5 Abortion Myths That You Hear Everywhere (Debunked)
In any abortion debate, there seems to be one recurring set of "facts" that the anti-abortion crowd likes to roll out. It's a sort of Greatest Hits album for taking away somebody's bodily autonomy. Surprise! These arguments aren't entirely on the up and up. For example ...
"Having An Abortion Means You're Irresponsible!"
When someone accidentally winds up pregnant, it's easy to judge them or their partner for being irresponsible. We all sat through the same sex education classes, where we were taught that responsible sex-havers always use contraception, and that any "accidents" are the result of wanton recklessness. This is a big talking point among the anti-abortion crowd, who argue that abortion is merely a way for the irresponsible to avoid having to deal with the consequences of their (in)action, and therefore shouldn't exist.
Except this argument doesn't hold up. There isn't a clear-cut line between "responsible" and "irresponsible" sex, because when it comes down to it, you can be the most cautious sexer to ever exist and still wind up with an unwanted pregnancy, because no form of contraception is 100% effective. According to both the CDC and Planned Parenthood, the pill is only 93% effective, while condoms are on average only 85% effective (and that's if you use them precisely right).
If you want to improve your chances, there are implants and the buddy system, as well as good ol' abstinence. At some point, though, we're going to have to get over the idea that "responsible" sex has as much to do with numbers as it does behavior -- as well as the idea that the actions of "irresponsible" people justify stripping the rights of "responsible" people.
This ties into another popular anti-abortion talking point, that having an abortion means that someone doesn't care about children and/or the sanctity of human life. But in the U.S., 60% of abortions are sought by people who already have children. Many are sought by people who describe themselves as religious. One study found that out of 670 women surveyed, 53% described the decision to have an abortion as "very or somewhat difficult."
It's not just America, either. Despite an increase in the number of countries to legalize abortion in the last two decades, the worldwide abortion rate has dropped. This is something you wouldn't expect if we were treating safe, legal access to abortion as an invitation to participate in The Purge: Kidz.
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"Most People Regret Their Abortions!"
The problem with debunking the idea that people who receive abortions are heartless monsters is that it hands the opposition a different stick with which they can beat abortion rights. If people who receive abortions care about the decision, doesn't it make sense to restrict access to abortion in order to spare people from regretting their decision down the line?
It's a popular argument with lawmakers these days. In 2006, for instance, a since-repealed anti-abortion law in South Dakota passed in part thanks to testimony that abortion "carries a greater risk of emotional harm than childbirth." In 2007, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy defended upholding a law banning late abortions by saying that while "no reliable data to measure the phenomenon, it seems unexceptionable to conclude some come to regret their choice to abort." Gee, thanks for the concern?
While having an abortion can cause temporary emotional distress, there's no evidence that any significant portion of people spend the rest of their days regretting their decision. When UC San Francisco spent three years tracking the emotional health of women who'd received an abortion, they found that an "overwhelming majority" felt they'd made the right decision. In truth, getting turned away for an abortion can be more emotionally devastating than receiving one. In another study by UCSF, they found that women who were denied abortions "experienced more anxiety and lower self-esteem in the short-term than women who received them."
As researchers also note, patients experience "decision regret" all the time over major procedures like sterilizations, mastectomies, and heart surgeries. But you never hear about lawmakers wanting to restrict access to them on account of how they make people sad.
"We Can Reverse Abortions!"
Of the total number of abortions performed annually in the U.S., one quarter are "medical," meaning that patients are administered an oral dose of mifepristone, and then several days later a follow-up dose of misoprostol. According to anti-abortion organizations such as Americans United for Life and Heartbeat International, however, this process can be reversed in the event that a patient changes their mind after taking the mifepristone.
They call it APR, or "abortion pill reversal." The patient is administered a large dose of progesterone, a fertility drug normally used to lower expectant mothers' risk of miscarriage. The supposed procedure was created in 2009 by George Delgado, a family practice doctor who regularly claims it's saved the lives of over 350 children. Only one slight problem: There's absolutely no proof that APR works.
People who "cancel" a medical abortion simply by refusing to take the misoprostol leave their fetuses a 30-50% chance of survival. So what does the progesterone do? We have no idea. If it boosts the survival rate, that isn't evidenced by the numbers Delgado touts as proof of APR's viability. Those 350 lives supposedly saved are out of a (self-reported) total of 800 women to try APR. That's a success rate of 43%, slap-bang within what they'd expect if they'd done literally nothing at all.
The lack of any substantive evidence -- or indeed, any evidence -- for the efficacy of APR means it isn't approved by the FDA or the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Indeed, the latter said they could "not support advising women on treatments that are not evidence-based," and that anyone who is advised to undergo this procedure would be an "unknowing and unwilling guinea pig." Despite this, APR has become a favorite in statehouses across the country, which have recently passed bills to require abortion providers to inform people that if they want to change their mind, they can, as long as they don't mind being experimented on. (We're kidding, they don't mention the last part.)
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"Abortions Are Dangerous!"
If you believe anti-abortion activists and lawmakers, having an abortion is the most dangerous thing a person can do. Such a danger that numerous states have used the idea to support piling additional (cumbersome) regulations onto abortion providers, or to tighten the number of circumstances under which someone can obtain an abortion.
The thing is, the numbers show that abortion is actually one of the safest medical procedures around. The chance of suffering serious medical complications from an abortion is in the region of 0.05%, while the chance of death is 0.0006% -- or to put it another way, 1 in 6 million. This means abortion is a safer bet than knee replacement surgery, a colonoscopy, or gallbladder removal. You know what else abortion is safer than? Childbirth. Irony of ironies, you're 14 times more likely to die in childbirth than having an abortion. But if anyone passed a bill restricting childbirth, the country would be in flames overnight out of fear that we'd gone full Children Of Men.
Hell, even the GOP knows this. In 2013, Senate and House Republicans wrote to abortion providers across the country, demanding to see proof of how they "monitor and regulate abortion procedures." This fishing expedition went a little awry, however, when the results came back and confirmed that not only were abortion clinics already pretty well-regulated, but also that patient injuries were almost unheard of.
In fact, the only people who get injured with any regularity at abortion clinics ... are anti-abortion activists.
"Fetuses Have Heartbeats!"
The abortion debate has been quietly raging in the background of our society for the last few forevers, but this simmering rage recently exploded after several states passed controversial "heartbeat bills," which outlaw abortion after six weeks of pregnancy. At this stage, they argue, fetuses have heartbeats and therefore inalienable human rights, including the right not to be killed. Except these bills are based on a hideous misreading of fetal development.
At six weeks, fetuses don't have heartbeats, because they don't even have hearts. What are doctors detecting, then? That's "fetal pole cardiac activity," aka electrical activity within the squishy, formless grouping of cells that will one day become a heart. The laws passed over this go so badly against scientific reality that we may as well be legislating the bodily autonomy of the Sarlacc.
And this isn't just a thought exercise by a group of bored legislators. It's the very real linchpin of a plan to remove people's right to safe, legal abortion. It's like how people think that fetuses can feel pain. They can't, not until 24 weeks. But that didn't stop states from passing laws based on it. It's almost as if the government is claiming "We're here to help!" to justify trampling people's rights. But surely that can't be right ...
For more, check out What Your Doctor Wants To Tell You, But Can't (From A Medical Physician):
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