Friday 23 August 2013

Feminism, Catholicism and Abortion

This post is a response to the interview with Caroline Farrow, a ‘pro-life feminist’ on the Faith in Feminism blog.

We are always interested to hear from people of faith on the ways in which their religion or spirituality plays into their thoughts on abortion and reproductive rights in general. In the pro-choice movement, people are often too quick to assume that all Christians, or all Muslims would automatically be against abortion. In fact, religious teachings vary, with many allowing for abortion in certain circumstances (and nearly always with regards to protecting the pregnant person’s health).

The Catholic Church however does prohibit abortion in all circumstances. Abortion, along with contraception and masturbation is forbidden by the church. However, this doesn't mean that Catholics do not masturbate, access abortion or use contraception to control their reproduction.

A 2011 report by Catholics For Choice showed that 98% of Catholic women in the U.S have used a form of contraception banned by the Vatican. Catholic women have abortions at the same rate as non-Catholics, and 86% of those surveyed disagreed with the church’s teaching on abortion.

These figures show us that individuals use their own personal conscience to make decisions which affect their lives, and their families. Farrow makes a convincing case for ‘Natural Family Planning’ (NFP) (which is indeed extremely effective if practised properly) and this may well be a favourable option for those who wish to avoid pregnancy without using condoms or hormonal methods of birth control. However, clearly, for many Catholic women other forms of contraception have proven to be a better fit for their lifestyles.  A pro-choice point of view would acknowledge the importance of allowing these women to make the choice which is right for them. If they wish to follow the church’s teachings and practice NFP, great, let’s make sure they have the support and information they need to do so. If they want to try other methods, or use condoms to help protect against STIs, then this should also be accessible for them.

Unfortunately a pro-life perspective tends to mean that this choice (which many make already, regardless of what their religion teaches) is disregarded and taken away. A ‘pro-life’ point of view holds that doctors were right to deny Savita an abortion because “it is not ethical to induce delivery of an unborn child if there is no prospect of the child surviving outside the womb”. An individual might decide that they would never have an abortion in any circumstance, but as soon as this decision is projected and extended to others it limits human rights. It limits women’s rights.

Farrow herself is extremely supportive of the 40 Days for Life ‘vigils’, which aim to shut down abortion clinics and therefore restrict women's access to abortion. Standing outside abortion clinics praying for women who have made a decision, which may or may not have been difficult for them, smacks of a desire to project one’s own position onto others, believing them unfit to decide for themselves. 

Wednesday 7 August 2013

"How to get rid of a pregnancy"

Having seen people tweeting about the weird and wonderful ways readers reach their blogs, we decided to delve into our own statistics to see what people have been typing into Google to end up at this blog. 

Although of course plenty reached the EFC blog through links on other sites, or searches like 'abortion education in schools', one of the most common searches was the phrase 'how to get rid of a pregnancy'. Other popular searches included variations on 'pills to get rid of pregnancy'. Further investigation showed that quite a few people reached the EFC blog through a link on which lead to this Mythbusting Monday post about medical abortion, explaining why the phrase 'abortion pill' can be misleading (Early Medical Abortion is actually a process involving two lots of medication, and two to three visits to a clinic, rather than just 'taking a pill').

It was sobering to realise that many people visiting this blog are not just looking for general information related to work or study but are likely themselves facing an unwanted pregnancy and unable to access the medical support they need to have an abortion. Sobering, but not all that surprising when you know that a decent proportion of visitors to this blog are from the USA and Ireland.

As you may know, although abortion is legal in the United States, access is severely restricted in some areas, meaning that those seeking abortion (especially poorer women) may look for 'cheaper' methods of ending a pregnancy, such as buying medication online. This graphic shows the varying levels of abortion access in the U.S - with mandatory waiting periods or insurance restrictions being enforced in many States, access to safe, legal abortion can be difficult.

Ireland, in turn, has one of the world's most restrictive abortion laws. Abortion is only available to save a pregnant person's life. Last year, almost 4000 women travelled from Ireland to England and Wales to have an abortion. Again, these women will have needed the financial means to pay for the procedure itself as well as transport and associated costs. Although the Abortion Support Network has been set up to help these women pay for the procedure, it can't support everyone. A recent article in Vice argued that more and more Irish women are turning to the internet to purchase abortion medication to administer themselves. The article points out that women taking this route are not recorded in the official statistics, although with hundreds of packages of such medication being seized every year, the number is clearly significant. 

Of course, ordering and using this medication is illegal in Ireland. But it seems that some are desperate enough to try to end a pregnancy even via methods which could put them in prison. And this is not just true of women in Ireland, or the U.S, but anywhere where abortion is illegal or restricted. And as the Guttmacher Institute makes clear, this method can be safer than traditional 'backstreet abortions' performed in unsanitary conditions: "In settings where abortion is illegal or highly restricted, it (abortion medication) has provided many women for the first time with a safe and discreet means for early termination of unwanted pregnancy." Safe Abortion Hotlines in places such as Chile, Poland and Kenya show that  where abortion is illegal or very severely restricted, there will still be women who find ways to end their pregnancies.

Unfortunately we were not surprised to see that some of these women had found their way to our site through searches for information on unwanted pregnancies which they cannot end in registered medical establishments, either due to legal, practical or economic constraints.