Girl TalkThe Options of an Unplanned PregnancyJulia Gazdag

I’ve been paying attention to the politics lately, because there’s some kind of election coming up and it feels like I ought to. From what I gather, abortions and rape are a thing, and a lot of old white dudes have a lot of feelings about the vaginas they don’t have. I got to reading up on the subject a bit, and as it turns out, most abortions are not a result of rape, although linking the two did make me extremely uncomfortable. Because, really, if a woman’s right to make decisions about her body is based on whether a man forcibly impregnates her, it seems to me we’re right back on the corner of Patriarchal St. and Dominance Ave. where most of us women-folk don’t want to be.

But ohhhhhhhh abortion. Feelings! What I haven’t heard much about, and would really love to, is the experience of actually having a baby. You know, of gestating a fetus for nine months and shoving it out of my body. Ie.: what a woman experiences. In lieu of actually going through this process (which, as far as I’m concerned, sounds like the most horrifying thing I could do to myself, but I respect that it’s a very beautiful and moving experience to many others), I went investigating. Because I’m a super sleuth! Also I used the interwebs and made some calls. For the sake of this research project, let’s suppose the pregnancy in question is one of the 50% of unintended pregnancies in the US per year (there are going to be stats, guys, hang on to your umbrellas).

First of all, insurance probably isn’t happening. Pregnancy is termed a pre-existing condition, so most insurance companies won’t cover any costs. That’s right: you can pretty much get prenatal health insurance only when you’re not pregnant. However, you might be able to add a prenatal rider to your insurance plan, if you’re over 18 and have gotten married within the last 30 days. Woo! Incentivizing shotgun weddings! Sounds like a plan. Pretty much, if a woman wants any kind of prenatal care for an unintended pregnancy, her choices are either being poor enough to qualify for Medicaid, or hitting up the local Planned Parenthood.

Assuming your boss doesn’t mind you taking off all those hours for doctor’s appointments, that you can handle your life force mostly going to your fetus, and aren’t relying on food stamps (because those don’t increase just because you’re eating for two), the cost of a pregnancy will involve a lot of cash going to new bras, new clothes, and vitamins (not covered by food stamps). Time to think about birthing options! A vaginal delivery runs at about $10K, while a c-section costs around $20K+. Since doctors get paid more to do c-sections, there can be a tendency to steer patients towards that option, even when it’s unnecessary.

Some ladies will have a 2 hour labor and get home in time to catch their favorite CSI rerun (the one with the death victim!). Some ladies will go through 48 hours of miserable hell. After reading the chapter on birth in Caitlin Moran’s ‘How to Be a Woman’ I pretty much sewed up my vagina forever.

So now, birth. Wow! You made a person! That’s kind of crazy, in a good way, and also in an emotionally, physically, and financially draining way. Hopefully you still have a job, and can take a couple weeks off.

Now, let’s say this unwanted pregnancy was always headed for adoption. All of this work and sacrifice has gone to having your child be taken away at the ripe old age of 24 hours. More than this, the inherent chemical bonds formed are now left hanging mid-air, increasing the potential of post-partum depression. When a woman orgasms, one of the hormones released is oxytocin – the same hormone that induces labor and creates a bond between mother and child, both through the process of birth as well as through breast milk. So just going for it and having a baby, then giving it away, is a lot to ask of a woman (and yet a surprising number of people suggest this).

Let’s assess – $15-$50K in prenatal costs, physical toll, job/career suffering, the intensity of labor and birth, and potential post-partum depression (and when it comes to post-partum, our hospitals are not on the case). The other option of an unintended pregnancy is, of course, abortion (“feelingsssssssss!!!!” – America). Stats time! According to the Guttmacher Institute, who totally know their stuff, 61% of women who have abortions already have at least one child. Only 56% are unmarried and not cohabiting, 73% report a religious affiliation, and 69% are economically disadvantaged. Many are also either on birth control or used some form of contraceptive.

I spoke with an abortion doula who does direct-care work with women. She said that most women who have an abortion because of an unintended pregnancy do so early on, while only about 1.5% of pregnancies are terminated after the 21 week mark. 3.8% are performed between the 16th and 20th weeks of pregnancy, and 6.6% are performed between the 13th and 15th weeks – many of these are due to miscarriages and severe birth defects. Not all abortions are wanted; some are necessary to protect the life of the mother. There are some women who feel that the only control they have in that situation is to terminate the pregnancy instead of bearing the grief of caring for a child that will die after a month or two; there are also women who simply don’t have the resources, financially or emotionally, to raise a child with serious disabilities.

What this abortion doula pointed out to me was that, while each woman has her own unique experience (and that diversity itself points to a need for giving women choices over their bodies), she has not met a single person who took the experience of abortion lightly. It can be emotionally intense and physically taxing. The longest part of the procedure is talking to a counselor and sitting in the waiting room. While each woman’s experience and process is unique, each one has had a well-thought-through process that lead them to the choice they made.

Not to be confused with abortion clinics are CPCs (crisis pregnancy centers), which can look like reproductive health clinics, some including staff who dress as doctors even though they aren’t. Their main goal is convincing women to go through with their pregnancies, which they do through various tactics including making promises like funding the pregnancies, which they don’t actually have the resources to do (let alone help raise a child for 18 years). A big difference between a CPC and an abortion clinic is that while the CPC will do everything in its power to influence a woman’s decision, an abortion clinic will listen to the woman and support her either way.

A woman who opts for an abortion is as responsible as one who sees a pregnancy through: she is acknowledging the time and energy a child entails, and being realistic with her own abilities and resources. I’m not saying all women should go get abortions, but instead offering the idea that there is a need for women to be able to make choices for themselves. If we’re going to live in a civilized society, we need to acknowledge that adults of all genders are able to make choices about their bodies. Countries that have legalized abortion have also seen a drop in the number of procedures, because this kind of legislation tends to go hand-in-hand with empowering women.

We’ve already made it difficult to have an unplanned child, and we’re making it difficult to avoid the immensity of a pregnancy, so it’s hard not to see this whole thing as another way of keeping women from reaching their potential – because a woman who is forced to raise a child she is unable to, is a woman who is contributing that much less of her original life goals to society. Trying to drag rape into the abortion issue is insulting to women, let alone anyone who has to sit through one more news cycle about another opinionated man who doesn’t know how to use his words.

image via Shutterstock

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  1. When posting an article like this you should remember to review some of the things you say, you can come of as a little offensive.

  2. I really encourage you to read this article in full (http://www.ncregister.com/blog/jennifer-fulwiler/why-i-lost-faith-in-the-pro-choice-movement/). Even if you disagree, it’s still a good read on the other side of the issue, I feel.

  3. I can’t wait for this political stint to end. It has turned the Hello Giggles website into a propagandist machine as well as many other websites and people I can usually respect. It especially bothers me that Hello Giggles was originally designed to be a safe, positive place online, but has been polluted by the murky waters of politics, and very biased at that. I don’t think I can go back to it, not even for the great recipes.

  4. I’m not American, but from my understanding, the US has a separation of church and state. So, for example, you are given the right to have your own personal belief, but you, or a group of like-minded persons, are not able to dictate the rights of others based on your personal beliefs. So if a woman get’s pregnant while on birth control and her partner also wore a condom, and the woman does not want children, or does not want to carry a fetus for months, you can bet a million dollars that she is going to have an abortion whether you want her to or not. The object of the debate should not be whether you think she’s doing the ‘right thing’ or whether this fetus is an actual person, it should be whether or not she legally has that choice. Because unless this woman gets a lobotomy, she is going to do as she chooses, whether it’s legal or illegal. The whole point of this right to have a legal abortion is so it’s done safely. I’m trying to stress the point that while you may personally believe that having an abortion is wrong, and you are certainly entitled to your opinion, you are not entitled to dictate someone else choice based on your own opinions.

    • First of all, even though most churches are against abortions (which makes sense taking into account their views on life and human rights), this is definitely NOT a religious issue, more likely a philosophical debate.

      Many people believe that a foetus is an independent life that should be protected, under this belief it s not a woman’s idea of what is right or wrong that counts, because abortion, is simply WRONG.

      When we discuss this issue, we are -as in all issues concerning ethics (i,e. deciding that stealing is wrong, condemning or supporting death penalty, ETC.) we are deciding the moral criteria we want in our society.

  5. Over and over again you refer to abortion as a right a woman has to her own body. This phrase continually glazes over the fact that this human fetus has a completely different DNA code than its mother. A fetus is dependent on its mother’s body, not part of it. This phrase contributes to the lack of focus on the actual issue. Of course women should be able to do what they want with their bodies, as long as it doesn’t impose on the rights of others. Both sides generally and genuinely believe this today. The debate is over personhood.

  6. Quote from article: “A woman who opts for an abortion is as responsible as one who sees a pregnancy through: she is acknowledging the time and energy a child entails, and being realistic with her own abilities and resources.” Title of your post: “The options of an Unplanned Pregnancy.” I have read the article and I have a hard time understanding how a woman can be considered responsible if her pregnancy was unplanned. I understand we all have rights. I disagree that terminating a life is.

    • That’s like saying someone isn’t responsible because they have one car accident in the course of 10 years.

      • If the driver was at fault during their car accident, then yes it was an irresponsible action. If their car was smashed into then it was obviously not their fault. How can you compare having sex, by choice, and becoming pregnant to a car accident? You do the deed you suffer the consequences.. All forms of birth control sate that they are not 100 % and ive never seen otherwise. Whenever I became pregnant, while on the pill, I knew it was my fault. I chose to have sex and i got pregnant. It was/is in no way the same as a car accident. The only argument you can use something like a car accident with is if a woman was raped. It still does not make abortion okay. A fetus can not speak for its self. And while it is attached to a woman’s body, it has its own soul,hear, brain…etc. The unborn child did not ask the woman to lay there and get knocked up.. So if a woman partakes in intercourse and gets pregnant and tries to say she was responsible but it was an “Accidental pregnancy”and doesn’t deserve to have her life burdened with a child she is just selfish.. All abortions are selfish, women who do not want to take care of a life they helped create. You may think this is merely an opinion but it is not. Abortions = selfish persons…

        • It is very unfair for you to say that women who choose abortion are selfish. My grandmother, who was and is still married to my grandfather, had two children and found out she was pregnant and knew should could not in any way raise another child, because she was poor, and she was caring for her mother, who had brain cancer. She got an abortion and it broke her heart but she knew that there was no way she could give the potential child an adequate standard of living. So she made the hardest decision she ever had to make, and she aborted. She also understood, because she already had two children, that the bond a mother feels when she gives birth to a child is so strong, that she would not be able to bring herself to give it up.Her act was selfless, not selfish.
          Also, you should probably understand that you cannot make legislation based on religion, because the majority of women do not believe as you do. If someone who had different beliefs as you made legislation based on things you didn’t agree with, you would be outraged.
          Also, saying choosing to have sex and accidentally getting pregnant even though you have taken necessary precautions seems perfectly comparable to choosing to drive a car and being involved in an accident, even though you drive safely. Most people drive, and most people have sex. Accidents happen not matter how safe you are in either situation. Sure, you could choose not to drive, just as you could choose not to have sex, but that seems ridiculous, because driving is convenient, and sex is awesome.

          • What’s unfair is creating a life and never giving it a chance. As far as religion goes, whether i believe in god or not i would still consider abortion murder. Its taking the life of an innocent. Like i said its not an accident if you get pregnant on birth control because all birth control states it is not 100% effective. So by having sex, which is meant for love and reproduction, you are choosing to take the chance of creating a life and to abort it is very selfish not selfless.. I’m not going to feel sorry for someone who had a child and can murder another while it is growing inside of them simply because it would be to hard for her to part with the baby once its alive. the only safe and careful way not to get prgnanat is to obstinate. i get so sick about hearing excuses for murdering an innocent baby that didn’t ask to be here in the first place.

            • so you are saying, that a married woman, shouldn’t have sex with her husband unless for procreation purposes?

              • No that is not what i’m saying.. i’m saying instead of “legally” MURDERING a baby she should get her tubes tied if she does not want any more children… I am on birth control and wish to have no other children but if i become pregnant, AGAIN while i’m on BC, i’m not going to kill a baby that was made out of love in the first place. That would be selfish.. I choose willingly to take the slight percentage of a chance there is of getting prego while i’m on contraceptives. I know its not 100% and if i do get prego again i will not be selfish and kill a baby that should be considered a blessing not a burden.

            • correction for “to part with the baby once its alive”

              ***once its born not alive, Life starts at conception..

  7. This article was one of the very few I could whole-heartedly agree on. If only politicians could speak/express their beliefs in this light!

  8. I was so excited to see a talk about unplanned pregnancy on this board. I’m a CNM and see the hard reality of unplanned pregnancy quite often. But I am always amazed by how strong my patients are and how we make things work. Most practices have a variety of hours so that women can get their prenatal care. I’m not sure why you are being charged so much money for your prenatal care, the average cost of care here in Ohio is $3,000. That includes labs, lots of nurse/midwife/MD time, the cost of keeping the lights and receptionists paid, having someone on call 24/7, ultrasounds, MA’s, etc. Honestly, not too bad. The costs that you pay to the hospital (usually 3,000 for vag delivery and 5000 for c/section) covers lots of nursing care, billing, doctors in the hospital, people on call incase things go wrong, etc and obstetrics is a known money loser for the hospital.
    I also just want to say that I have NEVER seen an MD want a c-section because of “convienence” or money. Honestly, they don’t see enough more in their pocket to make it worth the risk of a major abdominal surgery. Every OB/GYN I know got into the field because they want to help women.
    If you don’t have insurance and are pregnant, please contact your local health department. There are usually more than enough resources. I’ve never had a patient that paid out of pocket for care.
    I really enjoy this web community and would love to see more discussion of women’s health :)

  9. Thank you for your insight on this controversial issue, and while I respect your opinion, there are several areas where I disagree. Regarding abortion clinics (Planned Parenthood being the #1 provider of abortions in our country) and CPCs, my personal experiences have been the opposite of yours with Planned Parenthood being the persuasive ones and CPCs being on the realistic side. With that said, I’m sure experiences vary from clinic to clinic. I agree with you that women do need to be empowered and need to have more options. You mention a civilized society and, in my opinion, choosing to end the lives of our own seems more barbaric than civilized. I agree that this is not an easy decision when faced with an unplanned pregnancy, whatever the choice ends up being, but the reality is that abortion hurts women. And men. And children. There is no quick fix. I think there need to be more resources for these mothers during pregnancy and further resources for these children, whether it be for families that decide to keep the baby or for adoption services. Thank you again for bringing these points to light since many people are faced with these difficult decisions every day. It is definitely an issue that needs to be in the limelight and discussed rather than swept under the rug because it’s an uncomfortable, often divisive topic. I believe there is more we can be doing for the empowerment of women without abortion. Thanks!

    • I’m curious as to why you think abortion hurts women. The idea that abortion causes psychological issues has been debunked since the 70s. I agree women need to have as many options as possible and should be supported if they choose to have the child, but abortion should be one of the options.

    • Thank you for your input. I spent a month researching this article, and to be perfectly honest with you, I have limited respect for anyone who is capable of referring to abortion as a “quick fix” and am curious as to how you can still use that phrase if you’ve actually read what’s written above.

  10. Do women REALLY have choices if the option is have an abortion or be condemned to a life of raising a child in poverty?

    I believe to speak of choice we need to widen a woman’s options, give her the possibility to have her child in a propper environment, and not be a victim of abortion.

    I really value your ressearch, but your first points confirmed that until women really have choices they will be victims of abortion.

    On this issue this organization has an interesting perspective, http://www.feministsforlife.org/

    • I don’t think the term “victim” is necessarily the right one to use when it comes to abortion. Overall social change that enables all people to live above the poverty line is a different, albeit related subject. I think that more than anything else, the important thing is to respect all women, whether or not they have ever been pregnant, what choices they have made in their lives, and treat them as capable individuals, not as victims.

  11. Great article! Its pretty alarming that these men in politics can have such strong opinions and influence over an issue that ultimately, because of their gender, they can never really fully relate to. As women we have come a long way in this regard. It would be a shame to see steps taken backward.

  12. Bravo! I think you’re points are perfectly stated. As a mother of 3 I know the toll a pregnancy takes on your body, your life and sadly your wallet. Not to mention that it is a risk to the mother’s health and you never know what can happen. It’s terrifying. I’d love to think that there’s a perfect one-size-fits all answer for my entire gender, but there isn’t. Taking away our right to choose is the wrong thing to do. I’m still a little fired up from the robo-message I got from Fred Thompson telling me that if I value human life I have to vote for Romney. I’ve got a hell of a lot of respect for human life – the life of the woman who’s entire world will be forever changed by carrying a baby that they don’t want.

  13. Wait a minute…Hopefully you still have a job? And can take a couple of weeks off? 10-20+K??
    Wow! I didn’t realize American woman have such little time with your babies. Here in Canada we have maternity leave which is a year off of work with pay and with no repercussions as well as the understanding that your job is there for you to return to. What the hell?

    • Caleigh, in the US, the standard maternity leave for vaginal delivery is 6 weeks. 8 weeks for a cesarean section. It’s horrific compared to most of the developed world. During my 6 week leave when I had my son, I was able to get 60% of my pay after I used all of my sick and vacation days for the year, and only because I had been with my company for more than one year. I could have taken up to 12 weeks completely unpaid leave through a federal family and medical leave act, but could not afford to do so! So yeah, 6 weeks is typical. And had I not been there for a year, already, they would have had no obligation to hold my position for me, legally. And I’m talking about a professional position for which I hold national level certifications and a masters degree.
      Again, it is abysmal.

    • Seriously?? Maybe I need to move to Canada! That is amazing!! What the heck America??!

    • While it is illegal to fire a woman for being pregnant, and many women get maternity leave, the fact that an increasing majority of women who have unplanned pregnancies are also low-income means that it is likely they work under the table. Some employers can find alternate excuses that sidestep the law, but women who are paid under the table can be let go at will, sometimes not long after their bellies begin to show.

      • WELL MAYBE THEY SHOULD GET A REAL JOB AND NOT WORK UNDER THE TABLE AND QUIT EXPECTING THE GOVT TO BE THEIR MOTHER/FATHER! And if they are needing to work under the table then maybe they need to go back to their country or get their life’s together by doing things the legalway.

        I was low income when I got pregnant, talking under 13,000 a year… I managed.. To think I could have a better life had i not kept my beautiful BLESSING from god would be entirely selfish.. Yeah I could have a good career and more money, bigger house etc, but what good is that without the love of a child.. Seriously, People who choose have abortions are SELFISH and undeserving. The only true responsible decision for someone who doesn’t want a child is to not have SEX!!!

        • p.s: I wasn’t yelling in the beginning, i use caps for most of the data entry i do at work… Just took me a while to notice i was still on caps.

  14. Oh–and about “shoving” a baby out of your body: the body does most of the work itself, although you do need to help it along at the end. But your overall point concerning the profound impact of the whole process of conception’prenancy/birth on our bodies is well taken. And that’s why this is a woman’s decision.

  15. Regarding insurance: a new law in California (as of January 2012) mandates that ALL health insurance policies covering women, whether employer-sponsored or individual, MUST cover pregnancy. This is great if one is a woman of childbearing years, and medically capable of becoming pregnant. However,the law still requires the maternity benefit to be a part of the policies of those of us who are done with all that getting pregnant and giving birth stuff and who can no longer conceive. This seems really dumb to me. A man probably wrote this law. What I could use is a good vision plan . . .

    Also, young women PLEASE educate yourself on the facts and history of childbirth in this country. As this column points out, a huge number of C-sections are done for physician convenience OR–and this is important–because women are being conned into thinking that they aren’t capable of giving birth any other way.

    • Regarding the new maternity coverage: part of health insurance is that is several people pooling together funds to cover illnesses, etc that occur within the group. This means that everyone needs to pay for the maternity benefit in order to spread the cost around, the same way we do for other medical conditions like diabetes and cancer. If you just paid for what you used, the costs for people who did need a maternity rider would be ridiculously high.

  16. Research! Journalism! Thanks for this, Julia, but I have to say: I am SO MAD. To reduce the unplanned pregnancy discussion to just: “Well, if you didn’t want to get pregnant, you shouldn’t have had sex,” is so incredibly uninformed and just overall ridiculous. Even if that’s true, SO WHAT?! Regardless of how unplanned pregnancies happen (education surrounding safe sex and self-esteem and how to protect yourself both emotionally and physically re: sex is a related and equally important issue), the truth of the matter is – they happen! And we have to acknowledge and deal with that. The lack of understanding of the financial, economic, and social issues surrounding pregnancy and child birth is disheartening. You can’t just throw your hands up in the air and say, “Welp. Should’ve closed your legs.” Because that solves nothing. That is not helpful. I am SO MAD.

    • The clincher really is that so many unplanned pregnancies happen after couples have used contraception. And ultimately, it’s just not right to mandate anyone else’s sex life. Personally, I also find it odd that insurance companies will add a rider if a woman has just gotten married — it seems like imposing values.

    • I re-read this and it sounds like I’m mad at you. I’m not! I’m mad at everyone who doesn’t think that birth control/women’shealth/pregnancy aren’t both complicated and incredibly important issues. *woosah*

      • I didn’t think it sounded like you were mad at me, but I appreciate the addedum :). Really, all the research I did and tons more could fit into a 300 page book and still not cover everything about this issue.

  17. Great article, Julia!