18 May 2012

Real life: why 'pro-life' policies are bullshit

There's a trend among some arch conservatives to advocate the total outlaw abortion in all cases, and that sort of nutbaggery is fringe and shocking enough for its sheer audacious stupidity that it usually makes headlines. But a far more common idea among the pro-life movement is that abortion should be outlawed except in cases of rape, incest, or (the big one) a threat to the health of the mother or a child with a terminal birth defect.

Now, being pro-choice doesn't mean being pro-abortion. In principle, I don't want abortion done casually either. It's a serious decision to made between a woman and her doctor. But I heard a story today that really hits home as to why even the idea that abortion should only be permissible in certain circumstances cannot possibly work as a policy.

Anencephaly is a birth defect in which the fetus' skull and major portions of its brain do not develop. The brain either doesn't form, or is totally unprotected. Upon birth (assuming it is not stillborn), the baby will die within hours. I recently learned, through a friend who works in the health insurance industry, of a woman who was recently given this tragic diagnosis. Not once. Not twice. Four doctors gave her ultrasounds, and all four agreed that the child's condition is fatal and that the pregnancy should be terminated.

But this woman is in an insurance network of Catholic hospitals, and they will not approve an abortion unless it first goes to an "ethics committee". So after being given this devastating diagnosis, confirmed by four doctors, this poor woman had to sit around patiently for a week while this committee debated whether to cover her termination of the pregnancy.

Their verdict? Her coverage was denied.

The ethics committee said that because it was early in the pregnancy, there was still a chance that the skull might develop. I immediately wondered: on what facts was this "chance" based? Because it was in writing, from four doctors, that the condition is indeed terminal. Now the woman has two choices: either prolong her suffering by delaying the inevitable (which of course will require another appeal to the ethics committee) or seek an abortion elsewhere, paid for out of pocket. Based on what my friend has told me, the woman and her husband, who already have two kids they need to take care of, are likely to seek the latter option. Of course, in Oklahoma, an abortion is no small feat. But it can be done.

This whole situation illustrates the problem with the idea that an abortion should only be permissible in certain circumstances: who decides what constitutes an acceptable circumstance? Would all abortions be decided upon by some "ethics committee" that can, as this group did, ignore the recommendation of four doctors because of religious principles? Abortion, in this case, is not only safer (abortion carries a tenth of the risk to the mother as birth), but the most merciful option for the mother and family. Why prolong her suffering, particularly when she's already a mother of two and must be strong, both physically and emotionally, for their sakes?

Abortion need only be between a woman and her doctor. Period. Not a woman and the government, not a woman and an ethics committee. This example of a real-life tragedy demonstrates why the religious ideologues on the political right are so sorely misguided in their attempts to limit access to this procedure.


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