DO YOU KNOW how abortions are performed? How many people have them each year? What happens when you make abortion illegal, or restrict women’s access to abortion providers?
If you’re pro-choice, you probably know that 1 in 3 U.S. women will have an abortion before she turns 45. You know that exactly zero federal dollars fund abortion services, and that the abortion rate in the U.S. has decreased over the last 25 years, due to better sexual health education and contraceptive access. And you can assure everyone that most women do not regret their abortions. But that doesn’t mean you know how abortion works.
But wait, you think. Does it really matter if I don’t know exactly how abortions are performed? I’m pro-choice! I believe in a woman’s right to choose what happens to her body.
Or maybe you’re thinking you don’t need to know how abortion works because you’re pro-life, you know that abortions are wrong, and that’s enough for you.
You’re wrong. Abortion is one of the safest and most common medical procedures there is, and therefore we have a social obligation to know what it entails. You don’t need to know how to perform one, but you should have some idea of what goes on after a woman walks into an abortion clinic. This video from AsapSCIENCE is here to help you.
Think about it: you probably have a rough idea of how gastric banding and bypass work, or how breast implants — another super-common medical procedure — are inserted. You have this information at your disposal because we talk about weight loss surgery and cosmetic enhancement, and we talk about these issues because they are everyday fixtures in our lives. Abortion is almost as common as breast augmentation, so why shouldn’t you know how it is performed?
In 2014, 1.5 percent of women aged 15 to 44 had an abortion, down from 2.1 percent in 2000. That’s more than 900,000 terminations, making abortions comparable in number to the meniscus or bone-related surgeries performed in the U.S. each year. Although fewer people have abortions than, say, eye surgery, it’s still something that about 2,500 women undergo each day in this country alone.
Not only is abortion one of the most common medical procedures, but it’s also one of the safest. The risk of death resulting from a safe and legal abortion is less than 1 in 100,000, or about 0.0006 percent: effectively zero. Contrast that with childbirth, which carries a mortality rate that’s 14 times higher, or a colonoscopy, which is 40 times more likely to kill you than an abortion. And the earlier an abortion can be performed, the safer it is — something to keep in mind whenever legislators tout procedure-delaying TRAP laws as being in the interest of women’s safety.
Abortion is only safe if it is legal, accessible, and affordable. Fifty-six million women have abortions each year across the globe, and the United States accounts for less than 2 percent of them. But for many women, if not most, abortions are difficult to obtain and may even be deadly. Six countries have no legal abortion options whatsoever, and only about 30 percent of countries worldwide offer abortion on demand. In 96 percent of countries, exceptions to otherwise restrictive abortion laws are made to save women’s lives, but those exceptions are not always available, even when the mother’s life is clearly in jeopardy, because many countries also allow hospitals, doctors, and other medical personnel to opt out of providing the life-saving treatment.
Ultimately, about 35 percent of all abortions are unsafe. These procedures range from herbal remedies and uterine enemas to self-harm and so-called “back-alley abortions,” in which a number of unsterile and dangerous implements may be used to terminate the pregnancy. Illegal abortions are much more deadly than their safe and legal counterparts, and they account for roughly 13 percent of maternal deaths worldwide: about 68,000 women. An additional 1 in 4 women — 5 million — who have illegal abortions are left temporarily or permanently disabled by the procedure every year.
Unsafe abortions are preventable, but banning abortion won’t stop them. Because illegal abortions are unregulated, there is no way for anyone to ensure patients’ safety. Criminalizing abortion only stops women from seeking safe termination options. Women of means can travel far in order to terminate, but poor women, members of certain ethnic or religious minorities, and those who have disabilities are often unable to access safe abortion options in their general global vicinity.
Most pieces of anti-choice legislation are written and supported by people who have very little understanding of what happens inside abortion clinics. By making abortion more difficult to obtain, these laws put women’s lives at risk. Therefore, it is in everyone’s best interest if we educate ourselves about how abortions are performed. We can’t stop the abortions, but we can stop the laws that make them unsafe.