The Latest Attack on Women’s Lives


The most recent attack on
abortion rights is focused on late term
abortions. As people debate over the actual
number of abortions performed and the different
meanings of "late term abortions,"
"D & X procedure," "third
trimester abortions," and "intact D
& E procedures," the real issue, the
realities of women’s lives has been
obscured. When a woman is pregnant and does not
want to be, whether it is because of fetal
abnormality or because the pregnancy was
unplanned, who has the right to decide whether or
not she will become a parent? The debate over
abortion has always split between those who
believe that women, in consultation with their
health care providers, are capable of making
their own decisions about when they are able to
take on the responsibility of a child, and those
who believe that women’s choices must be
regulated by the states and courts. Unsuccessful
at outlawing abortion, anti-choice forces are
focusing on late abortions in an attempt to deny
access and choice to another group of women.

Women have abortions to
prevent real tragedies in their lives. Real
women. Women just like you, your sister, your
daughter, your mother, your friend. Those having
later abortions are not that much different from
the 99 percent of women who have abortions early
in the pregnancy—just more desperate and
often, more at risk for tragedy:

The 12-year-old incest
survivor, trying desperately to deny the
pregnancy, until someone finally recognizes
what’s been going on;

The 45-year-old woman who
thought she was menopausal, not pregnant;

The welfare mother of
two—faced with cutoffs of Medicaid funding
for abortion, the new welfare rules denying her
support for another pregnancy, and the need to
feed, house, and clothe her children—who is
forced into a later abortion because she
couldn’t find the money for this vital
medical care any sooner;

The rural women—from
one of the 84 percent of U.S. counties with no
abortion provider—who has to go through hell
to even find an abortion provider, let along
organize the transportation, finances, and
support system to make the two state-mandated
trips to the clinic before she can have an

The recovering alcoholic,
newly sober, who recognizes that she needs to
work on her own health before she can become a
parent, particularly of a child that may have
fetal alcohol syndrome;

The battered woman, who
after months of abuse and struggle is finally
free of her abuser, and who recognizes that her
chance of freedom is short-lived if she continues
her pregnancy;

The woman who discovered
that the genetic testing she hoped would give her
good news about her very-wanted pregnancy instead
gave her news that if this same pregnancy
continues, her baby is not only doomed, but
likely to destroy her future chances for a
successful pregnancy;

The woman whose life is
literally on the line from a pregnancy gone
horribly wrong.

These real women could be
any of us. But as the Christian Coalition, the
National Conference of Catholic Bishops, and the
Right have led the debate with graphic
descriptions of the fetus, not one of these real
women is in the picture. The anti-abortion forces
may once again succeed in restricting abortion
rights (as have already for young women and poor
women) if women are invisible.

For women who need later
abortions, the statistics about number of
procedures and the distinction between types of
procedures is meaningless. Whether we are 1 of
500 women or 1 of 50,000, if a woman has decided
that for her own well being and her family’s
that she cannot continue her pregnancy, this has
to be her decision. Women of all ages, races,
ethnic, economic, and religious backgrounds have
abortions for many different reasons; each reason
is as compelling and legitimate as the next. The
debate over late abortions is about women’s
lives and women’s choices; our voices must
not be lost in the debate over numbers and names
of procedures.

Susan Yanow is with the
Abortion Access Project of Massachusetts; Jeanne
Clark is with Women Organizing for Change.