Every day there’s a new story about new or proposed laws – at the state or federal level – to limit women’s access to a full range of reproductive choices. Laws that tread the line of criminalizing miscarriage. Laws that broaden the definition of acceptable homicide to potentially include killing gynecologists performing abortions. Laws that redefine rape. Laws that take funding away from Planned Parenthood. Laws that force abortion providers to adhere to burdensome new  regulations. Laws that criminalize abortion in the case of a women seeking to select gender or race. Laws that force waiting periods and anti-abortion counseling on women seeking abortion, that force doctors to share incorrect medical data, laws that force transvaginal sonograms on women.

State Legislatures, the US House of Representatives are suddenly moving in concert to make abortions harder and harder to access. It’s a mission that many lawmakers are carrying out with single-minded focus. It will not create jobs. It will not balance the budget. It will not end any of the wars we’re fighting. But it is their goal, their raison d’entrée into politics. It is their fight of fights.

Ladies and gentlemen, they are going to win.

A woman close to me worked in an inner-city hospital doing women’s health work before Roe v. Wade. Her views on abortion were formed by watching women come into the emergency room week after week suffering from massive infections caused by un-sterile, unsafe abortions – there were beds the staff held for cases like these that they called the “septic tank”, named for the blood sepsis that sickened or killed the women. This was not a sad but rare occurrence. It was every week. These women did not want to be pregnant, for whatever reason. Maybe they were poor. Maybe they were unmarried. Maybe they had too many children already. Maybe they had found themselves having sex against their better judgment, through coercion or force, rape or something just short of rape, but certainly not a union that is ideal for producing a wanted, loved child. Whatever the reason, they did not want to continue their pregnancy and, seeing no other option, took matters into the back alley and risked death.

In 1973, everything changed. Legal abortion, in sterile conditions, performed by a trained health care provider is as epic an advancement in women’s health as the discovery that washing one’s hands before helping to deliver a baby reduced the risk of deadly “childbed fever”.

But 1973 was 38 years ago and not everyone knows what it was like before. Not everyone believes those stories are true. Not everyone believes that it could all happen again. Not everyone believes that a woman who is determined to end a pregnancy will end her pregnancy even if the risks are terrible. Not everyone knows that there are people who will assist women for money regardless of the state of the law.

The anti-abortion movement instead operates on dreams of saving apple-cheeked infants who will warm the heart of even the most reluctant prospective mother.  They promote a morality of abstinence, which even the staunchest pro-choice advocate will admit is a fail-safe contraceptive. They play to the heartstrings of the undecided voters with their calls for pity for the lives of the unborn. They protect the potential lives of the unborn, not realizing (or not caring) that they may be jeopardizing the lives of the already-born. They take the mountain of the high moral ground and stake their claim in defense of the innocent, whereas those of us who support abortion rights are standing on a molehill begging for consideration of the women who could easily be painted as guilty.

They are going to win. And women are going to start dying.

Reducing access to legal abortion won’t change the abortion rate dramatically. The only things that will do that is reducing the unintended pregnancy rate. If you look at statistics from the World Health Organization and the Guttmacher Institute, you will see that the rate of abortion in Europe where the procedure is safe and legal is 28 per 1000 pregnancies. In Africa, where is it not legal, the rate is 29  per 1000 pregnancies. But the rate of maternal death and complication? Far greater.

If we criminalize abortion in this country, the abortion rate will drop a bit but the complication rate will rise as women seek abortions that are unsafe, un-sterile. The first women who die in the back-alley will be invisible women. Poor women. Minority women. The kinds of women who turned up dead after visiting that grey-market abortion factory in Philadelphia that fed off the desperation of the poor and uninsured who would do anything, anything at all, to make a crisis pregnancy vanish. This will not cause a stir except to putatively illustrate how evil abortion providers are that they will flout the law to peddle their murderous trade. No one will investigate why women turned to them and what we can do to prevent crisis pregnancies in the first place. Just as they didn’t discuss that in Philadelphia.

No, what will become news is when middle-class white girls start dying. And they will die. When they can no longer escape to the next state over to get an abortion because all of the states have made it next to impossible to do so, and instead they have to go underground or attempt to abort on their own using heaven only knows what kinds of horrific self-abortifaecents they read about on the internet, they will begin to die. They will get infections. They will bleed out. They will ingest poison or sustain traumatic injury. If they don’t die, they will lose their uterus and their hopes of becoming a mother in the proper time.

How many honor students will have to end up in the morgue before the anti-abortion activists go quiet? How many bright young women will be buried before abstinence advocates start to concede that a condom or a cervical ring would have saved a life? How many parents will grieve the loss of a daughter before we stop assuming all women who get pregnant outside of a secure, lifetime commitment are sluts who deserve what’s coming to them? How many of your neighbors will suffer emergency hysterectomies after perforating their uterus with a coat hanger or a knitting needle before legislatures start to wonder if the laws against abortion are the right laws?

How many women, visible and invisible, are we willing to lose in the name of winning the battle against abortion?

I don’t have a proposed solution to beating back the forces that make the laws that will be the death of desperate women someday soon. They have the upper hand today. They hold majorities in governing bodies across the land. They are righteous in their quest and they will win. But I know, I know like I know the sun will rise, what the result of their crusade will be. I know who the casualties will be. I know that this quest to save the unborn will cost the lives of the already-born. And I know that only when the bodies of women start piling up in the back-alleys of America will we revisit the rationale behind safe, legal abortion and begin to regain the ground we are losing today.

I don’t know how to live with this knowledge, this certainty of defeat in the short term, this death sentence visited upon women.  I just keep calling my lawmakers and begging them to think of the already-born. I may lose but at least I’m not silent.


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13 comments for “Losing

  1. March 30, 2011 at 7:54 am

    I watch the news in horror. It’s like it’s a damned movie of some altered reality. People need to be reminded on how it used to be!

    It angers me that all of tthese Republicans are wasting so much time and expenses stripping woman of their rights and endangering their lives. It makes me so ashamed to even call myself an American. I actually want to move, I’m so ashamed. I’ve been contemplating moving to Europe where they, at least, believe in human rights. Sick, sick bastards.

  2. March 30, 2011 at 10:12 am

    I feel like this post is true for so many parts of our political system today. We have ideologues pushing agendas without care or concern for consequences and voters so hellbent on only believing what they want, that they let these ideologues win and they can justify it by their choice of media. We have so many choices today that each point of view has a “legitimate” champion. Nobody hears all sides of an issue and ideas are only challenged when extreme consequences, such as those you discuss, occur. It is disheartening and scary.

  3. Amy
    March 30, 2011 at 10:33 am

    It saddens me that lawmakers, people we put into office, will take away womens right to a safe procedure that is within the realm of the law for the last 38 years. It sickens me as well since abortion is not just for the women who find themselves victims of rape but for those who choose to end a pregnancy that would have produced a baby that would only survive for an agonizing minute outside of mothers body.
    To take away a right that has been with us for more than 30 years is wrong and Americans voted those idiots into office. Time to take them out of office or inform them of Our displeasure.
    Great post!

  4. March 30, 2011 at 10:46 am

    This is so personal and straight at my heart. Thank you for sharing. It amazes me and sickens me that we live in a time when this is even an issue, when people are still debating this.

    Never judge the choice a woman has to make until you have had to walk in their shoes.


  5. March 30, 2011 at 12:01 pm

    I don’t agree with abortion, but I don’t entirely disagree with it either. Using it as a means of birth control because you’re not careful is wrong in my opinion. But a woman who was raped should not be forced to carry the child of her rapist. So it’s a gray area for me. I wanted my children and I had them when I was ready so I never had to face such a difficult decision. That being said I think what the government is trying to do is wrong. You cannot take away a woman’s choice and sadly you’re right women will die if when they win.

  6. March 30, 2011 at 12:07 pm

    I agree with Jesika and the irony is that the ones who are making these decisions are the ones who will never have to make the choice of getting in the stirrups.

  7. Paula
    March 30, 2011 at 12:57 pm

    I agree with most. The choice should be out there. Making it illegal won’t help the end result. In fact, it won’t help or change anything at all except now we have a means to judge the choices of others as compared to a man made law. I am in favor of choices. That is what our lives are each day is a choice. Don’t let them take that away.

  8. March 30, 2011 at 3:12 pm

    Ugh! I want to cry. I think you hit the nail on the head with your comment that Roe v. Wade happened 38 years ago and people have very short memories… especially in politics. This will be a complete and utter disaster. Women WILL die. There will be unwanted children, child abuse, neglected kids. There will be more women and children on welfare. But the hell with all that… what about our rights as human beings to make decisions about our own bodies and reproductive systems? You might as well take away our right to choose which school our kids go to – oh that’s right, they are doing that too. I really do feel that every thought, decision and idea we have as individuals is being taken away. It scares the crap out of me. What kind of country will this be when my children become parents?

  9. March 30, 2011 at 4:20 pm

    I just want to cry.

    I want to cry for the daughters I don’t have and the choices and respect they will not find in this country.

    I want to cry for the daughters already out there who don’t have mothers who tell them “You can tell me anything” or “we’ll get through this together.” I want to cry for the girls who will be so scared that they will permanently disfigure themselves with coat hangers or die from over consumption of alcohol in the hopes of “jumproping” the baby. (A term I learned in high school.. .please don’t ask.)

  10. Jen
    March 30, 2011 at 6:58 pm

    THANK YOU for this post! It’s coming, and you’re right – we’re going to lose. Make sure and get your daughters their passports just in case a trip to Canada becomes necessary.

  11. anthrogrrl
    April 1, 2011 at 12:40 pm

    My dad had a friend in college who got his girlfriend pregnant. The couple wanted to get married and keep the baby, but her parents insisted on getting her an abortion. She died on the hack’s table, and her parents heard her screaming from the next room. But the hack managed to convince them that she was okay, and he just needed to keep her overnight for observation. When her parents left, he hacked her into pieces and tried to flush her down the drain. I am not kidding, this is a true story. And I can’t believe that people think it would be better for us to go back to those kinds of circumstances.

  12. March 16, 2012 at 9:19 pm

    This is a very important issue to me and I think your post is exactly the kind of no bullshit talk people need to hear.

  13. March 17, 2012 at 10:38 pm

    I see visions of The Handmaid’s Tale too often in the news.
    I would really like the pro-life movement to change it’s name to pro-birth. Really. They don’t seem to care what happens from the moment after.

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