Abortion and Responsibility

In the wake of the SCOTUS’s leaked draft on Roe v. Wade, it’s time to post this. Again. 

“When can we talk about abortion and a woman’s personal responsibility?” 

I’m glad you asked. 

We can maybe (and that’s only MAYBE) talk about ‘personal responsibility with regard to the need for safe, legal, accessible abortion when (and ONLY when): 

1. When ALL birth control is fully effective and without harmful side effects. 

The pill, for example, is supposedly  99% effective. That’s assuming ideal conditions; real-life numbers are more like 85-90%.  Efficacy rates for condoms are about the same. More expensive options, which require insurance and access to medical care (both of which anti-choice folks have ALSO tried to decrease!), can be more effective (none are 100%) but often have serious side effects, even if a woman has access to them (see #2). But even assuming ideal conditions, that’s still 1 failure for every 100 women (technically it’s 1 for every 100 times PIV sex occurs, but again, I’m erring on the conservative side). In a country with about 174 million females, let’s say (conservatively) half of whom are sexually active, even assuming ideal conditions and optimal possible efficacy, that’s almost 870,000 potential unwanted pregnancies among women being ‘responsible.’

2. When ALL sexually active people, regardless of gender, have full, unfettered, and free access to contraception.

Currently, anywhere from 75-90% of sexually active women do not have full and free access to contraception, due to poverty, lack of medical care generally, insurance restrictions (many of which were put in place by the same people trying to deny abortion access), etc. And don’t tell me ‘lots of places give out free condoms!’ Sure, a few do. Nowhere near enough, many people don’t know where those places are, many of those places will likely close if this ruling proceeds, and a staggering number of people don’t know how to properly use condoms. Condoms also assume male cooperation, which I hope I don’t have to tell you is often not forthcoming. And ALL of that is assuming there is no social stigma on getting free condoms, particularly for women.

3. When ALL young Americans receive full, factual, science-based sex ed, including how to prevent pregnancy. 

At present roughly half of US teens of both genders do not know how to effectively prevent pregnancy due to the continued support for abstinence-based sex ed, or the widespread lack of accurate, science-based sex ed. This is not a new trend, and it has been exhaustively demonstrated that overall knowledge about sex and pregnancy is dismally low across both genders at all ages. Incidentally, this is also the doing of the same voices trying to make abortion illegal, and make birth control harder to get. Are we seeing a pattern here?)

4. When ALL pregnancies occur due to consensual sex. 

Almost 70,000 women are raped every year. Given our 1/100 efficacy rates (and remember that’s a wildly optimistic estimate, based on ideal conditions, which rape is most certainly not), that’s 7,000 pregnancies a year from rape alone. Keep in mind that rapes are very underreported, so those numbers are likely higher. That’s also not counting incest, ‘stealthing’ (a horrifying but growing trend where men begin intercourse with a condom, but remove it without their partner’s knowledge. Want to tell me how that’s HER lack of ‘personal responsibility?’), and other forms of forced or coerced intercourse. 

So when ALL these things are true—fully effective birth control every time; full, free access; full factual sex ed; and all pregnancies the result of consensual intercourse—we can maybe, MAYBE, talk about personal responsibility. 

However, even assuming all of those are true, lives still change, and circumstances still change. People lose jobs, lose spouses or partners, lose housing, face illnesses, and countless other factors that can change the plans we’ve laid out for ourselves. Not every pregnancy is viable. Not every woman who wants to be pregnant can do so safely. Abusive spouses use pregnancy to control their victims. There are a million reasons a woman who chose not to use protection—or even wanted to become pregnant—could change her mind. And exactly 0 of those reasons are your business. 

The bottom line here is that abortion has little to do with personal responsibility. It has to do with bodily autonomy. Bodily autonomy is a principle we hold dear, even on the conservative side of things. And it goes back well before the Constitution. It is one of the core principles of the enlightenment and can be found in Locke, Montaigne, and countless others. It is the notion that as individuals, the first and most basic principle of liberty is that we won our physical selves, and no one can compel the use of our person for any purpose.

It’s why we prevent organ harvesting without the prior consent of the deceased, even though it will save lives. And that consent can be given and later revoked at any time, and that revocation must be honored. We don’t say that a person once agreed to have their organs harvested, so they can’t change their minds, either. It’s why we don’t mandate kidney, bone marrow, or tissue donations, even when we know those things will save lives. Hell, it’s why we don’t even make blood donation mandatory, even though we know it saves lives. We don’t even mandate that the person who commits a crime must give blood or tissue to his own victim! What’s more, the lives we know would be saved are full, living, realized, human beings.

This is because we do not, as a nation or a society, find it appropriate to compel the physical person of any individual, even if we know it will directly and immediately save the life of another person.

Unless it’s a pregnant woman. 

Then, it seems, we have no trouble compelling the physical person of an individual, in order to save the life of what is scientifically not even a person at all. (This is also why abortion is not about ‘when life begins’ or whatever; it wouldn’t matter if blastocyst or fetus is composing sonnets the day after fertilization.) If you’re keeping score, by the way, you might have noticed that means in our society, a corpse has more rights to bodily autonomy than a pregnant female. 

If you need receipts, I’m happy to provide them. But until you understand the reality of women’s lives in the present, shut the fuck up about personal responsibility when talking about abortion access.

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