“Just Two Teeny, Tiny Pills”: The Power of Medication Abortion

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by Talia Parker.

Talia Parker ’20 is a member of H*yas for Choice’s leadership team.


Let’s talk about medication abortion. It’s just two teeny, tiny pills, but the agency these pills grant is monumental, and every single person around the world should have access to this power if they need it.

Despite manufactured perceptions of abortion as an extremely invasive and traumatic procedure, medication abortion – which currently accounts for about 20 percent of US abortions – is a safe and straightforward process. A medication abortion consists of two pills: mifepristone and misoprostol. In the United States, a person seeking a medication abortion is administered the first pill, mifepristone, in an abortion clinic such as Planned Parenthood or a private doctor’s office. Mifepristone blocks the release of progesterone in the body, which effectively prevents the pregnancy from progressing. Then, 24-48 hours later, the second pill, misoprostol, is taken at home or any comfortable and safe location. Misoprostol empties the uterus, which causes cramping and bleeding for about 5 hours. Medical professionals are on call 24/7 if there are any concerns or complications during the expelling phase of the abortion, but for most people the process is smooth and similar to a heavy period. Medication abortion is an extremely safe medical procedure – only 1 in 100,000 people will die from a medication abortion. Compare that to the fact that in the U.S. approximately 14 in 100,000 people die in childbirth, and that number goes into the two-hundreds when averaged worldwide.

Medication abortions were first approved in the United States in 2000. However, regulations have recently changed – expanded access to the abortion pill in the US means the pill can be administered at up to 10 weeks instead of 9 and the dosage of misoprostol has been reduced by two thirds. These two specifications have made medication abortions much more accessible in the U.S. by decreasing costs for the procedure and increasing the number of people who can use it.

Needless to say, abortion access in the U.S. is constantly threatened by federal and state Republican legislators. However, there are many other countries in the world where abortion is either entirely illegal or severely restricted, and in these countries the abortion pills have created the possibility for a safe underground abortion network.  

The international organization Women on Web sends the two abortion pills to people globally so that they can have abortions on their own. Only serving countries where abortion is extremely restricted or illegal, Women on Web conducts online medical consultations with those seeking abortions and if the procedure is approved, send the medication through the mail. Volunteers at the organization remain in constant digital contact with the patients during their medication abortion for support and to make sure everything is going well. If a patient were to experience a medical complication for any reason, they can go to an emergency room and say they had a miscarriage. The abortion pills mirror the biological process of a miscarriage, so there would be no way for the doctor to be able to tell if the patient is lying, and therefore the patient will not face backlash for the abortion laws in that country.

Wondering how this is legal? People are allowed to receive medication through the mail as long as it is only for personal use. Also, both mifepristone and misoprostol are on the World Health Organization’s list of essential medicines, and because they are not narcotics or controlled substances, no violation of customs regulations occur.

People around the world deserve the right to make their own choices about their own bodies. Abortion pills are a safe way to give people control over their lives, regardless of what country they live in. It is imperative that we continue our fight for safe, legal, and accessible abortions here in the U.S., lest we be added to the list of nations where people are forced to seek abortion through other means.

If you’re interested in making a donation to Women on Web: https://www.womenonweb.org/en/donate

 

Some sources:

https://www.womenonweb.org/en/page/1117/in-collection/6901/is-it-legal

https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/abortion/the-abortion-pill

http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SH.STA.MMRT?name_desc=true

https://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/31/health/abortion-pill-mifeprex-ru-486-fda.html

https://www.womenonweb.org/en/page/523/questions-and-answers-overview

http://worldabortionlaws.com/map/

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Georgetown, You’re Better than Gender Ratios

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If you attend Georgetown, and you enjoy spending your Saturday evenings downing six shots of Cherry Burnetts and half a Natty Lite whilst surrounded by your favorite Jesulittys, then chances are you have encountered bouncers at parties. These figures — almost universally male — determine who gets to enter the humid Henle, and, when it comes to deciding which pack of dizzy first years they allow to enter their domicile, make their judgments based almost entirely on gender. If you pass as male, you know the urgency with which you gather female students outside of parties, hoping to pad your own masculinity with their feminine wiles. If you pass as female, you know how it feels to be begged by Sperry-wearing men to accompany them to the party. You also know how it feels when the bouncer too easily opens the door after a brief glance at your beat face.

Although gender ratios ostensibly benefit women —  perhaps what Reddit-dwelling men’s rights activists might even term “female privilege” — in reality,  the logic behind them reflects patriarchal conceptions of women as sex objects. I will admit — it feels glamorous to glide into an exclusive party with no objection from the host, as a protesting line of men don’t make the cut. Meanwhile, I can imagine that for those who are denied entrance to such functions, it is easy to feel that in this situation, it is women who benefit.

Before feeling empowered or embittered by gender ratios, however, consider the logic justifying them. The appeal of women at these parties derives exclusively from their sex appeal; men hosting parties want women at parties because they want to hook up with them. Therefore, gender ratios privilege the heterosexual male experience by prioritizing their desires. The preferencing of heterosexual cis male needs is a key element to the maintenance of the patriarchy.

Additionally, gender ratios reduce women to society’s perception of their  sexual value. With gender ratios, women are collected, their individuality is disregarded, and the objective of toxic masculinity — to capture women in order to have sex with them — is universalized.

Gender ratios are pervasive at Georgetown; in fact, they are so pervasive that I recently attended a party celebrating the victory of our newly elected GUSA President and Vice-President, Kamar Mack and Jessica Andino, that enforced a gender ratio at the door.

I do not know the details of how their party was organized; for all I know, Mack and Andino were entirely unaware that a bouncer was only admitting girls at the door of the party. I will also clarify that the party was not hosted at Mack or Andino’s own residence, and I did hear discussion inside the party that the bouncer was acting waywardly.

An objective fact remains, however: gender ratios at parties are so ubiquitous at Georgetown, even a party for the executives of the student body government enforces them.

In order to transform this issue, we need to address systemic issues, primarily the way that the patriarchy encourages heterosexual men to view their sexual exploits as conquests, a logic that disregards consent and pleasure, the two most important aspects of sex. On Georgetown’s campus, we need to foster an open dialogue to unpack why we accept and expect gender ratios. Hopefully, then we can create an environment where we can turn up without turning women into currency to be exchanged.

Rachel Biggio (COL ’20) is a member of H*yas for Choice’s leadership team.

Zika, Fear, and Recycling Oppression

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As Spring Break approaches, many of us are heading off on tropical vacations. Unfortunately, many of these destinations attract mosquitoes as well as college students.  Although mosquitoes are not in Cancun for the tequila, they continue to thrive and transmit the Zika virus.  Like many public health emergencies, the Zika outbreak has faded from the headlines.  As students travel to Zika hot zones and as warm weather returns, Zika remains a substantial concern.  

On November 28th, Texas state health officials announced a probable case of local transmission of the Zika virus.  Later that week, Texas finalized a rule requiring facilities that provide abortions to pay for the cremation or burial of fetal remains.  Although these events may not seem interconnected, the narrative of the Zika outbreak centers on reproductive health access, specifically abortion.  Because Zika virus can cause birth defects, including microcephaly, abortion rights activists seized Zika as an opportunity to advocate for removing barriers to abortion, in Texas, and around the world.  The proximity of the most recent Zika outbreak poses an increased risk to the United States and, as a result, secured significant media attention.  Due in part to the strict abortion policies of many Latin American countries, like Brazil, the media and abortion rights activists quickly turned to the potential of the Zika outbreak to liberalize abortion policy.  

Historically, within the United States, German measles outbreaks in the 1960s and early 1970s shifted perceptions of abortion.  Like Zika virus, German measles can cause severe birth defects.  Outbreaks of German measles in pre-Roe America expanded access to abortion beyond cases where the life of the mother was at risk, to cases where the fetus was assumed to have severe developmental defects.  Although outbreaks of German measles led to the expansion of abortion access, and arguably heralded eventual legalization of abortion nationally,  this expanded access to bodily autonomy came at the expense of the disabled community.   American experiences with German measles established an ideology that no parent would want a child with a disability, an assumption that demonstrates a lack of respect for people with disabilities.   

Because advocacy emphasizing children with disabilities successfully expanded abortion access in the United States, it is not surprising that modern pro-choice advocates are using similar tactics to expand abortion access in many Latin American countries.  At issue are both the right of a person to exercise their autonomy and the struggle people with disabilities face justifying their existence.  Reproductive rights advocates in the United States and globally have seized upon the fear of Zika to attempt to confront barriers to abortion access like the new fetal remains rule in Texas.  The depiction and rhetoric of the prenatal effects of Zika employed by pro-choice advocates potentially undermines the lives of people with microcephaly.  Many people could benefit from learning about the realities of raising a child with disabilities.  However, state laws that compel providers to present inaccurate medical information, enforce mandatory waiting periods, and dictate the means of disposal of fetal remains threaten the provider’s autonomy and the autonomy of pregnant persons.  In the context of current state-based abortion policy, the possibility of educating potential parents is burdened with the legacy of reproductive oppression.                     

Still, the reproductive rights community has neglected to address how advocacy for less restrictive abortion policies on the basis of fetal abnormality in areas with local transmission of Zika diminishes the value of the lives of people with microcephaly and other disabilities.  When a provider diagnoses a fetus with microcephaly, a parent who chooses not to terminate their pregnancy may be stigmatized and the child may lack sufficient resources to thrive.  Too often in abortion debates, especially in the United States, the only ethical consideration is whether a fetus has autonomy and, if a fetus has autonomy, at what point that autonomy begins to exist.  Within the framework of Zika, reproductive rights advocates, like myself, are challenged to consider the broader effects of our arguments and actions.  While a person’s reasons for accessing an abortion should not be questioned, the fear-mongering of abortion rights groups as a tactic to increase access to reproductive health care risks oppressing another group of people.  Since people seeking abortions face somewhat similar oppressions in gaining control of their bodies as people with disabilities, reproductive justice activists should understand that utilizing oppressive arguments to gain greater personal autonomy will not create an environment where the autonomy of every person is respected.


Brinna Ludwig (NHS ’17) is a co-president of H*yas for Choice.