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Open Access and Reproductive Rights
Alex Steffen, 7 Mar 06

Yesterday, South Dakota banned abortion. Normally, we'd steer clear of a hot-button topic like abortion, but this law has also triggered a small firestorm around the blog of a woman named Molly, who last week put issues of open access to scientific knowledge in sharp relief by publishing a guide to setting up a cheap, safe, mobile abortion clinic for use in places where abortion has been criminalized:

In the 1960s and early 1970s, when abortions were illegal in many places and expensive to get, an organization called Jane stepped up to the plate in the Chicago area. Jane initially hired an abortion doctor, but later they did the abortions themselves. They lost only one patient in 13,000 -- a lower death rate than that of giving live birth. The biggest obstacle they had, though, was the fact that until years into the operation, they thought of abortion as something only a doctor could do, something only the most trained specialist could perform without endangering the life of the woman.

They were deceived -- much like you have probably been deceived. An abortion, especially for an early pregnancy, is a relatively easy procedure to perform. And while I know, women of South Dakota, that you never asked for this, now is the time to learn how it is done. There is no reason you should be beholden to doctors -- especially in a state where doctors have been refusing to perform them, forcing the state's only abortion clinic to fly doctors in from elsewhere.

No textbooks or guides existed at that time to help them, and the equipment was hard to find. This is no longer true. For under $2000, any person with the inclination to learn could create a fully functioning abortion setup.... If you are careful and diligent, and have a good grasp of a woman's anatomy you will not put anyone's health or life in danger.

Like other principles of free expression, open access to scientific knowledge often seems absurdly removed from our lives. Molly shows just how tangible such knowledge can be. Science is, above all else, a moral commitment to openly and freely discussing the actual functioning of the universe (and of our bodies). People went to the stake to make science a going concern. Not all that long ago, the information Molly is sharing would have made her a criminal in many countries, just as sharing information on contraception, or evolution, or the fact that the Earth moves around the Sun all once made scientists criminals. What knowledge now being acquired will politicians take it on themselves to criminalize in the future?
(via Warren)

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I wondered how long it would take people to realize that the only thing that bill will accomplish will be the sacrifice it will cause in women's health. Whether we like it or not, women have been seeking and getting abortions for literally thousands of years. Like prohibition and drug laws, abortion laws do absolutely nothing to alleviate the problem, they only compound it. Not only will abortions become "garage" and "basement" procedures, women will also resort to even less safe measures - herbal and otherwise. This is not the 14th century! When are people going to wake up and use common sense?

Posted by: Lilith on 7 Mar 06

It would be nicer to see American men & women using the 'Net to unite in order to appeal this law rather than to resorting to the virtual equivalent of "shock TV". I'm not really all that certain that Molly's motives are as simple as one of Open Access. I rather think she's motived by some other form of neo-something politics.

Posted by: Clevergirl on 7 Mar 06

What knowledge now being acquired will politicians take it on themselves to criminalize in the future?

Perhaps I'm missing something but what was outlawyed was the practice of, not the knowledge of, abortion, no? We're years and years away from criminalizing knowledge.

Posted by: Brian on 7 Mar 06

You're absolutely right, Brian -- the law in SD criminalizes the proceedure (as well as other practices), not information about the procedure itself. But criminalization (or mere supression) of knowledge has a long history, from the Inquisition to Lysenkoism, and many obrservers from both sides of the aisle feel the political trends in the US to be anything less than comforting when seen in that light. To my mind what's interesting about what Molly has done is to directly provoke debate about what kind of knowledge is acceptible to share openly in this climate.

Posted by: Alex Steffen on 7 Mar 06

"If you are careful and diligent, and have a good grasp of a woman's anatomy you will not put anyone's health or life in danger."

Except the fetus's, who obviously doesn't count.

Posted by: Austin on 9 Mar 06

"Except the fetus's, who obviously doesn't count."

Until it's alive, no, it doesn't count.

Posted by: Martin Kelly on 11 Mar 06

Clevergirl: I disagree with your assessment of Molly's motivations. It's not Shock TV - it's the New Womens Encyclopedia of Stuff that other people don't want you to know about. Or something like that.

I have witnessed women taking care of their own health many times. Deciding to remove a fertilized egg, and the surrounding tissues, from your own (or your willing friend's) uterus IS something you can do, if there are no friendly health care providers available in your state.

Deal with it.

Posted by: Prog Grrl on 12 Mar 06



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