Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The slow but steady chipping away of reproductive rights

Recently, it was announced that UW Health wanted to begin providing second trimester abortions at one of their clinics. This after the only provider of such services in the Madison area retired this past December.

Unsurprisingly, several anti-choice organizations immediately lodged complaints against the plan. Among their stated reasons for their opposition are that it would be illegal under Wisconsin laws that prohibit public funding of abortions, and that it might force physicians who are morally opposed to assist in performing them. There is also a general opposition to second trimester abortions because some believe the fetus is far along enough in its development as to constitute "viability" - a stage at which Wisconsin law prohibits the procedure.

Unsurprisingly, they're wrong on the first two, and hazy on the third claim.

UW Health spokeswoman Lisa Brunette has already stated that employees will be allowed, as provided for under state law, to opt out of any such procedures. She has also stated that no public funds will be used for the operation. Money, instead, will come from insurance and patient fees.

As for the final claim, that certainly becomes a bit more nebulous. Under section 940.15, enacted in 1985, "Wisconsin has prohibited intentional performance of an abortion after the fetus or unborn child has reached viability, unless it is necessary to preserve the mother’s life or health, as determined by her physician. (“Viability” is the stage of fetal development when, in the judgment of the attending physician, the fetus may sustain survival outside the womb, with or without artificial support.)"

Banning second trimester abortions outright would, I'd argue, violate two laws: Roe v. Wade, of course, but also the aforementioned section of state statute. The determination of fetal viability is to be left up to the individual physician in regards to the individual case, not outside interest groups. No two instances of a woman seeking an abortion are the same, and should never be treated as such. We have exceptions carved out for cases involving the health of the mother (an important issue, despite things like McCain's air quotes on the subject), sexual assault, and incest--and for damn good reason.

I've heard people arguing against second trimester abortions say that there's no reason a woman should need to wait that long to "make up her mind." What these individuals fail to take into account, though, are the many and varied circumstances surrounding such a difficult personal decision.

Listening to Lee Rayburn's show on the Mic this morning, I heard one caller describe an instance where a woman had to save up the money for the procedure in secret, because her husband was incredibly abusive and would have beaten her up if he knew. She was into her second trimester by the time she'd saved enough. I wouldn't call that a failure of planning by any means.

And then there are cases when women simply don't know they're pregnant right away (cripes, sometimes they don't know until the kid pops out), cases where they're too young and scared to know what to do, or when something goes wrong and their life is threatened by the continuation of the pregnancy. The list goes on and on, and just goes to reiterate my point about each instance being unique.

Ultimately, it should always come down to the rights of the woman over her own body. Society should not be allowed to dictate what she does with it--and that, I suspect, is what's really at issue for these anti-choice groups. For them, laws about public funding and physician rights of conscience are secondary to their real goal: the complete and total outlawing of all abortions, in all circumstances.

They know that the majority of people in this country think that's a terrible idea, though, so they focus on smaller battles they think they can win. And so far, their strategy is working. Reproductive rights in this country have only been chipped away at since Roe v. Wade passed. Funding for sexual health and education has been significantly eroded, leading to fail-tastic abstinence only programs and the resultant higher unwanted pregnancy rates and STDs. Large segments of the population have no access to abortion services, instead often needing to travel across state lines to find a clinic where they can get help. And inaccurately named "partial-birth abortion" bans have found their way onto books across the country.

I applaud UW Health for being willing and able to provide the service to the community, and for abiding by state law along the way. I hope they're able to weather the slings and arrows lobbed by groups like the Alliance Defense Fund and Pro-Life Wisconsin. In the meantime, we must do our part, as the community served, to support UW Health and the efforts of their physicians.


Dad29 said...

Yah. That 'chipping away' resulted in only 45+ million abortions since Roe.

Not too effective, IMHO.

Emily said...

You know what's a more effective way to lower the number abortions? Better, more accurate and comprehensive sex ed. Affordable access to contraception. Quality education in general.

You know what's not a more effective way to lower the number of abortions? Taking away a woman's control over her own body.

The Lost Albatross