By Catherine Smith
Joan Rivers’ unfortunate and unexpected passing seems to have produced some distasteful fodder to the pro-life movement. I was struck by the distorted logic that blog writer, Jill Stanek, presented in her article about the comedienne’s tragic event, where she laments the recent striking down of a couple of T.R.A.P. (targeted regulation of abortion providers) laws. Specifically, she referred to the rulings of two Federal judges, against laws that would require abortions in Texas to be performed in ASCs (ambulatory surgery centers), and Louisiana abortion doctors to have admission privileges at local hospitals. Texas had 44 clinics earlier this year, before their admission privilege law went into effect, bringing the number down to 19. The passage of these new laws would’ve forced more closings, bringing the total number of clinics for the entire state of Texas down to seven, and two in Louisiana.
Stanek, as well as other T.R.A.P. supporters insist that these laws are intended to protect women’s health, and she calls the judges’ rulings “abortion distortion,” because of the 411 women that have died as a direct result of abortions. She would like for us to believe that the fact that Rivers suffered a respiratory and cardiac arrest during a minor outpatient procedure proves that abortions carry similar risks because they are also minor outpatient procedures. She would also have us believe that because her doctor has admission privileges, the chance of River’s survival was improved. The true “abortion distortion” is that these laws are actually detrimental to women’s health and their families.
Abortion distortion on ASCs
First trimester abortions are extremely low risk. The 411 deaths Stanek was referring to, happened from 1973 to 2009, and represent a rate of 0.81 per 100,000. Joan Rivers was one of the first people ever to joke about abortions. In the 1960s, she talked about how some of her friends would leave the country to get an “appendectomy,” and some of them would go on multiple occasions. Incidentally, even though this procedure carries a far greater risk, there are no specific laws stipulating the type of facility where appendectomies may be conducted. No such laws are written for miscarriage treatment either, although the procedure is identical to abortions. Colonoscopies carry a 40 times greater risk of death than abortions, yet Katie Couric aired hers on television to demonstrate that it’s not such a big deal. If health and safety are a concern, why only require procedures that carry the lowest risk to be conducted in surgical centers?
Abortion distortion on admitting privileges
Admitting privileges are for physicians who routinely have patients in the hospital. Once their patients are admitted, they have access to the computer system and can write orders and coordinate treatment plans. A doctor can lose these privileges if they commit malpractice or engage in other types of misconduct. Physicians who never, or rarely have patients in the hospital are not likely to be eligible for admitting privileges. They are not familiar with the system and would most likely prefer to have another doctor, who is familiar with the system and with handling emergencies, take over. Rivers’ physician had admitting privileges because he dealt with high-risk procedures and high-risk patients. How often do women, at the age of 81, request abortions?
Clearing up the abortion distortion on abortions
Both pro-life and pro-choice proponents are highly interested in reducing the number of abortions. Where they differ is how they choose to achieve this goal. Pro-lifers believe that abortions should be avoided under all circumstances, because life is precious and we have no right to take it away from the innocent. The strategy is to limit access to abortions and maintain control of women’s bodies. By forcing clinics to shut down, women have to take time off from work, find alternate means of daycare, drive hundreds of miles, suffer through humiliating screenings, endure unnecessary stress, delay the procedure, and even find desperate and unsafe alternatives. Worldwide, 47,000 women die each year from unsafe abortions. It is inconceivable that safe abortion clinics should be shut down under the pretense of protecting women’s health and safety.
Pro-choicers believe that a woman has the right to control what happens to her own body and should not be forced into mothering a child that she’s not ready for. The Constitution guarantees women the right to safe and accessible abortions. The need for abortions can be reduced by preventing unwanted pregnancies, and is best achieved by increasing access to contraception, providing support to low-income families, and teaching comprehensive sex education. Joan Rivers joked that the best form of birth control for her was to leave the lights on!
Cathy Smith has a Bachelor of Science in Biology from the University of Texas at San Antonio, and a Bachelor of Science in Pharmacy from the University of Texas at Austin. She is a licensed pharmacist in Texas and Michigan and has been a hospital pharmacist for twenty-three years. She’s currently a clinical hospital pharmacist at a southeast Michigan teaching hospital.