced the stock market crash of 1929 and the subsequent depression. In 1937, my grandmother unexpectedly and inadvertently became pregnant. Don't forget that this was the time of a one income family; my grandfather worked and my grandmother was a stay at home mom. The family could not financially support a third child so my grandparents elected to have an abortion. Could you even get a legal abortion in Canada in 1937?

My grandmother died as a result of the procedure. I don't know if it was a legal abortion or an illegal one but according to my aunt, my mother's sister, the incident was hushed up so I would assume it was probably illegal. My mother was left without a mother at the age of 8. My aunt, her sister was 10. My grandfather lost his wife. I lost the opportunity to ever know my grandmother.

But as Feynman and Coulter's Love Child pointed out, we shouldn't feel bad when a murderer dies in the course of murdering. Hmmm, I never thought about my grandmother as being a murderer. Then again, maybe my grandfather, whom I did know when I was young, convinced my grandmother to have an abortion so maybe he was really the murderer.

My wife described with a touch of compassion that no woman makes the decision to have an abortion lightly and no woman walks away from an abortion unaffected. Making the decision to not continue with a pregnancy and carrying out that decision is something one will carry around with them for life. What if? Ah, to reflect on that question What if? Nevertheless, there seem to be compelling reasons why a woman would decide to not have a child, reasons which would compel her risk her own life. I repeat she would risk her own life! Just imagine that 25,000 women die each year in Africa due to botched abortions.

It seems easy to stand from afar and label abortion as murder. I think it's a little more complicated than that. It seems easy to say that those women who die from a botched abortion deserve to die in the same way a murderer deserves to die. Except maybe when the person is somebody you know. Feynman and Coulter's Love Child total lack of compassion for all those unknowns who have died over the years... well, I feel so sad. Such coldness is unworthy of any human being.

Is abortion risky?
In my original article, I talked specifically about Africa where health care and sanitation leave much to be desired. Under these circumstances, probably any medical procedure may turn out to be risky. But here in the Western world where medical care may be top notch, an abortion is not at all risky and can be done, is done successfully with no complications at all. The difference is the quality of the health care.

I come back to looking at the phenomenon on a global scale. Western world, good health care, abortion no problem. Third world, poor health care, big danger.

In the CBC report, a journalist spoke with a representative from Canada working for one of the aid agencies. The rep demonstrated a simple plastic sheet, a sheet which was sanitary and she went on to explain that the agency had a program to distribute these sheets so that woman would have something to lie down on when giving birth. It was amazing to realize that there were areas so primitive, that there was literally no medical care at all and the process of giving birth sometimes was nothing more than lying down on the dirt floor of a hut. Apparently having a woman lie on one of these sanitary sheets would substantially decrease the risk of infection and even death during childbirth.

So, is abortion risky? I guess it depends where you are and what access you have to top notch medical care. Good care, safe abortion; poor care, well a risky abortion. Let me come back to the principal point of this article and the first one I wrote: If a woman didn't have an "unwanted" pregnancy, she wouldn't need an abortion.

If we make fire trucks illegal, all fires will stop
In my original article I made the above statement meaning that if we make the process of having an abortion illegal, "unwanted" pregnancies will stop. Of course, they don't and no matter what the legal status is about abortions, there continue to be approximately 42 million abortions each year across the planet.

So, let me stop you. Think about this for a sec: why? Why are there 42 million abortions? What is the cause, the reason, the motivation which would inspire a woman to possibly risk her life to have this operation? Either these women are unconcerned about risking their lives or they do not imagine the operation is potentially risky. Of course, with Western medical facilities being as good as they are having an abortion might be as risky as having a root canal.

I come back to the one thing I see everybody missing in all these debates. People get stuck on the question of is it murder or not and completely ignore the underlying problem.

An abortion represents an unwanted pregnancy.
Why is it I never see anybody tackle this issue from this perspective? It seems to me that everybody is focusing on the abortion rather than looking at the problem from a preventative angle. If a woman is considering an abortion, I'm sorry; the horse is already out of the barn. Why can't we back up a bit and ask ourselves why are we discussing an issue which is preventable? Why are we debating abortion? Why in heavens name was the situation allowed to get so far out of control that we have arrived at this last and most controversial step?

Unfortunately, since many in the pro-life camp are of a religious persuasion, we end up discussing the various actions which may prevent an "unwanted" pregnancy. It seems however that the only method on the table is usually abstinence. I said in the other article that 42 million abortions per year indicate to me that abstinence isn't working and will probably never work.

The Catholic Church
So, what about contraception? What about prophylactics? What about the pill? These would be precisely the "preventative" measures I'm talking about. Well, let's start with the obvious policy of the Catholic Church and the Pope. Rule of the game: no condoms and no pills. Now just picture this if you will. The Catholic Church professes to be pro-life and anti-abortion yet dismisses 2 means of preventing unwanted pregnancies. I find this to be a curious disconnect with reality. I would then go on to say how unconscionable I find this position.

In March 2009, the Pope visited Africa and during his trip he reaffirmed the church's ban on the use of condoms. ... At that moment, 22 million people were infected with HIV in Africa; there were 11.4 orphans because of AIDS; 1.5 million had died of AIDS in Africa in 2007 and 25 million had died in the past 20 years.

After I read this, I have to confess my jaw hit the floor. Yes, if people practised abstinence, we could say these numbers would not be so high. But since the numbers are that high, I have to conclude that abstinence isn't working. For me, the question is then what else could be done? And so, we return to the question of preventative measures, measures which the Catholic Church bans.

Subsequent to the news articles about the Pope's visit, I read articles which described the difficulties of promoting the use of condoms in Africa because there were cultural impediments to their use, namely, a strong prudery about anything sexual. You could not promote anything relating to sex because people were too embarrassed to talk about sex. In fact, one article by a group of French doctors concurred with the Pope's ban on condoms precisely for this cultural reason.

I was stunned; stunned by the illogical rationale being used to justify a policy. This was tantamount to saying you are against seat belts in cars and say it's up to the individuals to not get into accidents. Of course, I hope the reader sees the absurdity of banning seat belts; by now, it is well known how beneficial seat belts are in saving lives. For me, a preventative measure is important to not necessarily solving a problem, but by avoiding the problem altogether. If the use of a condom would stop even 1% of the cases of AIDS being transmitted, imagine that out of the 25 million people who have died over the past 20 years from AIDS in Africa, we could have saved 250,000 lives. That's just 1%! Heck, if I aimed for 0.1%; that would represent 25,000 people!!!

Unconscionable? I'm sorry; I like most people look to a leader for leadership but when I am confronted with a leader enforcing a policy which is so obviously in conflict with reality; I must question the leadership of the person in question; I must question the person, the policy and the rationale which supports a social structure which is so patently not achieving the laudable goals of peace, love and understanding.

Under the presidency of George W. Bush, part of the right wing religious fundamentalism in America, one saw a support for programs promoting abstinence in schools. Some of these programs offered "chastity rings" whereby the wearer of the ring signed some sort of pledge to not have sex. All very well and good but what about the 1.3 million abortions performed each year in the United States (over 70,000 in Canada)? I agree that abstinence works quite well for preventing unwanted pregnancies and hence avoiding an abortion; but my question is just how effective is this? Of course, I hear the argument that better promotion and acceptance of abstinence will in the end win the day but how long will that take? How many unwanted pregnancies, how many abortions will we see before this "glorious ideal" of everybody being abstinent? I come back to my seat belt analogy. Someday, we may all drive responsibly and no seat belts will be necessary. Maybe. Possibly. But in the meantime, how many people are going to be hurt, maimed or killed? Would anybody want to go back to the days where cars didn't have safety belts? That would seem pretty insane.

Show the Truth
This pro-life Christian group promotes its anti-abortion message by showing in public graphic images of aborted foetuses.

Show the Truth
Is a non-denominational mission dedicated to showing the truth of abortion to the Canadian public. Show the Truth is committed to peaceful and legal means of pro-life education, through displaying large photographs of abortion and distributing literature.
Why show the graphic images?
Throughout history, images have been instrumental in social reform. People working against slavery, child labour, discrimination against African Americans, and in the aftermath of the Holocaust used pictures of the injustices to raise public awareness. Most Canadians are familiar with disturbing images shown to the general public: one example is the widespread use of pictures showing the effects of smoking on the lungs. Images are powerful and legitimate tools for awakening people and arousing them to action.

Are children negatively affected by these images?
We have studied this concern extensively and have come to the following conclusions. Very small children do not comprehend the graphic nature of the signs. Young, preschool and school age children look and ask, “What happened to the baby?” An honest answer from a loving parent will put the child at ease. Preteens and young teenagers take an interest in the signs and ask for more information. Read more...

What about women who have had abortions?
Post-abortive women and those who counsel them agree that women need to know the truth about abortion. It is necessary that the woman comes to terms with the reality that abortion killed her child. This ends the stage of denial so the healing process can begin. Some women attribute the beginning of their rehabilitation to an encounter with a film or an image showing an abortion. Many women who have had abortions have told us that they would not have had an abortion if they had known the truth.

How can I get involved?
You can invite us to your community, or come and join us on our missions. STT is a non-profit volunteer organization, run entirely on donations. People of all ages and backgrounds and families are welcome; the only requirement is genuine dedication to showing the truth about abortion. STT members participate in a rich spiritual life, with prayers before and after each presentation, and daily Masses and prayer services while on tour. The work can be demanding, but all participants agree that it is well worth it. It is a great joy to be part of such a project; we are changing the world by awakening the public to this great injustice in our midst. It is time to act! Innocent children threatened in the womb need us! Will you respond to their “Silent Scream”? As Christ said, “Whatever you do unto the least of these, my brethren, you do unto Me.” Read more...

"Bottom line: if you can't handle the pictures, how can you condone the act?" - Trish Boyko, Uxbridge

Shock Tactic
I find this shock tactic an interesting way of supposedly hitting home the message that abortion is the murder of a child. I guess if I can't handle an image of my colonoscopy, I shouldn't have one. I guess if I can't stomach an image of open heart surgery, well, I better make sure I remain healthy. Gosh, if I can't stomach the image of a cow being butchered at the slaughterhouse, I should immediately become a vegetarian.

In fact, a number of pro-life web sites identify themselves with wonderful, cute cuddly pictures of healthy, happy babies. The message is that an abortion is stopping all this love and joy from taking place.

This 2005 non-fiction book by University of Chicago economist Steven Levitt and New York Times journalist Stephen J. Dubner analyzes several commonly held "truths". I refer here to a chapter devoted to abortion.

During the 90's crime rates dropped and everybody was attributing this to better crime prevention. Levitt proved a correlation between the drop in crime and the legalization of abortion in the U.S. in the 1970s. Apparently, many abortions were occurring in lower income, possibly single parent families; families who were more susceptible to producing children who eventually ended up involved in crime.

Hmmm, pro-life groups show pictures of cuddly babies all smiley and happy. Anybody show pictures of those same babies grown up taking drugs, shooting each other and engaged in criminal activity?

Hmmm, cuddly babies all smiley and happy. I repeat: even if abortion is illegal, women still seek abortions; in some cases, they are willing to risk their lives to have that abortion. Why? Do they possibly know that the end result is not going to be that cuddly baby all smiley and happy?

Are you willing to do your part?
If it is all love and joy, why then would a woman consider having an abortion? Have you addressed the issue which would lead the woman to considering an abortion? Have you done enough to ensure that this woman is not having an "unwanted" pregnancy?

Answer: no.

A banana and a condom
I see this group, as other groups; commit a great deal of time and effort into protesting abortion and attempting to dissuade those who are actually at the door of the abortion clinic. How many of those people would be willing to take a banana and a condom down to their local high school and explain to the students how a basic, over the counter remedy would reduce the chances of an unwanted pregnancy to just about zilch? Just picture this: no more unwanted pregnancies, no more abortions, no more abortion clinics. Excuse me, but isn't this what everybody would like to see?

Oops, I forgot. We are all supposed to abstain. No condom is necessary.

Hmmm, as Dr. Phil likes to say, "How's that workin' for ya?"

Why am I even wasting my breath? The reality of the situation and the possible solutions seem so self-evident, discussing the issue seems to me to be completely stupid. The Pope bans condoms. I read 25 million people have died because of AIDS in Africa over the past 20 years. The United States sees 1.3 million abortions per year, 70,000 in Canada, 42 million worldwide and anybody, I mean anybody has the gall to suggest abstinence? Protesters spend hours standing around on streets showing graphic images of dead foetuses but refuse to go to their local high school with a banana and a condom.

Are you people nuts?

I remember once way back when seat belts were first made mandatory. A friend was spouting off about how nobody was going to tell him what to do; besides, they were unnecessary.

I slammed on the brakes.

The car skidded to a halt; my friend slide forward on the seat but managed to get his arm up so it slammed into the dashboard not his head.

"What the hell did you do that for?" exclaimed my friend. I grinned at him. "Unnecessary? If you were wearing your seat belt; you wouldn't have hit the dashboard." He was ready to slug me but I made my point.

Everybody is completely stuck on abortion and nobody wants to talk about "unwanted" pregnancy. I repeat and I guess I'll have to repeat this until I'm blue in the face: Nobody aborts a pregnancy they want; one only aborts an unwanted pregnancy. Stop all unwanted pregnancies; you stop all abortions.

Integrated Catholic Life
I left a comment with a link to my original abortion article and received this response.

Deacon Mike Bickerstaff
July 2, 2010 • 3:56 pm

Hi William,

You write on your blog: >>In a nutshell, I am pro-choice and anti-abortion. I am for the woman having the choice but would sincerely hope that we all arrive someday at a point where there is no need for a woman to even have to choose an abortion.<<

Well, you know, try that argument with any other killing of innocent human life... e.g., "I'm personally against drive-by shootings, but I am for the shooter having the choice..." or "I'm personally against homicide committed in the course of a bank robbery, but I am in favor of the robber having the choice..."

That people commit evil acts in the face of laws prohibiting those evil acts is not a valid reason for opposing the law.

There is no difference in human dignity between a born mother who intends to kill her unborn child and the unborn child. Your argument sacrifices the innocent baby in favor of the guilty mother. The pro-life position is that both lives are worth saving. To accept the intentional murder of the baby to save the possible accidental death of the mother is contrary to moral law.

Deacon Mike

I am sure Deacon Mike is a very nice man. Unfortunately, he completely missed my point in the original article and continues like all pro-lifers to address the entire issue of unwanted pregnancies by only looking at the moment of abortion. If a pregnancy was a "wanted" pregnancy, it would not be aborted. Ever. You only abort an unwanted pregnancy. Address the issue of a pregnancy being unwanted and you've solved the abortion issue.
  • Avoid an unwanted pregnancy:
    abstinence, of course
    contraception (condom, pill): just don't get pregnant in the first place
    vasectomy: don't get pregnant!!!
  • Ensure the woman is getting pregnant when she wants to!!! No accidents.

Who am I to judge?
Why does a woman choose to have an abortion? Her reasons are probably numerous: economic hardship, difficult family situation, emotional trauma, who knows? Whatever the case, she's the one deciding that the end result is not going to be that cuddly baby all smiley and happy.

But at the end of the day, it's her body; it's her decision. It's not my body.

Goddamn it! If you really hate abortion so much...
Ah, my frustration is showing. If you really hated abortion so much; you would do anything to prevent an unwanted pregnancy. If you really cared about people; you would do anything in your power to ensure a woman would never end up in a situation so difficult, she would even consider having an abortion. If you really understood where babies come from - and excuse me if I'm being blunt - you would know this only happens when a man's penis ejaculates inside a woman's vagina and you would look at all measures... and I mean ALL measures to guarantee that such a transfer of spermatozoa did not take place.

Shocked? Think I've gone too far; that I'm some kind of nut bar radical? Look in the mirror. You say you want to stop abortions but refuse to see the exact causal relationship.

  • Women become pregnant because of men. Anybody consider giving men a vasectomy?
  • Women become pregnant because of men. Anybody consider making them responsible? How come they get to walk away scot-free?
  • Women become pregnant because of sex. If abstinence isn't working, what else can one do? I don't care if pro-lifers say that sex is only for pro-creation. Sex can also be fun and a lot of people obviously know that or they wouldn't be "doing it".

And more importantly, do I get vote on what the woman does? Should I get a vote? After all, it's not my body.

My Final Word
Let me be perfectly clear: It is my opinion that abortion should be legal and should be an option made available to every woman. It is up to the woman to make the choice, not me. It is her body; it is her choice.

BUT and I add here a big emphatic but.

An abortion represents an "unwanted" pregnancy. The entire debate between the pro-choice and pro-life camps is about whether abortion is murder and whether abortion should be permitted, should be legal, should be supported as a legitimate way of dealing with an unwanted pregnancy. Okay fine; enough already! Can we move on folks?

The point to my articles is just this: If a woman didn't pregnant, she wouldn't need an abortion. Ah, but I should be more precise. If a woman "wanted" to be pregnant, she wouldn't want an abortion. Yes, abortion is an issue; I'll let everybody else waste their time and effort arguing their stance to the other camp until they're blue in the face. I want to move upstream and deal with the issue BEFORE the pregnancy occurs. I want to be preventative. Yes, curative is good; curative is important but what can we collectively do to prevent us from even getting to an abortion?

Do the pro-lifers truly care about life? I'm sorry, I don't think so. You call my grandmother a murderer and say she deserved to die. You leave 2 little girls without a mother; you deprive me of my grandmother. You would have forced her to have the baby then walk away to leave the entire family to fend for themselves amongst the economic hardships of the great depression. Compassionate? You remain fixated on abortion but refuse to pick up a banana. You enforce policies that match your ideology then sit back and look at millions die from AIDS and say, "Too bad."

You want to ban fire trucks assuming that all fires will stop. You want to ban abortions assuming that all unwanted pregnancies will stop.

Ladies and gentlemen, I originally stated that I would like to see abortions stop. But abortions will only stop the day we no longer have "unwanted" pregnancies. And how to achieve the goal of no pregnancy being "unwanted"? Standing outside an abortion clinic showing the graphic image of an aborted foetus strikes me as being a very narrow minded, very myopic method of stopping an abortion. If you looked at every means at your disposal to ensure no pregnancy was unwanted including a banana, there is a good chance we could all be a tad closer to having no abortions at all. Women deserve to become pregnant when they want to, not when a man wants to or when a man inadvertently does so.

So, as my final word: pick up that banana, get out there and try to make this a better world. If for no other reason, you will at least not slip on the peel!

To all pro-lifers: The statistics are in and they clearly state that an once of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
The following information clearly supports my article. By preventing unwanted pregnancies (through contraception), you can significantly reduce abortions. And this is what we all want, right?

Guttmacher Institute:


By providing millions of young and low-income women access to voluntary contraceptive services, the national family planning program prevents 1.94 million unintended pregnancies, including almost 400,000 teen pregnancies, each year. These pregnancies would result in 860,000 unintended births, 810,000 abortions and 270,000 miscarriages, according to a new Guttmacher Institute report.

Absent publicly funded family planning services, the U.S. abortion rate would be nearly two-thirds higher than it currently is, and nearly twice as high among poor women.

Cristina Page: "Pro-Life" Movement Admits Pro-Abortion Stance

[The Guttmacher Report] specifically concluded that making contraception available to low income women reduces the number of abortions by nearly 40%. When birth control isn't available unintended pregnancy increases by 2 million and the number of abortions spikes by more than 800,000 each year. Researchers noted that providing contraception saves taxpayers 4 times as much as not providing it.

Some 91% of Americans favor contraception and so were startled to discover that groups which claim to be against abortion oppose the very strategy that results in significant declines in abortion. Instead, in a further shock, they support policies that researchers show lead to sharp increases in unintended pregnancy and abortion rate. Many ordinary self-described "pro-life" Americans were confused by news of the seemingly incomprehensible, yet universally-held, position of groups that have, for decades, promoted themselves as opponents of abortion.


my blog: Abortion: If we make it illegal, the problem will go away

Ship of Fools: forum on abortion

Show the Truth (pro-life group)

Wikipedia: Freakonomics
Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything is a 2005 non-fiction book by University of Chicago economist Steven Levitt and New York Times journalist Stephen J. Dubner. The book has been described as melding pop culture with economics, but has also been described as "amateur sociology". By late 2009, it had sold over 4 million copies worldwide.

Wikipedia: Legalized abortion and crime effect
The effect of legalized abortion on crime (sometimes referred to as the Donohue-Levitt hypothesis) is the theory that legal abortion reduces crime. Proponents of the theory generally argue that since unwanted children are more likely to become criminals and that an inverse correlation is observed between the availability of abortion and subsequent crime. Not only that, but children born under these conditions are usually less fortunate as enough preparation was not put in place for their birth and upbringing. In particular, it is argued that the legalization of abortion in the United States, largely due to the Supreme Court's decision in Roe v. Wade, has reduced crime in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Opponents generally reject these statistics, and argue that abortion has negative effects on society or decrease in crime is brought about in other ways.

my blog: Spousal Support: Where are the men?
It's interesting how the entire question of abortion is centered on the woman. As I said, she got pregnant by a man. Where are these men? A pregnancy involves 2 things: an egg and a sperm.


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