Savita Halappanavar knew her baby was dying inside of her even before the doctors confirmed it. She also knew that if they didn’t get the baby out soon, she would die too. Her fever spiked, her back radiated pain and her contractions were excruciating. She begged, brokenhearted, for an abortion, but because Doctors could still find a fetal heartbeat, they refused. For three days Savita writhed in agony in a hospital bed, waiting for her baby to die. Stillborn as expected, her daughter emerged, and four days later Savita died from infection and organ failure.
I know this sounds like some kind of dark ages cautionary tale, but this was in 2012.
In Northern Ireland, where Savita died, abortion is illegal. It was only after outrage over her death that a new law was enacted, which allows for an exception to the abortion ban in instances when the mother’s life is at risk. Even that caused a lot of debate, with many opponents arguing that it would lead to “widespread abortion.” Like women everywhere are just conspiratorially tapping their fingertips together, waiting for the opportunity to take abortion mainstream.
With Roe vs. Wade in 1973, abortion became legal in the US, but this right was balanced with the state’s interest in protecting the potentiality of human life. As a result, in most states, abortion is legal only before the fetus is viable (could possibly survive outside the womb), which is around 24 weeks (6 months). However, almost all abortions (92%) are performed within the first thirteen weeks, with the majority of those (66%) performed in the first eight weeks. Because the states are given a lot of latitude when it comes to regulating abortion, many continue to fight Roe v. Wade by cutting funding, requiring parental consent and ultrasounds, enacting waiting periods, etc. Abortion’s existence in the U.S. is tenuously legitimate at best, though that might not be the case in this administration. Mike Pence has stated publicly that he longs for the day that Roe v. Wade is “sent to the ash heap of history.”
If you’re wondering what would happen if Roe v. Wade was overturned, The Center for Reproductive Rights did a thorough, state-by-state report entitled, “What if Roe Fell?” Check it out.
I recently watched the coverage of Trump reinstating and expanding the global gag rule. He signed it, smiling, surrounded by a bunch of rich old white dudes. (Because really, who is better suited to have dominion over women’s reproductive organs than penis-having politicians?) Essentially, what Trump signed was an executive order banning foreign nongovernmental organizations that receive American aid from counseling health clients about abortion or advocating for abortion liberalization. Abortion cannot even be suggested as an option, even if the woman or fetus is at risk. (And just to throw it out there, in Africa alone, there are about 34 million orphans and about 3 million of them have HIV. Under the global gag rule a pregnant woman dying of AIDS could not receive any abortion referral information from a U.S.-funded organization.)
A lot of you will balk at such “extreme” examples. You will point out that most women in America have access to all kinds of birth control. You will argue that unwanted children should be put up for adoption. You will point out all of the programs put in place to help single moms. You will say, passionately and with good intent, that abortion is the taking of a life. I can only remind you that as long as women can get pregnant, by rape or accident, there will be abortion. Before it was legal, there was still abortion. It is a product of desperation and often times, necessity.
I am pro-choice because I know that restricting access to abortion hits the poorest, most desperate women the hardest. I am pro-choice because I believe that women are moral beings, capable of making thoughtful decisions about their own bodies.