7.03.2008

either margaret wente needs a fact-checker or the entire united states is a backwater

I usually avoid reading Margaret Wente, but this morning the Globe and Mail put her on the front page, so a bit filtered through. She writes:
It's right to honour Henry Morgentaler with the Order of Canada. He fought to make this country a better place for women, and he succeeded.

But those who either lionize or despise Dr. Morgentaler tend to miss the point. By the time he came along, the tectonic plates were well in motion. Hospital abortions had already been available for years – subject to approval by a medical committee. Dr. Morgentaler's achievement was to make abortion a woman's private choice, subject to no one's approval but her own.

Except for a few backwaters in the United States, safe, legal and accessible abortion is the norm throughout the Western world. It would be the norm in this country, too, regardless of Dr. Morgentaler's pioneering work. He's a symbol now, and the passions he arouses are the same ones aroused by Roe v. Wade in the U.S.

Emphasis added. And added and added. Here are your backwaters, Ms. Wente.

  • In 2000, 87% of US counties had no abortion provider. Thirty-four percent of women aged 15-44 live in those counties. Eighty-six of the US's 276 metropolitan areas had no provider.

  • Abortions in the United States cost anywhere from $400 to $4000, depending on the procedure. A first-trimester abortion costs more than a family on public assistance receives in a month.

    Low-income women and girls often delay procedures as they try to borrow the money they need. (Not easy when most people you know live hand-to-mouth.) "Chasing the funds" - as it is known in the movement - often forces women into second-trimester procedures. Those procedures are more complicated, more risky - and much more expensive. It is not uncommon for women to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term because they cannot afford a simple first-trimester procedure.

    These three states prohibit the use of any state funds for abortion whatsoever. They have refused to comply with a federal law requiring states to provide Medicaid funding for abortion in cases of life endangerment, rape or incest.
    Alabama
    Mississippi
    South Dakota

    These states fund abortion in cases of threat to life, rape or incest only. All must be proven in court.
    Arizona
    Arkansas
    Colorado
    Delaware
    Florida
    Georgia
    Indiana
    Kansas
    Kentucky
    Louisiana
    Maine
    Michigan
    Missouri
    Nebraska
    Nevada
    North Carolina
    North Dakota
    Ohio
    Oklahoma
    Pennsylvania
    Rhode Island
    South Carolina
    Tennessee
    Texas
    Utah
    Wyoming

    These states will fund abortion where there is threat to a woman's life or health, rape, incest, and some other reasons, such as verifiable abuse or mental health issues. All require several court appearances.
    Iowa
    New Mexico
    Virginia
    Wisconsin

  • These states restrict abortion access by age, requiring mandatory parental notification or consent for minors. States are required to provide varying degrees of so-called "judicial bypass", meaning a young person can plead her case to a judge, who can then grant or deny her permission to obtain an abortion without parental notification or consent. Think about that one.
    Alabama
    Alaska
    Arizona
    Arkansas
    Colorado
    Delaware
    Florida
    Georgia
    Idaho
    Illinois
    Indiana
    Iowa
    Kansas
    Kentucky
    Louisiana
    Maine
    Maryland
    Massachusetts
    Michigan
    Minnesota
    Mississippi
    Missouri
    Nebraska
    North Carolina
    North Dakota
    Ohio
    Oklahoma
    Pennsylvania
    Rhode Island
    South Carolina
    South Dakota
    Tennessee
    Texas
    Virginia
    West Virginia
    Wisconsin
    Wyoming

    Every state not listed here has had parental consent or notification laws introduced in its legislature, which activists defeated, often by tiny margins. The mandatory judicial bypass clauses are also the result of court orders won by activism.

    Before any parents reading this trot out the old "if my daughter was having an abortion, I would want to know" response, let's just say: of course. That's obvious. And if you want to know if your daughter is having sex, or fears she is pregnant, or needs an abortion, create a home environment where your children know they can come to you with any problem, and receive unconditional support and love, even if that love includes disapproval.

    Many teens are not that fortunate. I know from first-hand experience that in a home where young people fear abuse, including one's parents in decisions about sex and pregnancy is simply not an option. For their own health and safety, girls must be able to obtain abortions without telling their parents, and no state law is going to change that.

  • These states require women seeking abortions to register, then wait 24 or 48 hours before receiving a procedure.
    Alabama
    Arkansas
    Georgia
    Idaho
    Kansas
    Kentucky
    Louisiana
    Michigan
    Minnesota
    Mississippi
    Nebraska
    North Dakota
    Ohio
    Oklahoma
    Pennsylvania
    South Carolina
    South Dakota
    Texas
    Utah
    West Virginia
    Virginia
    Wisconsin

    On first glance, a waiting period may seem innocuous. But for a low-income woman who must arrange child care and transportation, and travel a long distance to an abortion provider, the mandatory waiting period means one or more overnight stays, all of which she has to pay for - and none of which she can afford. If she is trying to terminate a pregnancy against the wishes of an abusive partner, an overnight stay can be the difference between life and death.

    State-mandated waiting periods are condescending and demeaning, as they assume women cannot think for themselves and are requesting abortions in some kind of momentary fit of non-reason.

    Only procedures relating to reproduction are subject to mandatory waiting periods. No other elective medical procedures are regulated by such laws.

  • These states prohibit private insurance coverage for abortion.
    Idaho
    Kentucky
    Missouri
    North Dakota

    These states exclude abortion coverage from state health care programs.
    Illinois
    Montana

  • These states have spousal consent or notification laws. All spousal consent/notification laws have been ruled unconstitutional, and are therefore unenforceable, but they remain state laws.
    Colorado
    Illinois
    Kentucky
    Louisiana
    North Dakota
    Pennsylvania
    Rhode Island
    South Carolina

    Like the parental consent/notification laws, many more states have had spousal/partner consent laws debated and defeated in their legislatures.

    * * * *

    Ms Wente says: "Except for a few backwaters in the United States, safe, legal and accessible abortion is the norm throughout the Western world."

    Does this seem like a "few backwaters" to you? Does it look like abortion is accessible in the United States?

    Without access, the right to abortion is meaningless.

    * * * *

    All facts in this post are verifiable at these reliable sources:
    Human Rights Watch
    The Guttmacher Institute
    Planned Parenthood Federation of America
    NARAL Pro-Choice America
    National Network of Abortion Funds
    National Coalition of Abortion Providers
    American Civil Liberties Union

    Although I didn't use it for this post, Wikipedia's entry on abortion in the United States is quite good.
  • 23 comments:

    redsock said...

    An excellent example of why bloggers are many times way more informative than the mainstream media.

    either margaret wente needs a fact-checker or the entire united states is a backwater

    Is "C: All of the above" an option?

    Daniel Patrick Moynihan once said: "You are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts."

    However, if Wente relied upon facts in her writing, she would not have much of a column (or career).

    redsock said...

    Wente:
    "[I]t seems plain that a lot of women are using abortion as a substitute for birth control. This isn't nice to say. ... Some women are serially careless."

    Wente claims that lack of access to abortion is an "imaginary threat".

    This post shows that Wente is completely full of shit.

    Greg said...

    Are you as frustrated as I am that no comments are allowed on this article?

    Maybe she should travel to Prince Edward Island. Apparently you can't get an abortion there either.

    Is that our "backwater"?

    L-girl said...

    Are you as frustrated as I am that no comments are allowed on this article?

    I didn't even realize it, but Allan (Redsock) tried to leave a link to this post... then saw there were no comments allowed.

    I submitted a shortened version of this as a letter to the editor. Maybe you can write one, too?

    What's the deal with PEI? No providers? Is there a general shortage of health care providers there?

    redsock said...

    Her email address is provided by the headline, though.

    I sent her the link to this post.

    Greg said...

    I have friends from P.E.I. Universal social disapproval would basically cause the shunning of any doctor who performs an abortion or any woman who has one. So it's really, really hard to get one on the island.

    I don't have a reference for that though, just anecdotal.

    L-girl said...

    Anecdotal is fine, thank you for that.

    I wonder, though, if there isn't at least one clinic that provides abortions in defiance of public approbation, perhaps surrepetitiously. I'd be interested in knowing more, but unfortunately I don't have time to research it right now. Maybe one of the great Canadian repro-rights bloggers can fill us in.

    Greg said...

    I wrote to her too. I gave her a link to the rebuttal to Epp's rebuttal regarding C-484.

    If the abortion debate is truly dead and abortions are so easily available, why is bill C-484 using language that muddles the issue so much?

    Lisa said...

    I found this on the internet :

    (from www.prochoiceconnection.com)

    "Prince Edward Island

    There are no abortion services on Prince Edward Island. Health Care does not cover the costs of abortion in other provinces unless the abortion is performed at a hospital. For reimbursement, you need the operating doctor to fill out a special form. Even with an abortion performed at a hospital, coverage can only be granted on the basis of "certain criteria" analysed by a special review panel. Anywhere from 3 to 10 applications per year can expect to be accepted for reimbursement.

    To make matters more difficult, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia hospitals have an unwritten policy about not accepting patients from P.E.I. for abortion. This practice is illegal - no hospital can refuse a patient services based on which province they're from. A P.E.I. doctor's referral would not only guarantee access to a New Brunswick or Nova Scotia hospital, but arrangements would then be set up on your behalf. Unfortunately, to obtain a doctor's referral is not an easy task. Anti-choice doctors usually require the woman's life to be at risk, or some other serious medical reason."

    When I stayed in PEI for the summer in my mid-twenties, out of the ten (or so) young women I met there and hung out with, 4 of them had gotten pregnant as teenagers, and chose to give their babies up for adoption. This was partly because there simply weren't any abortion services available, but mostly because to have had an abortion, they would have risked MAJOR disapproval from their communities.

    Not to mention that though they were pro-choice, they themselves felt that it was not something that they could do morally. All of them were politicized feminists...and all of them were heartbroken about their loss. I don't know why so many of them had gotten pregnant (was contraception difficult to come by? Not "done" socially? It didn't come up and I didn't ask..)

    L-girl said...

    Lisa, thanks so much for this. Horrible! It seems like a blatant Charter violation.

    As for why so many of those young women had gotten pregnant, it could be the reasons you're suggesting, or it simply could be they got pregnant.

    I know so many women who were pregnant as teens (including many who were very careful with birth control), it's ridiculous. Teenagers are incredibly fertile. Nature really wants you to be pregnant when you're young!

    impudent strumpet said...

    I think she might be onto something here. Let's make the definition of a backwater a place where abortion is not sufficiently available. All those states you listed? Backwaters! PEI? Backwater! Ireland? Backwater! Poland? Backwater!

    The question is, does anyone who can do anything about it care if the place where they live is being called a backwater?

    Lisa said...

    "As for why so many of those young women had gotten pregnant, it could be the reasons you're suggesting, or it simply could be they got pregnant.

    I know so many women who were pregnant as teens (including many who were very careful with birth control), it's ridiculous. Teenagers are incredibly fertile. Nature really wants you to be pregnant when you're young!"

    Yes, I got pregnant too as a teen....and I was careful. Nature was definitely cheering my procreative abilities on! :)

    And sometimes teenagers don't think about consequences in general that much...I know I didn't!

    Oh, and as I'm sure you've noticed, Margaret Wente has this incredibly irritating habit of finding a current "leftie" issue, picking out the straw man in the argument, and coming up with really poorly thought out kneejerk response, usually quoting a single "expert" (who never is) to back up her opinions. She, umm, puts the jerk in knee-jerk!

    Kim_in_TO said...

    Awesome post, Laura.

    I attended a talk on the history of the fight for abortion rights in Canada. I'd had no idea, but they made it very clear that access to abortion can still be very difficult for people who don't live in a big city.

    L-girl said...

    All those states you listed? Backwaters! PEI? Backwater! Ireland? Backwater! Poland? Backwater!

    Excellent.

    The question is, does anyone who can do anything about it care if the place where they live is being called a backwater?

    Good question. You'd think they would. But usually their definition of success-vs-backwater is different than ours.

    L-girl said...

    "She puts the jerk in knee-jerk"

    !!! Love it.

    Yes, I got pregnant too as a teen....and I was careful.

    Me too on both counts. Thanks for sharing. :)

    And sometimes teenagers don't think about consequences in general that much...I know I didn't!

    Also true. Thinking about consequences is often the direct opposite of being a teenager. That's why they need breaks, and many second chances.

    L-girl said...

    Thanks Kim!

    I'd had no idea, but they made it very clear that access to abortion can still be very difficult for people who don't live in a big city.

    Health care in general is so much harder for rural people. That's not something I have personal experience with - I always have to remind myself of it.

    Cool talk. Was our friend Carolyn there?

    Kim_in_TO said...

    Cool talk. Was our friend Carolyn there?

    She was one of the speakers! You have to hear her talk about her experiences during those times.

    Lisa said...

    "Health care in general is so much harder for rural people. That's not something I have personal experience with - I always have to remind myself of it."

    Me too, though definitely, in so many ways, hanging out in PEI reminded me of how much I took and take for granted living in the big city (my folks are totally small town, and I spent many childhood summers in various one horse industry towns and farming communities, and heard stories..but being an adult..it was much more resonant!).

    Carolyn Egan?? That must be who you guys are talking about (she's now involved in the resister's movement..you've - Laura - mentioned her).

    She was such a local hero to me in the eighties...I was too young and scared of confrontation to be an activist (okay, MOSTLY fixed that
    now), but she was THE woman in the abortion fights back then. I was pretty much in love.

    The crazy white hair, the determination, the charisma and the smarts...oooh my god(dess) she rocked! (and still does, I guess!)

    L-girl said...

    She was one of the speakers!

    That's what I meant. I figured she would be. :)

    You have to hear her talk about her experiences during those times.

    I would love to! I've heard tiny snippets but I'd love to hear MUCH more.

    Carolyn Egan?? That must be who you guys are talking about (she's now involved in the resister's movement..you've - Laura - mentioned her).

    She was such a local hero to me in the eighties...I was too young and scared of confrontation to be an activist (okay, MOSTLY fixed that now), but she was THE woman in the abortion fights back then. I was pretty much in love.


    If you had come to wmtc3, you could have had a beer with her! See what you miss??

    Carolyn is an incredible woman. I'm so lucky to work alongside her in the resisters movement.

    I'm also kind of glad I didn't know her whole history when I met her. It's hard to become friends or colleagues when there's hero-worship, and I'm sure I would have had some.

    When Katha Pollitt got involved with the Haven Coalition, I had to really work on that!

    impudent strumpet said...

    The other thing that's wack about waiting periods is that if you're going to think about one medical decision in advance, this would be it. With the possible exception of people who are very new to being sexually active, if you can become pregnant and you don't want a baby right now and you're aware of the options that exist, you've started making your mental decision tree. If I was seeking an abortion today and the doctor asked me "Are you sure you've given this enough thought?" I could say in complete honesty that I've been giving it serious and fully-informed thought for 12 years.

    Kim_in_TO said...

    If I was seeking an abortion today and the doctor asked me "Are you sure you've given this enough thought?" I could say in complete honesty that I've been giving it serious and fully-informed thought for 12 years.

    That's a really good point.

    I've always hated how the anti-choice movement makes it sound as if abortion is something you do when you're bored on a Friday night...

    L-girl said...

    The other thing that's wack about waiting periods is that if you're going to think about one medical decision in advance, this would be it.

    Yes! Some women know immediately, others may struggle with the decision, but by the time you're in that clinic, you've thought it through.

    And you know what? If it's a mistake, then the woman is the one who will live with it! We don't need the state protecting us from ourselves.

    I've always hated how the anti-choice movement makes it sound as if abortion is something you do when you're bored on a Friday night...

    It infuriates me.

    At the same time, I also hate when people overplay the "agonizing confusion and shame" angle, assuming that every abortion comes with a heaping side order of guilt. In 25 years in the pro-choice movement, the one emotion that I've heard the most when women are describing their feelings post-procedure is: relief.

    Relief that it's over with, relief that they're no longer pregnant. An unwanted pregnancy is such a horrible thing, and the longer it goes on, the worse it is for everyone. And carrying an unwanted pregnancy to term... I can imagine few things more horrible.

    L-girl said...

    Story about how pro-choice supporters launched the movement to get Morgentaler the Order of Canada, featuring an interview with Carolyn Egan: here.