California is on its way to becoming the first state to mandate that public colleges make abortion pills available to students. SB 320, which is the first bill of its kind, passed the state senate last year, and the state house plans to vote on the bill by the end of the month.
Activists herald this likely victory as progress. “[Abortion] is a good thing,” recently-graduated activist Adiba Khan told Bustle. “Anything that allows you to make a better decision about your own life, we consider to be a good thing.” From a libertarian perspective, I certainly agree that protecting autonomy from state intrusion is worth celebrating. But is abortion?
“This movement is about de-stigmatizing abortion,” Khan added, echoing her earlier praise for the procedure. She’s right that offering easy-to-obtain abortion pills (like Mifepristone and Misoprostol) at student health clinics across the state would remove barriers to access, thus creating more abortions. So SB 320 would destigmatize abortion. But maybe abortion carries a stigma it has deserved.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) reports that every month, approximately 500 students venture off campus to receive the abortion pill at University of California (UC) and California State University (CSU) schools. These abortions — done earlier in the pregnancy, but markedly different than the Plan B pill — are called medical abortions or chemical abortions, compared to surgical abortions (like D&C, or dilation and curettage, procedures), which are the main option available later in pregnancy.
These appointments aren’t always easy to arrange for college students. “On average, a student seeking abortion in California will have to wait one week for the next available appointment at the facility closest to their campus — and that’s assuming they can make it to the appointment,” said the ACLU.
As one might expect, burdens of arranging transportation and payment fall on everyone, but disproportionately impact the poor. Per ACLU data, two-thirds of UC students do not have a car. About 51 percent of students across both university systems qualify as low-income.
To make matters worse, in the ACLU’s eyes, only 15 percent of abortion clinics within close proximity of California public universities offer abortion appointments on weekends, meaning the school and work schedules of students are often affected. Since chemical abortions can only be done up until about week 10, time is of the essence — shifting schedules, arranging access to a car, budgeting for an Uber, and dealing with one-week average appointment wait times mean that a woman’s ability to have a chemical abortion might be jeopardized by the time she sorts complex logistics out.
But these activists, in spite of their good feminist bona fides and talking points about increased autonomy, miss that abortion has a stigma for a reason. Pro-choicers continuously reframe abortion in shallow language devoid of meaning. It’s about a woman’s choice, they say. It’s about removing barriers. Or, be proud because abortion is a good thing.
Most organs begin to form at about five weeks of gestation. They’re completely formed by about week 12. At week 10, the fetus can respond to touch. By week 14, you can tell whether the fetus is a male or female, and the fetus can hear your voice. By week 16, distinct eyebrows and eyelashes have formed, and the face is taking distinct shape.
This isn’t to say that life is defined as when eyelashes form, or that women should be harassed, rounded up and handily punished, or made pariahs due to past decisions. That doesn’t seem feasible or loving. That’s no solution to the thousands of unwanted babies that are born every year, or the thousands of unwanted fetuses aborted by mothers in situations of desperation.
But when you look at fetal development, it’s a fact that there is a human body forming. Abortion is stigmatized because the idea of vacuuming a vulnerable developing life out of the womb, which biologically intended to keep the fetus safe, just feels wrong. Same goes for forcing the uterus to expel the fetus by means of a pill. Abortion is stigmatized because we have no clear societal or scientific consensus on when life begins.
For many of us, it’s not as simple as drawing the line at conception or birth. For example, many people (even ostensibly pro-choice people) concede that aborting a fetus at 36 weeks, when it is viable outside the womb, doesn’t feel quite right. Until we find some sort of better litmus test for what constitutes human life and what doesn’t, we should err on the safe side of keeping innocent beings out of harm’s way.
This isn’t to say we can’t have a meaningful discussion about whether a woman’s preferences can trump the needs of her fetus, who relies on her body for sustenance and support. We can discern whether, in some situations (like rape and incest, which are broadly agreed upon as okay situations in which one can abort by pro-lifers and pro-choicers), the psychological damage done to the mother trumps the value of letting the fetus continue to develop. We should have these discussions.
There’s no need to pretend, though, that this is only about access and rights. It’s not as if pro-lifers don’t care about rights; we care about the rights of (what we see as) an innocent human life. Many states morally condone ending the life of a developing baby after organs and fingers and eyelashes have developed. We care about protecting these beings, and weighing their rights against the rights of the mother, who chose to have sex — barring rape exceptions — knowing pregnancy could be the outcome.
If initiatives like California’s are passed, abortion will become a little more blasé. This is exactly what activists want, because it makes this decision one of sisterhood and solidarity, one where autonomy must be fought for and protected on the front lines, as they free their wombs from the clutches of the patriarchy.
This is preferable, perhaps, to recognizing what abortion actually is — a grim decision that involves the taking of a half-developed baby’s life, sometimes out of mere convenience, other times out of desperation and a perceived lack of options. It’s no wonder they want abortion pills on every campus.