As we’ve been discussing here at Mommyish, Arkansas recently passed the most extreme abortion ban in the country, prohibiting elective abortions after 12 weeks of pregnancy. The law flies in the face of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court ruling that guarantees access to abortions for women up until the point of fetus viability, usually believed to be between 22 and 24 weeks.
In response to this news story, one of my commenters made some thoughtful statements about why she supports a ban on second trimester abortions, even though she considers herself pro-choice. “Alice,” who explains that she has made the choice to terminate a pregnancy herself, believes that pro-choice advocates are simply digging in their heels about this relatively small number of abortions, afraid of the “slippery slope” that might lead to a complete lack of abortion access.
“[R]ationally, should a woman need to take more than three months to decide to terminate? i don’t really think so. rationally, is three months a fair enough time period for weighing choices? probably. rationally, if you’re sexually active and have had over two missed periods, should you take a pregnancy test? yessum. and rationally, is there anything specifically important about leaving the next 10-12 weeks of gestation on the table? not really…besides, of course, the fact that we feel we need to dig in, protect established law, and fiercely deny any discussion about change.”
So let’s start with some facts, collected from the Guttmacher Institute. 88% of abortions occur within the first 12 weeks, so the majority of abortions would not be affected by laws like Arkansas’s. At this point in the pregnancy, there is no option for a medical abortion, which is often the safest and easiest way to perform an abortion early on in pregnancy. The most frequent procedure performed in the second trimester is called a Dilation & Evacuation or D&E. It is a two-day procedure and is performed by about 64% of all abortion providers.
The safety of abortions does drop with added weeks of pregnancy. Whereas one per every million abortions before eight weeks would result in death, one per 29,000 between 16-20 weeks would have serious, fatal complications. However, this is still an extremely safe medical procedure overall.
And one more interesting, and I think pertinent fact, “Fifty-eight percent of abortion patients say they would have liked to have had their abortion earlier. Nearly 60% of women who experienced a delay in obtaining an abortion cite the time it took to make arrangements and raise money.”
In her comments, Alice talks about the possibility of focusing pro-choice energies on strengthening support and access for women who want to get abortions in their first trimester, as opposed to fighting any and all attempt to restrict second trimester abortions. “I know this is all ideal theorizing, but imagine a culture in which there was no argument on 1st tri abortions, but they were simply accepted as a safe, highly accessible, and voluntary procedure. And then 2nd tri abortions were heavily regulated. Would that be a better or worse world?”
For me, it’s hard to answer Alice’s final questions, because I don’t think that her idea is a political possibility in any way. Personally, I do not believe that ceding on second trimester abortions would allow us to strengthen access to first trimester procedures. In this case, I do believe in the “slippery slope,” and here’s why.
The slippery slope argument is an age-old political trope. It’s been used in a variety of ways to argue a variety of controversial issues. Sometimes, I feel like it’s a viable argument, like with abortion. Others, I think it’s a distraction and a stalling tactic, like with gay marriage. And the difference is that anti-abortion advocates are currently seeking to end all abortion forever. That is their stated goal. And they have admitted that each week banned, each forced ultrasound, is just one step closer in their long-term objective.
With the “slippery slope” argument used against gay marriage, that allowing same-sex couples to marry could lead to people marrying pets, no one is actually seeking to recognize bestiality. The stated goal of marriage equality is not to allow anyone to marry any object they choose to. The idea that same-sex couples are the same as someone who wants to marry animals is really just an ugly slur.
But even outside of the slippery slope argument, I think there’s still a real issue of second trimester abortions and why we need to protect them. Many later abortions happen not because women are scared or can’t make up their minds, but as the result of DNA testing, fetal abnormalities, and concern for health of the mother. These emotionally-charged decisions that would-be parents are forced to make should not be subject to political posturing and government oversight. These often heart-wrenching choices should be made where all reproductive health choices should be made, between a woman, her partner and her doctor.
Let’s think about those 60% of women who had to delay their abortions because of access and cost issues. While it’s idyllic to think that ceding on second trimester abortions would allow us to help these women quicker, we simply have no guarantee that this would happen. Arkansas has demonstrated this impeccably by choosing to go after Planned Parenthood’s funding immediately after passing their 12-week ban. Anyone who helps women access abortions is seen as a threat. And those women who needed time to scrape together $500 on average for the procedure are definitely not the women that we want to see lose their access to this important right. A woman struggling to get $500 for a one-time procedure will have a much harder time struggling to pay for formula and daycare every week should she miss her opportunity to terminate her pregnancy.
I sincerely appreciate Alice’s willingness to really discuss and examine such a difficult and complicated issue. I think she is so correct that we need to be open and stop looking at everything as a simple “us vs. them” battle. However in this case, I think the very real desire to strip away all abortion rights does make it particularly hard for pro-choice advocates to cede their ground, even on the smaller issues.