Know the Facts, not the Misconceptions
by Jordan Jenkins
Due to historical defamation of contraception and abortion, there still remains unfounded misconceptions about long–term birth control use, as well as abortion care. I’m sure you’ve heard some outlandish story about why someone refuses to take birth control or why they are anti-choice. An individual’s decision to take or not to take a form of birth control or to have or not to have an abortion is entirely their own and should come with no judgment. That said, the absurd discussions surrounding the supposed dangers of birth control and abortion are destructive to reproductive health care. This spread of false facts concerning contraception and abortion is disinformation — the purposeful, aggressive spread of misinformation, aimed to discredit the validity of either reproductive right.
Historically, medical misinformation most directly impacts the most marginalized groups. Unironically, these groups tend to be the ones in the most need of medical attention in emergencies due to lack of knowledge about preventative measures surrounding their medical concerns. Contraceptive history began with the involuntary sterilization of low-income women of color. Racist and classist physicians voided reproductive autonomy and the government was allowed to determine who was the least deserving of reproduction. Through this, contraception had a rather rough foundation. In fact, the reproductive rights movement was founded with contraception and abortion access in mind, yet failed to acknowledge the horrendous acts of reproductive destruction performed by physicians, along with government consent through public policy decisions, for decades. For good reason, this has left a rather negative influence on institutionally underserved people’s views on contraception, which makes the spread of misinformation easier and much more dangerous. In addition, stigma and stereotypes surrounding personhood and deservingness, which are exacerbated by racism and classism, further distance those in need from being properly informed about medical care. It is vital that we continue to push for the spread of more inclusive and accurate medical information. This could disrupt misconceptions surrounding reproductive health care and potentially improve the lives of those misinformed groups.
To be clear, having an abortion performed by a trained professional:
- Will NOT impact your future fertility or cause infertility. After continuous scientific study, there has been no findings of proper abortion care provided by a trained medical profession having any effects on future fertility or causing infertility. This narrative was founded based on past procedures being performed in secret incorrectly or unsafely due to criminalization of abortion. Now, most patients do not face these risks.
- Is safe. The process is sterile and is not much riskier than any other gynecological procedures performed by doctors daily. Indeed, having an abortion is 10x safer than childbirth. With a procedural abortion, the patient is able to leave with minimal issue just an hour or so after their procedure.
- Is NOT a long, painful procedure. In fact, most abortions take less than 5 minutes and do not require general anesthesia. The process is different for everyone, as some patients feel a brief period of pain, while others just feel discomfort.
- Can NOT be reversed. This unfounded idea that medication abortion can be reversed through consumption of a “reversal pill” is not rooted in any scientific or clinical evidence. The one case study was only conducted on 6 women, so it has not been widely studied. Experienced professionals do not suggest this, as it is unsafe and unethical.
Like any medical procedure, procedural abortion has its risks, similar to knee surgery or tonsillectomies. But it is important to use proper terminology. Procedural abortion is just that: a simple procedure. It is not a surgery, as that implies something being cut open. In addition, using the correct terminology assists in decreasing the stigma and fear surrounding procedural abortion care. Medication abortion care is even less traditional but just as safe, as the patient is allowed to go through the process in the privacy of their own homes. Preference for either process is personal — neither better than the other.
Another key usage of terminology that many people, even pro-choicers, don’t know is that the concept of trimesters were established as a way to regulate abortion care. Yes, understanding the stages of development in trimesters is extremely useful in monitoring a person’s pregnancy; however, this term was introduced during Roe v. Wade to future drive misconceptions about the safety of abortion care and open the door to restrict legal abortion care access according to a certain stage of pregnancy. Risks do increase the further along a person is, as does the risk of any other procedure when the process is prolonged.
Also, using birth control or taking emergency contraception:
- Is NOT a form of “abortion”. Despite what some members of Congress may say, emergency contraception is not the same as medication abortion, simply because the intent is to prevent a pregnancy from occurring. In addition, using birth control is not an abortion for the same reason: there is no pregnancy. Both are preventative measures.
- Will not impact your fertility in the future. Some forms of birth control are meant to be more long-term, like the IUD or other implants. Other forms, like the pill, are commonly meant for short term prevention. Neither have shown significant scientific evidence that fertility in the future is reduced.
One misconception about birth control (although it is not anyone’s business besides the person taking it) is that the sole purpose is to have unprotected sex. Birth control has many other benefits to an individual’s reproductive and physical health beyond sex. To name just a few: regulating periods, easing menstrual cycle symptoms, treating severe acne, decreasing risk of cyst development, and lessening serious infections. But if sex is the only reason someone decides to take birth control than kudos to them and their sex life.
I’m sure you’ve seen signs or billboards with phrases like “Pregnant? Alone? Scared? Call us, we’ll help”. Or “Pregnant and considering your options?”. These signs are advertising anti-choice crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs). Crisis pregnancy centers are the dangerous epicenters where these myths are put on the frontline as medical advice and disinformation is spread. These centers falsely represent themselves as reproductive health care centers, targeting those seeking abortion care. The staff are usually medically untrained volunteers or anti-choice healthcare workers who dedicate their time to blocking abortion care. Upon arrival to an appointment, patients are under the impression that the friendly staff is supportive of their decisions, when in reality their mission is to ensure abortion does not take place. In fact, not only do CPCS not offer abortion or contraceptives, but they don’t do referrals either, as the end goal is pregnancy continuation. They push false notions of infertility due to abortion or contraception use, falsely link breast cancer risks with abortion, and they exaggerate and usually falsify the process of procedural and medication abortion to instill fear. In addition, they are allowed to go to extreme measures to ensure patients do not seek further abortion care through other fear, humiliation, and degradation factors.
How to spot a CPC:
- Look at the wording. CPCs are not legally allowed to state that they provide abortion care. If abortion is not written, they don’t do it. Don’t go!
- They’re usually religiously affiliated. Abortion care centers will not be publicly religiously affiliated.
- Be direct. They’ll probably get defensive if you ask about their services — apprehension to answer questions over the phone is a red flag.
Considering abortion? You are far from alone. 1 in 4 women will have an abortion before the age of 45. Approximately 65% of women under 49 actively use birth control, with 99% of women saying they’ve used at least one form of contraceptive. In addition, over 55% of people seeking abortion care already have at least one child.
Abortion care and access to birth control are just a few key features of reproductive health care, but seem to receive the most backlash. We must be aware that misconceptions and disinformation surrounding reproductive health care not only exist, but are dangerous to spread. They can limit someone’s access to appropriate reproductive health care, as well as produce fear and stigma surrounding reproductive health care. Know the facts and spread them to people who need it most!
For more information on misconceptions surrounding abortion and crisis pregnancy centers, visit http://www.prochoicemd.org/issues or our microsite with Our Maryland: http://www.marylandmythbusters.com