Beware the "rare" word.
Many of us -- fiercely pro-women, fiercely pro-choice -- bought into the "keep abortion safe, legal and rare" mantra of several decades back. It was, in fact, a useful mantra -- until it was sunk by the potential anti-women interpretation of the word "rare." The endless focus on the "rare" word at times approaches the "it-depends-on-what-the-meaning-of-the-word-'is'-is" hubbub.
In defense of both sides:
Make abortion rare! By supporting universal contraceptive coverage. By supporting Planned Parenthood. By expanding education. By reducing unplanned pregnancies in all ways that empower women and reduce violence against women.
But get rid of the "rare" word. It is, apparently, sending the wrong message. Jessica Valenti covered the issue well in a recent piece in The Guardian, citing two leaders in the area of women's reproductive justice. One is Dr. Tracy Weitz, co-founder and former Director of Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health (ANSIRH) at the University of California, San Francisco. In a paper published in 2010, Weitz wrote that "'rare' suggests that abortion is happening more than it should, and that there are some conditions for which abortions should and should not occur. It separates 'good' abortions from 'bad' abortions."
None of this -- "good abortions," "bad abortions," whether or when there should be abortions -- is anybody's business but the woman involved. Only she and her physician can know the circumstances, and the circumstances of no two women are the same. So if the "rare" word is clouding the issue, let's dump the rare word.
Valenti also quotes Steph Herold, Deputy Director of the Sea Change program, who says abortion needing to be rare "implies that abortion is somehow different than other parts of healthcare. We don't say that any other medical procedure should be rare." Sea Change is working to remove the stigma attached to abortion and other reproductive issues, a laudable and monumental task. More than a few of the women who share their stories in Perilous Times: An Inside Look at Abortion Before -- and After -- Roe v. Wade speak of suffering almost as much from the stigma attached to this most personal of women's issues as from any physical harm, real or feared. While breast implants, sex-change details and erectile implantation (among other personal decisions) are fair game for cocktail party conversations, when is the last time you heard anyone volunteer information about her abortion? One in three women have an abortion; we do not talk about it.
But here is the fact: There are bad abortions. They happened before 1973; they are happening today.
A mother of two physically challenged toddlers, pregnant with a third in 2014, unable to get to the nearest clinic -- which is hundreds of miles away and impossible to access (despite the famous comment made by Texas Judge Edith Jones that it's easy to go 75 mph on those flat roads) -- punctures an interior organ trying to self-abort the old-fashioned way. She lives, but this is a bad abortion.
A desperate teenager in the rural midwest manages to get what she hopes is the right abortifacient through an internet site. Wrong drug, wrong instructions, wrong outcome. She gets to an ER before she bleeds to death. She lives, but this is a bad abortion.
This writer, pregnant from a workplace rape, overcome with shame and sheer terror, managed to find a kitchen-table abortionist in 1956. It was a bad abortion. We thought those stories were ended in 1973 when abortion was made legal and safe. But they are being repeated daily in this country, the land of the free; every one of them speaks of a bad abortion.
Women are suffering and dying again today from bad abortions, or because they are being denied access to safe, legal care. Whatever it takes, whatever words we use, the lives of those women are worth fighting for.
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