Thursday, March 09, 2006

The Abortion Ban Reality

Since the Religious Right, with its proxies in South Dakota in the lead, have become emboldened in their efforts to roll back women's rights into the pre-Enlightenment age, I thought it might be instructive to look at the real world effects of abortion bans. One of the biggest difficulties in finding good scientific evidence to oppose abortion bans is that, prior to Roe vs. Wade, abortion records are very hard to quantify. Obviously no one was keeping detailed records of these illegal procedures, since that would have presumably been incriminating evidence in most states.

However, it just so happens that there are a lamentable number of nations in the world where women are still second-class citizens and the attention paid to female health issues reflects this primitive thinking. Let's take a look at one such nation, Bangladesh, and see where the criminalization of abortion leads. All information to follow is from the World Health Organization for South-East Asia (WHOSEA), unless separately noted:

Although induced abortion is illegal in Bangladesh except when done to save a woman's life, the practice is believed to be common. Approximately half of the admissions to gynaecology units in major urban hospitals of the country are for complications of abortion. Every year 2.8% of all pregnant women undergo Menstrual Regulation (MR) and 1.5% undergo induced abortion. These services are usually provided by untrained paramedics and ill trained doctors in a logistic constraint setting (MOHFW, 1998).

As a point of information (because I didn't know this when I was researching this topic), menstrual regulation is defined as follows:

Menstrual regulation is defined as any procedure which disrupts the intrauterine environment so that embryonic implantation either cannot occur or cannot be maintained (Brenner & Edelman, 1977)

MR basically includes most methods of abortion with which most Americans are familiar, including vacuum extraction, administering prostaglandin or certain surgical methods. Induced abortions, for the sake of the article, include a few other techniques not so widely used today but familiar to the pre-Roe days, such as:

[I]nserting a foreign object, such as a stick or root [or coat hanger](sometimes treated with herb), into the uterus[.]

In the WHOSEA study of Bangladesh, the object was often left inserted until an abortion or complications resulted.

Not surprisingly, the study shows that the abortion rate in Bangladesh is largely unaffected by the laws criminalizing such:

The annual number of induced abortions is about 730,000 of which menstrual regulation is 430,000. The overall rate of hospitalization for abortion is 2.4 per 1000 live births and about 75% of these complications are due to unsafe abortion and the remainder is due to menstrual regulation. The annual estimated number of complications requiring hospitalization that result from MR is about 19,300, which is approximately 4% of the 468,000 MR performed annually (Singh et al,.1997). Induced abortion other than menstrual regulation is estimated to have a complication rate of about 40% and a hospitalization rate of about 20% (Chowdhury et al., 2002).

That's 730,000 abortions in a tiny nation where the procedure has never been legal. A tiny nation where women's rights lag far behind those of men and social, cultural and religious restrictions abound in regards to female sexuality.

Back to the induced abortions from above:

Health workers in 795 health centers were interviewed under a study about complications arising from induced abortion in rural Bangladesh. A total of 1590 cases of complications from abortion were reported.


Menstrual regulation (MR) or dilatation and curettage (D&C) , the medically approved procedures, was reported to have been used 9.1% of the time.

Imagine that: less than 1 out of every 10 illegal abortions in Bangladesh is being performed by a medically approved procedure. That's why 40% of these abortions resulted in serious complications, such as:

The most frequent complications are incomplete abortion, sepsis, haemorrhage and intra-abdominal injury, such as puncturing or tearing of the uterus. These can be fatal if they are not treated promptly.

This is the reality about banning abortion that those opposed to women's rights don't like to talk about. I can imagine the argument from the Religious Right, that we are a more developed country and such things couldn't happen here. That's garbage. The missing ingredient in the Bangladesh example is the availability of medically viable reproductive services, much the same way those things are almost non-existent in many states, such as South Dakota and Mississippi. The criminalizing of abortion, combined with patriarchal social, cultural and religious views that stigmatize women's sexuality, is the starting point for a whole host of medical and social problems, as the Bangladesh study has shown. All of these things are part of the religious fundamentalist agenda being pushed by the Anti-choice crowd.

This is the kind of nation conservatives want to live in, even though many of them probably never bother to consider the effect their "beliefs" have on women. They've fetishized unborn babies to an extreme degree that defies all rationality. This is the reality the Religious Right wants for our mothers and wives, our sisters and daughters.

Take a good look.

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