I had an abortion.
Well, not exactly. But in supporting my then-girlfriend in her decision to end her pregnancy – using mifepristone and misoprostol, which make possible a “medical abortion” – I shared responsibility and the relief this option brought us.
We were not naïve teens but rather adults, users of contraception that failed. At a clinic, after consultation and examination, she received mifeprestone, which the FDA has approved through the first seven weeks of pregnancy. We spent the weekend in her apartment, where she gave herself misoprostol – inducing miscarriage.
We were fortunate to be where abortion rights and access were safely protected. Arkansas enacted a law – recently voided by a U.S. appeals court – that would have banned abortion at 12 weeks. Other states, from North Dakota to Texas, have imposed obstacles on clinics, doctors, and women themselves.
A New York Times editorial observed, “Increasingly onerous restrictions … may actually be causing some women to delay their procedures into the second trimester and beyond…. Making it hard to get an abortion early in a pregnancy — by restricting the use of health insurance for abortion, closing clinics and mandating waiting periods — and then banning the procedure after 20 weeks would essentially prohibit abortion for those with limited resources.”
Men are free-riders, insulated from criticism of abortion. Men are also among the most vocal critics, denouncing women for controlling their own bodies.
Protesters gather at a facility near my home, sometimes displaying images meant not only to shock passers-by into opposing abortion rights, but to shame women asserting those rights. Among the protesters, males outnumber females.
Yet men, too, benefit from choice – from women’s ability to decide whether to carry a pregnancy to term. There can be disagreements between prospective mothers and fathers. Overall, though, men gain from reproductive choice and should join women in saying so.
As the mantra goes, abortion should be safe, legal, and rare. Comprehensive services including sex education and contraception are important.
In this regard the U.S. ranks below such countries as the Netherlands, as PBS reports: “Dutch teens are among the top users of the birth control pill…. The teen pregnancy rate … is one of the lowest in the world, five times lower than the U.S. Rates of HIV infection and sexually transmitted diseases are also low.”
The Guttmacher Institute indicates “About half of American women will have an unintended pregnancy, and nearly 3 in 10 will have an abortion, by age 45.”
Still, an Associated Press survey found “Nearly everywhere … abortions are down…. Five of the six states with the biggest declines [including Connecticut] … have passed no recent laws to restrict abortion clinics or providers.” Planned Parenthood attributes the declines “in part to expanded access to long-lasting contraception methods that are now fully covered … under the federal Affordable Care Act, Medicaid expansion and other initiatives.” (Even in Connecticut, women may endure deceptive efforts to limit their choices, NARAL found.)
There would be fewer abortions if comprehensive family planning were more widely available. Fifty years ago, the Griswold v. Connecticut decision advanced privacy and contraception. Then federal Title X was “designed to provide access to contraceptive services, supplies and information to all who want and need them.” Nominally, Title X funding is what it was a decade ago; it has dropped 20 percent in real terms.
This both reflects and magnifies inequality. The Guttmacher Institute notes, “between 1994 and 2008 … unintended pregnancy increased 55 percent among poor women, while decreasing 24 percent among higher-income women…. Overall, the abortion rate decreased 8 percent between 2000 and 2008, but abortion increased 18 percent among poor women, while decreasing 28 percent among higher-income women.”
Abortion involves a typically anguished decision. Reasonable people can differ about the bioethics of abortion versus bringing an unwanted child into the world. But compelling women to be mere vessels – demanding that they carry every fetus to term, against their wishes if necessary – is wrong.
In a 1984 speech , Mario Cuomo said: “If we care about women having real choices in their lives and not being driven to abortions by a sense of helplessness and despair … our work has barely begun: the work of creating a society where the right to life doesn’t end at the moment of birth; where an infant isn’t helped into a world that doesn’t care if it’s fed properly, housed decently, educated adequately; where the … child [with disabilities] isn’t condemned to exist rather than empowered to live.”
Twice I’ve attended national marches for women’s lives. Initially, abortion rights seemed abstract; my hope was to show support in a broader health context.
By 2004, the issue was personal. I had benefited from a woman’s freedom to choose. We hadn’t been forced into a long-term relationship to which neither of us had committed, to raise a child for whom we weren’t prepared.
My girlfriend and I shed tears years ago. Ours was an emotional decision but right for us.
Now, she and I are happily married to other people. We are also both parents, delighting in our children and more ready for the responsibilities parenthood presents every day.
Josiah H. Brown lives with his wife and their two children in New Haven. He has twice participated in national marches for women’s lives, including the April 25, 2004 march, in Washington, D.C.