ColumnThis week, we’re going to take a look at pregnancy and abortion in America. Spoiler alert: it’s complicated.
Let’s start with the political.
A recent Mother Jones article examined Bernie Sanders’ and Hillary Clinton’s opinions about abortion. The major difference between the two presidential candidates concerns a type of abortion that’s been debated at length through the years–the late-term abortion.
During a recent Fox News town hall meeting, Sanders and Clinton were asked about their thoughts on all types of abortion, both early and late. Sanders’ answer was clear; he doesn’t think there should be any abortion restrictions in the United States. Clinton’s response was more complicated.
“She began her response to moderator Bret Baier with a broad defense of a woman’s right to an abortion, mentioning the current Supreme Court case involving Texas’ anti-abortion regulations and the continued Republican attacks on Planned Parenthood,” Mother Jones reports. But when the town hall moderator pressed Clinton about her specific opinion about late term abortion, she said she supported them with exceptions.
“Politicians should not interfere with a woman’s personal medical decisions, which should be left to a woman in consultation with her doctor,” Clinton’s campaign told Mother Jones in an email meant to clarify her position. “She also recognizes that Roe v. Wade provides that restrictions are constitutional later in pregnancy so long as there are clear exceptions for the life and health of the woman.”
While most abortions happen before 20 weeks, a late-term abortion happens after 24 weeks. It’s worth noting that Clinton does not support abortion in total, which is a fact pro-choice Clinton supporters should consider.
Part of the reason abortion restrictions–even seemingly small ones–need to be considered is because DIY abortions are on the rise in the U.S.
The New York Times recently tackled this incredibly difficult topic in an early March article. The Times reports that although it’s difficult to figure out how many women are actually giving themselves abortions, roundabout research, such as Google search investigations, can help find an approximate answer.
Google searches show “a hidden demand for self-induced abortion” that’s “reminiscent of the era before Roe v. Wade,” the Times reports. “This demand is concentrated in areas where it is most difficult to get an abortion, and it has closely tracked the recent state-level crackdowns on abortion. In 2015, in the United States, there were about 119,000 searches for the exact phrase ‘how to have a miscarriage.’ There were also searches for other variants — ‘how to self-abort’ — and for particular methods.”
In 2015, there were more than 700,000 Google searches related to how to conduct a self-induced abortion. Among the 700,000 searches were about 160,000 “asking how to get abortion pills through unofficial channels.” These searches included phrases like “buy abortion pills online” and “free abortion pills.”
“There were tens of thousands of searches looking into abortion by herbs like parsley or by vitamin C,” the Times reports. “There were some 4,000 searches looking for directions on coat hanger abortions, including about 1,300 for the exact phrase ‘how to do a coat hanger abortion.’ There were also a few hundred looking into abortion through bleaching one’s uterus and punching one’s stomach.”
Further research showed that these Google searches were most frequent in states that are considered “hostile” or “very hostile” to abortion by the Guttmacher Institute, an organization dedicated to reproductive health.
It’s clear that when abortion is regulated to the point that it is no longer available, women suffer. Sure, no one is forcing women to perform their own abortions, but when people aren’t given a safe place to receive health care, terrible things will happen and women, in this case, get hurt.
The last bit of news we’d like to mention is surprisingly positive.
The number of unintended pregnancies in the U.S. is finally down, a New England Journal of Medicine paper reports. Researchers tapped into this trend by calculating the rates of pregnancy between 2008 and 2011, according to the pregnancy intentions of women and the eventual outcomes of those pregnancies.
“We obtained data on pregnancy intentions from the National Survey of Family Growth and a national survey of patients who had abortions, data on births from the National Center for Health Statistics, and data on induced abortions from a national census of abortion providers; the number of miscarriages was estimated using data from the National Survey of Family Growth,” the study authors noted.
And the results were pretty staggering–in a good way. “Less than half (45 percent) of pregnancies were unintended in 2011, as compared with 51 percent in 2008. The rate of unintended pregnancy among women and girls 15 to 44 years of age declined by 18 percent, from 54 per 1000 in 2008 to 45 per 1000 in 2011.”
Although the overall news about pregnancy rates dropping is great, there are still a few populations of females who are at a greater risk of having unintended pregnancies. These groups were women who were poor or living with a partner.
So, why the drop? The researchers suggest it’s because contraceptives have changed; there are more long-acting methods of birth control that are safe and available, and more women are using some form of contraception, the New York Times reports.
While these pregnancy numbers are great, we all know that rates can change quickly. Because, if women don’t have access to safe and affordable health care, pregnancy rates and abortion rates of all kinds increase.
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