Abortion has been a hot-bed topic since the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe V Wade decision. Those on the right have taken the stance the "all life is precious", particularly the most innocent and vulnerable - the unborn. It's a stance based on principles that is difficult to oppose without appearing to oppose life and support death. There is no doubt that abortion ends life, but the question needs to be asked - aren't their two lives involved in this process, not just one?
Those on the Right do have a noble cause - preventing abortion and preserving life, and that has to be respected. What has to be questioned (even excluding those who have resorted to violence and intimidation) is their methods and their results.
In 2003, Congress passed and President Bush signed the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act. Several doctors sued, and it wasn't long before this act was struck down as unconstitutional on the basis that it failed to protect the life and health of the mother involving a procedure that is primarily required to do exactly that - preserve life.
The court found the following to be facts:
27. Abortion is one of the safest surgical procedures. Overall, abortion has both a lower morbidity (non-fatal complication) rate and a lower mortality rate than carrying a pregnancy through childbirth.Parental Notification
28. Abortion has become increasingly safe since 1973. The mortality from legal abortion has decreased from 3.3 per 100,000 in 1973 to 0.6 per 100,000 in 1995. The freedom of physicians to develop safer abortion techniques is a major factor in this increase in safety.
29. The rates of abortion-related morbidity and mortality increase, however, as the
pregnancy advances. Accordingly, any delay in obtaining an abortion is potentially harmful to the woman.
30. Abortions are performed for a variety of compelling reasons, and for women
experiencing a variety of medical, social, psychological, and age-related conditions. Some women develop serious health problems because of their pregnancies, including gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, pregnancy-induced hypertension, and depression. In some cases, the fetus has been diagnosed with fatal or severe anomalies.
31. Most women who obtain abortions do so during the first thirteen weeks of pregnancy. There are a variety of deeply personal, moral, or conscientious reasons why women obtain abortions after this period. Some women, particularly those whose menses are irregular, or those who are taking hormonal contraceptives that mask the symptoms of pregnancy, recognize that they are pregnant only after several weeks or even months of gestation. Some women, especially young women, fear telling their parents or partner about the pregnancy. Others have abortions in the second trimester because they cannot find a provider or pay for the procedure earlier. Some have medical reasons or other personal reasons that delay their decision.
34. If women in the United States must go outside the country for an abortion, they may be forced to travel significant distances. This travel will both increase the cost of an abortion and delay its performance, thus increasing the risk to the woman. Many women in these circumstances will be unable to obtain an abortion at all.
It's understandable that people should want to protect the lives of the unborn, yet on the surface it seems odd that they seem so blase about the lives of the women who are quite literally connected to these children. The Left-Wing website Truthout.org recently produced a set of short films called the "Red State Road Trip" which features interviews with many different conservatives across the nation. One particular gentleman, Troy Rodriguez, a pro-life conservative who votes devoutly Republican, professed a desire that abortion be made a matter of state choice (where some states could allow abortion and others would not - somewhat like the slave-states and non-slave states of the pre-civil war). He was asked what should happen to a pregnant 14 year-old girl in Kansas, who would need to travel 1500 miles to a "abortion state" in that situation.
His response? (QuickTime DSL | 56K Windows Media DSL | 56K) "She'll have to deal with it!"
As it stands now, Troy already has his wish when it comes to pregnant minors and their ability to have an abortion while bypassing parental notification through a judicial process as different states have different laws governerning this process. But the House has recently passed a new Parental Notification Bill, that makes it a federal crime for anyone besides a parent to transport a minor from a notification state to a non-notification state. Which means, basically, that girls have to notify their parents no matter what. (This I find somewhat reminicent of the Fugitive Slave Clause of the original U.S. Constitution, which required non-slave states to capture and return escaped slaves to the states they are fleeing from. Every state was then effectively, a slave state).
What emerges as you look at this point of view of someone like Troy, is the importance of the oft repeated phrase "Persevation of Innocent Life" The unborn babe is innocent, the mother who fornicated (presumably out-of-wedlock) is not. She is a sinner, and hence her life is less important and worthy of protection than her unborn child. A person struggling to survive as their life moves closer to it's natural end - ala Terri Schiavo - is innocent, a person convicted of a capital crime is not - therefore, in this view, it is justified to fight for the unborn and to fight against euthanasia, but not for the health and life of pregnant woman (or minor) or those condemned to death in our prisons.
Consciencious Objection to Contraception
Recently, pharmacists have begun to fight for the "right" to deny emergency contraception to women, citing their religious belief that it induces an abortion. I would argue that this depends on whether the egg was or wasn't fertilized, which is far too soon to know the morning after, but this debate seems to illustrate the ever sliding line of between "life and cells", where pro-life proponents seem to wish to push farther and farther beyond the first trimester limits of Roe and back not just to conception, but even to the process and terms of insemination. Many organized religions, including the Catholic Church, continue to oppose the very idea of contraception at all, even in the wake of a world-wide AIDS epidemic - so religious opposition to after-sex contraception is not so surprising, however it is troubling when you look at the fact that the delay caused by such refusals are more likely to cause women to seek actual abortions, rather than prevent them.
And what of women who have been victimized by incest or rape - where there was no consent or questionably coerced consent? The position of extreme right-wing moralist such as Alan Keyes, who opposes abortion even under these circumstances, is that "a child should not be made to pay for a crime committed by its parents". I have to admit there is some logic to that point, however isn't there also a legimate question of forcing the mother (by law, coercion or "conscience") to carry a child to full term simply a second violation of their rights and body that is nearly as great as the original crime of rape or incest?
If a pharmacist doesn't want to participate in what could be considered the ending (or prevention) of a life, it would seem logical that they shouldn't be forced to personally betray their own principles - however, they also shouldn't obstruct a woman from access to her legally prescribed medication, therefore any refusals to provide emergency contraception should be accompanied with a referral to a pharmacist who is locally available and willing to grant the request.
Child and Health Care
The right-wing anti-abortionist stance also seems somewhat lacking when it comes to protecting life beyond the womb. If you wish to protect life, it seems to me that you should focus at least some attention on the quality of that life. Starting with better access to pre-natal care and low-cost child care for working mothers, and improved child health care coverage, the practical realities of raising children in today's fast-paced world need to be as important as the process and timing of conception. If circumstances do not permit financially for a mother and/or father to adequately provide the type of support that all children need to thrive, other options such as open-adoption and a reformed foster-care system should be on the table and adressed with as much fervor as the right spends fighting access to accurate sex education and preventative contraception.
Instead the right has decided to use bribery, including incentives for single mothers on government assistance to wed. As many of these suggestions, this seems logical. Adding a second breadwinner can help end the drain on state resources and create more of a "family", however in some cases the reality that many of these women are unwed because they've been physically and emotionally abused by their significant other, remains unaddressed and unrecognized by these programs.
The clear goal of all these incremental maneuvers to restrict abortion is to create a practical ban on the ability to excersize the right. This can only be accomplished through the courts and helps to explain why President Bush and the Congress have been so willing to go to extremes to confirm Radical Conservative Activist Judges who oppose Women's reproduction rights. But we have experience with living in a world that banned abortion except in cases where the life and health of the mother was at risk. That was the United States prior to Roe v Wade:
- Estimates of the annual number of illegal abortions in the 1950s and 1960s range from 200,000 to 1.2 million (Cates, et al., 2003; Rock & Jones, 2003; Tietze & Henshaw, 1986).
- In 1969, one year before New York State legalized abortion, complications from abortions accounted for 23 percent of all pregnancy-related admissions to municipal hospitals in New York City (Institute of Medicine, 1975).
- After California liberalized its abortion law in 1967, the number of admissions for infection resulting from illegal abortion at Los Angeles County/University of Southern California Medical Center fell by almost 75 percent (Seward, et al., 1973).
- In 1965, when abortion was still illegal nationwide except in cases of life endangerment, at least 193 women died from illegal abortions, and illegal abortion accounted for nearly 17 percent of all deaths due to pregnancy and childbirth in that year (NCHS, 1967).
- In 1973, the risk of dying from an abortion was 3.4 deaths per 100,000 legal abortions. This rate fell to 1.3 by 1977 (Gold, 1990). Today, abortion is one of the most commonly performed clinical procedures, and the current death rate from abortion at all stages of gestation is 0.6 per 100,000 procedures. This is eleven times safer than carrying a pregnancy to term and nearly twice as safe as a penicillin injection (AGI, 2004; Rock & Jones, 2003; Paul et al., 1999; Gold, 1990).
If we continue down this road of restriction of access to information, contraception and abortion - the skills that have been developed over the past 20 years to protect the health and lives of women and children will begin to atrophy, while the evidence is fairly clear that the overall number of abortions will not decline very far. Unborn babies will not be saved, but pregnant women will certainly, once again, begin to suffer and die.
In summary, those who oppose the right-wing - from the center and the left - need to revise their rhetoric and instead of simply chanting the mantra of "choice, choice, choice" need to instead focus on the issue of the Quality of Life. They need to define themselves, rather than let the right define them as "death worshippers" who wish to have "abortion on demand at all points of pregnancy". They need to counter that view with a comprehensive set of progressive and moderate policies to educate our youth accurately, openly support abstinence for those who genuinely wish it, provide open access to contraception for those who don't, provide pre-natal care for those who become pregnant and improved adoption/foster care options for those who can not financially or emotionally support a child - all are better options than abortion. But abortion itself must remain as the last, desperate option for women to not simply exercise their choice, but to protect their own lives, their own health - and the ultimately health of their (future) children.