Safe. Legal. Rare. Three simple words. On their own, powerless. Devoid of any meaning but their individual Merriam-Webster definitions. But string them together and they become something else entirely.
“Safe, legal and rare.” A phrase that has been used by abortion advocates since the 1990s. A phrase that admits there is something about abortion that demands its rarity. A phrase that, in its beginning, seeks to ominously remind us of the pre-Roe era, a time period during which abortion advocates claimed women died in droves from back-alley abortions. (The truth is much less macabre.)
A phrase that today’s abortion advocates are tired of. Feminist, abortion advocate and writer for The Guardian Jessica Valenti feels strongly enough about it that she wrote an op-ed criticizing Hillary Clinton for not abandoning the tagline.
I support abortion rights. Being pro-choice means a lot of different things to me – among them, that abortion should be safe, legal, accessible, subsidized [i.e., paid for by everyone else but the woman getting the abortion] and provided with empathy and non-judgment…’safe, legal and rare’ is not a framework that supports women’s health needs: it stigmatizes and endangers it.
She isn’t alone in her concern. Dr Tracy Weitz, Director of Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health (ANSIRH) program at the University of California, San Francisco, wrote in a 2010 research article that the tagline increases the “stigma” associated with abortion (a stigma that couldn’t possibly exist because a baby dies in every abortion, right?).
She continues, “‘rare’ suggests that abortion is happening more than it should, and that there are some conditions for which abortions should and should not occur. It separates good abortions from bad abortions.”
Steph Herold, deputy director of the Sea Change Program, says the tagline “implies that abortion is somehow different than other parts of healthcare. We don’t say that any other medical procedure should be rare…We want there to be as many abortions as there needs to be.”
Never once mentioning the other entity involved in every abortion (hint: he or she is alive, genetically unique and their (temporary) name starts with “b” and ends with “aby”), Valenti uses the term “pregnancy,” often preceded by the word “unwanted” repeatedly, as one would say about “unwanted wisdom tooth” or “unwanted belly fat.”
Valenti says “abortion is often just one part of a normal woman’s larger reproductive life,” and on that point we somewhat agree. For the thousands of preborn women who lose their lives every week to abortion, whether targeted by their parents for being “inconvenient” or even for the “issue” of having ovaries instead of testes, abortion is the end of their own chance to make “reproductive health choices” because it is the end of their lives.
For them, for all the women who are like my 11-week old preborn baby, I can agree with Valenti on one more thing: Abortion should not be rare… It should be nonexistent.