by MIA FREEDMAN
What’s the difference between a scented candle and an unwanted pregnancy? There isn’t one! They’re both gifts and should be accepted with smiling gratitude.
When Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum was asked earlier this year how he’d feel if his daughter was raped and became pregnant, he insisted he wouldn’t want her to have an abortion and would instead encourage her to see the pregnancy as ‘a gift’.
Last week, Richard Mourdock, the Tea Party-backed Republican Senate candidate in Indiana, declared during a debate that he was against abortion even in the event of rape because after much thought he “came to realize that life is that gift from God. And even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.”
This word is often used by people opposed to abortion and at first, it seems like a reasonable one. Babies are a gift, aren’t they? Many new parents use that exact word, especially if they’ve struggled with infertility.
But what about the ones who don’t choose – or want – to be pregnant?
A candle and an unwanted pregnancy do have this in common; neither ‘gifts’ were chosen by the recipient. And that’s where the similarities end. Because lives aren’t plunged into poverty and extreme emotional, mental and physical hardship by a candle that smells like figs. Journalist Caitlin Moran masterfully argues against the idea of unwanted pregnancies being ‘gifts’ in a recent column where she says:
“From the shop floor of pregnancy, childbirth and motherhood, here’s what that gift can entail: tearing, bleeding, weeping, exhaustion, hallucination, despair, rage, anaemia, stitches, incontinence, unemployment, depression, infection, loneliness. Death. Women still die in childbirth. Not as many as used to – but notably more die while receiving any other “gifts”, such as scented candles, or minibreaks. Additionally, “gift” sounds hopelessly inadequate to describe your children, whom you inhale like oxygen, swoon over like lovers and would die for in a heartbeat. I have never done this over a foot spa, book token or vase.”
This week I watched Mitt Romney’s wife Anne on The View face questions about her husband’s strong anti-abortion views and what they could mean for women if he were elected President. She tried to demur, saying it was ‘a very tender issue’ and segued quickly towards less emotive ground. “What most women are saying to me when I talk to them is ‘help’,” she countered with faux gravity, “because they’re in terrible financial strife.”
At that point, I had a shouting-at-the-TV moment. “Can’t you see the connection between those two things, Anne? Forcing women to have babies they don’t want and can’t afford to look after pushes them into poverty!”
Naive people believe restricting access to abortion will stop women from having them. Even better, make it illegal! More gifts! Smarter people understand women will always find ways to control their fertility, even if it means risking their lives. The idea of forcing a ‘gift’ onto someone who desperately doesn’t want it is baffling. And cruel.
I’ve always wondered how anti-choice crusaders measure their ‘success’. Is it by an increase in the number of children who are abused or neglected? Perhaps it’s by the number of women who abandon their education or employment? The percentage of mothers forced onto welfare? Or maybe ‘success’ comes in the form of more families pushed below the poverty line. Is that what a gift looks like?
Nobody wants the abortion rate to be high. Not pro-lifers. Not pro-choicers. On that much, we agree. I personally believe in the ‘Safe, affordable & rare’ philosophy. But when it comes to reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies, consensus evaporates. Poof. Gone.
The idea that prevention is better than cure is a no-brainer and particularly relevant to reproductive health in Australia where our rate of abortion (19.7 per 1000 women) and teen pregnancy (17.3 per 1000 women) is high compared with other Western countries. One strategy to lower those numbers was making emergency contraception (the morning-after pill or ECP) available over the counter without a prescription. Has it worked? Kind of.
A recently published Australian study of over 600 women aged 16 to 35 found that just under half (48%) knew they could get it over the counter and up to 60% of women didn’t understand how it worked.
What if we went one step further? What if all contraception was free? Fact: free contraception would dramatically lower the number of unwanted pregnancies and abortions in Australia.
The Contraceptive Choice Project, conducted by researchers at Washington University proved this beyond doubt. In 2007, they enrolled 9,256 women aged14 to 45 and gave them access to free contraception for two years. The results were dramatic. The annual birth rate among teen girls dropped by more than 80 percent and the abortion rate among women of all ages dropped by around 70 percent.
How bizarre then that the groups and people most vehemently opposed to abortion are the same ones who don’t want to make contraception (or sex education) more widely available. “It seems illogical,” explains Australian ethicist Leslie Cannold, “but it makes perfect sense if your real problem is the idea of women having sex outside of marriage for reasons other than childbearing.” Ka-ching. Now I understand the connection. Hello Catholic Church. “While the majority of religious people in Australia are pro-choice,” add Cannold, “nearly all anti-choicers are religious.”
So here’s a thought, why aren’t we considering the idea of free contraception as a way to reduce abortions? Because that would be a true gift to women, to men and to society.
And then there’s this. In a debate this week Republican candidate Richard Mourdock said that “even when life begins with that horrible situation of rape, that is something God intended to happen.” Sigh.