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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Debating abortion means harming women

Published: January 24, 2013
Section: Opinions

Ever since their great triumph in Roe v. Wade 40 years ago this week, pro-choice activists have been fighting a losing battle to preserve it. As recently described in Time magazine and The Washington Post, in some states such as North Dakota, there is only one clinic to perform abortions for an entire state of women. There and elsewhere, women must jump through hoops forced upon them by the state, such as pre-procedure anti-abortion counseling, galling parental notification and even transvaginal ultrasounds.

The number of abortion providers nationally is shrinking: from 2,908 in 1982 to 1,793 in 2008.

As providers of this legal procedure become hard to find and women have fewer options as pro-life state legislatures push for rewriting rules regarding legal abortion, the only thing these political crusades have inspired is fear.

An unwanted pregnancy is already a terrifying prospect. Why make it worse for people by insisting they follow extensive state regulations, like waiting a full 24 hours between scheduling an appointment and being able to get to an abortion facility? Why make it even more difficult for women to approach a facility like Planned Parenthood that may offer abortion services when there is already such a negative social stigma surrounding them? Why make our teenaged and young adult women live in fear? Without choices, they must search for the one abortion clinic their state may have, all the while unsure how to proceed with the decision given the unavailability of clinics.

By making it more difficult to get an abortion, we are harming women’s mental health. Women should be able to make their own choices and be presented with all their options. Clinics such as Planned Parenthood provide this service, but have lately been under heavy political fire.

Planned Parenthood is not only an abortion service. It is a nonprofit organization providing reproductive health and maternal and child services. In addition to abortion, it administers HIV screening, counseling, contraception tools and educational services. It serves 3 million people within the United States and one million in other countries. What people fail to understand is that abortions account for just 3 percent of Planned Parenthood’s total services. This nonprofit should not be operating with such a social stigma or as the focus of political debate, when in reality it is a sanctuary for those who have STDs, women and men in need of cancer screenings and those who are looking to prevent pregnancy.

Opponents of Planned Parenthood should also be reminded that the nonprofit focuses on young people and people who are at a distinct socioeconomic disadvantage. Planned Parenthood reports that 76 percent of their clients earn incomes at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty level. They also offer clinics for teens and young adults, educating them on how to be sexually active safely and to take care of their bodies. Here, Planned Parenthood is indispensable. The organization prevents unplanned pregnancies of teenagers who are afraid of parental or other social retribution if they want to have sex and those who have nowhere else to turn. It offers cancer screenings for people who cannot even afford basic health care and does all this for others regardless of their income.

The organization was enveloped in controversy when Congress launched an inquiry last year into whether Planned Parenthood was using federal money to fund abortions, which is against federal law. This caused Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the famous and influential breast cancer advocacy group, to stop providing funds to Planned Parenthood centers for breast-cancer related services.

But Planned Parenthood prevents cancer in women every day, providing manual breast exams and teaching about self-exams so women can detect cancer early. Such vital knowledge is clinically proven to reduce cancer-related deaths, improving survival rates.

While it does not provide mammograms, the organization refers women to other doctors and pays for screening for those who cannot afford it. Is also offers counseling and helps women read test results. Planned Parenthood saves lives, and disputes about abortion only hold back the organization from the good it is attempting to achieve.

The debate about abortion is just absurd: we are talking about the health of our nation’s women. Women who want abortions will get abortions. In the days before Roe v. Wade, women would die from having unsafe abortions. As those memories have faded from our nation’s consciousness, we seem to have forgotten that it is the lives and health of mothers, daughters and mentors on the line. With the amount of abortion clinics decreasing, women are increasingly at risk and unable to get the services they need.

There is also the issue of mental well-being. As women are denied access to these clinics, stress levels rise. But even putting aside abortion, the never-ending political clash limiting the amount of reproductive health services like Planned Parenthood, which perform life-saving cancer screenings and HIV prevention too, is simply endangering lives.

While abortion is about women’s rights and the freedom to have a choice, this is also a matter of basic health: we need more clinics. The physical and mental health of our nation’s women is at risk.