“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.

10 thoughts on ““Rare” is the wrong benchmark

  1. So abortion should be common? Often? I respect people like Kristof, who advocate for safe, legal, and *rare* abortions, but when someone suggests that abortion should be some type of common-place, that is absolutely anti-life, and anti-woman. The emotional trauma of an abortion should not be crassly downplayed or disregarded by politically motivated rhetoric.

    • CG, I believe that abortion should be as common as is necessary, just as I believe any other medical procedure should be as common as necessary. I know that abortion is a procedure that women do not choose lightly, and it comes with extensive reflection, research, and consultation with the people she trusts. What is anti-life and anti-woman is to place restrictions in front of women to make it more difficult (and, in many cases, nearly impossible) to obtain.

  2. I’m not going to choose this as the hill I’m going to die on, but I do believe it should be much rarer. Most of the reasons I have heard from friends, coworkers, and acquaintences as to why they chose abortion are things I would like to do something about, and if we could fix the underlying problems we could reduce the number of times women have to make what is for many a very difficult and traumatizing experience. I am well aware that it is not that for some women, and I am assuming they would be the rare ones!

    I am talking about creating real choice for someone who is looking at the loss of a job or an interruption in her education if she carries to term. The women who face domestic violence or an inability to provide for herself or her family if she chooses to have her baby. Putting actual effort behind the words of people who oppose abortion by supporting women when they need housing (college or community), medical care for herself and her children, protecting women from the backlash of families whether birth families or families formed as adults would go a long way to ensure that anyone who chooses abortion is not choosing it because she is backed into a corner and, paradoxically, believes she has no choice. And I believe that should she choose to terminate a pregnancy it should be safe and without the meaningless interferece of those who don’t want to help, they just want to be right.

  3. I don’t want to be a mother.
    Is that something you “can do something about”, Jeanne?
    I should not have to tell you (or anyone) why I am getting an abortion so that you can decide whether it is something “you want to do something about”. It is none of your business.

    • Paint that on a mountain. I’ll buy you the paint.

      Given the uphill battle I had to get my tubes tied because I don’t, didn’t, could never tolerate the idea of being a mother, there are probably plenty of women who find themselves needing an abortion before they eliminate the risk forever, if they even have the option of doing what I did.

      I am so tired of people implying that every woman would want a little baybee if she only had a spouse/a better job./child care/health insurance. The anti-choice people play that violin enough; let’s remember we’re on the pro-choice side. That means “choice,” not “I feel like this is my only choice.”

  4. I think abortion should be rare. At least, in so far that unintended pregnancies should be rare. I agree that abortion must be safe, legal, and available, but, to me, the best case scenario will be to reduce unwanted pregnancies in the first place. Better access to contraception, removal of abstinence only education, better forms of contraception. Of course, I understand how the anti-choice side likes to use the term rare as the antithesis of easily available, but I certainly can’t agree that I want abortion to be commonplace.

  5. Here via Feministing.

    I agree that “rare” abortion is the wrong benchmark.

    In cases where contributing issues to abortion include insufficient sex education, no access to contraception, coercive sexual encounters, economic instability, lack of support services, etc. — then let’s frame those — rather than abortion being “common” — as the problem.

  6. […]  As I’ve argued before, a reduction in abortion rates doesn’t mean abortions aren’t happening. Dr. New also gleefully points out that requiring both parents to consent reduces the abortion rate even further. If we continue that line of logic (and I’m sure anti-choicers have), before you know it we’ll be proposing legislation requiring women of all ages to get the consent of everyone they know prior to obtaining an abortion. […]

  7. I’m not going to choose this as the hill I’m going to die on, but I do bieleve it should be much rarer. Most of the reasons I have heard from friends, coworkers, and acquaintences as to why they chose abortion are things I would like to do something about, and if we could fix the underlying problems we could reduce the number of times women have to make what is for many a very difficult and traumatizing experience. I am well aware that it is not that for some women, and I am assuming they would be the rare ones! I am talking about creating real choice for someone who is looking at the loss of a job or an interruption in her education if she carries to term. The women who face domestic violence or an inability to provide for herself or her family if she chooses to have her baby. Putting actual effort behind the words of people who oppose abortion by supporting women when they need housing (college or community), medical care for herself and her children, protecting women from the backlash of families whether birth families or families formed as adults would go a long way to ensure that anyone who chooses abortion is not choosing it because she is backed into a corner and, paradoxically, bieleves she has no choice. And I bieleve that should she choose to terminate a pregnancy it should be safe and without the meaningless interferece of those who don’t want to help, they just want to be right.

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