The Women of Ellensburg:Issues of Women in Washington State
The Controversy Over Terminating Pregnancy
In Washington State, a woman may have an abortion throughout the 20th week of pregnancy with the only medical and legal controls being those that would protect her health. Since abortion was legalized by state referendum in 1970 and a 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision, professionals have been more able to openly share their expertise, and pregnancy termination by suction in the first trimester has become statistically 10 times safer than having a baby.
Feminists, who generally support abortion, point out that prior to the legalization of abortion in the United States, infected abortions were a common sight in hospital emergency rooms. Knitting needles and caustic solutions injected into the uterus resulted in complications leading to major surgery and death. They say that the lack of legal abortion was no deterrent to the occurrence of abortions. They stress that, since legalization, there has been a tremendous decrease in death related to abortion and that infected abortions are rarely seen. They refer to polls showing that the majority of Americans favor legal abortion and emphasize that a woman should have the right to control her own body by choosing whether to allow her pregnancy to continue.
Conservative women argue that, in supporting legal abortion, our culture is demonstrating a trend toward the devaluation of life. They also support the right of the embryo or fetus to life.
For pregnant women who choose not to abort, both conservative women and feminists agree that prenatal care and education are needed to decrease infant mortality and birth defects. Conservative women would also like to see more governmental support shown to women who choose adoption as an alternative to abortion.
Government Funds for Abortion
In June, 1977, the Supreme Court ruled that states are not obligated to pay for abortions for the poor and hospitals are not obligated to offer abortion services. Though the State of Washington continues to include abortion coverage in its medical welfare plan, Congress is currently debating whether federal funds should be used to pay for abortions and, if so, under what circumstances. As of this writing, the House has approved federal funding of abortions only when the life of the mother is endangered by the pregnancy, while the Senate wishes to cover other circumstances, including rape and incest, or where doctor's deem an abortion to be medically necessary.
Feminists argue that poor women who need federal assistance for abortions are being discriminated against because of economic status and will be forced to resort to cheap, incompetent abortionists or to dangerous, self-induced abortions. Those opposing federal funds for abortions are generally anti-abortion. Period.
The Need for More Research
In Washington State, there are almost 770,000 women of child-bearing age. Although a high percentage of these women use some form of fertility control, the most modern and effective contraceptives are safe for only a limited number. The demand for safer methods of fertility control is obvious, yet, less than 2% of the total expenditures of the National Institutes for Health go toward development of new techniques of regulating fertility.
Additional funding is needed to support promising research such as that directed to developing a vaccine to prevent pregnancy, or a male pill that will suppress the formation of sperm. Women tend to favor some of these new but feasible ideas because they could help males assume more responsibility for birth control.
Controversy Over Teenage Contraception
Availability of contraceptives to teenagers is a highly controversial issue. The facts are that, of more than 50,000 births in Washington State during 1975, a sixth were born to teenagers and 2,400 of these were born to single teenage mothers. One in every 10 female teenagers becomes pregnant every year. Yet, teenagers' access to and information about birth control is limited. Three-fourths of so-called "comprehensive" health programs for teenagers offer no contraceptive services or abortion counseling, and many school sex education programs are inexpert and exclude birth control as a topic. Federal regulations require that any women of childbearing age have access to family planning services, but some agencies in Washington have regulations preventing access to programs without parental consent. Attempts to pass state laws which would change this situation have failed. Much of the federal assistance available to teenagers is limited to certain family income levels.
Feminist women support services such as Planned Parenthood, which are working to provide new, specifically designed programs to increase access to family planning services for teenagers.
Conservative women believe that sex education is a family matter to be dealt with between parents and children. They say that teenagers should not be allowed to seek family planning services without their parents' knowledge and consent.
The Need for Parent Sexual Education
To assist their children in making moral decisions about reproduction, parents often need more than just facts about sex. They need information that will prepare them to discuss the options for sexual behavior and the ramifications of various ethical matters with their teenagers.
Conservative women and feminists alike agree that:
- Funding should be provided to train parents to be effective sex educators.
- The public school curriculum should include courses on decision-making by at least the junior high level.
- Sex education should be available to all students on a voluntary basis. (To this, conservatives add "with parental consent").