Gestational Age Limits for Abortion

Recently, I have been thinking a lot about the legislative restrictions imposed on abortion.  After reading this article on RH Reality Check (which highlights the situation in the United States) and attending an amazing lecture at Women on Waves, I think it is crucial to explain why abortion needs to be treated like every other medical procedure.

– Abortion is the only medical procedure that is criminalized.

– The only country in the world that does not declare gestational age limits is Canada.  In Canada, doctors have the right to decide when to perform an abortion.  They make this decision responsibly based on the specific situation, the client’s wishes, and the doctor’s stance; there is no governmental intervention.

– Abortion is one of the most common medical procedures; 42 million women have abortions each year.

– Having an abortion (in a safe environment) is much safer than giving birth.  In Europe, the maternal mortality rate is 1 for every 10,000 live births.  However, this figure varies depending on geographic location.  For more information on this, check out the World Health Organization’s report on maternal mortality.

Abortion Risks in Perspective

Chance of death (per year)

Abortion before 9 weeks:   1 in 500,000

Abortion between 9 and 10 weeks:  1 in 300,000

Abortion between 13 and 15 weeks:  1 in 60,000

Abortion after 20 weeks:   1 in 8,000

Risk to persons who participate in:

Motorcycling:  1 in 1,000

Automobile driving:  1 in 5,900

Power- boating:  1 in 5,900

Playing football:  1 in 25,000

Risk to women aged 15–44 from:

Having sexual intercourse (PID):  1 in 50,000

Using tampons:  1 in 350,000

Source: Gold, 1990; Trussell, 1998

Abortion is a safe, common medical procedure obtained by women of all social, economic, and political backgrounds.  By putting a time limit on abortion, we are creating more barriers to access, infringing upon women’s reproductive rights, and further stigmatizing the procedure.  Just because we limit abortion or make the procedure illegal, does not mean that women will stop having abortions.  Approximately 19 million illegal abortions are performed each year.  Often times, the procedure is performed by an untrained individual or by the woman herself.  There is no guarantee that she has access to a hygienic environment, the proper medications, or follow-up care.  Because of these factors, risk of complications and/or death increase tremendously.

There are many arguments to support these restrictions, but the main one stems from (a false understanding of) fetal pain.  Even if and when a fetus can feel pain, this should not take priority over the woman’s health and well-being.  Deciding if and when to be pregnant is a fundamental human right that should never be taken away by another person.  In response to this, one could argue that the fetus has the right to live.  However, during pregnancy, the only person that is actually alive is the woman.  Also, this argument fails to take into consideration the life of the fetus after birth.  When women choose to have abortions, it is often because they will not be able to support or provide for the child (emotionally, financially, etc.)  It is much more responsible to choose abortion for these reasons than to give birth to a child that you cannot support.

These abortions regulations are simply another manifestation of the relationship between Church and state, patriarchy, and women’s oppression.  We need to stop pathologizing abortion and start recognizing how detrimental our current regulations are to women’s lives.  Eradicating the current gestational age limits will not solve all problems relating to abortion access, but it is certainly a step in the right direction.

Why should the government be allowed to decide if and when women can have abortions?  As Kinga, our lecturer at Women on Waves said, abortion should be about trusting women.  Only they can fully understand the implications of their actions and how it will affect them.

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4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Austin Nedved
    Oct 24, 2010 @ 17:55:42

    However, during pregnancy, the only person that is actually alive is the woman.

    coughmarginalizationcough

    Reply

  2. Astrid
    Oct 25, 2010 @ 10:51:11

    I happen to support gestational age limits, because I see abortion as an issue of bodily autonomy. After 24 weeks or so, a fetus doesn’t need to die to relieve its mother of the burden of being inside it. You make a valid point, however, that abortion is safer than childbirth.

    Reply

    • michelle
      Oct 25, 2010 @ 13:43:00

      I understand your point but think it is important to realize that there are certain situations in which a late term abortion is necessary. I am arguing against gestational age limits because they ignore the reality that many women face. This is not about relieving the mother of any “burden.” It is about understanding how limits affect women in often problematic, even life-threatening ways. Instead, I believe we should leave this decision to the woman and a health care professional. Together, they can make a responsible decision.

      Reply

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