Something that isn’t talked about enough is that abortion bans overreach. That is, most abortion bans say “abortion is banned except in cases X, Y and Z.” But in practice, the very act of banning abortion ensures that for many women safe, legal abortion will be unavailable – even if they fall into one of the exceptions written into the abortion ban.
Reproductive Health Matters volume 10, issue 19 (not online, sorry), has a report on the results of Poland’s abortion ban (Poland banned abortion in 1993, except in cases of rape, a threat to the health or life of the mother, or a severely damaged fetus). The Polish abortion ban is fairly similar to what pro-lifers in the USA have proposed, except that American pro-lifers are opposed to health exemptions.
The law didn’t measurably reduce the number of Polish abortions; it did, however, force hundreds of thousands of women to obtain illegal abortions (and it drove the price of abortions way up). However, some women who need abortions for health reasons don’t have the money or connections to obtain an illegal abortion, or cannot safely have an abortion outside of a legal hospital setting. The result, of course, is that women are hurt.
The article contains other examples. One HIV positive woman, Maria, “obtained written confirmation from a specialist that pregnancy presented a danger to her health.” But hospital after hospital refused to treat her, some explaining that they simply would not perform an abortion under any circumstance.
This is by no means a problem unique to Poland. In the United States, the so-called “Abortion Non-Discrimination Act”, if it becomes law, allows health professionals (not just doctors, but also nurses, insurance agents, pharmacists, etc) to refuse to perform abortions, regardless of the consequences to the woman’s life or health. XX, Feministing and The Well-Timed Period (here and here) have more about this law. From The Well-Timed Period:
The Bill’s title, Abortion Non-Discrimination, is disingenuous. This is a Refusal-to-Treat Bill. Incidentally, being a health care professional and refusing to treat your patients (or issue a referral) are incompatible. Up to now I also thought refusal-to-treat was malpractice. Apparently, if the patient is a woman, not so much.
Rivka at Respectful of Otters tells the horrifying story of an American whose preborn baby died in utero at 19 weeks. The safest procedure for removing the baby’s corpse – dilation and extraction – has been widely under attack by pro-lifers who call this and other procedures “partial birth abortion.”
She walked around for a week, bleeding, with her dead baby inside of her, because the virulent political controversy around dilation and extraction meant that no one was willing to provide her with proper medical care. This could happen to me. This could happen to any woman.
And keep in mind – that’s just the result of political and social pressure on doctors not to perform “partial birth” procedures. If the ban actually became law, obtaining even a legal D&X abortion will become all but impossible.
To be clear – nothing about the “partial-birth” abortion ban makes it illegal to remove an already-dead fetus using the D&X procedure. But it doesn’t matter, because the effect of the ban (if it ever becomes good law) will be to make the procedure unavailable even in cases where a D&X is undeniably legal and desperately needed.
One last thought about the case of the Polish woman blinded because she could not obtain an abortion. At least in Poland, it’s in theory (if not in practice) legal for a woman to have an abortion to save herself from going blind. In the USA, pro-lifers are opposed to health exemptions, so if they had their way not even preventing blindness would be a good enough reason to get an abortion.