This issue isn’t as simple as the two main sides believe. There’s a lot of gray in between the polar extremes of “life begins when you even think about getting pregnant” and “if you so much as think about passing a ban on abortion at any stage of pregnancy, I’m going to throw a bunch of Margaret Atwood references at you.” Most of us are somewhere in between, as shown in every poll you can find. (See below.)
If we could have a reasonable discussion about the subject, we might be able to land upon some common ground. We could set a reasonable deadline that would assuage our concerns and/or squeamishness. We could make it easier for women to obtain abortions early in the pregnancy, and along those lines, we could give rape kits to women with Plan B medication included, reducing the likelihood that a woman will have to carry a rapist’s baby to term. Finally, we could ramp up child care and parental support so that it’s more feasible to have children — not a bad idea regardless of your abortion views.
Consider other countries, as much as we hate to do this. Germany has a limit of 14 weeks. Ireland, a largely Catholic country, lifted its ban in 2018 but has a cap at 12 weeks. Australia is also at 12 weeks. France goes to 16.
And in the USA, that’s what we preach and practice. The overwhelming majority of abortions — 92.7%, according to the CDC’s 2019 numbers — are in the first trimester.
Unfortunately, we have these problems:
– The ignorance. Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas thought being six weeks pregnant means a woman has had six weeks to contemplate an abortion. That’s not how pregnancy works. Longtime Missouri lawmaker Todd Akin said the female body can shut down the prospect of pregnancy in the case of a “legitimate rape,” a comment that surely contributed to his resounding defeat in a Senate race. (Opponent Claire McCaskill later admitted she drummed up support for Akin in the GOP primary so she could easily defeat him.) But before you write off Akin as a one-off from a decade ago, consider the words of Utah state representative Karianne Lisonbee on women’s ability to control their “intake of semen.” And you’ll find a few more believers in the rape myth in this collection of Republicans’ ignorant takes on pregnancy.
– The lies. Out of curiosity, can Supreme Court justices be impeached over what they said at their confirmation hearings? Or can they be publicly shamed for what they told gullible senators like Susan Collins? (fn)
– The hypocrisy. As the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church pointed out, poor women in Southern states (disproportionately Black women) will be the ones without the means to get abortions. But if a GOP lawmaker gets a staffer pregnant, she’ll be on the first plane to New York or France or wherever they can “take care” of it. People like Trump don’t really want abortion to be illegal — they want to energize the evangelical “base.” Do you honestly think “conservative” men don’t want that last option to avoid becoming a father?
– The lack of legislation to help those in need. Again, Plan B. Again, health care. If you really care about those kids and their mothers, then where’s the compassion?
– The law. There’s a case that the reasoning behind Roe is unsound, no matter what your views on abortion might be. I’m punting to an analysis at libertarian-leaning Reason magazine for a rebuttal.
– The counterproductivity. “Unintended pregnancy rates are highest in countries that restrict abortion access and lowest in countries where abortion is broadly legal.” – Guttmacher Institute (citing Lancet Global Health). Also see stats on abortion before and after Roe.
– The biology. If you believe life begins at conception, that’s more theological than biological, and we’ll get to that. Biologically, it’s safe to say that’s a minority view.
When can a fetus feel pain? A 2005 paper published by the American Medical Association pegs it at 29-30 weeks. In the US, we had a substantive debate in the 2010s over the 20-week mark. Going back to 12 weeks, let alone six, simply isn’t supported.
– The theology. Outside the Catholic Church, the idea that life begins before birth is a recent phenomenon.
Other religions still haven’t jumped all the way over to that end of the spectrum:
- Muslim: Surely, the religion with strict codes on diet and prayers would ban abortion outright, right? Nope.
- Episcopalian: “Today’s decision institutionalizes inequality because women with access to resources will be able to exercise their moral judgment in ways that women without the same resources will not.” — Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Michael Curry statement.
- Jewish: There’s some debate with Judaism, just as there is within Christianity. But even more conservative takes (my issue with that one is that it paints the whole pro-choice movement as pro-abortion no matter how far along in the pregnancy) find scant little reason to dial back the “life” clock all the way to the moment of sperm meeting egg.
Here’s a must-read from Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg in The Atlantic: “(A)bortion bans deepen every structural inequality in our society. They disproportionately affect people who are struggling financially and people of color. Limited abortion access provides additional challenges for those already experiencing barriers to accessing health care, including young people, those in rural communities, immigrants, disabled people, and trans men and some nonbinary people. And people who are denied access to reproductive health care are more likely to live in poverty and to remain in abusive relationships.”
A synagogue has already sued in Florida, claiming the state’s abortion law violates religious freedom. We might see the same from Muslims.
The way forward
States can now pass whatever laws they want. Or can they? There is legislation in Congress to codify abortion rights, put forth by Republicans Collins and Lisa Murkowski.
If that doesn’t happen, we’re simply going to see a greater divide — economically. Corporations have made it clear that they’ll do what it takes to let employees have access to abortion. Development officials in Oklahoma have sounded the alarm that businesses are now less likely to set up shop in an anti-abortion state.
And make no mistake — abortion is here to stay. It can be done by telemedicine and medication now. People can travel to other states to get abortions, and even Brett Kavanaugh says there’s nothing any individual state can do to stop it. He might have contradicted his Senate testimony, but it seems unlikely that he’d contradict something he definitively said in a court opinion. States can and will try to put up roadblocks, but they’ll lose in court. It’ll also be difficult to stop online shopping for abortion medication. (A VPN might help people who want to exercise what’s left of their privacy.)
And this could end up as one of many reasons why young people leave “red” states, which would make the “red” states even redder. That might help Republicans with the Senate or the Electoral College but at the cost of a devastating brain drain that would leave those states even more dependent on government handouts than they already are.
It doesn’t have to be this way. But it is.
FOOTNOTES AND FURTHER READING
- June 2022: NPR: 7 persistent claims about abortion, fact-checked
- April 2019: The Guardian: ‘It’s not a little child’: gynecologists join the fight against six-week abortion bans
- May 2022, Pew Research Center: America’s Abortion Quandary
- May 2022, FiveThirtyEight: Where Americans Stand On Abortion, In 5 Charts
- June 2018, Gallup: Trimesters Still Key to U.S. Abortion Views
- January 2020, The Guardian: Republicans know that Americans don’t support their anti-abortion extremism
- June 2022, The Hill: Collins: Abortion ruling ‘inconsistent’ with what Gorsuch, Kavanaugh told me
- June 2022, AP: What each conservative U.S. Supreme Court justice said about abortion as nominees
- May 2022, Washington Post: Draft abortion opinion puts new spotlight on confirmation hearings
- May 2022, The Daily Beast: ‘Completely Inconsistent’: Susan Collins Seems Shocked Kavanaugh Might’ve Lied to Her
- May 2022, Anchorage Daily News: Murkowski faces backlash after justices she supported appear poised to roll back abortion rights (note that Murkowski voted “present” on Kavanaugh)
- December 2021, Politico: Supreme Court justices on abortion, during confirmation and from the bench