The estimated reading time for this post is 6 minutes.

As I was scanning my reddit feed one oddly lazy Saturday morning, I came across an article talking about proposed abortion legislature in Poland. If you’d like to read about it, you can do so here, but the gist of it is that unless the mother’s life was actively in danger, abortion would be outlawed. These rights behind abortion and the possible issues in the future this brings about makes me think a lot.

That means no exceptions for women who are raped and get pregnant.
That means no exceptions for women whose babies die in utero but haven’t been expelled yet and aren’t causing any active issues.
That means no exceptions for women who discover their babies have fatal congenital defects and will die either in utero or shortly after birth.
That means no exceptions.

Poland has fairly strict abortion laws already, being that it is permitted only “in cases of rape or incest, when the fetus is diagnosed with severe and irreversible disability or an incurable illness threatening its life, or when the woman’s life or health is in danger.” This is unsurprising given how heavily Catholic the population is.

But this would remove all but the exception for saving the mother’s life. There would also be jail sentences for those who obtained, tried to obtain, or helped someone obtain an abortion.

There were elaborations in the comments about those jail sentences. Being in Europe and being a member of the EU, it is entirely possible that women from Poland would simply hop the border and have their procedure done in another country that had more lenient laws regarding abortion. If you’re from a member country of the EU and you happen to fall ill while traveling in another member country, you are entitled to the same rights to health care as people insured in the country you are in. While abortion doesn’t necessarily fall under that category, it’s not that far of a stretch to assume that there would be any number of medical providers in neighboring countries who would be sympathetic to the plight of Polish women crossing their borders to have what may very well be a medically necessary procedure that their own doctors are prohibited from providing. I could definitely see there being an underground list of sympathetic doctors that Polish women would hold in their heads and hearts and whisper to each other when they find another woman in the same plight that they, or their daughters, or their sisters, were once in.

The problems? First, there’s a level of privilege present if you 1) have the mental knowledge and emotional fortitude to plan the entire event and 2) can take off of work long enough 3) to travel for long enough to find a doctor who will perform an abortion and 4) are able to pay for said procedure and all associated travel expenses out of pocket. Women who can do that have to have the money available to pay for all the travel expenses and the procedure, and they have to have a job that is flexible enough to allow them to do so, and they have to have a sufficient education/knowledge level to allow them to plan all of it, and they have to be mentally sound enough to have the executive function to actually go and do that (something that people with depression or other mental illnesses may lack), and they have to know someone willing to take that chance. Because not only are the women themselves going to face potential jail time if it ever comes out, but so will the people who help transport them.

I cannot even imagine being in the position of some of the women in Poland if this legislature passes. I cannot imagine the devastating choices they will face. I cannot imagine being one of the medical providers in Poland who will have to face decisions about whether to provide health care for their patients and face jail time or to send them off, knowing that there is the strong potential for serious physical, mental, or emotional consequences.

As I was sifting through the comments on reddit, I came to a fascinating chain about the nature of abortion itself. A commentor posed a “what if” scenario built around the premise of our medical technology developing far enough for incubators to exist and for doctors to be able to terminate a pregnancy and transfer the unwanted fetus to an incubator for the rest of its term. Such scenarios are always fascinating to debate from an intellectual standpoint, but their argument was thus:

The goal of abortion is not to kill the fetus; the goal of abortion is to terminate the pregnancy. The death of the fetus is merely a byproduct because our current medical technology does not allow for an alternate outcome. 

The comment thread about this was a fascinating delve into the moralities, legalities, and possibilities inherent in such a thought process. There are commentors who disagree with that base premise, and even those who agree with it differ on a variety of points. I had a spirited discussion with one of my partners, and here are some of the places that our debate took us:

  1. Do both partners have full control over access and use of their genetic material? This is important because
  2. Do both partners have the same level of ability to control someone else’s use of their genetic material? and
  3. Is there an implied level of consent to access of genetic material involved with having sex, particularly if no birth control methods are used? Does that level of consent change depending upon the use of birth control?

So let’s say that Sarah and Jack have sex. They’re FWBs, she’s on a form of hormonal birth control because she doesn’t want kids, and Jack did not use a condom because he trusts her birth control. BC fails (for whatever reason). She decides she wants to terminate the pregnancy. Does Jack have the right to insist that she transfer the pregnancy to an incubator because he wants the fetus? Or does she have the right to say that no, she does not want her genetic material used in such a fashion, and she is terminating the pregnancy and the life of the fetus?

If the answer to the latter question is yes, she has that right, does that then mean that Jack has the right to insist that she terminate her pregnancy because he does not want his genetic material used? Can he force an unwanted medical procedure on an unwilling adult?

If the answer to that question is no, then how do we account for the fact that she has more rights with regards to deciding how her genetic material is used than he does for his? Do we build into the system a way for either parent (or both) to completely sign away all rights and therefore cannot be forced to pay child support of any sort? How do we make sure that that abdication of rights does not get abused? Or do we state that his level of implied consent of access to genetic material is greater than hers because he is the one making the choice to ejaculate inside of her (possibly without a condom because he’s trusting her chosen birth control) and is therefore giving her his genetic material, but the reverse is not true, thereby granting her greater control over the outcome of his gift of genetic material?

The issue is obviously a very complex one, with layers much deeper than the ones stated here, and it’s a fascinating thought exercise to run through, once you accept the base assumption that the technology and medical science exists for this to be a possibility. However, all of it boils down to what the fundamentals of abortion are.

Is the right to choose an abortion the right to terminate the physical processes of pregnancy, or is it the right to halt the development of cells that are growing inside a body?

I’m not sure where the answer lies. Right now, there is no distinction between the two: one necessarily causes the other. But in a future as-yet not seeable, it is a question that might have to be answered.