Politics & Policy

Hearing Women

Abortion cannot be a choice, unless women know what they are choosing.

You know the famous blob of tissue that Americans have been arguing about for more than 30 years? Well, it turns out that the women who have abortions have about as much standing as that “product of conception.”

Last week, Senator Sam Brownback (R., Kan.) sponsored hearings in the Senate to review the impact of abortion on women and, ultimately, to call for greater research. Note well, this was not intended to be an abortion debate. Rather, it was meant to offer a close look at the effects, positive or negative, of abortions on the women who have them.

Approximately 40 percent of American women under 45 have had at least one abortion. Twenty-five percent of all pregnancies end in abortion. Since the legalization of abortion in 1973, over 40 million abortions have taken place. Yet no comprehensive data exists concerning the impact of abortion on women. Consider that the federal government has in place mechanisms to track just about every other medical procedure, but it chooses not to follow this one.

Consider also the responses of the pro-choice voices present at the Senate hearing hearing. When asked by Senator Brownback, “So you don’t want to know the data?,” Dr. Nada Stotland, professor at Rush Medical College in Chicago, replied, “It’s hard to impute [the effects] to a procedure that they had for five minutes.” This she said after the testimonies of Georgette Fourney and Michaelene Jenkins, both women who have had abortions, suffered from them, and are active pro-life leaders. In essence, Dr. Stotland was saying that their experiences, no matter how personal, no matter how painful, don’t matter.

Let’s hear what others had to say. Senator Frank Lautenberg (D., N.J.) commented to these two women who had just spoken of their traumatic experiences, “Your personal experiences are interesting….” But he didn’t understand why it’s an issue at all, when an abortion can be “as simple as a pill the next day.”

The Rev. Dr. Roselyn Smith-Withers, of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, offered her testimony from the perspective of one who regularly counsels women who have had abortions. She commented that women “can learn from that experience [abortion].” (Now there’s someone who will feel your pain.) She also explained, “Women who had great visions for themselves are often diminished by having children.” The 75 million women who are mothers in this country would probably have something to say about that.

While each abortion advocate maintained the importance of abortion access, not one would admit the importance of research on abortion and its effects on women, a strange fact considering that they argue in behalf of women’s health.

From a scientific perspective, Dr. Elizabeth Shadigian, professor, researcher, and ob-gyn, provided perhaps the clearest voice. In her testimony, she explained that while we may have sufficient information on how to perform an abortion or how to deal with the immediate complications of an abortion, we have few studies concerning long-term complications. The issue has been so wrapped in politics that we have not been able to discuss the truth of the matter at hand.

Based on the limited research available, Dr. Shadigian noted four conditions that research has shown to be related to abortion: breast cancer, placenta previa (when the placenta covers the cervix, thereby making it necessary to deliver by C-section), pre-term birth, and maternal suicide.

To date, there is no mandatory reporting of abortion complications in the U.S. Surely a medical procedure that affects over one million women a year would be worthy of careful monitoring–unless the lives and health of these women are expected to be sacrificed to a particular political ideology.

For every other medical procedure, health-care providers must inform patients about the benefits and risks of the treatment. In the case of abortion, a woman’s right to privacy means that she is so isolated in her decision that she is not even given full knowledge of the treatment she has “chosen.”

Unfortunately even professional organizations like the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) are not exempt from political bias either. Dr. Shadigian, member and fellow of the ACOG, cited the organization’s opinion from its Compendium of Selected Publications, 2004, Practice Bulletin #26:

“Long-term risks sometimes attributed to surgical abortion include potential effects on reproductive functions, cancer incidence, and psychological sequelae. However, the medical literature, when carefully evaluated, clearly demonstrates no significantly negative impact on any of these factors with surgical abortion.”

Interesting. Despite the fact that medical research shows a link to at least four serious conditions, none of them falls under the criteria of “significantly negative.” Since when is maternal suicide a good thing?

Such interpretations of the limited scientific material available can only be due, at best, to ignorance of the facts resulting from blind ideology. In fact, this ideological commitment is so persistent that it refuses to submit itself to the light of authentic science and medicine.

The hearing was intended only to make the case for routine research and study, to better enable women to give informed consent. It was not about abortion per se. From the comments given by the abortion advocates who participated in the hearing, it’s clear that they deny the sacredness and inviolability of both the unborn child’s life and the mother’s life. For our part, pro-lifers maintain that both lives are entitled to the full protection and acknowledgement of their rights. That’s why pro-life groups also serve women who have had abortions.

Pia de Solenni is director of life and women’s issues at the Family Research Council.

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