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During the primary debates this year, the candidates have spent a considerable amount of time on "women's rights"—mostly discussing the proposal to defund Planned Parenthood sparked by the horrific videos released by the Center for Medical Progress. The mere thought of restricting access to abortion makes the more liberal candidates wince and decry America's "war on women."
This refrain is heard elsewhere, as many advocacy groups try to put a more positive spin on abortion. For example, the 1 in 3 Campaign, so named for the statistic that one in three women will have an abortion in her lifetime, describes itself as "a grassroots movement to start a new conversation about abortion—telling our stories, on our own terms." Lizz Winstead, co-creator of the Daily Show, told the Daily Beast that "those of us who feel like we have the strength, the privilege, to tell our stories . . . give [abortion] a context that makes sense, that normalizes it, [and] that takes the shame away."
The more in-your-face "Lady Parts Justice" group is a self-described "cabal of comics and writers exposing creeps hell-bent on destroying access to birth control and abortion." This group hosts comedic events across the country, produces a regular podcast, and even has its own app, "Hinder," to enable you to "keep track of all the unhinged anti-abortion zealots right in the palm of your hand." Abortion, they claim, is nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, it can be downright empowering and even funny.
But repeating something until you're blue in the face doesn't make it true. And in the case of abortion, there is a reason why most sane people these days regard it as a tragedy, even if a "necessary" one. The association between abortion and the incidence of severe psychological problems in women is clear, in spite of the American Psychological Association's glib claim (based on small samples, according to some sources) that such a risk is low. One 2006 study, using data from 520 New Zealanders, found that "young women reporting abortions had elevated rates of mental health problems when compared with those becoming pregnant without abortion." These problems included "depression, anxiety, suicidal behaviours, and substance use disorders."
A 2007 study sought to discover if pre-pregnancy psychological issues explained the link between abortion and depression. Using data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, the researchers found that, after adjusting for a wide range of other factors, "abortion was still associated with a more than two-fold increase in the likelihood of having depressive symptoms." A 2003 study also aimed at minimizing the connection between abortion and depression nevertheless found that "after controlling for several socio-demographic factors, women whose first pregnancies ended in abortion were 65% more likely to score in the 'high-risk' range for clinical depression than women whose first pregnancies resulted in a birth." Researchers in a 2007 study out of Oslo, Norway also admitted that "young adult women who undergo induced abortion may be at increased risk for subsequent -depression."
The broader discussion of women's "rights" ignores such research, and also puts aside one deep irony of abortion: part of its function is to make women sexually available to any man at any time, and to release men of all responsibility for any child conceived. Noted sociologists and journalists—including Andrew Cherlin, Kay Hymowtiz, and others—have found that increased access to abortion and birth control corresponds with the abandonment of marriage that we see among those with a high-school education or less. The "shotgun marriage" has all but disappeared, because men no longer feel they are responsible if their partner refuses to take a pill or have an abortion, and women no longer feel compelled to marry before bringing a child into the world. Poor women, in other words, increasingly find themselves alone in childrearing—and thus more likely to fall into poverty, to experience stress, and to suffer from poor health.
Women's rights, indeed. •
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