martes, 14 de junio de 2011

Legal Abortion Saves Lives. No, Really!

This an English version of my post in Spanish on abortion in Mexico, but it’s not a word-for-word translation, since the status of abortion is different in America.  However, the reasons I’ll give for keeping abortion legal in the States come from the same arguments for its legalization in Mexico.  Given that this is always a raging topic of discussion in American social and political life, I thought it appropriate to comment on it.  Hopefully, the perspective from an outsider will help contribute a grain of sand to the debate.

There’s but two arguments that I’d like to present for keeping abortion legal in America; both come from a practical approach to the situation.  I know that the usual debate about the issue centers mostly on the humanity-citizenship of the fetus on one hand, and the individual reproductive rights of women on the other.  However, I don’t need to get into that discussion for the practical reasons that abortion should be kept legal.  The debate is certainly very entertaining, but I think there are practical points to be made that trump any argument for the humanity of the fetus, at the same time that they don’t require any feminism (not that that’s a bad thing).  Therefore I will, for the sake of argument, concede right now that a zygote, an embryo, a fetus, and a baby are equivalent.  I don’t actually think they are, but it’s actually not relevant to my points.  The only thing I ask the pro-life reader in return is to recognize that the lives of the women involved are just as valuable as those of their unborn.  Fair enough?  Well, here goes:

On The Purpose of Laws

Why do we actually make things illegal?  Sure, there’s the intention dissuading people from certain behavior, but that has no effect on reality.  Homicide is illegal, and yet it happens everyday.  The same goes for fraud, kidnapping, burglaries, etc.  Making something illegal has little or no effect in actually convincing people not to do it.  The real, practical reason we have laws is to have legal justification for sending people to jail.  So the question then becomes: why do we send people to jail?  Obviously, rehabilitation is not the answer.  Sure, there’s the odd case of an exemplary prisoner who turns his life around but, for the most part, criminals are worse after they go to jail.  So the thing that jail is useful for is, actually, to remove an individual from society.  Society says to the criminal: “You may not care or understand that what you did was wrong, but at least we’ll make sure you won’t be able to keep doing it.”  That’s what jail is about.

Practical Argument for Legal Abortion #1: Crime & Punishment

What should be the penalty for aborting, assuming it were illegal?  In Mexico, the penalty depends on the circumstances of the abortion but is usually no less than 10 years in prison.  But is this fair or necessary?  Depending on the term of the pregnancy, an abortion may be possible through the administration of hormonal drugs that basically induce a miscarriage.  However, this procedure doesn’t always work, and surgical methods are usually required to complete the abortion.  If the pregnancy is more advanced at the point of abortion, then the surgical method is the only viable option.  Do women like going through these procedures?  Does anyone seriously think that women enjoy abortions?  The surgical procedure is, basically, a rape with surgical instruments.  After going through something like this, what incentive would a woman have to do it again?  It’s not like women get paid to put themselves through this.  The emotional trauma resulting from such a procedure, both for their own violation and for the loss of a human life, leaves life-long scars.  What is the use of putting women in jail for years after they’ve gone through an abortion?  As in the case of drug consumption, the supposed criminal is also the victim, because the crime itself is the punishment.  Putting women in jail for aborting is useless overkill.

Practical Argument for Legal Abortion #2: Women are People, Too

When abortion isn’t legal it happens anyway, just as prostitution, murder, drug use, fraud, kidnapping, and all other crimes.  The difference is that illegal abortions (known colloquially as back-alley abortions) are not only lethal for the fetus, but also for the mother.  Using the stats in Mexico to make a rough argument we can then extrapolate to America, we have: 100,000 illegal abortions per year in Mexico, resulting in 1500 women dead from complications such as hemorrhage and infection.  For the sake of argument and calculations, we can simplify the ratio conservatively to roughly 1 woman dead for every 100 illegal abortions.  In Mexico City, the only place in where abortion is legal in Mexico, there have been 58,000 abortions since legalization in 2007.  This means 580 women who would have died from complications in a back-alley abortion got to live.  Considering that those abortions would have happened anyway if abortion were illegal, a net 580 human lives were saved.  If you can count, you can see why legalization is a preferable scenario. If you could choose between 58,000 dead versus 58,580 dead, wouldn’t you take the lower number?  The short version is this: if abortion is legal, a human life is lost (remember the disclaimer I make about this statement in the intro); if abortion is illegal, those same lives are lost, plus an additional one for every hundred.

Americans, especially women, should value the right that they have to abortion.  In Mexico, women are still jailed even for accidental abortions.  There have been cases of 10 year old girls forced to give birth after being impregnated by rape, and anti-woman legislation is still alive and well all over the territory (the penalty for cattle theft is 9 to 25 years in prison in some states, compared to 3 to 6 years for a man who kills his wife).  America should cherish the progress it has made in women’s rights and the separation of church and state.  It is still, weather we Mexicans like it or not, our closest neighbor, ally, and example.

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