Abortion: Is it safe? Who decides? And what about birth control?

An interesting comment showed up in my filter the other day. It’s a reply to a guest post from Penny Gets Lucky back in February, Pro-Life vs Pro-Choice: Missing the Point, where Penny argues that if you want to prevent abortions, there are far better ways that criminalising and demonising the people who have them. Here’s the comment, from Jemalacane:

The thing I don’t like about abortion the most is that sometimes, both the mother and child will die during. If I were a husband or boyfriend, I would rather you spare my wife or girlfriend though. I’d rather the unborn child die than her. If someone can come up with a way which makes it nearly impossible for a woman to die while going through an abortion, I would be much less hostile to abortions.

I also do not think abortion is a necessary form of birth control. That’s what contraception is for. It’s better to prevent the pregnancy than to terminate it.

This comment raises several important questions. Is abortion dangerous? What is the role of partners in deciding whether someone can have an abortion? And, of course, the question of whether abortion is a preferable method of birth control.

Let’s get the last two out of the way first.

It’s better to prevent the pregnancy than terminate it.

Yes! Yes, it is. With the exception of cases of fatal fetal abnormality and threats to the health or life of the pregnant person, people who seek abortions generally don’t want to be pregnant. Pregnancy was not part of the plan, and even if the pregnant person knew immediately that abortion was what they wanted to do and didn’t have any difficulty with that decision, a certain amount of stress is almost inevitable. In Ireland, where abortions involve travelling overseas, this is doubly the case. Even without that, it seems silly to suggest that someone would, all else being equal, prefer to undergo an uncomfortable medical procedure instead of preventing it. Medical abortion pills cause painful cramps, and who actually enjoys being trussed up in stirrups for any kind of gyno visit? Contraception is normally a hell of a lot easier, and there are enough different methods around that most people can find something that suits them fairly well.

There’s just a few problems. We haven’t yet invented an infallible method of contraception (aside from having the kinds of sex where there’s no more than one kind of gamete around. I gather that a lot of people don’t swing that way, though). We do a terrible job of educating young people about sex and birth control. And people commit rape and sexual assault every day.

It is, in most cases, better to prevent a pregnancy than to terminate it. But once you’re pregnant, you don’t have the option of going back in time and changing what happened weeks or months ago. Once you’re pregnant, the decisions left to you are to carry to term, or to terminate. While sometimes it might feel like both of those options, quite frankly, suck? It’s what you’re stuck with.

And yes, we should do a lot more work around preventing people from getting pregnant when they don’t want to. And around empowering people to make all kinds of informed decisions about their bodies. Let’s do that too!

If I were a husband or boyfriend, I would rather you spare my wife or girlfriend though. I’d rather the unborn child die than her.

That’s… nice? I’m glad you think that way? I’d like to be honest about one thing before I go further: this was the only part of this comment that annoyed me. If you’re reading this, Jemalacane- and I do hope you are- then I’d like to state for the record that I can see that you’re probably not trying to say anything hurtful or damaging here. And I’d ask you to read this next part carefully.

There’s just one thing, though. If I were a girlfriend or wife, and you were a doctor, I would rather you ask me about what medical procedures you carry out on my body. I’d rather you ask me if I would want you to risk my life to save my pregnancy, or if I would choose for you to do everything necessary to save my life.

If I were a girlfriend or a wife of someone who would prefer to put me in danger to continue a pregnancy, against my will? I would want a doctor to take absolutely no notice whatsoever of what that person, who is not me, said. And if I were to be unconscious and unable to have those conversations with my doctor? I would want that doctor to act in the best interests of their patient- me– and not listen to anyone who tells them otherwise.

In short, I do not want my life to be dependant on whether or not I’m currently making wise decisions about dating. I would really prefer if the worst consequences of bad dating decisions were epic facepalming, having my friends sit me down and ask me if I don’t think I might do better, and some embarrassing memories. I’d like to be alive to have those, thanks.

With that question firmly sorted out, let’s go to the last- but by no means least- question. Here we go:

The thing I don’t like about abortion the most is that sometimes, both the mother and child will die during.

That sure is a point. It’s a scary one at that. If you feel that abortion risks the pregnant person’s life, then I can see how it would disturb you! I would never want to advocate something that would hurt and endanger people.

Looking at statistics, though, we find that abortion is safer for a pregnant person than carrying to term. Much safer, in fact. A person is fourteen times more likely to die during or after giving birth than they are of any complications following abortion! I’m going to say that again, because it’s a staggering figure- you’re fourteen times more likely to die from giving birth than abortion.

This doesn’t mean that I’m going to go picket antenatal units and GPs offices around the country, begging women not to have babies because of the risk to their lives. The vast majority of women survive pregnancy and birth, and they have the right to make informed choices and bear and raise children. It simply means that, of all the reasons that a person could choose to oppose abortion, the minuscule risk of life-threatening complications simply doesn’t add up.


Except where abortion is illegal. While only one person in 167,000 will die from a legal and safe abortion, death rates for unsafe abortions- which are what pregnant people will and do turn to when they have no legal alternative- are, according to the WHO, 350 times higher. Three hundred and fifty times higher. And that’s just counting the women who actually die. Add to that the incidence of complications that don’t kill outright, and you have a massive, preventable health crisis on your hands.

If the thing that you don’t like most about abortion is risking the lives of the people who have them? The single best way to prevent that and save lives is to make abortion legal and accessible to everyone who needs one.

Abortion: Is it safe? Who decides? And what about birth control?

Pro-Life Vs. Pro-Choice: Missing The Point?

Today’s guest post comes from Penny. Blogging at Penny Gets Lucky about things like feminism and sexuality, Penny’s comments have been featured here before and I was delighted that she was willing to write a post for the Tea Cosy. 

A Difficult Topic

Abortion. It’s an ugly topic. Emotionally charged, difficult to sort out, and fraught with hyperbole on either side.

So I’m not writing this to discuss my views on abortion, per se. I consider myself both pro-life and pro-choice; the two are not mutually exclusive, regardless of what the rhetoric in each camp may say. I believe that every wanted baby should be given the best possible chance to make it into this world; and I believe every woman should be allowed to make a fully-informed decision as to whether she wants children or not. No one should enforce having babies; and certainly no one should enforce not having babies.

Right now, though, I think there’s a piece of the abortion-debate puzzle that’s largely getting ignored. We’re all so worried about what happens if abortion were made legal, or what happens if abortion were abolished, we’re forgetting to ask a fundamental question… What if we simply made abortion obsolete?

Making Abortion Obsolete?

It doesn’t matter, in the end, if we fall in the rhetorically pro-life or pro-choice side of the debate – I think we can all agree that, in a perfect utopian world, abortion wouldn’t need to exist. In this magical fairyland, children would only be born to families that really, truly wanted them; becoming pregnant would always be a choice, one made with excitement and joy, and those pregnancies would never threaten the life or health of those who were pregnant.

But, of course, we don’t live in that world. So how do we approximate it? What steps can we take to make abortion as unnecessary as possible?

I think no one wants to ask that question, because the answer involves more than a few pieces of legislation and some slapdash measures. The answer to that question involves cultural change, the spreading of information, the readjusting of attitudes and beliefs. It means accepting a different way of thinking about women, sex, and reproduction, and no one’s comfortable with that. It means understanding what motivations people have for wanting or needing an abortion in the first place. I want to point out some of these motivations and outline ways we, as a society, could address these issues without infringing on the rights of pregnant people – or, in many cases, the unborn child.

Abortion as a means of birth control.

It seems like this, especially, is a favorite for the rhetorically pro-life side to point to and scream, “Murder! How can you approve of this?” It’s a facet of the debate that, from what I’ve seen, makes even rhetorically pro-choice folks a little uneasy. After all, we want to support the right of every woman to do what’s right for her, but there’s no denying that the process of abortion comes with significant physical and emotional risks. I don’t think there are many people that truly want to see a friend going in to the clinic for her tenth abortion.

So how do we avoid that? Well, first of all, there needs to be better sex education. Young people need to understand what types of sex lead to pregnancy, and how. Along with that needs to come education on how to avoid pregnancy when engaging in those activities. Teach young people other methods of being sexual that don’t result in pregnancy. Teach contraceptives. And, yes, teach abstinence.

Part of that education should be methods for talking about sex and contraceptives. We need to learn how to discuss these things with prospective partners in a way that is healthy, open, and unabashed. We need to create a culture that is comfortable talking about sex.

There also need to be reliable, accessible, stigma-free sources for contraceptives. In fact, studies have shown that access to free contraceptives significantly cuts down on the number of unintended pregnancies and abortions. People should not be ashamed to take whatever measures they need to take to avoid becoming pregnant. Every sexually active person should know how to use a condom, how to use hormonal birth control, and what their backup plan is if any of their methods fail or fall through. Every sexually active person should be able to talk with their partner about the risk of pregnancy and, ideally, come to a consensus on what the expectations are if a pregnancy does occur. By blocking access to contraceptives and education, society is in essence perpetuating the issues that lead to many abortions in the first place.

Abortion in cases of rape or incest.

I’ve seen reactions range from “Of course an exception should be made” to “I think even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.” (And, thus, abortion should be outlawed even in these cases.)

Unlike the “abortion as birth control” situation, the solution to this is not in the hands of those who might become pregnant, but rather those who might impregnate them. The only way to eliminate abortion in the case of rape and incest is, naturally, to eliminate rape and incest.

The steps we need to take to achieve that goal are numerous and far-reaching. They do, however, break down into some relatively simple key components; things like “Allowing individuals autonomy over their own bodies,” “Creating a culture of consent,” “Creating a culture of equality and egalitarianism,” and “Removing moral values from sex and sexual activity.” By systematically examining and re-evaluating the attitudes and thought processes that contribute to rape culture, it would be possible to create a society where rape was all but eliminated, and with it the incidence of rape-related pregnancy and abortions.

I could go into much more detail about eradicating rape culture, but others have covered it much more intelligently, wittily, and in greater detail than I probably can here. I will say that it starts with us; that it’s a conversation that should be happening on a global scale and that it’s one that goes hand-in-hand with the abortion debate. It starts when we make our voices heard.

Abortion to save the life of the mother.

I… actually don’t have an answer for this one. I can’t come up with a way, off the top of my head, to stop these situations from happening. More to the point, I’m not sure there is a way to stop these situations from happening. What I have noticed, though, is that all but the most rhetorically extreme pro-life camp still leave space in their ideology for people whose lives would be endangered by carrying a pregnancy to term. In fact, if one advocates the enforced death of one human is good and necessary on the off-chance that the life of a fetus might be saved by it… I find it hard to accept that one is still pro-life. It seems more like pro-fetus at that point, and that really should be a separate debate.

However: if other types of abortion were made unnecessary through better sex education, access to and destigmatization of contraceptives and family planning methods, and respect for individual autonomy… I have the feeling that perhaps medically necessary abortions wouldn’t carry the moral value they currently do. They would be considered a life-saving medical technique much like a lung transplant or open-heart surgery.

If the goal is to truly reduce or eliminate the number of pregnancies that end in abortion, there are ways to make that happen. Creating and enforcing legislature that limits people’s freedoms and takes away human rights is not the answer. This is not a problem that can – or even should – be solved with a signing of a bill and the pounding of a gavel. This is an issue that needs to be addressed through a change in cultural attitudes toward sexuality, pregnancy, contraception, and consent.

It’s time to re-frame the debate. Rather than squabbling about “Should it be legal or not?” we should be asking ourselves “How do we make it unnecessary in the first place?”

Penny Posh is the writer of Penny Gets Lucky, a blog mostly focused on feminism and social justice, with occasional poetry thrown in among dashes of this and that. She has trouble adhering to labels, and since her recent move to the Pacific Northwest has been happily and energetically engaged in the process of becoming more who she is and less who others expect her to be. It all began when she learned that “Because I want to” is a perfectly valid reason to do something.


Pro-Life Vs. Pro-Choice: Missing The Point?

Gushing & Giving

It’s Guest Week! While I’m off visiting the Ladyfriend, I’ve handed over the Tea Cosy to a bunch of the best guest posters a blogger could wish for. Today’s post comes courtesy of Tori from Anytime Yoga. A secondary teacher in the US, Tori enjoys many things in life: making education and critical thought fun for her students, making yoga accessible to her blog readers, and writing about sexual and reproductive health with frankness. As for other things in life — namely, running, writing catchy author bios, and remembering to do the dishes — well, those she is working on. 😉


Note: This post discusses menstrual bleeding and blood donation. It also contains a brief mention of miscarriage.


I saved three lives today. At least, that’s what the sticker from the American Red Cross blood drive tells me.

My donation experience today was surprisingly easy. I mean less in terms of wait time or needle sticks and more in terms of how my body reacts. For example, my blood pressure was normal, even as I anticipated them checking my iron. More than that, my hemoglobin was well into the healthy range — something I’ve not seen in a good long while. The donation itself — from needle in to needle out — took under five minutes. When it was over, I could promptly sit up, stand up, and walk myself over to the canteen — all without feeling flushed, lightheaded, or like I was on the verge of passing out. At the canteen, I did stay the required minimum of ten minutes, but I felt physically well enough to go long before I finished my water and Cheez Its.

All of this is a far cry from the last several times I gave blood. I used to do it in my late teens and early twenties. While my iron was technically high enough to qualify, blood donation left me feeling fatigued, dizzy, and nauseated for the next day or two. For a number of years in between then and now, I was altogether too anemic to donate, to the extent of being far more likely to need blood than to be able to safely give it.

See, among other idiosyncrasies, I have a menstrual history of chronic pain and gushing [explicit menstruation/bleeding talk at that link too]. It had always happened — and my iron had always been borderline — but after a miscarriage in my mid twenties, my hemoglobin levels plummeted and never really recovered. I mean, to the extent that being only “moderately” instead of “severely” anemic is not really recovering. Because it involved constant — not just period-long — symptoms, it was easy to feel like a lot of my physical life limits stemmed from my menstrual flooding. Limits which, now that I am healthy enough to give blood easily, are vastly reduced in scope and severity.

It’s difficult to explain why this is important to me. While giving blood is a nice and helpful thing to do for other people, it’s not like choosing to do it renders one morally or socially superior. And yet, when I couldn’t give blood**, I often felt inferior — like there was something wrong with me that made me not good enough to donate blood. Regardless of what, if anything, can be done about it, it’s uncomfortable and disheartening to repeatedly bump up against feelings of not good enough.

Ironically, the thing that made me healthy enough to donate comfortably is something others think may not be good for me in the long run. I started a new birth control pill over the summer. Though my periods have not become what I would term “light,” they have lost their, “Dear God, how is there any blood left on the inside?” feeling. With the iron rich eating habits I’ve adopted over the years (kale + me = BFF), my hemoglobin has soared to record levels. There’s still the pain issue to deal with, but not being so draggy all the time makes even that easier to manage.

Generally, I just feel better.

Until such a time that someone hears that I’m on birth control pills — let alone my particular brand of pill*** — and starts getting all concerned, as one “someone” also did today.

“The estrogen in birth control pills can increase your risk for heart attack and stroke.”

“Which pill? Isn’t that the one with all the lawsuits?”

“That’s the one where one of the ingredients carries, like, double the risk of blood clots.”

“And your doctor is okay with you taking that? At your age and weight?”

You know what? All these things? Technically supported by evidence. I do not dispute that this medication increases my risk for some adverse health outcomes. That said, it improves my quality of life. And also? All these things? Asked and answered, multiple prior times in my life.

I’m never going to please every person who’d like to weigh in on my health. But I’m also getting to the point where I’m comfortable articulating the believe that I never have been under any social or moral obligation to do so (though I would suggest that social pressure is another matter entirely). As long as I’m not harming others with my decisions — and I think it would be pretty difficult to harm others with my personal health choices — then I get to prioritize my health as I see fit. I get to be the boss of my body.

I get this one shot at being alive and having a body. It’s hard enough to learn how to cope when my body doesn’t behave as I’d like it to. Other people’s hangups about my body and my health are going to have to remain just that — the concerns of other people.


** I’m a faculty advisor to a student organization that organizes multiple blood drives each year, so there’s ample opportunity for me to come across “Give Blood Today!” messages.

*** I participate in some online discussion spaces devoted to my same health issues, so this isn’t necessarily a matter of random folk on the street asking about what I’m doing to secure the state of my uterus.

Gushing & Giving

If you can’t trust me with a choice, how can you trust me with a child? The Children’s Rights Referendum

I’m going to say something up front: I haven’t been following the Children’s Referendum. I’ll almost certainly be voting on it, but since it’s still a couple of weeks away I haven’t yet devoted the time to finding out about all the issues involved and deciding which way I’ll go. I have an inkling about which way it’ll be, but I’ve been wrong about these things before in the weeks coming up to a vote.


According to rte.ie, campaigners against the referendum include “the Christian Solidarity Party, Parents for Children, The Alliance for Parents Against the State, editor of Alive newspaper Fr Brian McKevitt and solicitor and community activist Malachy Steenson“. Also speaking out against the referendum is David Quinn and his colleagues over at the Iona Institute.

Quinn describes the impending referendum as a “war on the churches“. A bit of an exaggeration, you’d think- but then again, a few paragraphs down he Godwins himself thoroughly by referring to this as one battle in an “ongoing Kulturkampf”. Owch. I’m not entirely sure what Quinn is getting at in his article- he’s never been one for clear and concise writing- but the general idea seems to be that there’s a battle to eradicate everything good and traditional about Ireland, and that the Church really didn’t have much to do with the horrific abuses children suffered in institutions over the decades.

So state bad, church good, families good. As long as they’re married, heterosexual families, of course. This perspective seems to be shared by the Christian Solidarity Party, although admittedly they are not quite as verbose as Quinn.

I couldn’t find a website for Parents for Children, but this breakingnews.ie article seemed  both illuminating and bizarre:

Parents for Children, has said it is unhappy that if a child is deemed to be at risk from his or her own parents, that under the proposed amendment, parents would be “powerless to defend children who are being failed by the State”.

Parents for Children said the State “cannot be trusted” and the option should be there to let another family member, such as an aunt or uncle, care for the child instead.

The state cannot be trusted, but the families of abusive parents can? I’m not going to say that the state is perfect. But this glorification of the family can’t do anything but keep kids in danger. The state isn’t perfect by any means. But having no recourse to remove at-risk and endangered kids from their families if necessary, because their birth family is somehow always the best place for a child? It makes no sense. Kids have the right to get away from abusive and dangerous situations, and their rights trump the right of parents to a child.

The other anti-referendum group that I found was the Alliance of Parents Against the State. This group have a (badly formatted) list of ten reasons to oppose the referendum. Finally, some clarity! A selection:

3/The State can decide for example to vaccinate every child in Ireland, and the parent, and even the child have no say in the matter. You do not need to be consulted or give permission. Joan Burton has already hinted that Child Benefit will be tied into vaccination records, this could be extended to school admission.

I’m not seeing why this is a problem. I assume that exceptions would be made for kids for whom vaccinations are medically contra-indicated. Herd immunity is incredibly important, especially for kids in schools. If I had a kid, I wouldn’t want them to be at risk because someone else refuses to give their kid vaccinations. And every kid deserves to not be at risk of painful, potentially debilitating illnesses that are easily preventable.

4/ The State can decide to give give Birth Control to children of any age, even if they are below the Age of Consent. The State can bring children to other countries for abortions without parental consent and even if the child disagrees. (X case, C Case, D case)

The Irish state? Forcing abortions on people? You have got to be kidding me! This is the same state that forces seriously ill women, rape survivors and women whose fetuses are dying in the womb to travel out of state for abortions. I’m not sure what slippery slope these people or on, or what you have to smoke to see it.

Also, birth control for underage kids? Sounds fine by me. Given that the alternatives are  increased teenage pregnancy and STI rates if those kids are actually having sex, and kids having to live through godawful menstrual complications (would you like some endometriosis with your PCOS, anyone?) otherwise. I guess what they’re implying is that this will lead to every 12-year-old in the country joining wild orgies somewhere. But if a BC prescription is the only thing stopping that, we’ve got more problems on our hands.

And so on. Check ’em out for the rest of their points.

You know, in all this one thing I can’t wrap my head around is how people who don’t think that pregnant people should have the right to decide to give birth, after that think that parents should have ultimate sovereignty over their children? I’ve never been through labour myself. But I have watched more episodes of One Born Every Minute than I should probably admit to in public, and I’m not sure where in all the swearing, pooing, vomiting, cursing, crying and epidurals comes the magical responsibility fairy.

When I started writing and researching this post I had no idea how I would vote on the 10th. Having not yet looked up the pro-referendum side, I’m still not entirely sure. But if this is the best that the opposition have to offer? I don’t think it’ll be a tough call.


If you can’t trust me with a choice, how can you trust me with a child? The Children’s Rights Referendum