Support women and abortion rates drop

Published 9:28 am Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Column: My Point of View, by Jennifer Vogt-Erickson

I want every viable pregnancy to end with the birth of a baby who has a good chance to lead a meaningful life. I’m also pro-choice. The way the abortion debate has been framed, this might seem like a paradoxical position, but it’s not.

This past campaign season revealed at least a couple candidates’ bizarre beliefs about abortion and rape. If you think about their remarks in the context of places like the Bosnian rape camps of the early 1990s, they are nothing short of horrifying.

Jennifer Vogt-Erickson

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The following quote from conservative commentator, David Frum, is right on target, though: “As a general rule, societies that do the most to support mothers and child-bearing have the fewest abortions. Societies that do the least to support mothers and child-bearing have more abortions.”

Frum cited examples of European countries with fewer restrictions to abortions than the United States, yet they have lower abortion rates.

The message is that the legal status of abortion does not drive abortions. The two most fundamental causes of abortion are poverty and maternal distress, with economics being the top push factor. In the US, about three-quarters of women who had abortions said a baby “would interfere with work, school or other responsibilities,” and nearly the same percent said they could not afford another child.

Thus, criminalizing abortion won’t stop demand. Women in the U.S. did not start having abortions in 1973, and if it becomes illegal again on a widespread basis, abortion will return to the black market. Some girls and women will be given shoddy care, and some will die of massive infections or hemorrhaging, like they did before Roe vs. Wade.

Many doctors who supported abortion rights at the time did so out of conscience, having personally treated patients who couldn’t afford a safe abortion in a reputable doctor’s office and were later rushed to the hospital with life-threatening complications.

Some of the same people who want to end legal access to abortion also want to defund Planned Parenthood, teach abstinence-only sex education, and chip away at the social safety net. This does not make sense to me on most levels. It could likely result in A. more unintended pregnancies, B. more mothers and children in poverty and C. more abortions, at greater risk to the girls and women.

From a moral standpoint, though, I kind of get it. I grew up among the following kinds of messages, some of them mixed: Unintended pregnancy is God’s punishment for having sex outside of marriage. (And unintended pregnancy within marriage is — cheer up — part of God’s plan.) Girls aren’t supposed to want to have sex. Girls must keep their hormones in check.

It was easy back then to judge the girls in my high school whose oversized sweatshirts couldn’t hide their rounded bellies anymore, before they disappeared from school completely. As I reflect on it now, those girls were mainly poor, and most of them and their babies were in for rough economic times ahead. It wasn’t good for them to have children before they were ready, and it wasn’t good for society.

Do we have to let even more legions of girls and women and their unplanned children hit some skids — face the consequences of their actions — in order to help our daughters make the “right” choices? I no longer find that a morally persuasive argument at all. And if we roll back the social programs that help poor mothers and their children survive, what we have left is a pro-birth agenda, not a pro-life one.

Pro-choice policies and economic programs that support girls and women, on the other hand, are the best way to reduce the number of abortions as well as keep women and children out of poverty. These include:

1. Educating young people about a full range of contraceptive options in addition to abstinence.

2. Educating young people about healthy, non-abusive relationships.

3. Making contraception and reproductive counseling affordable and available.

4. Increasing wages and access to higher education.

5. Expanding maternity/paternity leave.

6. Making child care affordable.

7. Making health care affordable.

In Albert Lea, the loss of Planned Parenthood has left a gap in this list, and many young people miss it. They are not people who typically speak up loudly in public forums, who call their legislators, who show up at the ballot box (if they can vote yet), but some of them confide in their teachers, and I’ve heard about their concerns through this channel.

I wish we could hear more directly from some of these people, because personalizing statistics makes them harder to ignore. In the meantime, though, it should still be a priority to reopen Planned Parenthood in Albert Lea.

Every baby deserves to be wanted before they are born and to have abundant love and adequate resources once they arrive. Please ask yourself, is it more important to reduce abortions, or is it more important to criminalize them? In practice, these goals likely have different outcomes.


Albert Lea resident Jennifer Vogt-Erickson is a member of the Freeborn County DFL Party.