If you were on Port Republic Road two Sundays ago, you may have noticed several members of Dukes for Life positioned at various places, holding up signs with messages like “Abortion: Harmful to Women” and “Adoption: Still an Option.” Catchy as these anti-choice slogans may be, they are fundamentally detrimental and harmful to women. When someone says abortions are harmful to women, they are, in fact, completely ignoring the realities of women’s lives. Abortions may prevent real harm from coming to women, and there are thousands of reasons women have abortions. Is it harmful for a woman to have an abortion if carrying the pregnancy to term would put her life in danger? Is if harmful for a woman to have an abortion if she fears spousal retribution for her pregnancy?
As a safe and regulated surgical procedure, there is nothing more harmful about abortion than any other medical procedure. In Virginia, there are about 27,000 abortions performed annually, and according to the Guttmacher Institute, the complication rate is less than half of one percent. Compared to other surgeries, this is an incredibly low complication rate. Procedures as simple and common as tonsillectomies have a complication rate of 1.7 percent. However, banning abortion will put women at risk, because wome will be forced to seek unsafe, unsanitary back-alley abortions from desperation. Some of the reasoning anti-choicers give to defend their position that abortions are harmful to women is that it disrespects women’s natural purpose—to have children. But how is the idea women are fundamentally vessels for childbearing not harmful to women? This idea has been used to oppress women for centuries, and to keep them in their “natural” domain of the home and private sphere. My ability to reproduce does not dictate my worth in the world, nor is it my only purpose. This idea is also alienating to women who are infertile or who are queer and therefore may not reproduce (although I doubt anti-choicers really care about queer women, either). To claim that women’s worth lies in their ability to have children, once again, ignores the reality of women’s lives and objectifies them as babymaking machines.
“Adoption is an Option” has also always been a problematic slogan, in my opinion. The implication in the slogan is, other than carrying a pregnancy to term, adoption is the only other option. Or, adoption is the only acceptable option. Isn’t adoption an option because abortion is one too? If a woman does not want to parent, only being able to put her baby up for adoption does not constitute an option. The word option implies there are at least two choices, yet if abortion is made illegal, then there really won’t be choices. Adoption or parenting cannot be the only choices for women facing undesired or unintentional pregnancies. Furthermore, if abortion is made illegal and women only have the “choice” of adoption, what happens to the babies that are put up for adoption? Do anti-choice activists suddenly stand up and selflessly devote their lives to caring for them? Yeah, I didn’t really think so. The Harrisonburg Pregnancy Center even makes a point of stating they do not help women out through all stages of pregnancy, and while they have a few free baby books for pregnant women, that doesn’t come close to the financial aid that a pregnant woman would need if she was low-income or did not have a support network.
I think that’s what really irks me the most about these slogans– they’re incredibly superficial, and they match up with policies that are equally superficial. What women need is a plethora of options that fit within the realities of their lives. Women need to be trusted with their own bodies and their own choices. Does that sound like a slogan? Maybe. But at least it’s one that actually works.
*Statistics from NARAL Pro-Choice VA and the Guttmacher Institute