Effects of an abortion ban: every vagina a potential crime scene

Some time ago, I vowed to do a series of posts about abortion. And I started it. First, I theorized that the pro-life movement was fueled, not by the desire to preserve life, but by the urge to reign in women’s sexuality. Then I wrote about how the anti-abortion movement depicts women. Then I wrote an update with more information about the first two posts.

And now the important post, what effect an abortion ban may have. We have no idea how an abortion ban would affect the country until it happens. Until then, we can only guess. And we can look to other countries as examples.

In Mexico, where abortions are outlawed, an exception is made for women who have been raped. How’s that working out? Not so well, according to a Human Rights Watch report.

Police, public prosecutors, and health officials treat many rape victims dismissively and disrespectfully, regularly accusing girls and women of fabricating the rape. Specialized public prosecutor’s offices on sexual violence, where they exist, are often in practice the only place to report sexual violence, further impeding access to justice for rape victims in more remote locations. Many victims of violence fear retribution from the perpetrator, especially if he is a family member. As a consequence, the vast majority of rape victims do not file a report at all. Generous estimates suggest 10 percent of rape victims file an official complaint. The real proportion is likely even less.

For rape victims who become pregnant but do not report the rape, legal abortion is ruled out….


The full horror of what rape victims go through in their attempt to obtain a legal abortion—often including humiliation, degradation, and physical suffering—is in essence a second assault by the justice and health systems.

Think about it. Even if an abortion ban is “moderate” and allows for the exception of an abortion in the case of rape or incest, the raped woman seeking an abortion must prove that her pregnancy was the result of a crime.

While the Mexican example seems extreme, consider a woman who was date-raped, or raped while unconscious. Not only do plenty of people believe a woman “deserves” what she gets for allowing herself to put into that situation, there’s likely to be little or no traumatic physical evidence that the sex was not consensual.

Even if rape would be easily proved or in the case of incest where a blood test could be done to determine that the father is…well…the father…it’s likely that the trauma of going through a bureaucratic procedure would discourage many women from even applying for an abortion.

In a related story, this week’s upcoming New York Times Magazine is going to run a full feature called “Pro-Life Nation,” a description of the full criminalization of abortions in El Salvador. (You can hear an interview with the article’s author, Jack Hitt, about the topic.)

Frankly, it sounds gruesome.

First, since there are no exceptions to the criminalization of abortion in El Salvador, women who were raped or whose pregnancy endangers their lives may not get an abortion. It’s all illegal.

In the interview, Hitt cited what happens in the case of an ectopic pregnancy – one where the fertilized egg does not drop into the uterus, but is instead caught in the fallopian tube. In all cases of such a pregnancy, the fetus dies. If the fetus isn’t removed, it will continue to grow until it ruptures the woman’s fallopian tube and causes massive internal bleeding, which could lead to the woman’s death.

In El Salvador, doctors can only monitor an ectopic pregnancy until either the fetus dies or until the rupture of the fallopian tube occurs. Otherwise an abortion is illegal.

Furthermore, if a doctor performs an examination of woman and finds evidence of an abortion, he must report her to the authorities, who procure a search warrant for the woman’s vagina. A state-hired “forensic vagina specialist” then examines the woman for proof of her crime. (Yes, this is an actual job title.)

And everyone involved in an illegal abortion can be prosecuted, including the abortionist, woman, and anyone who knew about the procedure – a boyfriend, say, or mother – but didn’t turn the woman in.

Again, El Salvador is an extreme example. But it brings to light the necessary bureaucratic measures needed to police an abortion ban. Every woman’s vagina under an abortion ban is a potential crime scene.

Budge and I duke it out over just about everything, but every now and then he says something smart. Here’s the latest:

I see [government's] pernicious unintended consequences of action that, more often than not, are worse than the ill government hopes to cure and I hold that the individual is sovereign over the state within the bounds of respecting everyone’s liberty.

Most folks agree that abortions are unfortunate and should be avoided. But I think Mexico and El Salvador show us that a comprehensive abortion ban as a solution to reducing abortions would only create a bigger problem, a government intruding, literally, into its citizens' private lives.


  1. Your argument is weak, in that you’re justifying killing millions of unborn childern for the less-than-one-tenth-of-a-percent pregnancy’s from forcible rape?

  2. The point is, regardless of what you think of abortion, an abortion ban is bad news. If you want to reduce the number of abortions, abortion bans are not the way.

  3. It may sound weak to you, Eric, but it certainly isn’t weak to me. Remember that I had to deal with this situation in the late 70’s when abortions were illegal in most of America. My wife was in a situation where she would have probably died had she carried to full term and the baby was certainly not going to be make it. While the doctor that diagnosed the situation knew that the only alternative was a medically necessary abortion, he could not prescribe that action because in the state we lived (Idaho – I was attending Naval Nuclear Prototype school in Idaho Falls), abortion was illegal. Luckily for us, he suggested a doctor in Missoula (where abortions were legal) and I sent my wife to stay with my parents so she could have the abortion. Was it easy on either my wife or I? Absolutely not. It was a horrifying experience – one which I would not like to repeat. Would we have made the same choice today? In a New York Second.

    You can go ahead of talk all you want about the horrors of abortion but until you actually have some kind of experience in the subject, you are just pissing in the wind, as far as I am concerned…


  4. Rogue

    There shouldn’t be a ban on abortions because if there is more and more women will seek backstreet abortions and then more lives will be risked. People who are anti-choice say the care about life but they only care about the potential life of the fetus, when do they think of the woman’s life?

  1. 1 Intelligent Discontent » Blogs and the Media: Kemmick and Crisp

    […] I think you are reading the wrong blogs, man. Some of the things we write are snarky, mean-spirited, or even juvenile, but often (at least occasionally), they are right. I’ll stand by this criticism of Charles Johnson’s recent piece. Matt’s criticism of The Missoulian’s editorial the other day was dead on. Touchstone offered a thoughtful analysis of abortion rights. Montana, and the nation have some damn fine thinkers who don’t have access to the media on a regular basis, and they’re worth giving a read. Why? Because just as blogs are insular, so is the media. Why else would Larry Sabato be the ‘go to guy’ for 6 of 10 articles about political analysis? Why do the same pundits appear on the TV news shows every week? The insular, enclose world of the media and its subjects is one that needs to be examined, by thoughtful bloggers, reporters, and editors. The bottom line is this. In the same way that it wouldn’t be fair to criticize the news media based on the Investor’s Business Daily, Washington Times, or  Soviet Pravda, it’s not fair to condemn blogs based on the bottom of the barrel. Read the good stuff–right and left, and you will find nuanced, thoughtful analysis–and occasionally something that you hadn’t thought of before. Sure, I’d love to have more discussion and dialogue on the web, but if that can’t happen, I think it’s a damn sight better to have informed, articulate advocates forcing everyone to be more accountable. […]

  2. 2 4&20 blackbirds » Blog Archive » Reid and Clinton’s declaration on abortion

    […] This proposal is definitely a step in the right direction. As I've written before an abortion ban would lead to excessive governmental intrusion into our private lives and likely to prove damaging to millions of young women across the country. And an abortion ban wouldn't stop abortions, it would just criminalize them and those who have them. […]

  3. 3 4&20 blackbirds » Blog Archive » Reducing abortion

    […] A while back, Dave Budge drilled into a post I wrote about a recent proposal by Sens. Clinton and Reid to reduce the number of abortions Americans have by providing more access to family-planning services, thus reducing unwanted pregnancies. The eloquent title of Budge’s work sums up his message: “Getting off at the public trough.”In my recent posts on abortion, I warned against the dangers of imposing a comprehensive ban on abortion: every miscarriage will be a potential murder, every woman a suspect during her gynecological examinations. While many of us don’t have a problem with abortion, there is a rising movement in the States that does. So the question is, how can we compromise? How can we reduce abortions without imposing draconian measures that treats women’s bodies as property of the state? […]

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