Many pro-choice people are completely open about the fact that they want abortion to be regarded as a completely normal healthcare procedure that can be availed of as necessary, no different from any other gynecologic or reproductive health service. In other words, abortion is healthcare, plain and simple. I think these pro-choice people are making a mistake, and not just because I am pro-life. In fact, I think there are three main reasons why abortion is not, and should not be regarded as, healthcare, whether or not you think abortion is wrong.
Abortion as healthcare is inherently misogynistic
Fundamentally, healthcare means caring for health. It means maintaining, promoting or restoring a person’s health, usually through interactions with a healthcare professional. An abortion ends a human life that is developing within another human’s body. This means that it clearly does not fit the definition of healthcare when considered from the foetus’s point of view. However, what about the woman’s point of view? The effect of an abortion is to transition the woman from being pregnant to not being pregnant. If we maintain that this is healthcare, we are maintaining that her health has been maintained, promoted or restored by ending her pregnancy. But that can only be true if pregnancy is somehow unhealthy.
This is a blatantly misogynistic stance. It assumes that being pregnant is inferior to not being pregnant. It assumes that moving a woman’s body closer to the natural state of a man’s body has improved her health. It moves pregnancy from a normal, natural state of the human body to a pathological state that must be remedied via medicine, or healthcare. It literally treats pregnancy as a sickness that must be cured using modern medicine. This is a disgusting stance to take, and no women’s rights advocate should stand over this argument.
Abortion as healthcare undermines progress in mental health awareness
One objection to the argument above is that abortion is healthcare in that it can promote, maintain or restore a woman’s mental health. This argument has its roots in the recent and very welcome trend to take mental health seriously, and to allow mental health professionals to have their services viewed as essential healthcare services that have for too long been marginalised. However, the medical evidence that abortion treats mental health issues is simply not there. (We’ll go over this evidence in an upcoming post).
I think when abortion is commonly referred to as treating mental health, or as an important tool for improving mental health, what people are actually referring to is distress. I am more than happy to admit that pregnancy can be incredibly distressing, and it stands to reason that ending the pregnancy can (no guarantees, but it can) relieve that distress. However, to equate distress with mental health difficulties completely undermines the great strides that have been made in recent years in mental health awareness. Specifically, one thing that medical and mental health professionals have been trying to point out is that mental illness is an illness. This is why it’s so toxic, so unhelpful, so wrong to tell someone who is suffering from mental health issues to just “snap out of it”, “cheer up”, “get over it”, etc. Such attitudes reduce real mental health difficulties and illnesses to normal bouts of up and down mood swings that we all experience.
There is a difference between being distressed over something that is genuinely distressing and having a mental health illness. This is what mental health professionals have been tirelessly raising awareness of in recent years. And categorising something like an abortion as healthcare on the grounds that it can relieve distress refuses to acknowledge that difference, and in fact equates two completely different things.
Abortion as healthcare opens the door to coercion from healthcare providers
One final reason that pro-choice people should not argue that abortion is healthcare is because pro-choice people are (usually) strongly motivated by the idea that abortion should be determined by the woman’s free choice and nothing more. Nothing other than the woman’s personal preference should determine whether and when she has an abortion, according to most pro-choice people. However, when it comes to healthcare, the opinion and experience of the healthcare provider is essential in helping the person to decide whether to undergo a particular procedure or course of treatment. Doctors and other healthcare professionals would be seriously remiss in their duty if they did not recommend particular courses of action to their patients, while always acknowledging that the patient themselves makes the final decision.
One of the reasons I am so strongly pro-life is because three good friends of mine were put under moderate to extreme pressure by their doctors to abort their babies. In one case, it was because the baby had a disability. In another case, it was because the doctor suspected due to the woman’s age that she was high risk for a disability (the doctor was strongly recommending prenatal testing for Downs Syndrome, and explicitly recommended an abortion if the test was positive. My friend ultimately refused to undergo testing and the baby was born without Downs Syndrome). In the third case, my friend was young and was pregnant unexpectedly. There were no health concerns, physical or mental, and yet both her doctor and midwife, on separate occasions, recommended an abortion.
If we believe abortion is a woman’s free choice, this kind of behaviour by healthcare professionals, or the coercion that Baby Christopher’s parents experienced, has absolutely no place. But if abortion is healthcare, is it not completely appropriate for healthcare providers to offer their opinion? Would they not be remiss in their duty if they failed to recommend a particular medical procedure that, in their professional opinion, their patient should consider, or perhaps strongly consider?
I believe, for these reasons, that viewing abortion as healthcare is ultimately irreconcilable with a pro-choice stance. I believe pro-choice people should instead view abortion as more akin to purely cosmetic surgery – a procedure that is performed by healthcare professionals, and that may have second and third order effects on a person’s health, but that is not and should not be referred to as healthcare.