Prevention Is Preferred

A sperm is shown as it fertilizes an egg. Sashkin/

A sperm is shown as it fertilizes an egg. Sashkin/

In light of #ShoutYourAbortion Gets Angry Shouts Back and Liberal Feminists Ponder Friends, Foes and Carly Fiorina, I wanted to discuss the abortion debate from a health perspective. Most health bloggers don't get political, but my inner Poli Sci major can't contain herself. 

If I aspire to be anything, it’s consistent. Just as disease prevention is optimal for long-term health, contraception is ideal when it comes to pregnancy prevention:

  1. It is encouraging that birth control pills are being supplanted by IUDs, which are comparably effective and less burdensome. The increasing prevalence of IUDs should reduce the need for abortions necessitated by inconsistent use of birth control pills.
  2. Condoms should be used, in addition to other birth control measures, if for no other reason than disease prevention. Some venereal diseases are curable, but if you are the unfortunate soul who contracts HIV or herpes, you’ll regret that "moment of passion" for the rest of your life. Being in a “committed” relationship is an inadequate reason to forego the rubber barrier. As the Ashley Madison scandal highlighted, cheating is rampant in our society. Millions of people are cheating on their spouses, with whom they share children and finances. If married adults with so much to lose are unfaithful, then it's not unreasonable to assume that many young adults cheat on their boyfriends or girlfriends, to whom they are not legally, familially, or financially bound.
  3. Consider the physical and emotional repercussions of undergoing an abortion procedure and contemplating the loss in the surgical aftermath. In the days and weeks after terminating a pregnancy, some women are able to quickly regain physical and emotional stability, while others endure incapacitating physical pain, crippling depression, and relentless insomnia. Although rare, extreme side effects (e.g. infections and sterilization) do occur. Now may be a bad time, but forever is a long time.
  4. I was surprised to learn that a fetus transforms from a cluster of cells to tiny person during the second month of a pregnancy. Until recently, I thought it took longer (3+ months) for the baby to take a recognizable shape. See for yourself: What My Baby Looks Like.

*Side note: Conception occurs at the time of implantation, not fertilization. How Fertilization Happens offers a humorous description of where babies come from. Fertilization should not be considered conception until we start growing babies to term outside a human body. Unfortunately, pro-lifers incorrectly conflate conception and fertilization to bolster their opposition to the use of certain IUDs and emergency contraceptives, which prevent implantation.

Despite the arguments above, I still vehemently support a woman’s right to choose:

  1. Rape and incest are unquestionably valid reasons for abortion. The Republicans lose me when they start going down the victim-punishing rabbit hole.
  2. Safety of the mother and quality of life for the baby are both valid justifications for even late-term abortions. If you haven’t read it, check out Mark Schrad’s piece in the NY Times, Does Down Syndrome Justify Abortion? 
  3. Birth control is never 100% effective. For those who prefer to avoid hormone supplements and other cycle-adjusting devices (e.g. cooper IUDs), you may be SOL if the condom breaks unbeknownst to you or your partner. Condom usage is best combined with Fertility Awareness (aka the Rhythm Method). There are a bunch of nifty iPhone apps (7 Top iPhone Apps for Tracking Your Fertility and Ovulation) and devices (OvaCue and Lady-Comp) that can help you pinpoint your ovulation window. 
  4. We all make mistakes. No one acts responsibly all of the time. However, sympathy starts to wane when lessons go unlearned and mistakes are repeated. 

If asked to give a sound bite, I would definitely say, “I am pro-choice.” However, while I once viewed abortion as a welcomed safety net, I now see it as enabler of irresponsible behavior. It's best to act responsibly in the first place. Protect yourself. Abortions should be safe, legal, and rare.