In the midst of public outrage over the HR3 and the restrictions it would impose on abortion, the New York Times’s most read story this week is about the unusually high abortion rate in the city House Republicans love to hate:
Two of every five pregnancies in New York City end in abortion, a statistic that has barely changed in more than a decade. But city health officials and groups that support access to abortion say that behind the 41 percent statistic — nearly twice the national rate — are complex social and legal factors: fewer obstacles to abortion in state law; the absence of mandatory sex education in New York City public schools; the ignorance of people, especially young ones, about where to get affordable birth control; and the ambivalence of young women living in poverty and in unstable relationships about when and whether to have children.
Naturally, this pleased no one:
The hand-wringing has led to a rare moment of synchronicity between the Catholic Church and pro-choice women’s groups, as both say they are disturbed that the rate is so high, but disagree over what to do about it.
Synchronicity…yeah, whatever. Blink and you’ll miss it. The Church actively works against women’s reproductive rights, so this rare moment of agreement is not the start of a new alliance between feminists and the Archdiocese of New York.
But I do think feminists have reason to be concerned about the high abortion rate, even though our motives for doing so are the polar opposite of the Church’s. Abortion is not an optimal form of birth control. It’s not friendly to women’s bodies or our lives.
Surgical abortions are invasive and painful and even drug-induced abortions, while less invasive, are still painful and require recovery time and medical supervison. Then there’s the money; if you are one of the tens of millions of Americans without health insurance, paying out of pocket for an abortion might mean you can’t make the rent that month–especially if you have to take time off from work or travel to obtain one. A safe abortion shouldn’t be a privilege, but in many cases, it still is. (Here I send out a mighty prayer of thanksgiving for Planned Parenthood and their low-cost abortion care. But PP is not omnipresent, does not have unlimited funds, and is under constant attack).
Women should have better options. Women deserve medical coverage for abortion and easy access to it, but if they’re having a lot of abortions, it’s because somewhere along the line they didn’t have better forms of contraception or what they did have was inadequate (assuming that the pregnancies were the result of consensual sex, of course).
That’s not the argument you hear from the concern trolls, though. Archbishop Timothy Dolan calls the abortion stats “downright chilling” because of the “sanctity of life”, etc. State Senator Rubén Díaz Sr. of the Bronx—best known as the man who’s fought hardest to prevent gay marriage in New York—does him one better by raises the spectre of genocide:
“They might think that we will take over, and that they’ve got to stop us,” said Senator Díaz, who also is a minister. “What they did, they are killing black and Hispanic children.”
Díaz’s argument is deliberately inflammatory and race-baiting, but it’s also a lot of hypocritical hand-waving. You can make a plausible argument that the abortion rate is high for minority women because of social injustices created by the white power structure—lack of health care, no sex ed in public schools, generational poverty, etc. But Rubén Díaz isn’t trying to fight social injustice or empower black and Hispanic women. Instead, he’s cozying up to mostly white, anti-abortion right-wingers who have never given a damn about black and Hispanic children–in fact, they’ve consistently fought every piece of legislation that would improve those children’s lives, like universal health coverage, living wages, and better public schools. If his real motive in fighting abortion is to help minority families, Rubén Díaz is in bed with the wrong people.
Unfortunately, despite their hand-wringing, abortion opponents like Archbishop Dolan and Senator Díaz will never support the one proven way to reduce abortions: widespread, compulsory sex education from an early age, plus easy, low-cost access to contraceptives. Gentlemen, until you’re ready to embrace the real solution to this problem, I suggest you sit the fuck down and shut the fuck up. Otherwise your bloviating is just a waste of everyone’s time.
What I find fascinating about all the concern about New York City’s abortion rate is that it probably offers a snapshot of what would happen if abortion was more widely available elsewhere. Abortion is easily obtained here compared to the rest of the United States. No travel necessary. Minors do not require parental consent. There’s no pernicious waiting period or pre-abortion counselling intended to dissaude women. This is about as much of an “abortion on demand” city as you can find in the US. It”s not a stretch to conclude that if abortion were as available in other parts of the country, the abortion rate would rise there as well.
Which brings us back to the problem of all those abortions. Women deserve better health care that covers safe, reliable contraceptives. They deserve better education from an early age so they know how to use those contraceptives. They deserve male partners who take on the responsibility of contraception themselves, instead of always making it the woman’s problem. What we don’t deserve is a lot of fussing from men in power about the choices we make when those options aren’t available to us.