I want to elaborate on this post by Digby, which links to this video in which anti-abortion protesters are asked if women should be punished for having illegal abortions. The film reveals that most of the protesters had never even thought about it. One young woman had a hard time understanding the question; it clearly had never occurred to her that women would continue to get abortions if abortions were illegal. (Upon being pressed she allowed that maybe a few women would get abortions, but she didn’t think it would happen often.)
In many nations where abortion is illegal, women really do face penalty of law for getting abortions. In this post from December I linked to Juan Forero, “Push to Loosen Abortion Laws in Latin America ,” The New York Times, December 3, 2005:
PAMPLONA, Colombia – In this tradition-bound Roman Catholic town one day in April, two young women did what many here consider unthinkable: pregnant and scared, they took a cheap ulcer medication known to induce abortions. When the drug left them bleeding, they were treated at a local emergency room — then promptly arrested.
Like the sweetly innocent abortion protester in the first paragraph, the people of Pamplona are in denial.
Like much of Latin America, the people here in Pamplona have, until recently, talked little of the abortions that have taken place behind the town’s tranquil, buttoned-down facade. Yet, 68 students, most of them from the University of Pamplona, sought emergency treatment at the local public hospital last year after having abortions, hospital records showed.
Several students said that they had a liberal attitude toward sex. Condoms are readily available, and the so-called morning-after pill is sold over the counter in pharmacies.
Still, sex education focuses more on anatomy than behavior, and church and university officials preach abstinence. Shamed by the thought of having children without being married, many young women try to induce abortions by taking a drug called Cytotec, which is made for ulcers but also dilates the cervix.
Pharmacies in Pamplona are barred from selling the drug, but students can purchase it in cities nearby. It was Cytotec that the two young women took in April that left them bleeding and, ultimately, under arrest. But there have been others, court records showed.
Under questioning from prosecutors, all admitted their guilt and received suspended sentences.
Insisting that abortion was rare, Pamplona’s conservative leaders thought the case was over. Instead, the episode reverberated throughout Colombia and helped to galvanize a national movement to roll back laws that make abortion illegal, even to save a mother’s life.
Latin America holds some of the world’s most stringent abortion laws, yet it still has the developing world’s highest rate of abortions — a rate that is far higher even than in Western Europe, where abortion is widely and legally available.
In fact, as I pointed out yesterday, western Europe as a region has the lowest rates of abortion in the world. In western Europe the very lowest abortion rates are in The Netherlands, Belgium, the Scandanavian countries, Iceland, Germany — the crazy liberal Nordic fringe, in other words.
Yet while Latin America has a shockingly high rate of abortions, “Pamplona’s conservative leaders” think abortion is “rare.”
Forero of the New York Times continues,
Regional health officials increasingly argue that tough laws have done little to slow abortions. The rate of abortions in Latin America is 37 per 1,000 women of childbearing age, the highest outside Eastern Europe, according to United Nations figures. Four million abortions, most of them illegal, take place in Latin America annually, the United Nations reports, and up to 5,000 women are believed to die each year from complications from abortions.
The degree of denial among people opposed to legal abortions is stunning. Some of you might remember the recent Mahablog comment exchange with “Keith,” who dredged up a “scholarly work” underwritten by Americans United for Life insisting there had been fewer than 100,000 illegal abortions a year in the U.S. before Roe v. Wade.
Since we’re dealing with clandestine activity people didn’t exactly keep records; any number anyone comes up with is a guess. However, another estimate that relied in part on the number of hospital admissions for botched abortions, concluded there were 829,000 illegal or self-induced abortions in the U.S. in 1967. In 1962 alone, nearly 1,600 women were admitted to just one New York City hospital because of complications from illegal abortions. And emergency room admissions represented only a portion of the abortions being performed at the time. Thinking about this makes even the 829,000 number seem low to me.
And given the many innovations in abortion procedure since Roe, you know that if abortion became illegal in the U.S. there’d be a thriving underground abortion industry in place before you could say Mifepristone. Which I bet could be run across the border from Canada without too much trouble.
And there are coathangers in every closet.
So how will laws prohibiting abortion be enforced, exactly?
My internet access is cutting in and out this morning, so I’m going to post this while I can and will (I hope) elaborate on the punishment angle in the next post.