15 May 2013

How to Reduce the Need for Abortion

Let me start out by saying that this is not an abortion debate. I believe that what to do about an unintended pregnancy should be up to the pregnant woman and only the pregnant woman. If it's not your body, then it's not your business.

And that's all I'm going to say about that.

However, there are many Americans out there who would like to see fewer abortions performed. I can understand this desire; deciding to continue or terminate a pregnancy can be a difficult and stressful time in a woman's life. (I say "can be" because it is not the same for all women--there is no universal abortion experience.) While the woman may be dealing with her conscience or morals, she also has to deal with her finances. An abortion is not cheap; surgical abortions can cost up to $300-$400, and insurance companies will not always cover the procedure. Not to mention all the legal hurdles that she has to jump through, i.e. the 24 hour waiting period and the infamous transvaginal ultrasounds. Life would be easier for any woman if she could bypass this potential headache altogether.

The only way to reduce* the need for abortions is to reduce the number of unintended pregnancies. Period.

Let me say that again. The only way to reduce the need for abortions is to reduce the number of unintended pregnancies.

But how do we do that, you ask?

Three words, my friends: Education and Access to Prevention.

Education is first and foremost. Every individual, no matter their race, class, gender, religion, sexuality (etc.), must be educated about sexual health--which includes protection from STIs (STDs) and unintended pregnancies. "Don't have sex until you're married or you'll go to hell" is not a good education. Study after study has shown that abstinence-only education is not effective at reducing STI and teen birth rates. And forget the idea that sex-ed gives kids "ideas"; most kids hear a lot about sex before they hear any real educational information about sexual health. Children need to be educated about sex before they start having sex so that, when they eventually come to the point in their lives when they are ready to become sexually active, they can make reasonable decisions to protect themselves and their partners.

Prevention methods are obviously also very important. We currently have a wide variety of prevention methods, but I think we need more. More choices for those of us who cannot take hormonal methods, for whatever reason. More condoms that people will actually want to wear (and more for people who are allergic to latex). And how about choices for men who want to be on some sort of birth control? If a woman and a man in a relationship are both on birth control, think about how much more effective that would be at preventing pregnancy!

However, prevention is not very helpful if it is not accessible. All kinds of birth control and condoms need to be widely available to the general population. Laws restricting access to birth control (like the one that allows pharmacies to deny a patient her pills) need to be curtailed. Emergency contraception (which is indeed contraception and not the abortion pill) needs to be available without a prescription to anyone seeking it. Accessibility also includes affordability--condoms and birth control need to be affordable so that people who make less money can still afford to prevent unintended pregnancies. In addition, accessibility needs to extend to rural areas, where there may be fewer pharmacies that are farther apart. Fortunately, some Planned Parenthood affiliates offer "Pills by Mail," a program where a woman can have her birth control mailed to her home so that she only needs to have a check-up once a year.

With ultra-conservatives attacking sex education and access to birth control, one wonders what their real goal is. Taking away these things will only lead to more unintended pregnancies--and therefore more abortions--which they are supposedly against. If you are really ready to reduce the number of unintended pregnancies in this country, then you will support education and access to prevention wholeheartedly.

*I say "reduce" and not "eliminate" because there are always extenuating circumstances. Condoms break. Hormonal birth control methods can fail. And don't even get me started on the issue of rape. We will always have a need for abortions, but we can certainly help prevent women from needing them in the first place.

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