OPINION: On cancelling funding for Planned Parenthood and other organizations providing a wide range of health services

By Contributor
May 17th, 2017

Children are beautiful.  They embody our hopes for the future. Does that mean that girls and women should be forbidden access to sex education and family planning?  

Following the Women’s March on Washington and supporting marches in thousands of centres internationally, women’s rights and their health and well-being globally took a severe blow.

The new US president signed into law a prohibition against providing US federal funding to all organizations that facilitate or provide abortions or give information on abortion, both domestically and internationally.  Women in the US will no longer have any access to federally-financed insurance coverage for an abortion, no matter whether their lives are in danger or not.  Of course, this will affect poor women more than wealthy ones.  The text of the bill states that its purpose is to “prohibit tax-payer funded abortions.”

Internationally, the new US law will affect Planned Parenthood and all other groups who provide family planning information along with all their other health and education services, and who once received funding from the US government.  And it will affect all the people who would benefit from those health and information services.   

Abortion.  That word carries a heavy load of baggage; people use it an insult.  

As a medical procedure, induced abortion is still illegal — no matter what the circumstances — in six nations, and nearly impossible to obtain legally in many others. 

Violence about reverence for life

Many people are violently opposed to abortion, and “violently” means that they are willing to use violence against those who provide neutral information about it, or who may provide it.  By 1999, three Canadian doctors had been shot by anti-abortion terrorists.  Is it strange to profess a reverence for life, and yet be willing to kill those who disagree with one’s idea of when a fertilized egg becomes a “life”, or who think that a mother’s life should take precedence over that of her potential child?  An unborn fetus is, arguably, only a potential child, given that miscarriages, spontaneous abortions and still-births happen fairly commonly.

What’s a spontaneous abortion?

How commonly?  Spontaneous abortions —  naturally occurring deaths of fetuses, 13 weeks or less after implantation — end approximately 15 to 20 percent of all recognized pregnancies.  It has been estimated that up to half of all implanted fetuses abort  naturally before the pregnancies are recognized.  Spontaneous abortions are often called “early  miscarriages”  to avoid the assumptions and social stigma associated with the term “abortion.”

 A miscarriage is the naturally-occurring loss of a fetus between the 13th and the 20th week of pregnancy.  The naturally-occurring death of a fetus after the 20th week of pregnancy is usually called a still-birth. 

Infant mortality: life is uncertain

Then there is the risk of a child’s death shortly after birth.  In Canada, the infant mortality rate has been declining, but is still an average of about five deaths per 1000 births — or one in 200. These figures show that a fertilized egg is, indeed, a “potential” future birth — not a sure thing.  Life is always uncertain; for a new embryo, it is very uncertain. 

Induced abortion is totally banned in six nations:  The Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Chile, Malta and the Holy See (the Vatican).  In those six countries, abortion is not permitted even to save a woman’s life.  

The ten-year-old mother

In others, restrictive laws make it nearly impossible to obtain an abortion for any reason.  For example, in Paraguay, one of the many countries where abortion is permitted only to save a woman’s life, a ten-year-old child was raped by her stepfather in 2014 and became pregnant.  She was forced to carry the pregnancy to term, despite the greatly increased risk of death for both her and her baby —  the maternal death rate for girls under 15 is two and a half times greater than for older mothers, and babies born to teens under the age of 15 are three times more likely to die within 28 days of birth.  The Paraguayan girl gave birth in 2015 at the age of 11, by caesarean section.  The case was widely publicized.

Banning information?

Even if one is opposed to all abortion, it should be difficult to approve the ban on information.  One wonders whether the ban will apply to anti-abortion organizations who provide “information” on abortion — or should we say “alternative facts.”

And here’s an example of fake news

One of the “alternative facts,” or “fake news,” about abortion concerns the psychological effects of abortions on women who have them.  “Abortion Trauma” and “Post-abortion Syndrome” are terms invented  by anti-abortion activist David C. Reardon, founder of the Elliot Institute, an anti-abortion advocacy group.  Reardon holds a degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Illinois, and later obtained a mail-order PhD. in Medical Bioethics from an unaccredited correspondence school. 

As part of his anti-abortion advocacy, Reardon explains the importance of convincing some who hold pro-choice views that abortion harms women, in hopes that they will not oppose anti-abortion regulation so vigorously.  However, the alleged medical conditions that he claims result from abortion are fabricated, according to the American Psychological Association.

No greater risk of depression

Furthermore, studies by the APA Task Force on Mental Health and Abortion, which in 2008 collected, examined, and summarized the then-most current scientific research on mental health and abortion, concluded that “among women who have a single, legal, first-trimester abortion of an unplanned pregnancy for non-therapeutic reasons, the relative risks of mental health problems are no greater than the risks among women who deliver an unplanned pregnancy.” 

No mention is made of post-partum depression afflicting even some mothers who have delivered a healthy, planned and wanted child.  Distinguishing temporary “baby blues” from post-partum depression, the Mayo Clinic website explains, “some new moms experience a more severe, long-lasting form of depression known as postpartum depression. Rarely, an extreme mood disorder called postpartum psychosis also may develop after childbirth.”

 A 2009 article in “Psychiatric Times” points out the methodological flaws in studies which have found poor outcomes for women who have had abortions.  Gail Robinson, MD, pointed out that a woman suffering from depression or other form of mental distress before a pregnancy is not likely to be cured of it by either an abortion or by the child-bearing experience. 

No such thing

She said, “The studies with negative findings [following abortion] are very, very flawed. There is no evidence for the existence of the so-called abortion trauma syndrome. Unfortunately, public policy is often being determined on the basis of assumptions and preconceived beliefs rather than on research.”

A  study  of young, underprivileged girls in the inner city who got pregnant tracked them for two years. Those who terminated their pregnancies  had better outcomes, such as graduating from high school and being better off economically,  than those who delivered their babies. 

Another study concluded that “under present conditions of legal access to abortion, there is no credible evidence that choosing to terminate an unwanted first pregnancy puts women at higher risk of subsequent depression than does choosing to deliver an unwanted first pregnancy.”

A person does not need to have warm fuzzy feelings about abortion, or even to be able to imagine a situation in which she might choose to have one,  in order to recognize that it may be the better option for some women, in some circumstances, and that the woman carrying the potential child ought to have the right to make her own decision about that. Many people recognize that few women would choose a traumatic, physically and emotionally painful, invasive procedure to end a pregnancy unless she felt it was necessary for very compelling reasons.

Even a person totally opposed to abortion should deplore the cancellation of all funding for any organizations that provide wide-ranging health services that include complete family planning information.  After all, doesn’t it make sense to provide people, and especially women and girls, with information that can help them avoid unwanted pregnancies in the first place, and reduce the number of both legal and illegal abortions? 

Comprehensive sex education combined with access to birth control is the  only thing that has been proven to reduce teen pregnancies in the developed world, and elsewhere to both empower women and also reduce the birth rate.  Cancelling funding for sex education and family planning is a regressive, repressive, misogynistic, paternalistic move ― not to mention cruel.

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