Sunday, February 28, 2010

Atheist Jeremy prompts review of abortion justifications

Searching for posts for a blog roundup found me a very interesting 90% pro-life atheist's perspective of abortion. Jeremy opposes abortion except for "hard cases", and ponders briefly what the numbers are.

This Guttmacher Institute report notes the reasons women gave for undergoing abortions. The women could check multiple reasons, so the totals add up to more than 100%.

Not surprisingly, the vast majority cited social reasons. Not ready/poor timing was cited as the primary reason by 25%, can't aford baby by 23%, having completed childbearing by 19%, relationship issues for 8%, lack of maturity in 7%, interference with school or career in 4%, and 6% saying "Other", for a total of 92% giving social reasons as primary reasons for abortions. That leaves just 8% of abortions being for "hard cases".

Let's look at those "hard cases".

"Fetal indications"

The survey found that 13% of women reported "possible problems affecting the health of the fetus" as contributing reason for abortion, with 4% citing it as the primary reason. In no cases did the survey note a confirmed diagnosis of a severe fetal abnormality. Rather, the paper notes, "Women who felt that their fetus's health had been compromised cited concerns such as a lack of prenatal care, the risk of birth defects due to advanced maternal age, a history of miscarriages, maternal cocaine use and fetal exposure to prescription medications."

This means that among "hard case" abortions for "fetal indications", cited as a primary reason for abortion by only 4% of aborting women, the vast majority of those are self-referred due to a perceived elevated risk of fetal problems, and not due to referral after a confirmed diagnosis. Are these women being counseled about the real risks of giving birth to a child whose health or well-being is compromised? Is anybody aware of any research into this area?

And if only a tiny proportion of 4% of abortions are done for confirmed fetal health problems, why do prochoice organizations focus so much not only on confirmed fetal health problems, but on the most dramatic ones, such as anencephaly, rather than on cleft palate, club foot, and other reasons women seek abortions -- particularly late abortions -- under the umbrella of "fetal indications"?

"Maternal indications"

Of women completing the survey 12% cited "physical problems with my health" as a contributing reason for undergoing an abortion. Only 3% cited personal health concerns as the primary reason. As with "fetal indications", again, the researchers cited no examples of women being referred for abortions due to diagnosed life-threatening conditions; they seemed to be self-referred based on their own perception of risk. "Concerns about personal health included chronic and life-threatening conditions such as depression, advanced maternal age and toxemia. More commonly, however, women cited feeling too ill during the pregnancy to work or take care of their children."

First of all, though untreated depression can be life-threatening, depression can be treated, even during pregnancy. Advanced maternal age as a "life threatening" and "chronic condition" seems to be taking a bit of license with words. I can't imagine a conscientious doctor referring a woman suffering from toxemia to an outpatient abortion facility. And toxemia, while life-threatening (far too life-threatening to be treated in an outpatient setting), isn't chronic. Again, the authors are taking a bit of license with words.

I don't want to understate the distress of women "feeling too ill during the pregnancy to work or take care of their children." Hyperemesis gravidarum, for example, is truly debilitating at its worst. But allowing these women to be driven by despair to abort wanted pregnancies strikes me as pretty heartless. Doctors ought to be providing adequate care to these women.

And, again, with only a miniscule percentage of 3% of women actually facing abortion due to confirmed, serious health problems, why do prochoice spokespersons try to act as if such abortions are fairly typical?

Remaining "hard cases"

Of the surveyed women, 1% cited rape as a contributing reason for the abortion (with less than half a percent giving rape as the primary reason), and less than half of one percent cited incest as either a contributing or primary factor. And, just as with health concerns, one might question easily if simply abandoning the victim to abortion is as compassionate as it's traditionally taken to be.

A look at "hard cases" really raises more questions than it answers.

Thanks, atheist Jeremy, for prompting this little bit of research!

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