Imagine that you are in a country that allows the murder of a doctor that has provided abortion care. Or picture yourself living in a place where rape is qualified; you must have the physical proof in bruises to show that you fought back. Envision a child that is a victim of incest or a young woman that has been date raped, both of whose traumas are no longer considered rape under this new definition. What if there was legislation to stop calling those who have been raped "victims" but instead call them "accusers." This hearkens back to the days when rape victims were blamed because of the clothes they wore. Or think of a world where hospitals were required to let a pregnant woman die rather than perform the abortion necessary to save her life. A place where contraception for horses is more readily available and affordable than it is for people.
If you think this describes the past or a developing country, you would be wrong. This paints a picture of what the United States of America may become. It is a country that many of us would barely recognize.
We are in the midst of HARD choices in our country, and one thing is abundantly clear. Many of our newly elected members of Congress bring their own agenda that has nothing to do with balancing the budget or solving the pressing problems facing out country. Instead, based on their initial priorities, they are focusing on the push to destroy the right to choice, the right to survive and live for the existing children and families, and the right to live without rape.
Whether you are white, black, Asian, a Republican, a Democrat or an Independent, you need to pay attention because there is a WAR happening in America. If we don't, our country may be headed in a direction that could send us all looking for the nearest exit.
At the epicenter of this conflict is the "A" word. The "Abortion" debate is politically charged and usually backed by statistics that reinforce one's "position." As I researched this article I was struck by HOW much misinformation there is out there. I went to the Guttmacher Institute for the majority of my research. According to their website, "The Guttmacher Institute advances sexual and reproductive health worldwide through an interrelated program of social science research, public education and policy analysis." This group has reliably collected and analyzed data for nearly four decades. If you would like to view the information for yourself it is all readily available on their website.
Let's start with the key facts. According to Guttmacher, almost ½ of pregnancies among American women are unintended. Of those pregnancies, 22% of them (excluding miscarriages) are terminated via abortion. In 2008, 1.21 million abortions were performed in the United States.
Though we can argue about the morality behind the decisions that give us these numbers, we must recognize the ever more complex web of factors that affects one's personal decision that makes them part of these statistics. One thing is clear; we need to start expanding our understanding of those factors to have a dialogue that paints the ENTIRE picture. The factor that is glaringly missing from the abortion debate today is the other side of the coin. That flip side is the men who are also responsible for the 1.21 million aborted pregnancies per year. Currently, state's require a woman seeking an abortion to report on her demographic characteristics including: age, race, ethnicity, marital status and number of previous live births. Interestingly, they require the patient to report no information on the father's demographic characteristics.
We can all debate the right to choice, but can we agree that ALL of us would like less un-intended pregnancies that lead to abortion? In order to decrease the number of unintended pregnancies, we need to look at some of the key reasons why so many women find themselves pregnant when that was not their intention. One of the biggest reasons is the lack of or improper use of contraception. Guttmacher explains that "46% of women who have abortions had not used a contraceptive method during the month they became pregnant." In addition, of those 46% of women only "32% had concerns about contraceptive methods."
There are many ways to prevent conception including abstinence, female and male contraception as well as sterilization. However, it seems that the most popular and reasonable ways to prevent unwanted pregnancy is birth control pills and condoms.
Let's look at some of the facts that point to lack of contraception as the problem. The U.S. has one of the highest rates of teen pregnancy in the world with teens accounting for 13% of all U.S. births. I would think that most of us can agree that sterilization is unreasonable for a teen, leaving us with the fact that it is the lack of access to and education on methods of birth control, like the pill and condoms, that is one of the root problems causing the high rate of teen pregnancy. In addition, the cost of birth control can be a huge barrier to teens. The insertion of an IUD in addition to follow up visits to a health care provider can range from anywhere from $500 to upwards of $1,000 dollars. Even if teens do gain access to forms of birth control they often lack the knowledge on how to use them. Guttmacher explains that increases in teen pregnancy may have a lot to do with the recent growth of abstinence-only sex education programs that are replacing more comprehensive education programs. These more comprehensive programs often include information on things like how to correctly take oral contraceptives as well as to how to correctly put on a condom. And on top of all of this, teens, especially young women, have their own embarrassment to conquer when confronting issues revolving around sex. Think not? Try being a young teenage girl purchasing feminine hygiene products let alone condoms or birth control.
In order to investigate ways to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies we must examine the men who impregnate these women. Part of that examination needs to look at the other side of contraception, specifically male enhancements like Viagra.
Pfizer Inc, which introduced Viagra in 1998, now makes around 1.2 billion dollars a year in sales. However, this number does not include knock off pills produced by other companies. While Viagra was originally intended for men suffering from erectile dysfunction, it has become popular with a much younger population as a sexual stamina booster. A study published in the International Journal of Impotence Research showed that Viagra use increased 312% in men between 18 and 45 years of age (Melville, Kate. "Big Rise In Young Men Using Viagra." Science News, Research And Discussion. Science A Gogo, 6 Aug. 2004. Web. 10 Mar. 2011). With Pfizer claiming that they market specifically to men 44 years and older with erectile dysfunction, these statistics support the suggestion that men are buying Viagra as an enhancer instead of as a solution to erectile dysfunction.
So the question that needs to be posed is why are we making contraception more difficult for women to get when we are making things like Viagra more accessible to young men? Does anyone else see the relationship?
But regardless of contraception and male enhancement there is an even bigger issue that we need to seriously confront. When we discuss teenage pregnancy, to assume that a female teen's male counterpart is also a teen is often drastically incorrect. Studies have shown that 2/3rds of children born to teen mothers are fathered by adult men that are 20 years old or older. This clearly suggests a correlation between teen mothers and older men. Are teen girls more likely to become pregnant if they are being intimate with an older man rather than someone their own age?
According to studies out of California, men older than high school age fathered 77% of all births to girls between 16 and 18 years of age. What is worse, men over 20 years of age fathered five times as many children of JUNIOR HIGH school girls than did junior high school boys. Shouldn't we begin to have a dialogue on the issues of statutory rape and the enforcement of these laws? It is obvious that we need to focus on studies regarding the men responsible for these pregnancies. Where is the outrage of these abuses? Why are we focusing our attention on abortion when there are clearly urgent issues closer to the root of the problem?
In court we consider a person less than 18 years of age to be a minor and yet the women involved in these pregnancies are held responsible and their older, ADULT partners are not. The logic of holding these young women responsible for contraception while letting their adult partners run free is lost on me. This part of the equation must be studied in addition to law enforcement beginning to take a good hard look at the age difference of these men. What can we do to begin the dialogue and stop men from taking advantage of these young girls?
In addition, Guttmacher gives the statistic that of the 46% of women who failed to use contraception during sex, 1% of those women were raped. Of that 1% of young women, how many of them were victims of incest? On the forms patients at abortion clinics are required to fill out, only 7 states ask whether or not the abortion is desired due to rape or incest. If we had more information on the men involved in the equation of abortion, how many of these rapists and abusers could have been caught via DNA evidence? In the case of incest, how many of these men helped to pay for the mental and physical health care required for their relative?
Every man that becomes intimate with a woman has as much responsibility as she does to consider the possibility of pregnancy and, if unwanted, take the necessary precautions against it. Why are we not changing the conversation to include the men that are a major part of this equation?
Yet, in the end, unwanted pregnancy happens and we are going to have to deal with it. Before we jump the gun and eliminate a woman's option to terminate, don't we have to examine why women make this brutal decision in the first place? Because that is what it is... brutal. We owe it to those women to educate ourselves on why they chose not to bring their fetus to full term before jumping to the conclusion that they don't have a respect for life or don't care.
Of the total number of women who elect not to bring a fetus to full term, 42% of women have an income below 100% of the federal poverty level. That means that as a single woman she is making less than $10,830.00 per year. 69% of women that chose to have abortions are considered economically disadvantaged. Of women who choose to abort 73% gave the reason that they "can't afford a baby right now." Overall, the three most frequently given answers as to why women chose to have an abortion were: "the impact a new baby would have the woman's lives or the lives of her other children, financial concerns, and her current relationship or fear of single motherhood." This clearly demonstrates that for those women who have completed childbearing or already have children, they have a strong sense of responsibility for those living dependents.
These statistics show that women, regardless of age, race, relationship, income or education, have concern for or responsibility to other individuals and that this plays a large role in their decision to terminate. In addition, more than 6 in 10 abortions take place in the first 8 weeks of pregnancy and almost 3 in 10 take place in the first 6 weeks or earlier. This shows that women are making these decisions early in their pregnancy and are not waiting until the last minute like many politicians claim. These facts are in direct contrast to the wide spread perception that women who choose to abort for reasons other than rape, incest or life endangerment do so for convenience. The Guttmacher data suggest that women carefully assess their individual situation and make a decision based on that data. Women base their decisions largely on their ability to maintain economic stability and to care for the children that they already have.
Truly this article could lengthen for days, but the purpose is to begin to look at other components that should be part of the debate in order for us to see the whole picture. We need to begin to collect data on the men that are the other half of the abortion equation. We need to look at the media and our sexual objectification of girls and women and how it affects choices of having sex. Once we begin to gather data, we have to start prosecuting men who are having sex with under-aged girls. Last I checked abortion was legal and having sex with a minor was not.
In addition, if we place birth control coverage in question shouldn't we also bring the coverage of Viagra into question? People are attempting to make it more difficult to get birth control and it is already a fact that only certain employers and insurers cover the cost of birth control. In the majority of states, it is up to the employer or insurer whether they want to cover the cost of birth control for their employees and clients respectively (12). On the other hand, there is Viagra, which many insurers cover. Many call the use of Viagra a lifestyle choice. Yet there are some companies and insurers that choose to cover the lifestyle choice of Viagra but not forms of female birth control. This actively gives men the ability to cause pregnancy but doesn't give women the ability to prevent it... where is the logic in that?
Sometimes it is hard to be a woman anywhere in the world. There are so many assumptions and expectations on who we are, who we should be, and what choices we should make about our bodies. It is exhausting. Whether you are pro choice, anti choice, whether you want the government to legislate over a woman's body; IF we are going to continue to have a dialogue on these issues, let's bring the other half of the equation, the men, into the picture.
*Special Thanks to Lauren Evans and all of our sources
1) Guttmacher Institute: Home Page. Web. 10 Mar. 2011.
2) "Facts on Induced Abortion in the United States." Guttmacher Institute: Facts on Induced Abortion in the United States. Guttmacher Institute, Jan. 2011. Web. 10 Mar. 2011.
3) "Abortion Reporting Requirements." The Guttmacher Institute. 1 Mar. 2011. Web. 7 Mar. 2011.
4) "Single-Parent Families - Demographic Trends." Net Industries. Web. 24 Feb. 2011.
5) "IUD Birth Control - Mirena IUD - ParaGard IUD." Planned Parenthood. 2011. Web. 10 Mar. 2011.
6) Wind, Rebecca. "An Overview of Abortion in the United States." Guttmacher Institute: Home Page. Jan. 2011. Web. 10 Mar. 2011.
7) "Experts See Dangerous Trend In Use Of Viagra With 'Party Pills'" InteliHealth:. Associated Press, 24 June 2002. Web. 10 Mar. 2011.
8) Melville, Kate. "Big Rise In Young Men Using Viagra." Science News, Research And Discussion. Science A Gogo, 6 Aug. 2004. Web. 10 Mar. 2011.
9) FRC Policy Analyst, Hsu, Grace. "Statutory Rape: The Dirty Secret Behind Teen Sex Numbers." Web. 4 Mar. 2011.
10) U.S. Teenage Pregnancies, Births and Abortions: National and State Trends and Trends by Race and Ethnicity. Rep. Guttmacher Institute, Jan. 2010. Web. 26 Feb. 2011.
11) Finer, Lawrence B. "Reasons U.S. Women Have Abortions: Quantitative and Qualitative Perspectives." Guttmacher Institute. Guttmacher Institute, Sept. 2005. Web. 10 Mar. 2011.
12) "Insurance Coverage of Contraceptives." State Policies in Brief. Guttmacher Institute, Feb. 2011. Web. 22 Feb. 2011.