Abortion, legal since 1973, is the most common surgical procedure that women get, and one-third of all American women have had one, but our elected leaders continue to play politics with it. On August 20, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli issued his opinion that Virginia’s Board of Health can impose additional regulations on the state’s 21 abortion clinics. This action is a sham to cover up his intent to make abortions harder to get.
Abortion is one of the safest surgical procedures; less than half of 1 percent of women getting the procedure have complications. Medical offices that provide abortion services have physicians licensed by the Virginia Board of Medicine and Surgery, are inspected by the Virginia Department of Health and also are certified as labs. Yet bills to require the clinics to be full hospitals—requiring costly renovations and new staff—are continually introduced and killed in the General Assembly. The Attorney General is making an end run that could close many clinics, including the Charlottesville Medical Center for Women.
I decided to have an abortion at the age of 33 when I was in the throes of starting a new Charlottesville business. My life was already challenging with one child, a teaching job and a new company. I recently spoke with other local women who have had abortions to get their opinions on abortion politics. Most requested anonymity, but Betsy Cochran, a Licensed Professional Counselor, and Judy Johnson, a business owner, went public.
Abortion politics erupted in the health reform debate and caused Congress to allow insurance coverage of abortion only if the purchaser pays for it separately. “We were a sacrificial lamb,” said one of the Charlottesville women. “Requiring a separate payment is silly, sad and hurtful,” said Betsy Cochran. “It’s not helping people make a hard, responsible decision in their lives.”
I asked these women why they had terminated their pregnancies. Several answered that they had to finish school or had a sketchy relationship. Cochran answered, “I was taking birth control pills, but my doctor had reduced the dosage and they didn’t work. I had not even found my profession. I could not take care of a child.”
One woman would have been expelled from high school (1957). A female immigrant had a husband who beat her. Another was in the midst of a demanding graduate program. Judy Johnson, a mother of three, summed it up: “It was not a time for me to raise a child. I knew in my heart it was the right choice for me.”
This month the Department of Health and Human Services announced that the new emergency insurance pools, for people previously denied coverage, will exclude abortion. A nursing professor who had an abortion told me, “The current political climate is oppressive.” Another woman said, “We are moving backwards.”
Technically, a woman can get pregnant on any day of her menstrual cycle. And no birth control, except sterilization, is 100-percent effective. Every 10 months, from age 12 to 48, a woman could have a baby.
Abortion is legal in about two-thirds of the 152 most populous countries, but in countries where it is illegal the same percent of women terminate their pregnancies as in the legal countries, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Women want this procedure, and they get it in dangerous conditions. Approximately 219 women worldwide die each day from unsafe abortions—a total of about 78,000 a year.
“I used peroxide and a coat hanger,” said a teacher who was pregnant in the 1950s. The same woman described the death of her grandmother after a home-induced abortion. Her sisters took her into the woods where the baby was born while the mother bled to death.
Most of the women who talked to me had the procedure after it became legal. The doctors used modern methods, and the women agreed that it was a minor event. The actual procedure takes about 10 minutes. American women also have the option of pills which induce a miscarriage.
Abortion is a basic health need and we should not return to back alley desperation. Our elected officials should protect our right to 21st century medical care.
Virginia Daugherty was president of Papercraft Printing & Design for 26 years and was mayor of Charlottesville from 1998 to 2000.