Can abortions be compared to cigarettes?

Bolstered by the Supreme Court's recent decision, pro-life activists are claiming that abortions aren't just about fetuses: They put the mother's health at risk.

Published May 22, 2007 8:00PM (EDT)

Ooh, boy. Our mailbox has been flooded today with tips about this article in today's New York Times titled "Abortion Foes See Validation for New Tactic."

The gist of the article is that the Supreme Court's recent decision upholding the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act has encouraged a new line of argument for anti-abortion activists: that abortion should be discouraged not just because of its effects on the fetus, but because of its effects on the mother. To quote the Times, antiabortion leaders "say that abortion, as a rule, is not in the best interest of the woman; that women are often misled or ill-informed about its risks to their own physical or emotional health; and that the interests of the pregnant woman and the fetus are, in fact, the same." According to the Times, the court's decision "explicitly acknowledged this argument."

There are several outrageous things going on in this piece, such as the fact that the Times doesn't explain or examine these supposed medical risks (it mentions depression as a potential side effect, but that's about it). Instead, it seems to assume that both sides should be given equal weight.

For example, the article points out that "the Guttmacher Institute, a research institute and affiliate of Planned Parenthood, said recently that 'a considerable body of credible evidence' over 30 years contradicted the notion that legal abortion posed long-term dangers to women's health, physically or mentally." Seems to me to be a perfect time to discuss these supposed medical risks, and inform the reader as to why they may or may not be true.

But, instead, the next paragraph jumps directly to the assertion from Allan E. Parker Jr., president of a conservative Texan group called the Justice Foundation, that educating women about abortion's supposed health risks can be compared to "the long struggle to inform Americans about the risks of smoking." "'We're kind of in the early stages of tobacco litigation,'" Mr. Parker is quoted as saying.

First of all, it's ridiculous to claim that abortion could carry the same level of risk for the mother as smoking. And second, as a reader pointed out in an e-mail to us, "The Times treats the 'scientific' claims of these groups as if it's a legitimate he-said/she-said debate, without bothering to examine or explain the fact that the science involved is plainly bullshit structured to fit a desired outcome, and that it's been repeatedly debunked."

But enough about my own issues with the article's structure. As could be expected, pro-choice activists like Planned Parenthood are none too pleased about the pro-lifers' latest tactics. As Joan Malin, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of New York City, told Broadsheet's Lynn Harris, "It doesn't matter how many different ways anti-choice foes try to distort reality, the facts remain the same: There is absolutely no scientific evidence to show that abortion causes negative long-term physical or mental health consequences. Justice Kennedy admitted as much (even while choosing to ignore reality in favor of manipulative anti-choice ideology) when he wrote in his Supreme Court decision that women come to regret abortions even though 'we find no reliable data to measure the phenomenon.' It is truly a sad day for women's health when the assumptions of five men take priority over medical science."


By Catherine Price

Catherine Price is an award-winning journalist and author of Vitamania: How Vitamins Revolutionized the Way We Think About Food. Her written and multimedia work has appeared in publications including The Best American Science Writing, The New York Times, Popular Science, O: The Oprah Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Washington Post Magazine, Salon, Slate, Men’s Journal, Mother Jones, PARADE, Health Magazine, and Outside. Price lives in Philadelphia.

MORE FROM Catherine Price

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Abortion Broadsheet Love And Sex Motherhood Supreme Court