Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Childbirth is dangerous; abortion is not

By Frank Moraes 

There is a great deal of pretending in public life. For example, people pretend to care about children who float away in balloons. But they don't really. They like the drama. But they don't know the kid or the parents. The kid is probably a brat and the parents, as we now know, are assholes. This situation is so much worse in politics. The Onion made fun of this recently in an article, "Romney Drops By To See How Down-And-Out Family He Met On Campaign Trail Doing." As we all know, "humanizing" campaign stops are about as real as the Tooth Fairy. Think: Paul Ryan cleaning pots at a soup kitchen.

But the fakery goes much deeper than that. What I most hate are claims by politicians that they are helping rather than hurting. The common argument is that we need to gut welfare programs to protect the poor from the horrors of government dependence. You see, it is those meanie liberals who want to help the poor who are really hurting them. Of course, if conservatives really wanted to help the poor, they would provide universal healthcare for the poor; they would provide good (equalized) schools; they would provide free college. Think about it on the most basic level: if conservatives wanted to help the poor, they would at least provide good food for their children. But what did the conservatives in the House of Representatives just do? The moderates voted to cut nutritional assistance. The extremists voted against this because it didn't cut enough. So I think we can reasonably conclude that when it comes to the poor, conservatives are only using claims of helping as an excuse for taking money away from them.

It would be a major mistake to think that conservatives only want to harm the poor. Since I'm not able to write a book here, I can't list all the harm that conservatives would like to do. So let me just mention a convenient example: women. Over the past few years, we have seen campaigns that claim that abortion hurts women. The problem with this claim is that it is true, but misleading. Walking to the store kills women. More than 10 pedestrians are killed every day here in the United States. Walking, like just about anything else you do, can harm you. The question is not whether walking is a totally safe thing to do but rather if the risk is reasonable—especially compared to other options. (Similarly, about two people are stuck by lightning every day in the US, although only about 10% of them die.)

So what about all those dangerous abortions that conservatives are so worried are harming our women folk? Well, it turns out: not so much. Matt Yglesias alerted me to a paper published last year, "The Comparative Safety of Legal Induced Abortion and Childbirth in the United States." The authors found that women were 14 times as likely to die from childbirth as from a legal abortion. But if conservatives get their way, we can likely equalize those numbers -- maybe even make abortion more dangerous. A liberal might say we could equalize the numbers by providing more prenatal care for poor people. But that might increase the danger faced by poor women as they travel to the doctor. Silly liberals.

I understand the best arguments against abortion. I don't accept them, but I understand. There is no reasonable argument that a 16-cell zygote has equal rights to its human host. But at least I can interact with such arguments. The vast majority of the anti-choice community doesn't make those arguments. Most of the arguments just come down to a puritanical belief that slutty girls should suffer. But the argument that these people are just looking out for the health of the women are contradicted by the science. It's very simple:

Childbirth is dangerous. Abortion is not.

Any questions?

(Cross-posted at Frankly Curious.)

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