Should Abortion Be ‘Rare’?

This first appeared on Huffington Post

Beware the Rare-word.

Many of us — fiercely pro-women, fiercely pro-choice — bought into the “keep abortion safe, legal and rare” mantra of several decades back. It was, in fact, a useful mantra — until it was sunk by the potential anti-women interpretation of the word “rare.” The endless focus on the ‘rare’ word at times approaches the “it-depends-on-what-the-meaning-of-the-word-‘is’-is” hubbub.

In defense of both sides:

Make abortion rare! By supporting universal contraceptive coverage. By supporting Planned Parenthood. By expanding education. By reducing unplanned pregnancies in all ways that empower women and reduce violence against women.

But get rid of the ‘rare’ word. It is, apparently, sending the wrong message. Jessica Valenti covered the issue well in a recent piece in The Guardian, citing two leaders in the area of women’s reproductive justice. One is Dr Tracy Weitz, co-founder and former Director of Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health (ANSIRH) at the University of California, San Francisco. In a paper published in 2010, Weitz wrote that “rare suggests that abortion is happening more than it should, and that there are some conditions for which abortions should and should not occur. It separates ‘good’ abortions from ‘bad’ abortions.”

None of this — ‘good’ abortions, ‘bad’ abortions, whether or when there should be abortions — is anybody’s business but the woman involved. Only she and her physician can know the circumstances, and the circumstances of no two women are the same. So if the ‘rare’ word is clouding the issue, let’s dump the rare word.

Valenti also quotes Steph Herold, Deputy Director of the Sea Change program, who says abortion needing to be rare “implies that abortion is somehow different than other parts of healthcare. We don’t say that any other medical procedure should be rare.” Sea Change is working to remove the stigma attached to abortion and other reproductive issues, a laudable, and monumental task. More than a few of the women who share their stories in Perilous Times: An inside look at abortion before – and after – Roe v Wade speak of suffering almost as much from the stigma attached to this most personal of women’s issues as from any physical harm, real or feared. While breast implants, sex-change details and erectile implantation (among other personal decisions) are fair game for cocktail party conversations, when is the last time you heard anyone volunteer information about her abortion? One in three women have an abortion; we Do Not Talk About It.

But here is the fact: There are bad abortions. They happened before 1973; they are happening today.

A mother of two physically challenged toddlers, pregnant with a third in 2014, unable to get to the nearest clinic — which is hundreds of miles away and impossible to access (despite the famous comment made by Texas Judge Edith Jones that it’s easy to go 75 mph on those flat roads) — punctures an interior organ trying to self-abort the old-fashioned way. She lives, but this is a bad abortion.

A desperate teenager in the rural midwest manages to get what she hopes is the right abortifacient through an internet site. Wrong drug, wrong instructions, wrong outcome. She gets to an ER before she bleeds to death. She lives, but this is a bad abortion.

This writer, pregnant from a workplace rape, overcome with shame and sheer terror, managed to find a kitchen-table abortionist in 1956. It was a bad abortion. We thought those stories were ended in 1973 when abortion was made legal and safe. But they are being repeated daily in this country, the land of the free; every one of them speaks of a bad abortion.

Women are suffering and dying again today from bad abortions, or because they are being denied access to safe, legal care. Whatever it takes, whatever words we use, the lives of those women are worth fighting for.

 

More on kindness…

This essay first appeared on Huffington Post

Some favorite people – okay, my daughter and daughter-in-law – recently posted a link to a heartwarming story from “Prank it Forward,” about a waitress who clearly deserved some good luck getting a LOT of it from her co-workers and friends: $1,000 cold cash, two airline tickets to Hawaii, a dream job and a new car. It was hard to follow without laughing and crying all at once.

Clicking around for the source revealed an originating site heavy into pranks of all sorts, apparently good-natured ones even if not always winding up life-changing good news for the prankee. The site originators seem committed to bringing moments of joy, and if there’s anything this world needs right now it’s moments of joy.

Clicking farther led to another site surely worth visiting, DoSomething.org. Over at DoSomething.org, members are doing things like collecting jeans for homeless kids, recycling cans to save the planet, or campaigning to stop bullying. You have to love the DoSomethingers. Their avowed purpose is “to make the world suck less.” This writer, unfortunately, can’t join them, as their members are between 13 and 25 and everybody over that is Old People in whom they are pointedly not interested. And who can blame anyone under 25 for that?

But it’s still the personal random acts, those small kindnesses anyone can do and no one organized, that most warm this writer’s heart. The little things: picking up the neighbor’s overturned trash can, handing the grocery checker a $20 for the food stamp buyer behind you in line, giving away roses from your garden, sending a snail-mail note to a perfect stranger in a nursing home.

Catherine Stern, co-founder, with Carole Mahoney, of Project Grace and herself an act of kindness, shared one such story about a Project Grace participant. The young family had just moved into a new house in a new community when their three-year-old was diagnosed with a rare and deadly form of cancer, forcing them to spend long hours driving to the hospital many miles distant. They were faced with juggling care for their other young children alongside the overwhelming needs of the sick child. Every time the exhausted parents pulled into the driveway of their new home they worried about what the neighbors must think of their unkempt yard, overgrown with weeds and scraggly grass. But one day, coming home after another long and exhausting time at the hospital, they were astonished to see their front lawn fully landscaped, grass mowed and flowers planted by their unseen neighbors who had somehow learned what was happening with the new family in the community.

Which is what kindness is all about: the community of humankind.