The Case for Legal Abortion

I’d like to start this post off by asking that you read it in its entirety before commenting or passing judgment.

Now that that’s out of the way: This post is not going to be about the morality of actually getting an abortion. I personally believe in a woman’s right to choose what is best for her, her body, and her family. I’ve written a post before that only broke the ice on why I am pro-choice, and my sources there go into way more depth. That’s why I will just refer you to those (here, here, and here) instead of repeating their points either in this post or my last.

The necessity of normalizing pro-choice legislation became clear to me when reading Katherine Stewart’s The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism, which I reviewed last week. Stewart explained how many Republicans nowadays—especially those who are Christian nationalists, or even just Christians—are “single-issue voters.” That issue is abortion. Specifically, Republicans want to overturn Roe v. Wade, which affirmed that access to safe and legal abortion is a constitutional right.

I want to spend the rest of this post assuming the position that the goal is to reduce abortions and save as many lives as possible. Many people, whether they identify as “pro-choice” or “pro-life” can agree on this. The point I am about to make was summarized elegantly, as always, by YouTuber Brenda Marie Davies on her channel God is Grey. Brenda is a progressive, sex-positive Christian. She and I agree on virtually everything except for the existence of a deity. She’s pro-choice but wishes to reduce abortions, as she makes clear in this video:

Skip to 2:58 if you don’t want to hear her promoting her book, although it looks really good and has a ridiculously cool cover.

In the video, Brenda is responding to conservative Christian YouTubers Paul and Morgan, who have radically right-wing stances on topics like abortion and homosexuality. They state in their video that one cannot be a “true Christian” and vote for Biden. They claim that a true Christian would vote for Trump, a stance that I know most of my Christian friends would balk at. So why do they say that? Trump and his colleagues plan to reverse Roe v. Wade and Biden does not. This might sound like one side will fight for life and one won’t, but this could not be further from the truth. In the video, Paul says that abortion is a black and white issue, but Brenda and I disagree.

Brenda says that “people do not have to agree on the morality of abortion to prevent it,” which is why I’m making the case that I am. The issue with voting to reverse Roe v. Wade is that it won’t work. It will not prevent abortions. After Roe v. Wade was passed, the CDC showed that “denying women access to legal abortion does not prevent them from having abortions, but just increases the likelihood that they will resort to an illegal abortion carried out under unsafe conditions.”

It is also statistically true that abortions drop with comprehensive sex education and access to birth control and other contraceptives. Abstinence-only education does not work. We all know how hard it is to resist any kind of temptation using sheer willpower, so why on Earth would anyone think that you can merely will other people to abstain from something that their bodies were naturally built for? Teens are going to have sex no matter what, but if they believe that they will be punished for doing so, then they won’t be using contraception for fear of being discovered, and suddenly their chances of needing an abortion skyrocket. If you are against abortion, then fine. But if you actually want to live out that value, then you must be pro-healthcare, pro-contraceptive, and pro-education.

When I was “pro-life”, one of my most common arguments was one that Paul and Morgan also make: “just get it adopted.” (It’s worth noting that I was only against abortion until I was a teenager; I gradually switched to being pro-choice as I learned why people get abortions in the first place.) There are a couple of problems with our argument: one, which Brenda said, the foster and adoption system is wrought with abuse to which pregnant women do not want to subject their children; and two, if you are going to be pro-adoption, then it is hypocritical to be against homosexual parenting. It is merely logical that if one is searching for more loving and qualified parents to partake in adopting, then gay couples should be encouraged to adopt, not forbidden from it.

The hypocrisy runs more rampant yet. Another reason why people get abortions is because of the astronomical cost. According to a report by the Guttmacher Institute, “In 2014, three-fourths of abortion patients were low income—49% living at less than the federal poverty level, and 26% living at 100–199% of the poverty level.” When I was a teenager who had no concept of finances, this argument didn’t faze me. The truth is, with our current healthcare system in the United States, it costs tens of thousands of dollars to have a baby. At Planned Parenthood, an abortion costs up to $1,000 depending on your insurance. Even those who argue in the abstract that abortion is immoral often do not have a choice but to get one.

This brings me to another point regarding—you guessed it—hypocrisy by professedly anti-abortion Christians. To echo another statistic that Brenda brought up from that same study, “24% [of U.S. abortion patients in 2014] were Catholic, 17% were mainline Protestant, 13% were evangelical Protestant and 8% identified with some other religion.” That is 62% of abortion patients who were religious while only 38% were not.

Other than Republicans framing abortion as a right-wing Christian value for their own political gain, I don’t see why abortion is affiliated with Christianity in the first place. Sure, you have Psalm 139:13: “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.” But on the other hand, you have a verse only two chapters earlier, Psalm 137:9, which says, “Happy is the one who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks.” (Not to mention the several other instances in which God commands people to “rip open pregnant women.”) As per usual, the bible gives no clear guidance on this issue, so Christians must choose for themselves and act like it’s written in stone.

The hypocrisy reaches its peak in this Twitter thread that has been circulating by a former employee of an abortion clinic.

  • Anyone who has ever worked in an abortion clinic knows that tons of women who claim to be anti-abortion get abortions. They do a neat mental trick where *their* abortion is justified.
  • At the clinic I worked at we used to put a pink sticky note on their charts to give a heads-up to the back office staff. That way you'd be prepped for the hostility. I had a woman tell me I would burn in hell as I held her hand during her abortion.
  • Another woman refused to wait in the same waiting room as the other patients because she didn't think she was "irresponsible" the way they were. We obliged to protect our other patients from her hostility.
  • Yet another woman laughed and told the doctor performing the procedure that she thought he should go to jail. After he had performed the abortion, of course.
  • A woman became furious when we told her we needed consent to perform the abortion. She threw magazines from our waiting room at our staff after we told her we wouldn't do it without her signing consent forms. She tried to schedule with us several times. We kept referring her out.
  • My years working in the clinic made me realize that a lot of "pro-life" people are willing to make exceptions for themselves or their loves ones. They just lack the empathy to understand that everyone seeking abortions has the same need that they do.

In my last post on abortion, I made a quick note that those who identify as “pro-life” should actually identify themselves as “pro-birth.” This might sound to some like a throwaway one-liner, but I believe that these “pro-lifers” affirm the term’s truth. Most of us science-believers use scientific terms like zygote, embryo, and fetus where “pro-lifers” like to use words like “preborn baby” or “preborn child.” To this, I say fine, but why not just call it a person, if you so devoutly believe that a zygote is a person? I’d venture to say that it’s because they are far more committed to the welfare of these “preborn babies” than any postnatal people.

I know I bring up their hypocrisy a lot, but it really is endless. If you are so committed to “saving the life” of a fetus (which is the easiest demographic to claim for your side, as they cannot express their disagreement with your beliefs), then why don’t you extend that same sentiment to all people, or even all animals? I already made the argument in my other post that if you are morally against abortions then it would follow that you would also be vegan, as fully grown animals have much more awareness than a zygote. In the same vein, why are you not also arguing that Black Lives Matter? Why the sudden silence? Why are you not arguing to end war, poverty, and concentration camps? Where is your advocacy for universal healthcare, which would save the lives of millions, including your beloved “preborn babies” whose mothers could not otherwise afford to deliver them?

With this disdain for “pro-lifers”‘ disregard for life comes my final point, which was given a full chapter in The Power Worshippers. The chapter was titled “Controlling Bodies: What ‘Religious Liberty’ Looks Like from the Stretcher,” and it outlined several examples of the heinous outcomes of what actually happens in “pro-life” hospitals. Essentially, Catholic hospitals—which house one in six U.S. hospital beds—have to abide by Ethical and Religious Directives, or ERDs, which are determined by the Vatican. Even some non-Catholic hospitals which have acquired Catholic hospitals, must abide by these rules.

Among the least dangerous of these directives in relation to reproduction is that which forbids contraception and calls for doctors to instead instruct “methods of natural family planning.” Keep in mind that these workers are not necessarily Catholic but are forced to abide by these rules if they want to keep their jobs—and often the Catholic hospital will be the only one around.

It gets worse. Obviously, ERDs prohibit abortions. If this was not bad enough, the directive defines an abortion as “the directly intended termination of a pregnancy before viability or the directly intended destruction of a viable fetus,” including “every procedure whose sole immediate effect is the termination of pregnancy before viability.” What you might not immediately realize is that this also includes many procedures relating to miscarriages, which can end in the death of the mother if not treated quickly. In this way, those who claim to be “pro-life” end more lives than they save.

Take, for example, Mindy Swank, whose fetus had no chance of survival. Because the hospital would not perform an abortion while there was still a heartbeat, Mindy had to wait for her body to miscarry on its own. She was forced to wait seven physically and emotionally excruciating weeks until the hospital would induce labor, only for her child to die shortly afterwards, as they had all known would happen. The hospital referred her to a non-Catholic hospital but didn’t give them the records they would need to perform the abortion.

Mindy tells her story.

Similar situations have happened to countless women, including The Power Worshippers author Katherine Stewart herself. When she was thirteen weeks pregnant, Stewart began hemorrhaging blood. The ambulance took her to the nearest hospital where “[her] blood pressure was running dangerously low and [she] felt that [she] was passing in and out of consciousness.” The hospital let her bleed for hours, since what she needed was an abortion procedure. Stewart ended up shaking uncontrollably, going into shock, and losing 40 percent of her blood before the hospital provided her with the abortion that saved her life.

I suppose that it is forgivable for someone like my younger self to be pro-life and believe that it is a simple fact that abortion is murder and should be illegal—if that’s all you’ve ever known. If you have actually done your research, the morality of its legality is a resounding yes, even if you believe that abortion itself is immoral. The only way to say that overturning Roe v. Wade saves lives is by ignoring the real lives of people who require abortions and the circumstances and statistics surrounding them.


Sources

Stewart, K. (2019). The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism. New York, NY: Bloomsbury Publishing.

Roe v. Wade: The Constitutional Right to Access Safe, Legal Abortion

The Shocking Thing Paul, Morgan & I have in Common | God is Grey

Characteristics of U.S. Abortion Patients in 2014 and Changes Since 2008

Access to free birth control reduces abortion rates

New Clarity for the U.S. Abortion Debate: A Steep Drop in Unintended Pregnancy Is Driving Recent Abortion Declines

How much does an abortion cost?

Extended Interview: Mindy Swank | Full Frontal with Samantha Bee | TBS

Abortion Before and After Legalization

What Life is Like When Abortion is Banned

9 thoughts on “The Case for Legal Abortion

  • Glad I read this, and glad I watched the interview vid. Because of the taboos surrounding sex and especially pregnancy in this country, nobody really hears the thousands of stories about miscarriages, legalese, deformities, stillbirths, etc. And if more people heard about those things, maybe they’d be less gung-ho about being pro-birth. It’s a personal decision, one that’s arrived at through careful consideration (or emergency consideration if the life of the mother’s in jeopardy). There’s this bizarre assumption that every woman who gets pregnant is capable of carrying the child to term without problems, but there are so many things that can happen and do happen every day.

    Because of my fundie upbringing, I didn’t like abortion, but when there were petitions going around about it, I would sign them and support abortion. That always startled people, and they wondered why. I told them that though I hated the idea of it, abortion has to be an option. We don’t have free and accessible contraceptives to everyone who wants them and our sex education was a joke (I was one of the ones in an abstinence only environment and had purity culture pounded into my head). I was afraid if abortion was taken off the table, it would open the door to getting rid of other non-biblical methods of family planning and prevention. That was something I never wanted to risk. Condoms break, meds mess with birth control pills, whatever. Abortion has to be an option for the myriad of unforeseen possibilities for women.

    Liked by 4 people

  • Good post.
    All I an say is when I was young back in the 70s and abortion became legal, I don’t remember hearing any opposition and near religious hysteria like you do today. I knew a couple of girls that had them through their GYN and it was no big deal.
    Maybe it was the crowd I hung with, but they were just middle class women in their late 20s/early 30s. I knew there were some people would not chose this, but never heard anyone say their beliefs should hold legal weight in telling other women what to do.
    So I don’t know how this changed so much and why we are so vastly different than other Western cultures, like Europe.
    And I don’t know why we have such a disconnect in the folks with concern for the unborn, but not once they are born. Seems very hypocritical to me.

    Liked by 2 people

  • It seems like many who want to overturn Roe vs. Wade are under the impression that Supreme Court precedents are like laws–all it takes is a majority who want to repeal it, and boom, it’s gone. They don’t seem to understand how the judicial system, and the SCOTUS, work. And as unpleasant as Justices Kavanaugh and Gorsuch are, they have surprised the ones who pushed for their appointments by taking judicial stances opposed to the party ideology. Gorsuch in particular has defended Native rights and sided with the majority in determining that discrimination based on sexual and gender identity was illegal under the Civil Rights Act, and Kavanaugh joined the majority in declining to hear and possibly overturn a case that protected people on Medicaid seeking care at Planned Parenthood, helped to block the execution of a man with an intellectual disability, and even though dissented in the particular case about Title VII and discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, nonetheless conceded that there could be cases where he would have ruled with the majority–just not in that specific one. Both also joined the majority in deciding that the Manhattan DA could access President Trump’s tax records. People forget that Supreme Court Justices, even with their biases, generally don’t adhere to a specific political agendas, but take seriously their duties to interpret the law in cases brought before them. That means they may very well decide against the party that wanted them there in the first place. SCOTUS can no more unilaterally overturn Roe vs. Wade than the POTUS can repeal the Second Amendment: both can be done, but take a lot of time, a lot of work, and can only happen if there is a very clear, pressing, legal reason why it should.

    And HELL YES to cheap and free access to high-quality healthcare and the wide spread of comprehensive sex education! The empirically proven best ways to reduce abortion, and yet, the ones most opposed by the pro-life crowd. Controlling people’s sex lives is one of the only things more important than reducing abortions to those folx.

    Liked by 3 people

  • I don’t often feel compelled to post, but here I do. For the sake of this comment I will lay aside my specific spiritual affiliation, and appeal to something Dr. Stephen Covey said. That is to say that “there are laws you can’t break, you can only break yourself against them”. I don’t think we are far apart in our belief that abortions should be rare, and safe on those occasions where they are driven by absolute necessity or it is a case of incest or rape and a hard decision is made. With that said statistics show that most young women pay a heavy price for abortion. I will quote the late Dr. Covey by repeating the above words”there are laws you can’t break, you can only break yourself against them”.

    Like

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