Mateos Hayes Head shot

Abortion is one of the most divisive social issues in America in recent times. The polarizing debate on abortion has long been filled with misinformation, fraught emotions and loud, opinionated voices.

But it is also a debate filled with seemingly obvious questions that are seldom answered. Firstly, what does abortion in America look like on average? When can a fetus be considered alive, or to be human? What should be our moral yardstick on this issue?

Let’s try to address some of these questions here, with the hope of bringing a rare gasp of clarity into this raging hurricane of misinformation and partisanship.

The first thing that we should all understand is that regardless of which side you find yourself on in this debate, neither side takes the prospect of abortion lightly. People on both sides understand that to undertake an abortion can be a serious and difficult decision to make. Being pro-choice doesn’t imply that you are pro-abortions out the wazoo.

Some women who make this decision can experience remorse, regret and even depression in its aftermath. From my own personal experience, I know that for some women, it is a decision they never forget.

That being said, it is important to stress that undertaking an abortion has not been linked to an increase in incidence of long-term mental health problems. In fact, women who were unable to get an abortion were proven to exhibit higher anxiety levels when compared to their peers who did get an abortion.

Now, let’s explore what abortion in America looks like on average — just basic details, this will not be graphic, this isn’t the 'Abortress' after all. On average, one in four women will have an abortion by the age of 45. Despite laws in certain states, which require abortion clinics to inform women of the supposed links between breast cancer and abortion, this has been repeatedly proven false.

Women who have had an abortion have been proven on average to have the same risk as other women. The danger of dying during an abortion is 14 times lower than the danger of dying during childbirth, to the point that it is infinitesimally minuscule.

There are two main methods of abortion: one is medical and the other is surgical.

Medical abortion is where a pill is taken which kills the fetus. Surgical, as the name implies, is when the fetus is removed via surgery, typically suction. In the U.S., surgical abortions are more common. The other important aspect of abortions are trimesters. An abortion taken in the first or second trimester – that is, 12 to 13 weeks in – is a simple procedure, and the patient can typically leave the hospital 30 minutes to an hour after the abortion.

For third-trimester abortions, things are more complicated. A specialist is required for this more complex abortion, and some states have made third-trimester abortions illegal except in medical emergencies. Because this is during a period when the fetus is further developed, it is slightly riskier than earlier procedures.

Third-trimester abortions are especially notorious in pro-life circles, where they are labelled “late-term abortions.” The procedure is often referenced when arguing against abortion as it is an especially invasive surgery which can be more painful and significantly more unpleasant. Many of the graphic images of fetuses currently displayed by pro-life protesters on Pedestrian Walkway depict the aftermath of this surgery.

As an aside, if you are new to UT, you should know that the ‘Abortress’ pays us a visit every single year. So, yeah. Welcome to Rocky Top.

More radical elements of the pro-life side have even fanned conspiracy theories, claiming that Planned Parenthood ‘incentivizes’ late-term abortions for organ harvesting.

But here is the thing: Third-term abortions only account for less than one percent of all abortions in the United States. The vast majority – over 90 percent – are abortions undertaken in the first trimester. In other words, these false narratives are totally unfounded by statistical facts.

When it comes to the morality of abortion, there are a plethora of historic, religious and cultural differences that all shape our opinions on it. I am not about to tell you what is the ‘right’ belief you should have on this issue.

What is important for us all to keep in mind when it comes to abortion is that none of us have a moral trump card. For this reason, compassion and understanding should be the words of the day when it comes to the abortion debate for the sake of better dialogue between the two sides.

I will also point out that there is no consensus in either medical science, religion or even philosophy on when a fetus begins to be considered human, and thus have a right to life.

There exist several arguments in all these fields, and many have significant objections against them. All these arguments rely on some amount of vagueness to be credible, and no one is more definitive than any other in delineating when a fetus has the right to life.

Ultimately, the most apparent definitions for when a fetus is considered to have the right to life are social ones. In other words, we are the deciders of when to consider a fetus human or not, and any measurement we use to guide us will be inherently arbitrary. With that in mind, this aspect of the debate seems counterproductive, especially in light of recent developments in regards to abortion in America.

Today, many of the advances that have been made to make abortions more accessible are under attack. Even though abortions are currently legal in America, some states have severely limited access to abortion clinics withTRAP — or Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers — laws. The result has been that some states, such as Mississippi or the Dakotas, only have a single abortion clinic each.

This is an unacceptable situation in a country where abortion is legal. Abortion in America cannot only be legal on paper. It must also be legal in practice.

For this reason, we desperately need to have a more balanced, and more informed, debate on abortion. When women are denied this most basic aspect of women’s health, it is a detriment to the societal and economic well-being of our country.

Our current system for abortions is one in which some states like Texas are forcing rape victims to pay for their own abortions. It is a system which is forcing women in America to undertake highly risky surgeries in underground abortion centers. It is a system that is disproportionately punishing poorer women and women of color for unplanned pregnancies, saddling them with additional financial strains.

The hysteria and misinformation on abortion is so severe that in Tennessee, our state government is trying to erect a memorial to the unborn. Shamefully, State Rep. Bill Dunn (R-TN) likened abortion to the Holocaust and slavery while debating this motion.

Women in this country deserve better than this. They deserve to be informed and they deserve to have a choice.

Mateos Hayes is a junior majoring in history and minoring in philosophy. He may be reached at mhayes57@vols.utk.edu. You can also check out Mateos' blog at https://10rpolitics.blogspot.com for further reading.

Columns and letters of The Daily Beacon are the views of the individual and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Beacon or the Beacon's editorial staff.

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