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Another Voice: Women seeking abortions are unfairly demonized

By Gretchen Ely

It came as no surprise that, during his State of the Union address, President Trump intentionally distorted and mischaracterized abortion to elicit political support from an increasingly shrinking anti-abortion base. While he specifically referred to later abortions, he seemed to be advocating an outright abortion ban, despite the fact that the majority of the American public, including half of Catholics and over 60 percent of Protestants, supports access to abortion, according to the Pew Research Center.

This familiar ploy capitalized on current hype around New York’s revised abortion law in order to create hysteria and demonize those who seek and provide abortion care. As has been done for decades, especially in relation to later abortions, shocking and deceptive rhetoric was used to suggest that there are women everywhere who somehow conspire to carry a pregnancy for months and then abort right before birth. In response to this, I ask, is this a realistic picture of the women that you know and love?

As a social worker with experience working with abortion patients, I know that people who get abortions are just members of our community who understand their sometimes very difficult personal circumstances in ways that politicians never could. As a researcher who has worked with data that represents the experiences of poor and vulnerable abortion patients, I recognize that people delay abortions for complex reasons that include needing additional time to gather funding, or so they can make travel and transportation arrangements to get to out-of-town providers.

These types of delays are directly related to restrictive abortion policy. At other times, later abortions are sought because a wanted pregnancy has ended in utero. Regardless of the circumstances, I have never once encountered a person or story that would justify the harsh, stigmatizing rhetoric offered by the president during his address.    

Most are unaware that restrictive state-level abortion laws can prevent termination even in cases involving medical anomaly or risk. The recently revised New York State abortion law ensures protection for abortion rights and expands access to abortion care throughout pregnancy. It should be obvious that later abortions involve extenuating circumstances, given that over 90 percent of abortions take place in the first trimester. In light of this knowledge, why aren’t those seeking later abortions portrayed more sympathetically? Perhaps because accuracy is not compatible with pandering for political gain.  

We can look around us and realize that we are not living among monsters. We are living among people who sometimes get abortions, and sometimes get them later, as a result of various situations that we cannot imagine and are not privy to. These situations are likely complex and possibly heartbreaking, but, no matter the situation, we should not tolerate the president’s demonization of the members of our community that we know and love.

Gretchen Ely, Ph.D., is an associate professor in the School of Social Work at the University at Buffalo.

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