Two news stories this week serve as a good reminder of why abortion should remain safe, affordable, and legal.
The first was a story that detailed a “filthy house of horrors’’ and “barbaric conditions” where a Philadelphia doctor preyed upon poor, immigrant, and minority women in need of illegal abortions. The second is today’s release of a comprehensive scientific study debunking the myth that abortion is a mental health risk to women. In fact, the study shows, the opposite is true.
The story out of Philadelphia is a grim reminder of what happens when poor women are forced to seek abortions from untrained abortion providers. The Grand Jury report detailed a squalid “medical” office that reeked of cat urine because animals were allowed to roam freely. Instruments were not properly sterilized and disposable medical supplies were used repeatedly. The “doctor” in charge was not qualified in obstetrics or gynecology, and his staff consisted of his wife – a cosmetologist – and others with no qualifications to provide needed medical services to women. The reports states that at least two women died, and scores more were injured from surgical damage to their bowels, cervix, or uterus.
The horror scene reminds me of why my father, who started out as a family doctor in rural America and later became a medical examiner in a big city, became an outspoken defender of safe and legal abortion.
Working in a morgue at a time when abortion was illegal, my Dad saw the corpses of too many women who had died unnecessary and painful deaths as a result of botched back-alley abortions. He realized that women who are desperate enough to seek an abortion will do so, whether it's legal or not.
What he saw convinced my father – an otherwise socially conservative physician with six children of his own – that abortion is a decision best left to a woman and her doctor. He also knew that ensuring access to contraception, health education, and safe medical abortion for all women – rich or poor – is the best way to reduce unwanted pregnancies and save lives of both women and babies.
As a physician and father, my Dad came to this conclusion: ensuring access to safe and legal medical abortions is the true “pro-life” position.
The good news is that making abortion safe and legal, along with expanding access to contraception and comprehensive health education, has led to a drop in the number of abortions in this country. Isn’t that what everyone wants?
Yet, some 38 years after the Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade properly recognized that abortion is a private, personal decision that should be left to a woman and her physician, lawmakers around the country are still trying to impose their own individual religious or moral views on other people by passing laws that force poor women into back-alley abortions. These lawmakers (most of whom are men) want to make it nearly impossible for poor women to access safe medical care, while also making it more difficult for teenagers to learn about ways to prevent unwanted pregnancies in the first place.
Even some men on the U.S. Supreme Court presume they know what’s right for women. In a frighteningly paternalistic Supreme Court opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy in 2007 upheld a federal abortion ban on the grounds that "some women come to regret their choice." Fortunately, scientifically-sound studies show that there is no evidence to support Justice Kennedy’s mythical "post-abortion syndrome."
So, while the political debate over abortion rages on, both studies and our nation's experience make it clear that this sort of government-imposed morality targeted against poor women will result in more unwanted pregnancies and more back-alley abortions.
And there’s nothing pro-life about that.
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