Roe: More Abortion Myths, Dispelled


Due to the continuing public discourse around abortion and Repeal the Eighth (which is ever welcome, if exhausting in that “Are we still debating this?” kind of way), I decided to take another look at common myths surrounding abortion, and debunk them so that you have information knives with which to cut down anti-choice nonsense.

Embryos and foetuses can feel pain, and so experience the pain of an abortion

Ah yes, this old chestnut, which is designed not only to equate embryos with personhood, but also accuse women of being horrific sadists who inflict pain onto vulnerable individuals. Double-barrel bigotry, gotta love it.

Well this is nonsense, obviously. According to countless sources – by which I mean, you know, actual peer-reviewed medical studies and not the diary of your anti-choice, Men’s Rights Activist uncle – foetuses cannot feel pain, or much of anything else, until at least the twenty-fourth week of pregnancy.

See for example this study from Britain’s Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, or this from the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. This study from UCSF found that foetuses can’t perceive pain before 29 or 30 weeks or development. This is after the majority of miscarriages, and 99 percent of abortions are performed.

So why do so many countries and states ban abortions after 20 weeks? It’s again down to choosing to believe anti-choice propaganda, which loves to cite “foetuses feel pain” myths because they’re visceral, evoking emotional rather than rational responses, and portray women who get abortions as monsters, and not individuals with bodily autonomy choosing to have a procedure that affects only them.

Abortion is a very dangerous and often fatal procedure

Ha! Sorry, I just love it when anti-choice people pretend they care about women’s lives.

Abortion is one of the safest surgical procedures for women. The myth that abortion is a dangerous procedure proliferates in and is propagated by anti-choice circles, and is designed solely as a scare-mongering tactic, with a little moral-judgement edge – maybe death caused by an abortion is God’s judgement, much as hurricanes are caused by homosexuals and not air pressure and water vapour, or whatever the Westboro Baptist Church is saying this week.

This myth is designed to make women considering an abortion literally fear for their lives. But it couldn’t be further from the truth.

Giving birth is actually far more dangerous than having an abortion, as shown by a 2012 study assessing data from the Centers for Disease Control and Guttmacher Institute. In the words of researchers, “risk of death associated with childbirth is approximately 14 times higher than that with abortion”.

Yet anti-choicers aren’t recommending that women put their own safety first when considering carry a pregnancy to full term. Interesting.

A first-trimester abortion has less than a .05 percent chance of complications, making it one of the safest procedures available.

Comparatively, fatal reactions to penicillin occur in one case per 50-100,000 courses. No one’s looking to ban that though, are they? Funny how that works.

Women are often coerced into having abortions

Again with the unbearable irony! Yes, sure, anti-choice people are out there on the front lines ensuring that women get to make free and autonomous choices about their bodies, unaffected by the bullying influence of anyone else. Please.

The figure most commonly cited is that 64 percent “feel pressured to abort”, a statistic that comes from a 2004 article in Medical Science Monitor in the article “Induced Abortion and Traumatic Stress: A Preliminary Comparison of American and Russian Women”.

But as I addressed in Part One of this Abortion Myths series, the work of Vincent M. Rue, Priscilla K. Coleman and James J. Rue has been dismissed by the academic community as it was based on non-existent evidence and unrepeatable trials.

David Reardon, the other “researcher” listed, is a major anti-abortion activist, tireless promoter of “post-abortion syndrome”, a condition rejected by the American Psychological Association, and director of the anti-abortion Elliot Institute. So scrap that.

But is it common for women to be pressured into having an abortion?

In a 2005 Guttmacher Institute survey, 1,209 women were asked their reasons for choosing abortion. Fourteen percent cited “husband or partner wants me to have an abortion”, and 6 percent cited “parents want me to have an abortion”. (Both of these figures had decreased since a similar study in 1987, when 24 percent of women mentioned the wishes of husbands/partners and 8 percent mentioned those of parents.)

But when asked to name the single most important reason, less than 0.5 percent each cited the wishes of husband/partner or parents. A 2013 study from UCSF echoed these findings, and actually found that while women rarely cited their partners as a reason they sought abortion, many did cite the desire to escape domestic violence or abusive situations.

Anti-choicers strangely never quote figures on how they themselves are responsible for attempting to coerce women into continuing with an unwanted pregnancy.

Women would never have abortions if they knew the joy of being a mother

Ah the old, ‘You don’t understand your needs or desires, but we do, and thanks to our crystal ball we can assure you that we’re right’ technique.

#SorryNotSorry to burst this anti-choice argument’s bubble, but in the United States, 61 percent of women who had abortions in 2008 were mothers, and 34 percent had two or more children,according to a study by the Guttmacher Institute. The National Abortion Federation has also been quoted as stating that between 2008 and 2011, 72 percent of women seeking abortions were mothers.

These findings detract from anti-choicers’ belief that women can’t be trusted to make their own decisions, and also flies in the face of their belief that women who have abortions are selfish, or irresponsible, especially considering that many mothers who have abortions do so in order to be able to better provide and care for the children they already have.

Women have multiple abortions rather than using birth control

I genuinely wonder how much anti-choicers must hate women to make up such extreme and self-contradictory myths.

Apparently abortion is life-threatening, we’re all coerced into it, but we still choose it over other easier forms of contraception. It’s almost as if anti-choicers have very little respect for our intellect and ability to make rational choices, isn’t it?

Anyway, this one isn’t true either.

Most women who have abortions have had no previous abortions, and 26 percent have had only one abortion. Given the fallibility of most types of contraception, as well as certain restrictions placed on women from having easy access to contraception (incidentally, often anti-contraception campaigners and anti-choice campaigners are one and the same, fancy that), having one or two unwanted pregnancies in a lifetime is almost to be expected.

Again, we have to note that it’s odd that anti-choicers aren’t pushing for men to get vasectomies or sterilised more often in order to prevent this. It seems like it’s always about policing women’s bodies and no one else’s. It’s almost like there’s an agenda there.

Abortions cause infertility

I’m actually getting tired of addressing this nonsense. This isn’t true either, and is based on information regarding outdated and dangerous methods of abortion that have not been common since the 1970s. Stop using Mad Men as your source of information about abortion procedures.

Making abortions illegal prevents women from having them

Well we know this one isn’t true. Despite Ireland’s draconian anti-abortion laws, over 4,000 women travel from Ireland each year to procure abortions.

Anti-abortion laws don’t stop women from accessing abortion – they stop women from accessing safe, affordable abortion. These laws make abortion a class issue, turning a blind eye to women who can afford to leave Ireland so that another country has to deal with them. These laws also put young women in the position of searching out other, dangerous means of terminating a pregnancy, showing that anti-abortion laws have nothing to do with protecting the lives of women.

This myth is clearly untrue if you examine the history of illegal abortions. According to a report by the Guttmacher Institute, during the 1950 and 1960s, when abortion was illegal in the United States, up to 1.2 million abortions a year were nevertheless performed. Many of these abortions were unregulated and dangerous, and accounted for at least 17 percent of maternal deaths.

This shows the lengths to which women will go to procure an abortion, and the absolute need there is for women to have access to safe, regulated and legal abortion.



Image by Caroline Brady