Twenty-two million. That’s how many women undergo unsafe abortions every year. Twenty-two million women are subjected to this leading cause of maternal mortality . The debate on abortion focuses on its legality and accessibility, but we have the research: outlawing abortion does nothing to reduce quantity nor demand.
The far-right and the far-left have polarized over abortion ethics. However, both sides would be hard-pressed to disagree that a world with fewer unplanned pregnancies and reduced demand for abortions is ideal.
As it stands, the debate over the legalization of abortion is a major hot-button topic in women’s issues, but definitively ruling on abortion policy is akin to cutting off a single branch from a tree. Though presenting women with safe, legal, and affordable abortion is a step in the right direction, it is not enough. Pro-choice doesn’t necessarily mean a decision was presented, unless the other options are fair and accessible.
Race issues, poverty, adoption and foster care issues are just some of the inequities and concerns to tackle before that “fewer unplanned pregnancies” finish-line is in sight. The Guttmacher Institute found that in 2014, 75 percent of abortion patients were at, or below the federal poverty level . Unplanned pregnancies are correlated with both poverty and minority populations. Non-Hispanic black women in the U.S. account for 35 percent of all abortions, but 69 percent of these prgenancies were unintended with a comparable 56 percent for Hispanic women. High unintended pregnancy rates indicate a lack of access to birth control among women of color. Furthermore, when women are denied abortion and keep the child, there’s an increased likelihood that the household income will be below the poverty level and that basic living expenses cannot be met . Women of color who carry unintended pregnancies to term are at great risk to entering a cycle of poverty. Including abortion in the birth control conversation is critical to non-discrimination among minorities.
Regarding foster care, African-American children in the system have the highest child victimization rates at 14.2 victims per 1,000 children in the racial group’s population . A woman of color with an unplanned pregnancy is at a massive disadvantage when her options for her child’s future are poverty, or abuse in the foster care system. Reducing unplanned pregnancies will require both reformation of contraception education and accessibility, particularly in minority populations, and reformation of the foster care system. These inequities target women and children of color and when abortion is inaccessible, this “choice” is even more confining.
Abortion is an equalizer available to correct an inherently inequitable situation. Restrictive abortion provisions are highly correlated with keeping women in living conditions with intimate partner violence . Outlawing abortion discriminates on the basis of sex and demands women often pay the price with their lives. Though pro-life support claims that adoption is a freely available alternative and, of course, it is an alternative, neither abortion nor adoption are regret-free. Of the “400,000 children in foster care in the U.S., 114,556 cannot be returned to their families and are waiting to be adopted” . In addition to the trauma associated with this obstruction of normal human development, social workers are unable to keep up with providing permanent plans for children in the system. Adoption has the potential to be a fair and accessible option, but reforming foster care must happen before adoption is a proportionate alternative to abortion or retention.
The choice of parenthood is a fundamental human right, but pro-choice isn’t really about choices if retaining the child means poverty, putting the child up for adoption is a gamble for their safety, and abortion is inaccessible. Pro-choice and pro-life ideals fail if we don’t reexamine what we present as alternatives. Women deserve all of the information and all of the truth, to make a legitimate and informed choice regarding their pregnancies. Reforming pregnancy alternatives and increasing access to preemptive measures are the necessary steps in reducing unplanned pregnancies.
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