The following is the opinion and analysis of the writer:
A columnist for Religion News Service recently wrote that abortion “is a failure for every woman and her unborn child — a failure of love, justice and mercy.” It’s an argument I mostly agree with.
After all, if women and children really mattered in the United States, abortion wouldn’t be so attractive. Every father would share a full 50% of child rearing, every employer would offer six months paid maternity leave and every major employer (Raytheon, I’m looking at you) would provide on-site, quality child care so women could navigate their careers as easily as men do theirs.
Additionally, state leaders would fund free, quality child care on university campuses so pregnant students wouldn’t have to choose between completing college or giving birth.
But that’s not the world we live in.
Instead, we live in a world where a newly enacted Texas abortion law propels us into a nightmare scenario of neighbors spying on each other to reduce abortion. Talk about a failure of love, justice and mercy.
Let me be clear: I think abortion is horrific and that Roe v. Wade was wrongly decided because the right to privacy applies only to an individual’s own life and body, not someone else’s life and body. The embryo and fetus are separate entities from the pregnant woman and we need to be honest about that biological fact.
That said, many Americans appear to judge abortion in terms of “personhood” not just “life.”
The Texas “heartbeat law” is so named because forbids abortions after a heartbeat can be detected in the embryo, which is usually about six weeks into a pregnancy. At that time, the rudimentary nervous system also starts developing, but the bare bones of higher brain structure don’t appear until between weeks 12 and 16 and coordinated brain activity, which many people see as “consciousness,” doesn’t happen until week 24.
Knowing this, is it correct to attribute the same “person” status to an embryo at six weeks as we do to a fetus at 18 weeks, a child at birth, or – as abortion-rights groups would argue — a fully formed pregnant woman? Is a heartbeat what makes us human or a functioning brain? If it is the heartbeat, why do we take brain-dead accident victims off life support?
These are deeply difficult questions with no easy answers, and according to a recent poll on abortion, many Americans are still struggling with it.
According to a June 24 poll from the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, 61% of Americans say abortion should be legal in most or all circumstances in the first trimester. Slightly more (65%) say abortion should be illegal in most circumstances in the second trimester and 80% say it should be completely illegal in the third trimester.
I think these opinions demonstrate the very difficult moral judgment people make about being “human” versus being alive. It is a judgment only humans can make because we are the only animals that have the ability to think deeply about complex issues. It is what some would argue makes us human.
Abortion has never been black and white, but nearly 50 years has passed since the landmark 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade and three things are crystal clear to me in this moment:
1. We need to insist on sexual responsibility, not just sexual freedom. The numbers alone show that abortion has become backup birth control more than anything else: There were 862,320 abortions in 2017, according to the latest statistics from the Guttmacher Institute, most of them among women in their 20s, and the reason most often given (more than 70%) for having an abortion is “Having a baby would dramatically change my life.”
Contraception is widely available and low-cost through county public health departments and, according to Guttmacher statistics, states with the strictest abortion laws have the highest use of contraception, demonstrating that men and women who know abortion isn’t available take more responsibility with birth control.
And yes, sometimes using the pill and condoms together — which is what must be used if you absolutely don’t want pregnancy — fails. But there’s no way that combination fails 862,230 times annually. It is simply not used.
2. We can make abortion a rare medical necessity instead of standard practice by committing to fully supporting pregnant women, and not just by just giving diapers, formula and cribs. Our society must make women’s life dreams and goals a priority if we want women to stop being so terrified that a child will ruin those very plans.
A start would be implementing the ideas mentioned at the beginning of this column, but we need much more, including smashing the patriarchy. After all, part of the argument for reaffirming Roe v. Wade in the Planned Parenthood v. Casey case was that women relied on abortion so they could “participate equally in the economic and social life of the Nation.” We must blow that nonsense to smithereens.
3. Finally, recruiting citizens as spies to stop abortion is the least pro-life action anyone could assent to. It further divides our country during a time when we’re inches away from pushing people we disagree with over a cliff, and makes us no different from Stasi citizen informants during World War II or the Taliban in 2021. We must do better.
Renée Schafer Horton is a regular Star contributor. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org