This piece first appeared on HG November 5, 2012
The Options of an Unplanned Pregnancy
I’ve been paying attention to the politics lately, because there’s some kind of election coming up and it feels like I ought to. From what I gather, abortions and rape are a thing, and a lot of old white dudes have a lot of feelings about the vaginas they don’t have. I got to reading up on the subject a bit, and as it turns out, most abortions are not a result of rape, although linking the two did make me extremely uncomfortable. Because, really, if a woman’s right to make decisions about her body is based on whether a man forcibly impregnates her, it seems to me we’re right back on the corner of Patriarchal St. and Dominance Ave. where most of us women-folk don’t want to be.
But ohhhhhhhh abortion. Feelings! What I haven’t heard much about, and would really love to, is the experience of actually having a baby. You know, of gestating a fetus for nine months and shoving it out of my body. Ie.: what a woman experiences. In lieu of actually going through this process (which, as far as I’m concerned, sounds like the most horrifying thing I could do to myself, but I respect that it’s a very beautiful and moving experience to many others), I went investigating. Because I’m a super sleuth! Also I used the interwebs and made some calls. For the sake of this research project, let’s suppose the pregnancy in question is one of the 50% of unintended pregnancies in the US per year (there are going to be stats, guys, hang on to your umbrellas).
First of all, insurance probably isn’t happening. Pregnancy is termed a pre-existing condition, so most insurance companies won’t cover any costs. That’s right: you can pretty much get prenatal health insurance only when you’re not pregnant. However, you might be able to add a prenatal rider to your insurance plan, if you’re over 18 and have gotten married within the last 30 days. Woo! Incentivizing shotgun weddings! Sounds like a plan. Pretty much, if a woman wants any kind of prenatal care for an unintended pregnancy, her choices are either being poor enough to qualify for Medicaid, or hitting up the local Planned Parenthood.
Assuming your boss doesn’t mind you taking off all those hours for doctor’s appointments, that you can handle your life force mostly going to your fetus, and aren’t relying on food stamps (because those don’t increase just because you’re eating for two), the cost of a pregnancy will involve a lot of cash going to new bras, new clothes, and vitamins (not covered by food stamps). Time to think about birthing options! A vaginal delivery runs at about $10K, while a c-section costs around $20K+. Since doctors get paid more to do c-sections, there can be a tendency to steer patients towards that option, even when it’s unnecessary.
Some ladies will have a 2 hour labor and get home in time to catch their favorite CSI rerun (the one with the death victim!). Some ladies will go through 48 hours of miserable hell. After reading the chapter on birth in Caitlin Moran’s ‘How to Be a Woman’ I pretty much sewed up my vagina forever.
So now, birth. Wow! You made a person! That’s kind of crazy, in a good way, and also in an emotionally, physically, and financially draining way. Hopefully you still have a job, and can take a couple weeks off.
Now, let’s say this unwanted pregnancy was always headed for adoption. All of this work and sacrifice has gone to having your child be taken away at the ripe old age of 24 hours. More than this, the inherent chemical bonds formed are now left hanging mid-air, increasing the potential of post-partum depression. When a woman orgasms, one of the hormones released is oxytocin – the same hormone that induces labor and creates a bond between mother and child, both through the process of birth as well as through breast milk. So just going for it and having a baby, then giving it away, is a lot to ask of a woman (and yet a surprising number of people suggest this).
Let’s assess – $15-$50K in prenatal costs, physical toll, job/career suffering, the intensity of labor and birth, and potential post-partum depression (and when it comes to post-partum, our hospitals are not on the case). The other option of an unintended pregnancy is, of course, abortion (“feelingsssssssss!!!!” – America). Stats time! According to the Guttmacher Institute, who totally know their stuff, 61% of women who have abortions already have at least one child. Only 56% are unmarried and not cohabiting, 73% report a religious affiliation, and 69% are economically disadvantaged. Many are also either on birth control or used some form of contraceptive.
I spoke with an abortion doula who does direct-care work with women. She said that most women who have an abortion because of an unintended pregnancy do so early on, while only about 1.5% of pregnancies are terminated after the 21 week mark. 3.8% are performed between the 16th and 20th weeks of pregnancy, and 6.6% are performed between the 13th and 15th weeks – many of these are due to miscarriages and severe birth defects. Not all abortions are wanted; some are necessary to protect the life of the mother. There are some women who feel that the only control they have in that situation is to terminate the pregnancy instead of bearing the grief of caring for a child that will die after a month or two; there are also women who simply don’t have the resources, financially or emotionally, to raise a child with serious disabilities.
What this abortion doula pointed out to me was that, while each woman has her own unique experience (and that diversity itself points to a need for giving women choices over their bodies), she has not met a single person who took the experience of abortion lightly. It can be emotionally intense and physically taxing. The longest part of the procedure is talking to a counselor and sitting in the waiting room. While each woman’s experience and process is unique, each one has had a well-thought-through process that lead them to the choice they made.
Not to be confused with abortion clinics are CPCs (crisis pregnancy centers), which can look like reproductive health clinics, some including staff who dress as doctors even though they aren’t. Their main goal is convincing women to go through with their pregnancies, which they do through various tactics including making promises like funding the pregnancies, which they don’t actually have the resources to do (let alone help raise a child for 18 years). A big difference between a CPC and an abortion clinic is that while the CPC will do everything in its power to influence a woman’s decision, an abortion clinic will listen to the woman and support her either way.
A woman who opts for an abortion is as responsible as one who sees a pregnancy through: she is acknowledging the time and energy a child entails, and being realistic with her own abilities and resources. I’m not saying all women should go get abortions, but instead offering the idea that there is a need for women to be able to make choices for themselves. If we’re going to live in a civilized society, we need to acknowledge that adults of all genders are able to make choices about their bodies. Countries that have legalized abortion have also seen a drop in the number of procedures, because this kind of legislation tends to go hand-in-hand with empowering women.
We’ve already made it difficult to have an unplanned child, and we’re making it difficult to avoid the immensity of a pregnancy, so it’s hard not to see this whole thing as another way of keeping women from reaching their potential – because a woman who is forced to raise a child she is unable to, is a woman who is contributing that much less of her original life goals to society. Trying to drag rape into the abortion issue is insulting to women, let alone anyone who has to sit through one more news cycle about another opinionated man who doesn’t know how to use his words.