Miner’s canary

Image: Billy Hathorn

Miner’s Canary. Image: Billy Hathorn

Miner’s canary:

  1. A caged bird kept caged in mine tunnels because its demise provided a warning of dangerous levels of toxic gases.
  2. (idiomatic) Something whose sensitivity to adverse conditions makes it a useful early indicator of such conditions; something which warns of the coming of greater danger or trouble by a deterioration in its health or welfare

On a major road near my home sits a small medical practice. It’s an unassuming building, with a small sign touting its primary doctor’s name, yet it catches my attention nearly every time I drive by.  Day or night, rain or shine, I see people — as few as 1 or as many as 10 — standing outside, protesting its provision of abortion services. The most prominent sign they display is “Pray to end abortion,” and I always get irked to no end, because they’ve got it all wrong.

When I see that sign, I think “Don’t pray to end abortion; pray to end poor access to adequate health care and misinformation about contraceptives.” By that, I mean: abortion isn’t the bigger problem. Unplanned/unwanted pregnancies are.  A “high” number of abortions is merely a symptom of the bigger problem, which is women being pregnant when they are not ready or do not want to be.  And those pregnancies, by and large, are the result of inaccurate information being provided to sexually active people who do not have access to birth control methods that they know how to use effectively.

I don’t pretend to know all of the reasons why women choose to terminate pregnancies. I can image they include unreadiness for parenting, lack of financial capacity to care for a (new) child, risks to their personal health and myriad other reasons that would give them pause before running to sign up for a baby registry.  But I find it hard to believe that women want to get abortions.  There are physical and emotional repercussions for that choice, none of which are particularly pleasant.  If a woman gets an abortion it is likely because she (maybe in conjunction with her partner and/or family) have deemed it the best choice at that time, regardless of how unpleasant it is.

I find it infuriating that conversations about abortion have become very much about the life of the child and at what point life begins.  But those are secondary.  Sometimes tertiary.  The primary issue is that there’s a pregnancy that a woman has chosen not to carry to term.  So presumably, the pregnancy itself is the issue. So how do we avoid it?  Rather than be reactive, society should be figuring out ways to be proactive in preventing these pregnancies.

When I was younger, the extent of sex talks I heard were “Don’t have sex until you’re married.” There was no room for debate or discussion.  Luckily, I lived in an area where relevant information about sexual health was abundant and I never felt uninformed.  Further, I had easy access to the internet and knew how to use it.  I knew what contraceptives were around and how they worked.  Access wasn’t always so cut and dry, but I figured it out.  That’s not the case for many women. Whether it be their home environment, their educational institution, or myriad other factors, getting any information at all about how to prevent pregnancy when you’re sexually active can be a true burden. And even if you do get any information, there’s no guarantee that it’s accurate.  I can’t even count how many times I’ve heard information about the long- and short-term effects of various contraceptives, many of them rife with inaccuracies and just flat out lies.

I’m a firm believer of “when you know better, you do better.”  When people have access to accurate info and actually have a means to get the product, they will take advantage.  When women have medically accurate information about what types of birth control options exist, they can determine what, if any, are appropriate for them to use.  Further, when they have realistic access to said methods (e.g. health insurance, low-cost methods, low co-pays, etc.), they might actually find themselves in a position to take advantage of those birth control options.  And because humans are fallible, they also need to know what is means to use these contraceptives effectively. What good is it to have a tool if you don’t know how to use it to do its job, right?

The stigma around abortion falls squarely on the shoulders of women, so why shouldn’t they be empowered realistically to prevent it if they can? Instead of reacting to an outcome, we need to be proactive about preventing it in the first place.  It’s what’s fair and it’s what’s right.

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