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The unseen faces of abortion

The events of 2020 expose contradictions in the pro-abortion message

The unseen faces of abortion

Activists rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court on March 4, 2020, during oral arguments for June Medical Services v. Russo. (Jack Gruber/USA Today/Sipa USA/Alamy)

Last year’s COVID-19 lockdowns in the United States sparked fights between state governments and abortion groups over whether abortion is essential or elective. State governments in March and April halted nonessential medical procedures to conserve medical supplies. Governors in states including Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Virginia carved out exceptions for abortion facilities, while 11 other states deemed abortion procedures elective. 

Some abortion facilities in these states, including Ohio, flouted the orders and insisted abortions are essential despite decades of calling them a matter of choice. State officials responded with cease-and-desist notices, but the cases landed in court. Judges ultimately blocked most of the orders, and states lifted their restrictions by May, allowing abortions to continue despite the pandemic. 

Pro-life pregnancy centers and other groups got to talk with some of the women pursuing abortion during the pandemic. The National Institute of Family and Life Advocates polled 473 affiliate pregnancy centers in an April webinar and found 42 percent of them reported an increase in patients interested in abortion, likely due to COVID-19. By the end of March, the pro-life Human Coalition’s pregnancy help line was taking 500-700 calls a day. Many women mistakenly called to ask about abortion. Relational issues, housing, or finances—not the pregnancy itself—pushed most of those callers toward abortion. “The main concern that we’re seeing across the board is that they’re concerned about being able to pay for their existing children,” Lori Szala, national director of client services for the Human Coalition, said in March. One woman wanted to have an abortion because she had lost her job and health insurance. Once the Human Coalition helped her find employment at Amazon, she continued the pregnancy. “We need to remember that there are families in crisis that need our help,” Szala said. “They need to know they’re not alone.”

Abortion group British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) found in a survey that some women who pursued abortions in Great Britain during the pandemic weren’t finding that kind of help. One respondent said she felt “forced into a corner” because she had little means to support the child from her unplanned pregnancy. “I did something I never imagined I would ever do,” wrote another woman. “But at the back of my mind all I kept thinking is how would I have managed financially. … I had to do this.”

In a year when pro-abortion groups saw victories in medical technology, legal fights, and abortion-as-discrimination, faces like these—of women looking for better choices—often went unseen. 

MANY WOMEN WHO RESPONDED to the BPAS survey aborted their babies through Great Britain’s new “pills by post” program. Although implemented in the name of women’s health to help protect against the spread of COVID-19 at abortion facilities, the program limits in-facility assessments, which puts women at risk of taking the pill under dangerous conditions. Leaked May emails from the country’s health system showed that at least two women died from complications caused by their at-home abortions, and others hemorrhaged or suffered from infections. 

In January, before the coronavirus reached pandemic status, Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières) announced its partnership with the How to Use Abortion Pill website. The site offers an online course on the pills supposedly intended to teach health professionals in humanitarian aid settings, but it gives specific directives to pregnant women. 

Portions of the website encourage women in countries with protections for the unborn to ignore the law and lie about their abortions if they need medical assistance after taking the pill. But women in the poor countries where MSF operates may not get that help. Not only do some women have to travel long distances for medical care, but staff and equipment shortages often leave doctors unable to treat a woman’s complications even if she arrives in time.

U.S.-based online abortion pill startups also began sending pills to women’s homes and ignoring the medical issues that could arise without a proper consultation. The method makes it difficult to track complications, but the providers insist it’s safe and effective. 

Omar Marques/Getty Images

Protesters march against the Constitutional Court ruling in Krakow, Poland. (Omar Marques/Getty Images)

THE U.S. ABORTION INDUSTRY muffled other voices concerned about women’s health in 2020. In January, both houses of the Virginia Legislature passed bills rescinding state laws requiring women to obtain an ultrasound and wait 24 hours before having an abortion. Pro-life nurse Paige Coulter saw the removal of the ultrasound requirement as a threat to women’s health: “My biggest fear as a nurse is that women would be experiencing complications, and without that ultrasound component, they’re not being fully assessed.” She sees abortionists as the beneficiaries: They profit from rushing women into permanent decisions that they’ll later regret. 

Five months later, the Supreme Court handed down a decision in the controversial abortion case June Medical Services v. Russo. The court sided with groups that prioritize abortion access over women’s health. Their attorneys argued the laws requiring Louisiana abortionists to have hospital admitting privileges would close down abortion facilities. Pro-life groups said letting abortionists evade common medical standards will put the lives and health of women at risk.

The June Medical case was argued and decided while Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg still anchored the liberal wing of the court. After her death, the addition of Justice Amy Coney Barrett in late 2020 gave pro-lifers hope the court will hand down rulings more protective of pregnant women and babies. 

“My biggest fear as a nurse is that women would be experiencing complications, and without that ultrasound component, they’re not being fully assessed.”

THE SAME MONTH the Supreme Court handed down its June Medical decision, 300 employees of Planned Parenthood of Greater New York said it paid black staff members less than white ones and offered them little upward mobility. The employees said “Planned Parenthood was founded by a racist, white woman” and “has a history and a present steeped in white supremacy.” (Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger promoted limiting the reproduction of minorities and the disabled.) 

The New York affiliate removed Sanger’s name from its Manhattan facility. In a similar move, U.K.-based abortion provider Marie Stopes International changed its name to MSI Reproductive Choices in November to distance itself from its eugenicist founder and its history of pushing abortions and contraceptives on certain populations. Former Planned Parenthood manager Abby Johnson remembers employees talking about Sanger’s racist worldview when Johnson worked at a Texas facility in the early 2000s. But, looking back, she said most of the comments were dismissive, along the lines of Everybody was racist at the time.

Natacha Pisarenko/AP

Pro-abortion activists in Buenos Aires watch live video of Argentine lawmakers debating an abortion bill. (Natacha Pisarenko/AP)

THE ABORTION INDUSTRY WORLDWIDE is still racist. German researcher Adrian Zenz exposed the forced abortions and sterilizations of Uighur Muslims and other ethnic minorities in China. Officials imprison parents who have more than two children. They detained for months a Kazakh woman pregnant with her third child, then forcibly aborted the baby. Radio Free Asia reported on Uighur infanticide. James Leibold, a specialist in Chinese ethnic policy, linked such killing to “China’s long history of dabbling in eugenics.”

The dabbling continued in England, where the Conservative Party government rolled out a new prenatal screening method that will allow mothers to determine if their unborn babies have Down syndrome. Pro-lifers there fear the new testing will lead to more abortions of Down syndrome babies. Even without the new technique, 90 percent of parents of Down syndrome babies in the U.K. already abort their babies. Similar testing methods in Denmark have led parents to abort 95 percent of unborn babies diagnosed with chromosomal abnormalities. Parents in Iceland abort almost 100 percent of Down syndrome–diagnosed babies. 

In October, conservative Poland’s highest court ruled that aborting a baby because of congenital defects is unconstitutional, effectively eliminating legal abortion in the country. The next day, women turned out in the streets of Polish cities by the thousands to protest. Wearing masks and dark clothing, they bore the red lightning bolt—a symbol of women’s rights—and defied tear gas and the threat of spreading COVID-19. “I think, I feel, I decide,” some chanted. Others yelled, “Freedom, equality, women’s rights.” Some Polish women have stripped naked in front of governmental buildings in protest.

In Argentina in December, thousands of women and young people wearing green bandannas in support of abortion spent a Thursday night in front of the capitol in Buenos Aires. The Chamber of Deputies was debating a bill to legalize abortion in the majority Catholic country. The bill passed 131 to 117. Later that month the Senate concurred, 38-29, and President Alberto Fernández signed the bill into law. 

Meanwhile, pro-lifers in the U.S. and elsewhere looked forward to a COVID-19 vaccine but discussed the ethics of benefiting from a cell line that began with the kidney cells of a baby girl aborted in the Netherlands in the 1970s. The Charlotte Lozier Institute showed that the AstraZeneca vaccine and at least five others used HEK293, the baby’s cell line, to grow the coronavirus and create inactive versions to use in the vaccines. Companies Altimmune and Janssen Research and Development used the PER.C6 cell line, also taken from an aborted baby.  

The new mRNA technology used in Moderna’s and Pfizer’s vaccines did not require cells in the design or production stages, although developers used the HEK293 cells to test the vaccines.

Leah Hickman

Leah Hickman

Leah is a reporter for WORLD Magazine and WORLD Digital. She is a World Journalism Institute and Hillsdale College graduate. Leah resides in Cleveland, Ohio. Follow her on Twitter @leahmhickman.


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  • Adam Rodriguez
    Posted: Sun, 01/31/2021 06:05 pm


    That's the kind of direct, forceful, objective reporting that makes me a devoted reader of WORLD. Thank you for telling it like it is!