“Rare” is the wrong benchmark
Nick Kristof’s recent article in The New York Times describes some of state-level attacks on choice. If you’ve been feeling a little overwhelmed by all that’s going on, it’s a great summary of the incremental approach to dismantling Roe we’ve been seeing nowadays.
But then Kristof concludes:
The best formulation on this topic was Bill Clinton’s, that abortion should be “safe, legal and rare.”
And that’s where Kristof gets it wrong.
The notion that abortion should be a safe and legal procedure is a noble one. But in agreeing with Clinton that it should be a rare procedure, Kristof is ascribing to the very misguided beliefs he just spent 700-some words tearing apart.
Even if every person in the world receives honest, accurate sex education, even if everyone uses contraception, even if we live in a world without rape and sexual violence (and note, those are huge ifs) – the need for an abortion will not “go away.” Accidents happen, circumstances shift, decisions are made. A safe, legal procedure should be available when those things occur. Whether or not a procedure is rare is not in our control and, to be honest, is not our concern. It should not be the benchmark here.
Kristof argues that he wants all procedures to be rare. But prostate or cancer surgery aren’t politicized to a fraction of a degree that abortion is. And too frequently the mantra of “making abortion rare” is invoked by people trying to restrict access to abortion.
While anti-choice advocates may be high-fiving each other for creating hurdle after hurdle for women, this doesn’t mean the need for abortion has diminished. Rather, it means women will be forced to turn to grossly unsafe measures just to provide for their own well being. Those are the stories that remain invisible while legislators and anti-choice advocates laud the fact that abortion has suddenly become “rare” in their community.
We should live in a world where abortion, when needed, is obtained easily, safely, and without judgment or penalty. When states abuse women, as Kristof notes, we step further away from that world. But by the same token, when we look to rarity as our gold standard, we also lose focus on creating that shared vision.