Abortion On Demand

Feminist journalist Katha Pollitt explains why we should treat ending a pregnancy as normal

If you enjoy this podcast, you may want to read Katha Pollitt’s book, Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights (Picador, 2014).

“Abortion saves lives,” “You’re sacrificing the mothers for the children:” The battle over women’s bodies has always been given to rhetorical extremes. Think about the imagery: a fetus supposedly writhing with pain and fear in the widely distributed 1984 anti-abortion propaganda film, The Silent Scream. And pro-abortion demonstrators insist with their own imagery that without legal abortion, women will gouge at their uteruses with coat hangers and knitting needles.

While fetuses experience neither pain or fear, women did, and do, die without safe, accessible, and legal abortion. How many? Historian Karissa Haugeberg estimates that before 1973, when Roe v. Wade decriminalized the procedure in all 50 states, a fifth to a quarter of all pregnancies were ended by an induced abortion, and that approximately 200 women died every year from a secret or illegal procedure. While recorded abortions increased dramatically after legalization, deaths from terminating a pregnancy dropped equally dramatically, to fewer than two dozen a year.

Right wing activists and legislators, we are told, are happy to return to a pre-Roe world, one in which women of color are far more likely to die or lose their fertility from an illegal procedure than white women. It is one in which pregnant Americans, no matter how young, or how involuntarily conception occurred, will be forced to give birth unless they can make their way to a sanctuary state or risk prison and death for an illegal abortion.

In fact, the Dobbs world is worse than the pre-Roe United States, where women and girls of some means, usually white, could go abroad to terminate a pregnancy legally. Or they might access what was called “therapeutic abortion,” a legal medical procedure that was available if the mental or physical health of a woman or girl was judged by a medical professional to be endangered by carrying a pregnancy to term.

But feminist journalist Katha Pollitt asks: why can’t all Americans admit that abortion is, and should be, a normal event in a woman’s life? Why can’t feminists reclaim abortion for what it is—a common medical procedure that permits pregnant people to take charge of their physical, psychological, and economic health? An award-winning poet, essayist, and longtime columnist for The Nation, Pollitt made this powerful argument in 2014 in Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights, a book I decided to revisit as we anticipate the one-year anniversary of the day we understood that the battle for abortion rights would have to be renewed.

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