“Keep Abortion Rare” is a pretty common phrase in the political and cultural conversation around abortion.
And it isn’t just coming from anti-choice folks – more often, it’s actually coming from the pro-choice side.
Declared proudly by former President Clinton and repeated by “pro-choice” politicians over the last decade, the phrase often accompanies a plea to keep abortion legal.
You’ll see it on signs and banners at an abortion rally, with the phrase: “Keep Abortion Safe, Legal, and Rare.”
This sentiment is often championed and portrayed as “something we can all agree on.” But is it really a desire we have, let alone one that we should be making heard?
Is it even right? How does this kind of logic affect the abortion movement and all those who seek abortions?
1. We Can’t ‘Keep Abortion Rare’ Because It Isn’t
Abortion isn’t rare.
1-in-3 women in the United States will have had an abortion by the time she is 45.
This is an experience that a lot of people have had, and it’s far more common than many of us are willing to admit. Thanks to that big awful bubble of stigma, many of us just keep our stories locked up and hidden away in shame.
One of the worst lies we can tell about abortion is that no one is having them.
This only serves to make those who have had, or are considering, an abortion feel that much more alienated and alone. So let’s be honest about it.
Read more about how dominant narratives around abortion are based in shame, stigma, and silence in my article here.
2. Abortion Isn’t a Bad Thing
So we shouldn’t be talking about it like it is.
It’s not just the phrase that’s the problem, but the sentiment behind it.
Beneath the desire to keep abortion rare, people say, is a desire to reduce unintended pregnancies, which is completely legitimate.
Unintended pregnancies are hard, can put undue stress on everyone involved, and can be reduced in pretty simple ways, like better sexuality education and greater access to contraception.
But the word being used here isn’t unintended pregnancies, it’s abortion.
And when people say “keep abortion rare,” they’re promoting a narrative that says abortion is inherently a bad thing.
But abortion isn’t something bad, and it isn’t something to be ashamed of. It can actually be a positive experience for some people and is something that many people are glad that they have access to when they need it.
It’s unfortunate and hurtful to our movement when people who identify as pro-choice continue to view and promote the perspective of abortion as a “bad” thing and something to reduce.
The fact is, abortion is a relatively simple medical procedure and should be viewed similarly to other medical procedures in that all those who need or want it should have access to it.
3. Not Rare, But Accessible
If we need a slogan, why don’t we make it, “Keep Abortion Safe, Legal, and Accessible?” Because that’s our biggest problem today.
With countless women needing abortions and not being able to have them due to legal, geographical, and financial barriers, the number of abortions in the US is, if anything, actually too low.
When there are women who can’t get an abortion because they live in one of the 87% of counties in America that does not have an abortion clinic, that number is too low.
When there are poor women all over the country who can’t get an abortion because the Hyde amendment prohibits Medicaid from helping women pay for abortions, that number is too low.
When are there are girls under 18 who can’t get abortions because of parental notification laws in their state, that number is too low.
When there are women who don’t get an abortion because of scare tactics through crisis pregnancy centers and mandatory counseling laws, that number is too low.
When there are women who don’t get an abortion because of harassment and violence outside of abortion clinics, that number is too low.
When there are women and girls who don’t get an abortion due to the intense cultural stigma and shame surrounding the medical procedure, that number is too low.
We don’t need to lower the number of abortions happening in a time when too many women who need an abortion cannot get one.
So let’s make accessibility the real focus, okay?
Which brings me to…
4. Who Cares What the Number Is, Anyway?
Why is the number of women who are having abortions really the issue?
And is reducing or altogether stopping the rate of abortion something we really want? Abortions have been happening since the beginning of time, when women used herbs and other methods to self-induce abortions.
Abortions will never not happen – they always have, and they always will.
The difference we are fighting for is how they happen: in back alleys or in clinics? The difference we are fighting for is who can get them: wealthy women who can afford to get past the financial barriers put in place or everyone?
Women are not a statistic. We need to stop focusing on the number of abortions and the “making it rare” concept as if that really says anything.
Women (as well as trans men and genderqueer people) will continue to have abortions, and the number doesn’t matter. What matters is that those who need abortions can get them.
5. We Don’t Need Protection
The sentiment that goes along with “keeping abortion rare” is that abortion is something to be ashamed of.
It promotes a kind of stigma around abortion that only serves to keep people “in the closet” about their abortions and prevents anyone from talking about their experiences.
This stigma also serves to ramp up political support for new laws that make it harder for people to get abortions.
These laws are usually written and promoted in paternalistic ways, to make them seem like they’re set up as protection.
TRAP laws, the laws that have been put in place to unfairly target and regulate abortion clinics to the point of causing many of them to close, was supposedly about “keeping people safe,” just as mandatory counseling and ultrasounds laws are supposedly about “keeping us informed.”
Stop with the paternalism already. These laws aren’t about protecting people. They’re about hurting them.
So the next time that you see someone at a pro-choice rally with a “Keep Abortion Safe, Legal, and Rare” sign or hear someone say it, consider starting a dialogue with them.
Talk about how the logic behind that sentiment serves to hurt the abortion movement by further stigmatizing abortion and setting us up for even more aggressive and regulatory anti-abortion laws that make accessing abortion ever more difficult for everyone.
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Laura Kacere is a Contributing Writer for Everyday Feminism and is a
n feminist activist, social justice organizer, clinic escort, and yogi living in Washington, D.C. Laura coordinates theWashington Area Clinic Defense Task Force, teaches yoga with the intent of making it accessible to all, and does outreach for the DC-based sex worker support organization, HIPS.When she isn’t on her mat or at the clinic, she’s usually thinking about zombies, playing violin, eating Lebanese food, and wishing she had a cat. Follow her on Twitter @Feminist_Oryx. Read her articles here.
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